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Yankees 2018-19 free agency primer: The payroll, the targets, and the price tags


The long-awaited and highly anticipated 2018-19 offseason has officially arrived, and in the coming weeks, the Yankees — which, to the surprise and dismay of some, achieved their goal of painstakingly landing under the $197 million luxury-tax threshold this September — will emerge as favorites to acquire at least one of several big-ticket items on the free agent market.

As a result of staying under that all-important luxury-tax threshold this year, the Yankees reset their tax rate.  This means, instead of being penalized 50-percent if they exceed next season’s threshold limit of $206 million, New York will now be penalized 20-percent.  To magnify the significance of these numbers, the Yankees paid the tax for 15 consecutive seasons since Major League Baseball implemented it back in 2003, and across that span, it’s cost the franchise more than $340 million.

So, with that in mind, here’s a brief look at where the Yankees’ payroll will/could stand next season, and which players could sign with the team while autumn turns to winter.

The payroll

At the moment, the Yankees are financially committed to just five guaranteed contracts: Giancarlo Stanton ($22M), Masahiro Tanaka ($22.1M), Jacoby Ellsbury ($21.8M), Aroldis Chapman ($17.2M), and Brett Gardner ($7.5M).  Does that sound crazy?  Well, considering the Yankees’ roster composition, it really isn’t. 

This offseason, the team has a nine-player arbitration class (i.e. Didi Gregorius, Dellin Betances, Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, Aaron Hicks).  The remaining players (i.e. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres, Chad Green, Luke Voit) are categorized under the pre-arbitration status.   Do the math, and that comes out to 31 total players.  It’s also worth mentioning the free agents (i.e. C.C. Sabathia, J.A. Happ, David Robertson, Zach Britton, Neil Walker, Lance Lynn), who are no longer a part of the 40-man roster.  Thus, 31 players instead of 40.  But, that will change with future signings and trades.

Phew, that’s a lot of information.  Want more?  Add up those five guaranteed contracts, and the active payroll sits at roughly $90.6 million.  But that’s not all.  Now it’s time to factor in arbitration salary projections for those nine players.  How is this conducted?  Thanks to MLBTradeRumors and Matt Swartz, we have some close/dead-on guesses as to how much money will be allocated.  The numbers aren’t always precise, but Swartz’s system and calculations are pretty impressive, and often accurate.  So, here’s what he projected:

Didi Gregorius (5.159 years of service time) – $12.4M;  Sonny Gray (5.061) – $9.1M;  Dellin Betances (5.078) – $6.4M;  Aaron Hicks (5.041) – $6.2M;  Luis Severino (2.170) – $5.1M;  Austin Romine (5.045) – $2.0M;  Tommy Kahnle (3.131) – $1.5M;  Greg Bird (3.053) – $1.5M;  Ronald Torreyes (2.139) – $900K — Total: $45.1 million.

So, based on guaranteed contracts and arbitration-eligible players, the Yankees’ payroll sits at approximately $135.7 million.  Does that $45.1 million seem steep?  Compared to last year’s arbitration class ($29.2 million), it really is.  The Yankees’ top youngsters are seeing increased salaries, and that’s the nature of the beast.  Alright, back to this year’s numbers. 

Of course, this $135.7 million figure is going to go up, because pre-arbitration players and other assorted costs (potential bonuses and benefits, minimum salary players) have yet to be accounted for.  These categories are more of a guessing game than the others, but based on last year’s numbers, we have an educated guess.  According to CBS Sports’ Mike Axisa, the Yankees spent roughly $8.8 million on pre-arbitration players and $3.9 million on other players (i.e. Shane Robinson, David Hale) in 2018, so that adds up to $13 million, give or take.  Then add another $15 million or so for those varied contract bonuses and benefits, says Axisa, and the combined total of these two categories comes out to approximately $28 million.   

