For nearly two years now we’ve heard about the Yankees’ plans keep payroll below the luxury tax threshold in 2014. The story first cropped up in December, 2011, and a little over a year later Hal Steinbrenner acknowledged it as the organizational goal. Yet he always notes that getting under the threshold is a goal, one he believes is attainable, rather than a mandate. Fielding a championship-caliber team, he reminds us, remains the top priority.
Until the chips start to fall, fans can believe what they want. Some believe that the Steinbrenners are more concerned with lining their own pockets than winning, and won’t be convinced otherwise until the Yankees start doling out contracts. This is not an outrageous stance; given how much money the Yankees stand not only gain, but to take out of other teams’ pockets, getting under $189 million makes sense. At the same time, we saw the crowds at Yankee Stadium last year when the Yankees fielded a mediocre product. Surely the Steinbrenners understand that they could stand to lose plenty if the 2014 Yankees resemble the 1991 Yankees.
For those worried about how the payroll breaks down, we’ve seen some positive stories in the past few days about the Yankees showing interest in a number of quality free agents. On Friday Jon Heyman published one containing an encouraging quote from one of his sources: “Hal is very involved, and he wants to win.” Another interesting tidbit comes a few paragraphs later (emphasis mine).
Word is the Yankees still believe they can keep get their payroll below the luxury-tax threshold of $189 million, thanks to $100 million or so in contracts coming off the books, depending to a fair degree on the status of Alex Rodriguez‘s PED arbitration case vs. MLB.
If A-Rod somehow walks away without any suspension, he will count $33.5 million against the luxury tax next season ($27.5 million AAV, plus $6 million after he hits six more homers). If suspended for 50 games that number comes down to around $25 million, and if he gets suspended for 100 games it’s around $16.5 million ($10.5 million if he can’t hit six homers in 62 games, but he did hit seven in 44 games last year). And, of course, if he gets 162 or more games, the Yankees will have a nice heap of cash at their disposal.
The pace of the proceedings between MLB and Rodriguez throw a wrench into the Yankees’ off-season plans. Free agency is already in full swing with the GM meetings this week followed by the Winter Meetings in about a month. A good number of players will sign between now and when the Winter Meetings end on December 12. How can the Yankees make a move if they don’t know exactly what their 2014 books will look like?
The answer is that it shouldn’t matter. If Steinbrenner is truly serious about prioritizing a winning team over the luxury tax savings, he should forget that Alex Rodriguez exists. When arbitrator Fredric Horowitz renders his decision, it should have no effect on the Yankees’ plans. They should work with the assumption that Rodriguez will be suspended for all of 2014.
If the bet works out, the Yankees are in superb position. They can, with relative ease, field a competitive team and stay under the luxury tax threshold with another $33.5 million, in addition to the $40 million or so they have currently (as Mike calculated). That $70-plus million can pay for Robinson Cano, Masahiro Tanaka, plus two or three other starting-caliber players, depending on whether they’re acquired via free agency or the trade market. Chances are Rodriguez will push them over the threshold again in 2015, but at least they’ll have gotten below for one season, resetting the tax and keeping some of their revenue sharing monies.
If Rodriguez does play in 2014, Plan 189 does go out the window, though the luxury tax bill won’t be close last year’s record $29.1 million luxury tax bill. If Rodriguez avoids suspension and the Yankees are butting up against the tax threshold, they will pay $16.75 million in tax. At 50 games the bill would be $12.5 million, and at 100 games it would be $8.25 million.
Therein lies the entire bet. If the Yankees win, they get a championship team and pay zero dollars in luxury tax while keeping money previously sent to other teams. If they lose they still have to pay out those revenue sharing monies, plus luxury tax — though even in the worst case scenario the tax itself will amount to less than they’ve paid in the past four seasons.
As always, the it’s-not-my-money caveat applies. The Steinbrenners have the dollars, so they control who gets paid. But if they are serious about their statements, that winning takes precedence over the budget, they should spend as though Rodriguez doesn’t exist. To win that bet is a coup. To lose means writing another check, though not nearly to the level of last year and a bit below what they’ve paid in the recent past. We can only hope this makes sense to the people writing the checks.
The Yankees have a bunch of needs to address this winter and the catcher position is one of the biggest. The law firm of Cervelli, Stewart & Romine was one of the worst catching crops in baseball in 2013 and in definite need of an upgrade. The free agent market offers several quality backstops like Brian McCann, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Carlos Ruiz, but New York might not be able to afford them. At least not until the ruling in Alex Rodriguez‘s appeal hearing is handed down.
Late last week, the Reds made the first notable free agent signing of the winter by bringing in switch-hitting backstop Brayan Pena. Young Devin Mesoraco is untouchable, which means the veteran Ryan Hanigan is a man without a roster spot. In fact, soon after the Pena signing, Ken Rosenthal reported Cincinnati is likely to move the 33-year-old this winter. Buster Olney noted the Yankees (and Rays) have liked Hanigan in the past and could turn to him as a more cost effective catching option. Let’s break down his game.
