2014 Payroll Breakdown: Part Two

Hooray for being (kinda) free next year? (Andy Marlin/Getty)
Hooray for being (kinda) free next year? (Andy Marlin/Getty)

For the last 18 months or so, almost every move the Yankees have made has been geared towards getting under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014. They’ve gravitated towards short-term contracts, in some cases choosing future financial flexibility over roster quality. It’s cost them on the field, but they are better positioned to get under the tax threshold.

The luxury tax, if you don’t know by now, is based on the average annual value of contracts on the 40-man roster. Players who are added to the 40-man late (called up, trade, etc.) or taken off early (released, traded, etc.) have their “tax hits” pro-rated. Performance bonuses count against the tax as well, as does each team’s portion of the league’s player benefits. The benefits are expected to jump from $10.8M to about $12M for 2014. Just like that, the $189M threshold is really $177M.

This post is Part Two because I actually did a Part One once upon a time, but that was all the way back in January. Obviously a lot has changed since then and the payroll situation is worth revisiting. Let’s start by looking at the 2014 contract status of every player currently on the 40-man roster. The salaries listed are “tax hit” numbers, not their actual take-home salary. That doesn’t matter for the luxury tax calculation.

Some fancy accounting at the time of the trades brought Soriano’s and Wells’ tax hits way down. Wells is actually free, and had MLB allowed it, the Yankees would have actually received a $2M credit against the luxury tax because of the way the money was structured. That won’t happen though, he just counts as zero dollars against the tax.

Given his self-proclaimed “nightmare” season, I have to think Jeter will exercise that player option. It’s very tough to see him opting out and getting more after looking very much like a 39-year-old shortstop whose body is broken down this summer. He could try it and maybe the Steinbrenners will cave, but it would surprise me. Also, that extra $7.5M in bonuses is really $7M because he won’t trigger any incentives this year. All told, Jeter’s current contract can realistically only max out at $16.5M next year.

According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, that player option year is treated as a one-year contract if exercised. It does not get lumped together with the first three guaranteed years of Jeter’s contract and averaged out. The bonuses are reachable but some ($4M for AL MVP) are more reachable than others ($500k for Silver Slugger). They’re in the contract though, and the Yankees have to account for them. Could you imagine barely staying under the threshold all year only to have Jeter blow it up by winning the MVP or something? That would be hilarious.

Anyway, adding Jeter to the “under contract” guys gives us a guaranteed $94.4M for seven players, or $101.4M when accounting for the $7M in bonuses. That leaves the team $75.6M under the $177M “real” threshold to fill 33 40-man roster spots. Fifteen of those spots will go to the extra guys stashed in the minors, where they make much less than the big league minimum. I’ve seen those spots estimated anywhere from $2-5M total, so let’s stick with the high-end and be conservative. Now the Yankees are at $70.6M to fill 18 big league roster spots.

Barring something completely unexpected, a big chunk of that money will go to Cano. His tax hit could end up in the $20-25M range. Suddenly we go from $70.6M for 18 spots to $45.6M for 17 spots. If the Yankees trust Pineda in the rotation and go with Stewvelli behind the plate again, they could fill eight of those 17 spots on the cheap with the arbitration-eligible guys. Gardner, Robertson, and Nova will be the highest paid arb guys, but none will get more than $6M or so and Gardner’s the only one who will realistically approach $5M. That trio could pull in $15M total on the high end, the other five guys about $7-8M total, just spit-balling. That brings us to $22.6M for nine remaining roster spots.

To use his words, the pink elephant in the room here is A-Rod. If his suspension is overturned, he and his $27.5M tax hit — he’s only 13 homers away from his first $6M bonus, so the team would really have to prepared for a $33.5M tax hit — will be on the roster and splitting time between third base and DH. If his suspension is upheld and he misses the entire year (believed to be the most likely scenario, but who really knows?), suddenly the team has an extra $27.5M to play with. They will need a replacement third baseman, however. The difference between a suspension and no suspension is $22.6M for nine roster spots or $56.1M for ten roster spots. It’s the difference between digging through second tier free agents or going on a nice little free agent shopping spree in the winter.