Based on the math and projections from Swartz and Axisa, the Yankees’ 2019 payroll adds up to roughly $163.7 million.  And to reiterate, this dollar figure — calculated from information/projections via Cot’s Contracts, Spotrac.com, MLBTradeRumors, and Axisa — includes guaranteed contracts, arbitration/pre-arbitration players, and miscellaneous costs.  Obviously, free agents aren’t included in the $163.7 million because, well, they’re free agents.  They haven’t signed anywhere yet.   Will this total change?  Absolutely.  For a myriad of reasons, this number isn’t concrete.   It’s simply an educated guess.  It’ll certainly fluctuate.  Remember that.  

Now, it’s unclear if Yankees’ owner Hal Steinbrenner wants his payroll to exceed that $206 million mark in 2019.  There’s a strong possibility he’s open to a spending spree that will force the team over the threshold.  But, assuming their goal is to remain under the threshold for a second straight season, this leaves the Yankees with about $42.3 million to spend on players this winter.  Again, there’s a strong chance this number goes up, since the Yankees are expected to spend freely. 

Don’t trust the math here?  Check out Spotrac.com and Cot’s contracts and crunch some numbers.  


The targets 

While baseball’s annual winter meetings are still five weeks away (Dec. 10-14 in Las Vegas), expect the stove to heat up next week (Nov. 6-8) when general managers from each franchise gather in Carlsbad, California.  Traditionally, blockbuster signings and trades transpire in December (only fitting that Vegas will host this free agent bonanza), but don’t rule out the possibility of business being conducted in the coming days.  History says to expect the unexpected.

Anyway, here’s a list of 10 free agents (needs and wants) who, in all likelihood, are on the Yankees’ radar:

INF Manny Machado, 26 — 2018 stats with BAL, LAD: 162 G, .297 BA, 37 HR, 107 RBI, 35 2B, 70 BB, 104 SO, .367 OBP, .538 SLG, .905 OPS, 146 OPS+

OF Bryce Harper, 26 — 2018 stats with WSH: 159 G, .249 BA, 34 HR, 100 RBI, 34 2B, 130 BB, 169 SO, .393 OBP, .496 SLG, .889 OPS, 133 OPS

LHP Patrick Corbin, 29 — 2018 stats with ARI: 33 GS, 11-7, 3.15 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 2.47 FIP, 137 ERA+, 11.1 SO/9, 2.2 BB/9, 7.3 H/9, 200 IP, 70 ER, 15 HR, 48 BB, 246 SO, 162 H

LHP J.A. Happ, 36 — 2018 stats with TOR, NYY: 31 GS, 17-6, 3.65 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 3.98 FIP, 117 ERA+, 9.8 SO/9, 2.6 BB/9, 7.6 H/9, 177.2 IP, 72 ER, 27 HR, 51 BB, 193 SO, 150 H

RHP Nathan Eovaldi, 28 — 2018 stats with TB, BOS: 21 GS, 6-7, 3.81 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 3.60 FIP, 112 ERA+, 8.2 SO/9, 1.6 BB/9, 8.5 H/9, 111 IP, 47 ER, 14 HR, 20 BB, 101 SO, 105 H

LHP Zach Britton, 30 — 2018 stats with BAL, NYY: 41 G, 2-0, 3.10 ERA, 7 SV, 1.23 WHIP, 4.22 FIP, 140 ERA+, 7.5 SO/9, 4.6 BB/9, 6.4 H/9, 40.2 IP, 14 ER, 3 HR, 21 BB, 34 SO, 29 H

RHP David Robertson, 33 — 2018 stats with NYY: 69 G, 8-3, 3.23 ERA, 5 SV, 1.03 WHIP, 2.97 FIP, 136 ERA+, 11.8 SO/9, 3.4 BB/9, 5.9 H/9, 69.2 IP, 25 ER, 7 HR, 26 BB, 91 SO, 46 H

LHP C.C. Sabathia, 38 — 2018 stats with NYY: 29 GS, 9-7, 3.65 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 4.16 FIP, 120 ERA+, 8.2 SO/9, 3.0 BB/9, 8.8 H/9, 153 IP, 62 ER, 19 HR, 51 BB, 140 SO, 150 H

