Yankees hugging Luxury Tax: 3 ways they can free up money

isiah kiner-falefa, yankees
Oct 23, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa (12) throws out Houston Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel (not pictured) in the sixth inning during game four of the ALCS for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees are currently right against the $293 million threshold for what has become known as the “Steve Cohen Tax,” though it’s done nothing to stop the man who it was named after from blowing right by it. While the Yankees have certainly spent this offseason, they have their limits as well.

It’s hard to imagine that Hal Steinbrenner would go over the Luxury Tax for any of the remaining free agents on the market, and that’s even with Jurickson Profar’s price tag potentially falling. They have under $1 million separating them from the Luxury Tax, but the Yankees can still make moves to clear payroll and potentially even make one last signing to round out their roster.

Trading Isiah Kiner-Falefa During Spring Training

It’s evident that the Yankees value having veteran depth at shortstop on the roster, and it makes sense. Their current options outside of Isiah Kiner-Falefa are Peraza, Volpe, and Cabrera, and while I believe all three of those players are better than IKF, an injury could change everything.

Volpe is going to start the season out in Triple-A, in all likelihood, as his development seems a little incomplete, though Spring Training will most certainly put that to the test. As for Peraza and Cabrera, I’m sure both will be on the Major League roster, but again injuries can happen whenever.

If they have a healthy Peraza and Cabrera, trading IKF seems like a no-brainer. They could free up $6 million in Luxury Tax payroll, and unlike what many Yankees fans may think, he does have actual value on the market. There are teams in need of shortstop depth, and the Yankees have what is a low-cost solution that can hit 9th and play around the diamond. When we evaluate the bottom 5 teams in projected fWAR for shortstop, we see potential candidates for a trade:

  • Braves (2.8)
  • Athletics (2.4)
  • Nationals (2.4)
  • Diamondbacks (2.4)
  • Reds (1.4)

The Braves seem to be set on rookie Vaughn Grissom at shortstop, while the Athletics and Reds may be too cheap to actually add payroll in the form of IKF. As for the Diamondbacks and Nationals, the D-backs may actually want to contend this season, and IKF could bolster a weak shortstop position. Arizona had interest in longtime Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts before he signed a huge contract with their division rivals in San Diego, indicating that they feel like they could do better at the position. IKF isn’t anything close to Bogaerts, but he would certainly help their depth.

isiah kiner-falefa, yankees
Oct 14, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa (12) throws to first base to force out Cleveland Guardians left fielder Steven Kwan (not pictured) during the seventh inning in game two of the ALDS for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

He’s not flashy, his ceiling is pretty limited, and there’s a reason Peraza is a shoe-in to start over him, but that doesn’t make him a bad baseball player at all. The Yankees netting any return and shedding that $6 million would make it a good deal in theory for NYY, and perhaps a lower-pressure environment and job security at the position could help IKF post better defensive numbers and continue to be the pesky bottom-of-the-lineup bat he was for the Bronx Bombers last year. The $6 million now freed up could go towards adding to LF now or potentially at the deadline, but this isn’t the only avenue for the Yankees to free up money.

Trading Out of a Position of Strength?

As mentioned previously, what if the Yankees strongly feel as if IKF is a necessity for a rookie-heavy infield? There’s a legitimate argument to be made that Peraza could struggle or again suffer an unforeseen injury, and in that case, Volpe could be unprepared to take on the mantle. Thus, they’d need a shortstop. There’s an avenue for IKF to fill a role on this team, and that alone makes his spot on the team a little bit safer than many (including myself) would initially believe. The bullpen is an area that the Yankees have been able to produce talent from flawlessly, and perhaps trading a higher-priced option in that bullpen could be a good idea.

RHP Lou Trivino was acquired in the Frankie Montas deal, becoming the only impact player they’ve acquired in said deal. What if the Yankees flip his $4.1 million salary to a contender in need of controllable bullpen help?