For the sake of argument, let’s say the team re-signs Cano, Jeter picks up his option, and A-Rod does indeed wind up missing the entire season due to suspension. This is the roster they’d be looking at based on the guys they have under contract/control:

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
Cervelli 1B Teixeira CF Gardner Sabathia Robertson
Stewart 2B Cano RF Ichiro Nova Kelley
SS Jeter LF Wells/Soriano Phelps Claiborne
3B Nix OF Mesa or Almonte Pineda Nuno/Warren
Designated Hitter IF Nunez Nuno/Warren Betances
Wells/Soriano IF Adams or Cruz ?
?

There’s plenty of room for improvement with that roster, so having that $56M-ish to spend is more necessity than luxury. A legitimate starting catcher, a starting third baseman, an outfielder better than Ichiro/Wells/Soriano, a veteran starting pitcher or two, and a handful of relievers would be on the offseason shopping list. If A-Rod is not suspended, they still need all of that stuff (except for a third baseman), but will have only half the money to spend.

The Yankees have an awful lot of cash coming off the books this offseason, which is a very good thing as far as the payroll plan is concerned. The downside to having that money free is all the holes they have to fill. There’s a reason all that money is available — a whole bunch of important, centerpiece-type players are becoming free agents. The offseason should be fun because there figures to be busy with lots of moves, but make no mistake: the Yankees are not in a good position to get under that luxury tax threshold and remain competitive if A-Rod misses anything less than the entire season.

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2013 Payroll Breakdown: Part Four

Since we last met, the Yankees addressed nearly all of their arbitration business by signing Phil Hughes, Boone Logan, and Joba Chamberlain to one-year contracts that were a bit more pricey than MLBTR’s projections. Here’s an updated look at the team’s payroll situation for the upcoming season…

Assuming Robertson wins his arbitration hearing (doesn’t make a big difference either way), the Yankees already have $203.825M in real dollars (not average annual value for luxury tax purposes) tied up in 17 roster spots. They’ve opened each of the last five seasons with a real-dollar payroll in the $203-214M range, meaning they have approximately $10.2M to spend on the remaining 23 40-man roster spots if they’re willing to again open the season at a similar level.

The 15 players on the 40-man but not in the big leagues will earn less than the league minimum — the pro-rated minimum in the show and something much less in the minors. I’ve seen those players estimated at $2.5M total which I think might actually be a little light in the Yankees’ case. Remember, Alex Rodriguez and Michael Pineda are going to open the season on the 60-day DL and will have their 40-man spots occupied by other players. Let’s call it $3.5M for the non-active roster 40-man players.

Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Chris Stewart, Frankie Cervelli, Eduardo Nunez, and Clay Rapada are in their pre-arbitration years but project to open the season on the 25-man roster. They’ll earn something close to the league minimum, so $3M for the group ($500k each). Those six combined with the 15 non-25-man players brings us to $210.325M for 38 players. Jayson Nix and Matt Diaz are the early favorites to fill out the bench, and they signed minor league contracts that will pay them $900k and $1.2M in the big leagues, respectively. We’re now at $212.425M for a full 40-man roster.

The Yankees still have a number of holes to fill, but at this point I think we should all stop expecting them to find a legitimate starting catcher. Maybe (hopefully) they’ll claim George Kottaras and his meager $1M salary to, if nothing else, compete for the job in the camp. It’s not like they’d be taking on a huge financial commitment or anything. They still need a DH and miscellaneous depth pieces, both on the bench and for the pitching staff. More minor league contracts are inevitable, but there still appears to be some room left in the payroll to acquire a real big leaguer who improves the club. I expect that to happen at DH.