- Hanigan’s offensive game is built around controlling the strike zone and getting on base. His walk rate both this year (11.4%) and over the last three years (11.6%) is above-average and has allowed him to post a .346 OBP since 2011 (.359 since breaking into the league full-time).
- In addition to the walks, Hanigan rarely strikes out. He’s walked more than he’s struck out every year since 2008 and his strikeout rate was basically half the league average both this past year (10.4%) and over the last three years (10.3%). Only six players best his contact rate (91.4%) since 2011.
- Hanigan has consistently graded out as one of the best defensive catchers in baseball (2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 rankings) and he’s thrown out 40% of attempted base-stealers in his career (47.5% over the last two years). He also ranks as one of the game’s best pitch-framers and has spoken about that skill at length.
- Matt Swartz projects Hanigan to earn $2.3M next season, his final trip through arbitration. He is scheduled to become a free agent for the first time next winter.
- Hanigan did not hit a lick this past season, putting up a .198/.306/.261 (53 wRC+) batting line in 260 plate appearances. He has never hit for power (.063 ISO in 2013 and .081 career), so his offensive game depends entirely on those walks and putting the ball in play.
- That gaudy walk rate has been artificially inflated. Hanigan has been intentionally walked 25 times (!) over the last three years, so his unintentional walk rate is a still solid but not excellent 9.0%. Batting eighth in front of the pitcher has its benefits.
- As expected, he chips in nothing on the bases. Catchers usually don’t. Hanigan has attempted one (!) stolen base in parts seven big league seasons and he’s taken the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) a below-average 35% of the time in his career.
- Hanigan has had some injury problems over the years, including two DL trips in 2013. He missed three weeks with an oblique strain and a month with a wrist sprain. Obviously the wrist could have contributed to the poor batting line. Hanigan has also dealt with concussion (2009) and thumb (2010) problems.
Given his low salary and the general dearth of catching, the Reds shouldn’t have much trouble finding a trade partner for Hanigan. I would be surprised if they have to non-tender him at the deadline on December 2nd. Not too many catchers have been traded one year prior to free agency in recent years, especially none similar to Hanigan. A.J. Pierzynski (Twins to Giants) was dealt one year before hitting the open market but that doesn’t really fit — he was younger and better and that trade was a decade ago. I haven’t the slightest idea of what it would take to acquire Hanigan in a trade.
If the Yankees aren’t going to spend big for McCann or Saltalamacchia or Ruiz, Hanigan is pretty much the only catcher they could bring in who would be an upgrade over the in-house options while not taking a huge bite out of the payroll pie. He’s a better defensive catcher than Stewart (pitch framing!) and even though he has zero power, Hanigan will at least put together quality at-bats and get on-base regularly via walks. It’s worth noting he had a career-low .216 BABIP in 2013 (.283 career) despite no change in his batted ball profile. A little BABIP rebound would get him back into the .270/.360/.340 range he sat from 2011-2012. That isn’t anything special, but it’s better than what the Yankees have now and the (financial) cost is very reasonable.
2013 Season: 85-77 (637 RS, 671 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), didn’t qualify for playoffs
Top stories from last week:
- The Yankees extended qualifying offers to Robinson Cano, Hiroki Kuroda, and Curtis Granderson before Monday’s deadline. Granderson hinted at declining the offer and there is some belief Kuroda will return to Japan. There has been “no recent movement” in contract talks between the Yankees and Cano and no other team has made him an offer. It appears New York’s limit is an eight-year pact worth $180-200M.
- Among the players the Yankees reportedly had interest in this week include Eric Chavez, Bronson Arroyo, Scott Feldman, Dan Haren, Ubaldo Jimenez, Grant Balfour, Brian McCann, Brandon Phillips, and Omar Infante. They have not discussed re-signing Joba Chamberlain. MLB and NPB are still “several weeks” from a revised posting system agreement, meaning Masahiro Tanaka is stuck in limbo.
- Injury Updates: CC Sabathia (hamstring) has started a throwing program and is working out a full strength. Derek Jeter (ankle) is lifting weights for the first time in a year. Mason Williams (face) if fine after being hit by an errant thrown.
- The Yankees have re-signed their entire coaching staff to new contracts for next season — everyone will return in the same role. The team hired former Marlins third base coach Joe Espada as a special assistant to the GM.
- Mariano Rivera was named the AL Comeback Player of the Year and Cano won his fourth straight Silver Slugger. No Yankees were among the finalists for the various major awards.
- George Steinbrenner, Joe Torre, and Billy Martin are among the 12-person Expansion Era Veterans Committee Hall of Fame ballot.
Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
Just a heads up: our 2014 Draft Order page is now up and running. It’s available at any time via the Resources pull-down menu, which is right below the street sign in the banner atop the site. I’ll update the draft order page as teams gain and lose draft picks via free agent compensation this winter, so check back often. · (5) ·
Friday: TGI-frickin-F, man. This week couldn’t end soon enough. Bring on the weekend. Here’s your open thread for the night. The Devils, Knicks, and Nets are all playing, and from what I understand, the college basketball season starts as well. Is that right? I’m not sure. Either way, talk about any and everything right here. Have at it.