Trivino fits the Yankees like a glove in terms of his pitch mix, a sweeping slider, a hard sinker, and a cutter that can induce soft contact among his other weapons he can deploy whenever. He’s a reliever that you can use to close games, toss multiple innings, or come in to take over for a struggling starter and fill in the middle innings. He’s versatile, reliable, and buys into the new system the Yankees have where they don’t have defined roles for relievers. You’re used when you’re needed, and that’s sometimes difficult for more routine-oriented relievers.

It wouldn’t be a move that you’d make just to clear salary, as you’d want to net a lottery ticket prospect that you feel could have some potential upside. Trivino would definitely be a welcome addition to many bullpens across the league, and the Rangers would be a tremendous fit. They greatly bolstered their rotation heading into the 2023 campaign, but they could use some extra bullpen help, especially after the loss of LHP Matt Moore to their divisional rivals in the Angels.

matt moore, yankees, rangers
Texas Rangers relief pitcher Matt Moore (45) throws a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays in the eighth inning Sep 16, 2022; St. Petersburg, Florida, USA; at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

If they want to compete in a tough AL West, they’ll need all the help they can get, and Trivino could help them tip the scale in their favor in close ballgames when they need pivotal outs. He’s familiar with the division, the Rangers are willing to spend, and the Yankees could have $4.1 million extra to work with alongside an opening in the bullpen for someone like Clarke Schmidt, Greg Weissert, or Matt Krook to grab in Spring Training.

Could the Yankees Put an End to the Gleyber Torres Era?

I am not an advocate for trading Gleyber Torres. However, there isn’t a 100% chance that he’s on the team come Opening Day. The Yankees could free up nearly $10 million in Luxury Tax payroll, but this seems like it would only occur if Volpe and Peraza both won starting jobs in Spring Training. As previously mentioned, all signs point towards Volpe starting out in Triple-A, though we’ve seen teams call up players prior to their stints in Triple-A.

Vaughn Grissom of the Atlanta Braves had under 30 games played at Double-A before being called up to play 2B in absence of Ozzie Albies, posting a 121 wRC+. That same Braves squad called up centerfielder Michael Harris II after 30 games of a 130 wRC+ in Double-A, and he went on to win NL Rookie of the Year. If the Yankees really believe that Anthony Volpe is ready to play Major League Baseball, they are not going to look at his 2022 wRC+ in a small sample at Triple-A as the reason not to do it.

anthony volpe, yankees
Jul 16, 2022; Los Angeles, CA, USA; American League Futures shortstop Anthony Volpe (7) returns to the dugout after striking out in the first inning of the All Star-Futures Game at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees could view Volpe as their 2B full-time in 2023, which would have Torres on the outside looking in. He’d have plenty of suitors across the league, especially when you consider that offensively-adept 2B are hard to come by in the league. He’s improved defensively and would come with two years of control, which would allow for teams to have him for not just two seasons, but also two potential postseason runs. He’s an extension candidate if he plays well due to his age, and I’d imagine a team that’s on the fringe of playoff contention would love to add an experienced but young bat to their core.

I don’t want to make it seem like Volpe is going to start the season with the Yankees, but it’s a better than 0% chance. The Yankees are going to keep an open mind with their infield, and quite frankly, the only player that’s worth moving Gleyber Torres for is Anthony Volpe. If the Yankees could potentially move Torres for a LF, it would also solve a lot of their issues at the position, though it seems pitching prospects would be the easiest route to take as they definitely have more elite bats than elite arms at the Minor League level.

gleyber torres, new york yankees
Sep 27, 2022; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres (25) reacts after the final out as the Yankees defeat the Toronto Blue Jays to win the American League East division at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

It would be a move that I’d lean against, especially considering that the floor for Torres feels higher than Volpe’s as of right now. That being said, all we have are public projection systems, while the Yankees have much more extensive data and better scouts to determine how ready Volpe is for Major League pitching, something I can’t quite speak to as I haven’t seen much of Volpe in-person, part of the ambiguity with prospect scouting. Torres could be a huge part of this team in 2023, but he could also find himself in a new city if Volpe forces himself into the picture.

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