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Yankees Sticking To Their Guns, Keeping The Checkbook Closed
- Updated: February 7, 2017
In less than a week, pitchers and catchers will be reporting to Tampa to officially kick off Spring Training. For the second straight offseason, the Yankees remained relatively mute in the market. Only adding three players through free agency, the 2017 Yankees will look awfully familiar to the Yankees at the end of the 2016 season. This is a stark contrast from the George Steinbrenner days where the top free agents available would be sought after and frequently signed. Now, Brian Cashman has been playing things more conservative in the past two offseasons. Rather than signing players, Cashman has decided to add through trades. All of this is due to the Yankees desire to get underneath the luxury tax threshold by the offseason following the 2018 season.
Though Cashman has been speaking of this salary slide over the past couple of seasons, it was difficult to fully believe them. They are the most valuable MLB franchise and only trail the Dallas Cowboys within the country (Real Madrid and FC Barcelona are second and third worldwide). Money should not be an object for the Yankees, at least that is how it was under George Steinbrenner. Since Hal Steinbrenner has taken over the organization, the open checkbook policy has been present but is currently drifting away until the big free agency class of 2018. Still, many found it hard to believe Cashman and Steinbrenner about their hesitation to spend money. Even with that doubt, the Yankees have stuck to their morals about not signing free agents that are unnecessary or too expensive.
Addressing the Elephant in the Room…
As I am writing this article, the Yankees have bumped up their free agent signings to three. However, that is not the elephant. The elephant is that while I am making the point about how the Yankees have stayed true to not spending money while waiting for the big free agent class of 2018, the Yankees signed Aroldis Chapman to a 5-year/$86 million deal. That contract is a record for a reliever. While a large and expensive contract, this move still fits with the current business model. Chapman can be a key bullpen arm when the Yankees believe they will be contending again in 2-3 years. The price tag was high because Chapman was the best available closer on the market (and arguably in the game).
Other than Chapman, the Yankees have made two other free signings over the past two offseasons. Both came this offseason, but that is still a staggering thought when considering the Yankees of the 2000s. Three total free agent signings over two offseasons is quite abnormal for the team. Taking a closer look, these signings also fit with the current plan of attack. Matt Holliday and the recently agreed Chris Carter are both on one year deals that total $16 million. While those two players may take the DH spot away from a younger player, the contracts make total sense. Especially when one considers that trading Brian McCann freed up $23 million; the Yankees have two players for cheaper than one.
Projecting a Busy Offseason
Despite the constant reminder that the Yankees would not be too active in the offseason, they were constantly attached to numerous free agents. While they have checked in on numerous free agents as generel interest, there would be at least three rumors per week that tied the Yankees to one free agent or another. The following are a large portion of the free agents that MLB people believed the Yankees might sign: Yoenis Cespedes, Rich Hill, Carlos Beltran, Steve Pearce, Sergio Romo, Travis Wood, Jeremy Blevins, Jason Hammels, Brad Ziegler, Luis Valbuenna, Edwin Encarnacion, and Boone Logan. I did not mention the three players the Yankees did sign plus Kensley Jansen since all of those players were addressed by the Yankees through said signing or an apparent need (they were going to sign Chapman or Jansen).
Not only were these players linked to the Yankees during the offseason, some of them were predicted to actually sign with the Bronx Bombers. MLB Trade Rumors’ Top 50 Free Agents list had Rich Hill and Steve Pearce signing with the Yankees. Their projected contracts were 3 years/$50 million for Hill and 2 years/$10 million for Pearce. Fox Sports had Carlos Beltran re-signing with the club. The New York Post predicted that Chapman would sign for $5 years/$100 million and Beltran for 1-year/$13 million. All of the projected players were part of a “top 2016-17 free agents” list, so some of those sources did not include the numerous bullpen pieces that the Yankees were linked to this offseason.
Signing a player the caliber of Encarnacion and Cespedes would have to be an alluring thought. Both players are among the best right-handed bats in the game at their respective positions. Acquiring one of those two players could have easily bolstered the Yankees’ chances at making the postseason this year. However, that would not fit with the current model of saving on the salary and allowing the young guys get their feet wet. Encarnacion ended up receiving a 3-year/$60 million contract. For the Yankees, that would hold back young players like Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, and/or Tyler Austin if they signed Encarnacion to that deal.
Though Cashman checked-in on Encarnacion and other top caliber free agents, that was more so doing his due diligence rather than actively chasing after them. However, Cashman’s quest for adding another above average bullpen arm is where the real strength can be seen. The organization would like to add either another left-handed reliever or a veteran right-handed arm. Sergio Romo was a player who the Yankees were interested in throughout the offseason. However, they did not feel that the market for Romo was favorable for them. Instead of potentially overpaying (in their minds) for Romo, they preferred to allow him to sign elsewhere. That restraint is a relatively new method for the organization, but they are sticking to that methodology.
Less is More While Yankees Bide Their Time
This new methodology will not last for too long. Part of the reason for this stingy approach is because the team has been mediocre over the past 3-4 seasons and a reboot is necessary. Young prospects need to be seen at the MLB level to know if they will sink or swim. If all goes well, the Yankees could have a young core of players that will be bulked up by free agent signings in the near future.