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How a bulk of the Yankees’ success in 2017 conveniently cost next to nothing

Last November, when Yankees’ owner Hal Steinbrenner and general manager Brian Cashman vowed to continue lowering payroll in an effort to be situated under the luxury tax threshold by 2019, the franchise was entering uncharted territory.

For the foreseeable future, the organization’s renowned business method of assembling a championship-caliber roster with some help from a printing press was to be put on hold. Instead, the talent was to be developed internally, or acquired at a relatively low cost, until baseball’s highly anticipated free-agent class of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Clayton Kershaw arrives next winter. This pseudo-rebuild was rather unorthodox for New York, as it cast the club as pretenders in 2017, rather than contenders.

But, none of that happened. Sure, the Yankees’ aim to have its luxury tax penalty clock reset by next season is certainly still achievable, but the product on the field vastly exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations. In retrospect, the rebuild never occurred; with a win against the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday in Game 5 of the ALDS, the Yankees would advance to their first ALCS since 2012, as a dark-horse opposing the Houston Astros.

The level of success attained this season was unanticipated. The rapid progress and growth in New York’s youngsters was way ahead of schedule. And right now it’s a sweet reality, as the franchise’s three most impactful players are actually being paid nickels and dimes under Yankee standards.

Compute the salaries of outfielder Aaron Judge, catcher Gary Sanchez, and pitcher Luis Severino, and the combined total comes out to approximately $1.65 million. That’s it. Just $1.65 million, which is one-percent of the club’s entire active payroll ($168M) and considered pocket change to the Yankee brass. In this investment, the club yielded 85 home runs, 204 RBI, and 167 walks from both Judge and Sanchez, and in Severino, 14 wins, 230 strikeouts, and a 2.98 ERA in 193.1 innings pitched came along with it.

Although their paychecks are valued at roughly half a million dollars each, their production at the plate, in the field, and on the mound is much greater, as FanGraphs calculates that Judge, Sanchez, and Severino provided the Yankees $147.2 million of value this year. Talk about a bang for their buck.

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Signs of the Yankees’ good fortune arrived in early April, as Judge took the league by storm with mammoth home runs generated by his raw power and abnormal stature. By the All-Star break, the 25-year-old rookie had already hit 30 homers, which shifted the conversation from Judge for AL Rookie of the Year to Judge for AL MVP. Right now, that discussion is still relevant, as Judge led the AL in home runs (52), runs (128), walks (127), and WAR (8.2) this season, per FanGraphs.

2017 has been an improbable, fairytale year for Judge, considering that he wasn’t even guaranteed a spot on the big league roster back in March.

“You think about the runs [Judge] has scored,” Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi told NJ.com. “The runs he’s driven in. He’s played every day. He’s in the conversation for the MVP candidate. Not only Rookie of the Year, but MVP candidate. 

“You’re going to have a hard time arguing that he doesn’t [win AL MVP]. And you’ll probably have a hard time arguing other guys don’t. It’s what side of the fence you like on. For me, he’s been incredible.”

Sanchez has also been one of the most consistent hitters in the Yankees’ lineup. Despite missing almost all of April with an injury, the 24-year-old finished the regular season with a .278 average, 33 jacks, and 90 RBI in just 122 games. Yes, almost all of the criticism directed at his defensive blunders has been justified, but his impact with a bat has made most catching mistakes somewhat easy to ignore. 

And then there’s Severino — the Yankees’ unexpected bona fide ace in 2017. Sure, the franchise hoped he’d perform they way he has, but for Severino to transform from lackluster bullpen piece to Cy Young candidate in a one-year span is quite a redemption story. At just 23, Severino’s stuff is electric, and if the Yankees continue to see the big stage, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with. After all, his Game 4 win against Cleveland on Monday night was proof of his ability to bounce back from adversity.

“I told [Severino] after the game that he grew up a lot today,” Girardi said after Game 4. “I think part of it is the steps that I’ve seen him take this year. You expect players to take that next step and he’s continued to do it all year. And to me, that’s growing up.”

So, whether or not the Yankees survive and advance in a winner-take-all Game 5 in Cleveland on Wednesday night, understand that the three players who carried them to this point are nearly making the league minimum salary, and with team control and salary arbitration in the coming seasons, Judge, Sanchez, and Severino could offer the Yankees even greater All-Star value at the league’s lowest rates. How’s that for a bargain.

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