Yankees trying to add $31.5 million to books but struggling to move bloated contracts

josh donaldson, yankees
Oct 23, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson (28) reacts after striking out in the third inning against the Houston Astros during game four of the ALCS for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees have made several massive signings this off-season, elevating their projected total payroll to $270 million, up $17 million from their 2022 number of $253 million.

Clearly, management is keen on upgrading the roster, given the signings of Aaron Judge and Carlos Rodon to bolster the starting pitching rotation. The Bombers simply retained Judge’s services, which they found to be essential given his historic 2022 campaign. Nonetheless, they promised Judge to continue adding World Series-caliber pieces, which is where Rodon comes into play.

Rodon pitched 178 innings this past season, a career-high for the lefty starter. He recorded a 2.88 ERA and 12 strikeouts per nine, showcasing fantastic consistency and his second consecutive dominant campaign.

The Yankees need to clear a bit more salary space:

However, the Yankees still need a starting left fielder and would like to add more bullpen support. Finding more salary space is a priority, which is why general manager Brian Cashman is trying to trade Josh Donaldson and Aaron Hicks. Donaldson is set to earn $21 million for the 2023 season, including a $6 million vesting option in 2024. Hicks, on the other hand, is set to earn $10.5 million and has about $30 million left on his seven-year contract.

“The Yankees have been unable to find takers for Josh Donaldson and Aaron Hicks. Donaldson played a great third base, but his patented bat speed is a question. Donaldson’s presence and pay were one reason Carlos Correa couldn’t work for them.”

Per Jon Heyman of the New York Post.

Moving Hicks should be a bit easier, given $10 million for a starting-level outfielder is a solid deal. At 33 years old, though, Hicks has struggled the past few seasons, hitting .216 with a 33% on-base rate, including eight homers and 40 RBIs last season. His 90 wRC+ was his second lowest since 2016 but did record his highest war (1.5) since 2018, which tells a story of his demise.

It is more likely that Hicks is included in a bigger trade package, offloading a bit of his salary in the process. There have been rumors that the Yankees are keen on Minnesota Twins outfielder Max Kepler, so they could throw Hicks into the deal to clear a bit of salary space.

Donaldson, on the other hand, is a bit more difficult to move. At 37 years old, he still features elite defense but cannot be trusted as an offensive weapon. He took a big step in the wrong direction this past season, hitting .222 with a 30.8% on-base rate, 15 homers, and 62 RBIs. His strikeout rate ballooned to 27.1%, the highest in his career, and dipped below a 10% minimum walk rate for the first time since 2012.

There’s no chance the Yankees will move his entire $21 million salary, but they may be able to offer to pay half, allowing a team to plug their third base for a season.

Nonetheless, both players will have to be packaged in a more prominent deal to move even a portion of their salaries, and while the Yankees would love to consume $31.5 million in total and reallocate, simply getting them off the books would be a good start.

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