Saturday: Once again, here is your open thread for the night. The Islanders and Nets are both playing plus I’m sure there’s college football and basketball on somewhere. You know what to go, so do it.
Sunday: Here’s your recycled open thread to close out the weekend. The Cowboys and Saints are the late NFL game plus all three hockey locals are in action. Talk about whatever. Go nuts.
Sunday: The Yankees are the only team to make Cano a contract offer at this point, reports Martin. It’s possible teams are waiting until tomorrow’s deadline for players to accept or reject qualifying offers before getting serious about pursuing free agents. Joel Sherman says New York’s limit for Robbie appears to be $180-200M across eight years. “The ball’s in his court,” said a source to Martin.
Thursday: Via Dan Martin: There has been “no recent movement” in contract talks between the Yankees and Robinson Cano. A market for the second baseman has yet to develop, which isn’t surprising at this point. Free agency just opened and things usually don’t pick up for the top free agents until the Winter Meetings in early December.
Meanwhile, Ken Rosenthal notes Cano’s reported $305M demand was floated at the All-Star break and was his price for foregoing free agency. He and his agent placed a premium on testing the open market and weren’t going be bought out cheap. Rosenthal adds that Robbie’s ultimate price will depend more on the market than his personal salary goal — he could wind up signing for something very close to the seven years and $161M the Yankees already offered. · (94) ·
Via Juan Rodriguez: The Yankees have hired Marlins third base coach Joe Espada as a special assistant to Brian Cashman. The team approached him about a pro scouting position recently. “It took me a couple of days to make the decision [because] I enjoy being on the field, but there’s stuff I need to learn,” he said. “I listened to their ideas and their plans, and was very interested to see more and be part of a winning organization.”
Espada, 38, had been with the Marlins since 2006 and had served as their third base coach since 2010. He was reassigned after the season and named the manager of their High-A affiliate in Jupiter. Espada was a second round pick in the 1996 draft and he bounced around the minors for ten seasons as an infielder before calling it a (playing) career. Don Wakamatsu, who joined the Yankees as an assistant to Cashman last winter, left the team to join the Royals’ coaching staff recently. I assume Espada is filling Wakamatsu’s role now. · (11) ·
Via George King: MLB and NPB are still negotiating changes to the posting system and remain “several weeks” away from reaching an agreement. We heard the two sides were discussing changes in September and finalizing an agreement last month, but apparently recent progress has been slow. There has been talk about giving the player some more input into the process while MLB wants to cut posting fees.
Meanwhile, Jeff Passan reiterates that the Yankees are “going to be bold” in their pursuit of Rakuten Golden Eagles right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. Re-signing Robinson Cano and landing Tanaka are considered priorities 1 and 1a, he says. The team’s scouts — the same ones who declared Yu Darvish unfit for New York — compared Tanaka’s temperament and makeup to Hideki Matsui’s. The luxury tax-exempt posting fee is expected to climb north of $75M, but Tanaka can not be posted until MLB and NPB reach an agreement. Between this and the Alex Rodriguez ruling, it seems like everything on New York’s plate this winter is being delayed as long as possible. Hopefully the offseason doesn’t pass them by. · (25) ·
Via Sweeny Murti: The Yankees have not discussed re-signing Joba Chamberlain. A dozen unnamed teams have already spoken to him and his agent since free agency officially opened on Tuesday. It’s not surprising New York is not considering bringing him back — the writing has been on the wall for months now.
Joba, 28, had a 4.93 ERA (5.64 FIP) in 42 innings this season and was especially dreadful in the second half (6.53 FIP). I’m sure plenty of teams are looking at him as a change of scenery guy and heck, if he’d spent the last six years pitching for some other team, chances are we’d be considering him as a buy-low candidate for a team in need of bullpen depth. I can’t be the only one thinking Chamberlain will wind up posting a 2.00-ish ERA with the Rays next season, right? · (33) ·
“Get a little healthier,” said Joe Girardi to Anthony McCarron earlier this week when asked what the team’s first order of business was this winter. He’s not kidding. Even though the Yankees have not played a game in more than a month, they still have plenty of injured players to keep tabs on. Here’s the latest on the walking wounded, courtesy of Charles Curtis, Mike Puma, Bryan Hoch, and John Manuel:
- Derek Jeter (ankle, calf) has started lifting weights for the first time in over a year as he prepares for next season. The ankle surgery kept him from lifting last winter and I guess he wasn’t able to do anything even after returning during the summer. Will it help? Hopefully.
- CC Sabathia (hamstring) has started throwing and is working out at full strength after his season ended in late-September due to a Grade II strain. He suffered the injury six weeks ago and the initial recovery timetable was eight weeks, so apparently he’s ahead of schedule. Sabathia was expected to start a long-toss program similar to his usual offseason routine as soon as the hamstring was healthy. Elbow surgery threw off his routine off last winter.
- Outfield prospect Mason Williams missed some time this week after being hit in the face by an errant throw during Arizona Fall League play. It was a freak accident — he was in the tunnel next to the clubhouse when the ball hit him. Williams has a small cut on the bridge of his nose and has since returned to action. This year’s injuries have officially jumped the shark.