The word No was not in George Steinbrenner’s vocabulary when it pertained to spending on the New York Yankees. Love him or hate him, the Boss always spent (probably too willingly, in many cases). Whether it was top-dog free agents like Jason Giambi, mid-season acquisitions like David Justice, or back of the bullpen arms that might swing an October baseball game like, say, name any terrible relief pitcher the Yankees overcame in the early 2000’s, George spent the cash.
Now, with Hal Steinbrenner in charge of the team during a rebuild, the Yankees are working within a budget — and that’s not such a bad thing.
In the latest from Jon Heyman, he outlines how Brian Cashman was told he had $4M to spend after dishing out big bucks ($99M total) for Aroldis Chapman and Matt Holliday this offseason.
Fans of smaller market teams would laugh at that previous statement, but for Yankees fans, it isn’t something they’re used to hearing. Some teams don’t spend $103M in four off-seasons, never mind one in which they are being fiscally responsible. But for the Yankees, even having a budget is being responsible.
Last winter the Yankees passed on all the big free agents, allowing Boston to obtain David Price and other top players to sign without anything more than a courtesy phone call. It angered many fans who were used to getting what they want — like during the winters of 2008/09 and 2013/14 when the team spent north of $400M to overhaul the roster.
This offseason had a slightly different tone, however. Chapman was the top free agent reliever on the market and he was paid like it. Holliday wasn’t exactly cheap either; $13M for an older DH is not a luxury most teams can afford, but the Yankees can even with their new budget approach. Those signings just came with a caveat — Cashman could not spend at will to fill-out the rest of the roster.
Although the Yankees are rebuilding, they still have aspirations of contending. Their roster has many holes, most notably in the uncertain rotation and middle relief departments. Many thought they’d be in on top starter Rich Hill, but rumors of Hill to the Yankees never materialized and he went back to LA for $48M.
Lefty arms like Travis Wood, Jerry Blevins, and Boone Logan could have helped the 2017 Yankees contend, which Heyman hints were probably unobtainable due to the $4M Cashman had to work with. Instead, the Yankees signed Jon Niese to a cheap minor league deal because he fit the budget.
Chris Carter, who was a late addition to the Yankees roster for $3.5M, also fit the budget. Because power seems to be less of a valued commodity than ever, the Yankees were able to get Carter on the cheap. And considering Tyler Austin’s foot injury, so far Carter is looking like a savvy move.
Since Cashman had just $4M to play with, he had to be creative. You can call it basement shopping or dumpster diving, but Cashman has had success with these Carter and Niese-type moves. Just in the past couple of years, cheap players like Alfonso Soriano, Vernon Wells, and Brandon McCarthy have all helped the Yankees win games.
The other factor to all of this is the luxury tax threshold, which will increase from $189M to $195M in the upcoming season and steadily thereafter as part of the new CBA. The tax threshold was designed specifically with Steinbrenner and the Yankees in mind. Since it’s inception following the 2002 negotiations, the Yankees have been the sugar daddy of the tax system. They have paid $303.9M in penalties, $190.4M more than the next highest team, the Dodgers.
With high-priced players set to come off the books soon, the Yankees have their eyes set on falling under the tax threshold for the first time next year. Should they do so, it will set them up for the offseason everyone is waiting for — 2018/19 when many of the game’s current best players will be searching for new teams.