The New York Yankees are desperately trying to stay below the third luxury tax threshold, otherwise known as the “Steve Cohen tax.” With the next threshold settling in at $293 million, the Yankees currently have a projected $290 million in allocated salary after arbitration. With that being the case, offloading a few big contracts would be advisable, but it is easier said than done.
The Bombers have gone on a spending spree regardless this off-season, returning Aaron Judge on a nine-year, $362 million deal and inking star pitcher Carlos Rodon to a six-year, $162 million contract. That is over half $1 billion allocated to just two players, forcing the Yankees to settle and be conservative at other positions.
Nonetheless, let’s take a look at a few players on the roster that could open up a significant chunk of change to continue adding pieces this off-season, at the very least solid depth and bullpen support.
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Two players who take up $35M on the books for the Yankees:
1.) Josh Donaldson
The Yankees have been looking to move Josh Donaldson for months now but simply haven’t been able to find a suitor, given his $21 million base salary for the upcoming season and $6 million vesting option for 2024. He is owed $27 million over the next two years, and at 37 years old, Donaldson’s prime is well behind him.
The only reason the Yankees acquired Donaldson in the first place was that Isiah Kiner-Falefa was the primary target to fill the shortstop position with a stop-gap solution.
During his age-36 season, Donaldson hit a putrid .222 with a .308 on-base percentage. He recorded a sub-100 wRC+ for the first time since 2012, hitting 15 homers and 62 RBIs across 132 games.
Donaldson also tallied a career-high 27.1% strikeout rate but was phenomenal on the defensive side, being snubbed for a Gold Glove award. Over 902.2 innings on the hot corner, he posted a .961 fielding percentage with seven defensive runs saved and seven outs above average. He did provide plenty of value with his glove, but his offense became a vulnerability down the stretch.
Ultimately, Donaldson is set to count $21 million in base salary but $25 million in luxury tax salary. If general manager Brian Cashman can find a way to offload his deal, it would be a huge victory for the team, especially since DJ LeMahieu is the preferable starter at third base this upcoming season. Even if Cashman is able to save a bit of his salary, it would allow them to spend elsewhere, preferably at a position that needs significant support.
LeMahieu was excellent on the hot corner, and knowing his defensive prowess, they simply can’t leave him out of the batting order either. Unless the team trades Gleyber Torres and moves DJ to second base, retaining Donaldson’s starting position, the writing seems to be on the wall. Having a $25 million player sitting on the bench is unjustifiable.
2.) Aaron Hicks
The next hiccup the Yankees have to worry about is Aaron Hicks, who has received plenty of optimism from management this off-season. Hicks projects to compete for the starting left field job, but it seems to be Oswaldo Cabrera‘s to lose unless they bring in a new face via trade.
Hicks is set to earn $10.5 million in base salary with a $10 million luxury tax salary, but coming off yet another down year, he cannot be relied on. At 33 years old, he hit .216 with a .330 OBP last season, hitting just eight homers and 40 RBIs with a 90 wRC+. His best days are well behind him, having put together two consecutive years of disappointing play.
It is no secret that the Yankees are desperately trying to move on from Hicks and his contract. He has approximately $30 million left on his deal across three years, in which the Yankees could easily allocate that money toward locking in Harrison Bader on an extension after the 2023 season if he performs.
The problem is, the Yankees may have to package Hicks with prospects just to get rid of his deal, despite the fact that $10 million for a starting-level outfielder is cheap these days. Nonetheless, it is easy to question whether Hicks should be starting anywhere and his value to an opposing team. Sometimes, getting out of New York can be a recipe for success, but it’s difficult to convince other teams of that reality.