2013 Payroll Breakdown: Part Three

Since our last installment, the Yankees have signed Kevin Youkilis, re-signed Ichiro Suzuki, and avoided arbitration with Brett Gardner. Here’s an updated look at the team’s payroll situation for 2013…

That’s a total of $201.1M for 17 roster spots in terms of real dollars, meaning actual 2013 salaries and not the average annual value for luxury tax purposes. The Yankees have opened each of the last five years with a payroll in the $200-2014M range (again, real dollars), leaving them approximately $13M to fill the remaining 23 40-man roster spots assuming they’re willing to spend a similar amount.

The 15 players who are on the 40-man but will not be on the 25-man active roster will earn less than the league minimum. Those guys have split contracts that pay them one amount in the show (something close to the league minimum) and another in the minors (much less). I’ve been estimating those guys at $500k each to make life easy ($7.5M total), but I’ve also seen others estimate that total at $2.5M. Either way, it eats up a chunk of that remaining $13M or so.

Chris Stewart, Eduardo Nunez, David Phelps, Ivan Nova, and Clay Rapada are all in their pre-arbitration years and will pull down a combined $2.5M or so in 2013. That gives us to $203.6M for 22 roster spots, but the 15 non-active roster guys bring us into the $206.1-211.1M range. Two of those last three roster spots could go to Matt Diaz ($1.1M) and Jayson Nix ($900k), who are not on the 40-man at the moment. Either way, the Yankees have something like $3-8M to fill out the roster if they intend to open the season at a similar to level to the last five years.

I don’t expect New York to acquire a real starting catcher at this point, so their remaining holes include a DH and various bench pieces (right-handed hitting outfielder, utility infielder, etc.). Diaz, Nix, and Nunez could fill out the bench, but I hope they’ll seek out at least one more quality reserve player and some minor league contract guys to provide competition in camp. As much as I’d like to see them acquire Jason Kubel, I don’t see it happening. If the Yankees are only willing to spend that $3-8M or so for those remaining spots, the pickin’s will be very slim.

In case you missed it, earlier today I took a super early look at the team’s 2014 payroll situation.

2014 Payroll Breakdown: Part One

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Although the calendar just flipped to 2013, I think we’re all looking ahead to 2014 as far as the Yankees’ payroll is concerned. The club plans to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold one year from now, and because of the way the tax is calculated, they’ll have to stay under that amount for the entire 2014 season. The Yankees haven’t finished a season with a sub-$189M payroll in about ten years, so it’s a significant cut o matter how much ownership and the front office try to downplay it.

The luxury tax is based on the average annual value of contracts* on the 40-man roster and is basically adjusted daily, meaning the “tax hit” for players who don’t spend the entire season on the 40-man (called up late, traded, etc.) is pro-rated. Bonuses count as well, as does the team’s portion of the league’s player benefits. Players benefit costs are shared equally by the 30 teams and will be valued at a touch less than $10.8M in 2013, but they are expected to go up to about $12M for 2014. Just like that, the $189M is really $177M as far as what can actually be spent on players.

Obviously a whole lot is going to change over the next 22 months, but the Yankees have started to plan for 2014 by going heavy on one-year contracts this offseason. Here is where the current 40-man roster stands with regards to the 2014 payroll…

The Yankees have just four players under contract for 2014, but those four soak up 42.8% (!) of the $189M limit, or 45.7% of the $177M limit, if you prefer. There’s a decent chance two of those players (A-Rod and Ichiro) will be non-playable and need some kind of replacement. It seems like a safe bet that Jeter will exercise his player option, though I suppose he could decline the option and demand a multi-year contract if he has a huge year. That would be something.

Obviously A-Rod won’t hit all five of those homer milestones in 2014. He’s sitting on 647 career homers right now and will miss about half of 2013 due to his hip injury, and you know what? It would be pretty great for 2014 payroll purposes if he managed to hit 13 homers next season to take care of that first milestone. He’d need to have a monster campaign in 2014 to trigger the 714th homer bonus, which is unlikely to happen at this point. Even A-Rod in his prime would have trouble hitting enough homers to trigger that bonus. Saving that $6M would be pretty big in the grand scheme of things, think of it as the ability to acquire a $17-18M player at the trade deadline.