LHP Dallas Keuchel, 30 — 2018 stats with HOU: 34 GS, 12-11, 3.74 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 3.69 FIP, 108 ERA+, 6.7 SO/9, 2.6 BB/9, 9.3 H/9, 204.2 IP, 85 ER, 18 HR, 58 BB, 153 SO, 211 H

RHP Charlie Morton, 34 — 2018 stats with HOU: 30 GS, 15-3, 3.13 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 3.59 FIP, 129 ERA+, 10.8 SO/9, 3.4 BB/9, 7.0 H/9, 167 IP, 58 ER, 18 HR, 64 BB, 201 SO, 130 H


The price tags

It’s time to ponder dollars and cents again.  Will Harper and Machado receive record-shattering contracts?  Will the Yankees focus primarily on starting pitching and bullpen help, rather than offensive power threats?  Decisions decisions.

Since we don’t yet know how much money these free agents will garner this winter, it’s time to rely on the baseball pundits again.  Fancred Sports insider Jon Heyman and an industry expert released their annual free agent contract predictions, and this winter, the list is 131 players long.

Here are their predictions for the 10 free agents mentioned above:

INF Manny Machado, 26 — Our poll done a few months ago of top executives had Machado the winner. Word is, the Phillies are still hanging in there for Machado, and maybe Harper, too. But at least one team I know of has declared themselves out. Expert: 10 years, 32.5M per, $325M. The Phillies are the logical call, but he’s believed to love the idea of the Yankees. Me: 10 years, $30M, $300M.

OF Bryce Harper, 26 — The biggest winner of the postseason, according to one management person was Harper. Not because of anything he did, of course, but because Machado’s on-field antics changed the narrative over who’d be better on a team. Rare is it that one superstar hits the free agent market in his mid 20s but we have two this year. All anyone talks about is who’ll get more. The Nats and Phillies are in for sure, and some other possibilities include the Giants, Cubs and Yankees. Expert: 11 years, 34M per, $374M. Me: 11 years, $30M per, $330M.

LHP Patrick Corbin, 29 Corbin put together a pretty spectacular walk year. It’ll be interesting between Keuchel and Corbin. While the expert slightly favored Keuchel, I’ll take the recency factor. The Yankees should be a player. Expert: 5 years, $17M per, $85M. Me: 5 years, $20M per, $100M.

LHP J.A. Happ, 36 — He had a very nice fee-agent year, and it should pay off. The Yankees like Happ and he’s on their list. Expert: 2 years, $13M per, $26M. Me: 2 years, $13M per, $26M.

RHP Nathan Eovaldi, 28 — He became a hero in the World Series, interestingly in Boston’s one defeat, for his ability and willingness to go long in Game 3 after pitching in Games 1 and 2. Red Sox manager Alex Cora joked that Eovaldi’s agent “might kill him,” but it appears he survived the ordeal. Expert: 4 years, $16M per, $64M. Me: 3 years, $15M per, $45M.

LHP Zach Britton, 30 — He was throwing better by year’s end, and though not quite up to his spectacular performance from 2016. Expert: 4 years, $14M per, $56M.  Me: 4 years, $15M per, $60M.

RHP David Robertson, 33 — He’s going to go on his own after his agent Scott Leventhal got him a $46-million windfall despite having a qualifying offer attached to him. Strange decision. Expert: 3 years, $7M per, $21M. Me: 2 years, $9M, $18M.

LHP C.C. Sabathia, 38 — He is still productive. Expert: 1 year, $9M. Me: 1 year, $8M.

LHP Dallas Keuchel, 30 — The past Cy Young winner turned down some long deals while in Houston, and there’s a suspicion he wouldn’t mind going to an even bigger market, like L.A.  or N.Y.C. (the Yankees are looking for starters), perhaps.  Expert: 5 years, $21M per, $105M. Me: 5 years, $19M, $95M.

RHP Charlie Morton, 34 — He became an All-Star in Houston. The Astros could give him the qualifying offer, which he’d presumably accept since he’s said he may only want to play one more year. 1 year, $17 M. Me: $17.9M QO.


If you want to connect with Tom Hanslin, email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @tomhanslin.