As we learned this morning, the Yankees are talking to Carl Crawford. This shouldn’t strike us as surprising. All season long we heard how much the Yankees liked Crawford. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to sign him. Cliff Lee still appears to be the first priority, meaning Crawford is only a backup plan — and a tough backup plan at that, since it still leaves a hole in the rotation and a surplus in the outfield. Chances are the Yankees are just trying to drive up the price for other teams.
Still, it’s tough not to wonder what the Yankees would look like with Crawford in the outfield and Lee on the mound. In terms of baseball skill, they’d have to be the instant AL favorites. Yet we know the company line on payroll: it won’t rise significantly. The Yankees had about $209 million on the payroll last season ($214 million, per Cot’s, minus the $4 million for Igawa). They then added some salary at the deadline. So maybe, just maybe, we could see the payroll hit $215 million. Can the Yanks fit both Crawford and Lee under that cap?
As it stands, the team has $144 million committed. We can add another $15 million for Mariano Rivera, and we can presume $19 million for Jeter. That brings payroll to $178 million. What about arbitration raises? Baseball-Reference estimates it at just under $11 million, so let’s add that in. The Yanks are now at $189 million, with a few holes still to fill. Now comes the fun part. Let’s add in Lee at $23 million. Payroll would then be $212 million. That appears to be the limit, and that’s before they sign Pettitte. If they bring him back that’s another $12 million or so. In this scenario, the Yankees would have a payroll of nearly $225 million. What’s crazy is that I don’t see what they can do to get it much lower, short of abandoning their Lee pursuit.
At that point it’s tough to see the Yankees, even with all their riches, going any further. Even $225 million seems way above where they’re willing to go. I’d bet that they get that number lower by making a chunk out of Lee’s first-year salary and making it a signing bonus. Even then, payroll would still be over $214 million, and that’s without signing a single bench guy.
Adding Crawford to that might seem like a ton, but it wouldn’t come on its own. Chances are the Yankees would deal Swisher or Granderson in that case, which would knock $8 or $9 million off the salary. They’d probably have to take prospects in return, since adding a major league player would mean adding even more payroll. But signing Crawford and dealing Swisher would be a net add of around $9 million, bringing the total to $234 million. With a few signing bonus manipulations, which will only hurt future years, the Yanks might be able to get that in the $220 million range. Is that something they’re willing to do just in order to put together a behemoth 2011 team?
There might be something else at play here — for all we know, the Steinbrenners could be thinking about selling the team. The Yankees could also think that the added revenue from another long playoff run would help justify these contracts in the future. But given the information we have currently available, signing both Crawford and Lee is a long shot. Talent-wise I don’t think anyone would be against it. But that creates some difficult payroll situations in the future. Are the Yankees ready to start committing $225-plus million to the club every year in the future?