Nova would need to spend about four months in the minors next season to avoid being arbitration-eligible in 2014, which doesn’t seem all that unrealistic if he continues to pitch the way he did in the second half. Pineda would need to spend about three months in the minors to delay arbitration, but remember, he will collect service time while on the DL at the start of the season. He’d have to be activated off the DL when healthy in May or June, then be optioned down and basically spend the rest of the season in Triple-A. I could see the Yankees sending Pineda down for the two or three weeks to delay free agency a year, but not three months to delay arbitration, especially if he’s healthy and throwing well.

Ten players who project to be full-time big leaguers in 2013 are due to hit free agency next winter, including three starting pitchers and half the bullpen. Cano’s free agency is the elephant in the room, as he’s expected to command a nine-figure contract in an age when so many teams have so much money to spend. You don’t have to try all that hard to envision the Tigers, Dodgers, Angels, Red Sox, Nationals, Rangers, Mariners, Cubs, or Giants making a run at him. I expect the Yankees to re-sign him to a huge contract, and if it’s worth say $23M annually (eight years, $184M?), the Yankees will be left with $73.1M to spend on 35 (!) 40-man roster spots during all of 2014. Doable for sure, but it won’t be easy given the current market.

* I get questions about this every single day. The luxury tax is based on the average annual value of the contracts. Front-loading, back-loading, side-loading, or whatever else you can think of won’t help. MLB will also step in should there be any blatant luxury tax circumvention, such as signing Cano to a one-year, $5M deal for 2014 with a nine-year, $200M player option. It won’t help at all.

2013 Payroll Breakdown: Part Two

This is probably something I should have pieced together last week, prior to the Winter Meetings, but better late than never I suppose. Here’s a breakdown of the Yankees’ current payroll situation for 2013…

That adds up to $182.55M for only 15 40-man rosters spots, and that’s real dollars being spent. It’s not average annual value for luxury tax purposes. The 15 players who are on the 40-man roster but not on the 25-man active roster will earn the league minimum ($480k-ish), so let’s just estimate them at $7.5M total ($500k each). That brings us up to $190.05M with ten roster spots to fill.

The Yankees have started each of the last five seasons with an Opening Day payroll between $200-214M (again, real dollars), and I assume they’re willing to spend that much again this year. We know they’re trying to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold for 2014, but they’re theoretically in the clear for 2013. Opening next season with a similar payroll means they have anywhere from $10-24M to spend during the remainder of the offseason, and their holes include a right fielder, a catcher, a good utility infielder, and bench pieces. League minimum guys like Chris Stewart, Eduardo Nunez, David Phelps, Ivan Nova, and Clay Rapada mean it’s really $7.5-21.5M for five roster spots.

Barring an unexpected trade, it’s tough to see the Yankees spending much money on a backstop given the available options and their reported disinterest in A.J. Pierzynski. Even a (very unlikely) trade for Carlos Santana wouldn’t put a big dent in the budget because he’s due just $550k next season as part of his long-term contract. A right fielder could range anywhere from dirt cheap (Nate Schierholtz at $2M?) to pretty pricey (Justin Upton at $9.75M?). Jeff Keppinger could wind up with $4-6M annually while Asdrubal Cabrera is owed $6.5M. I guess that’s the going rate for a replacement third baseman/high-end utility infielder.

As frustrating as it is to watch the Yankees sit on the sidelines so far this week, I do think there’s some good to come from it. Some of the recently-signed free agent contracts have struck me as big overpays, talking specifically talking about guys like Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, and Shane Victorino. All nice players in their own way, but they got more money and one more year than I expected. Avoiding an overpay like that is a good thing for New York for obvious reasons, 2014 payroll plan or not. Either way, hopefully they’re planning to spend on the high end of that $7.5-21.5M range over so they can make one more serious run before scaling back payroll.