If you’re a member of the New York Yankees millennial fanbase, you have seen a level of success unparalleled since 1936-1962. In those 26 years, the Yankees won 16 championships. Now, we’ve won considerably fewer championships, but you can’t deny 21 postseasons in 24 years, 7 wild cards, 14 American League East titles, 7 pennants, and 5 championships is an impressive feat.
But the Yankees have had difficulty finding long-lasting success in October since the last championship run of 2009. 2010 through 2012 saw them getting bounced from October by the Detroit Tigers, resulting in Derek Jeter’s ankle-breaking in the 2012 sweep by the Tigers. The Yankees then missed the playoffs in 2013 and 2014, to come back and lose the Wild Card game to the Astros. 2016 resulted in another missed October. Then we saw what happened these last 3 seasons.
During this stretch of the 2010s, we kept getting one set of lip service from the Yankees front office, specifically Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman. “We’re aiming to win championships, but want to stay below the luxury tax.”
We’re the New York Yankees. We’re the reason the luxury tax came into play!
Yes – Spending Money Improves Your Championship Chances
There were two teams to beat the last decade in October. The San Fransisco Giants and the Boston Red Sox. The Giants won 3 titles in 5 years, and the Red Sox won 2. In 2010, the Giants salary payroll was $97 million. By 2015, after they won their 3rd title, it had jumped up to $172 million. Why was this? Well, it can largely be attributed to the Giants trying to keep their core together since that 2010 run. Conversely, the Sox were the team with the 4th highest payroll in baseball in 2013, when they won and had the highest salary in baseball when they won in 2018. Even the Astros and Nationals were in the top 10 in terms of salary payrolls for 2019 (stevetheump.com).
This has more to do with the fact that these two teams knew they had to spend money to give them the best chance at winning. And they spent money on the players that they knew they needed moving forward. Considering how spectacular Madison Bumgarner was in 2014, if you’re the Giants, you pay him what he wants, so he stays. For the Red Sox, you want to beat the Yankees? You go out and sign pitchers who have the best stuff against the Yankees. And that includes David Price AND Chris Sale.
But Is It A Viable Model?
There are obvious drawbacks to this school of thought. Age and injury play a big part in these contracts that determine whether or not the deals are viable. And the Yankees in the last decade have had the opportunity to make the prudent call in signing some of the contracts they signed, but they didn’t. And they ended up looking foolish.
Case one against the Yankees “quest to stay below the luxury tax but put a championship-caliber team on the field,” Jacoby Ellsbury.
Ellsbury had a noted history of injury before signing with the Yankees. In 2010, he played 18 games due to injury. In 2012, he played in 74 due to injury, and in his final season in Boston, their 2013 championship run, he played in less than 140 games. Which means he missed a good chunk there due to injury. In his time since coming to the Yankees, which was 6 years ago, he’s played in approximately 57% of all possible games. This includes the fact that he’s missed the last 2 seasons, and was benched by Girardi during one of his previous playoff appearances.
Case two against the New York Yankees, signing Carlos Beltran.
Beltran was the most absurd signing the Yankees could have made. Giving a 37-year-old, with horrible knees that reduced his mobility, a 3-year contract to go out there and play right field?! I remember watching in disgust as Beltran just stood there, listlessly, in right field as he watched Ellsbury crash into the wall trying to chase down a fly ball. And it wasn’t until after the ball was bouncing away, that Beltran made his break for the ball. That resulted in an inside the park home run. And, yes, the Yankees signed Beltran to play right field. Of his 334 games he played as a Yankee, Beltran spent 143 of those games in right field. You don’t sign a DH and have him play 43% of his games in a position that weakens the clubs chance to win. And this was a $45 million contract the Yankees signed him to!
There were more egregious cases than just these two. And while they were signed before 2010, it did complicate the Yankees in the 2010s. I loved Mark Texiera as a Yankee, but good lord. That contract ended up being a massive albatross as he got older and couldn’t stay on the field anymore. CC Sabathia’s contract was a similar money pit, even though I wouldn’t trade what he accomplished as a Yankee for the world. And then there was A-Rod’s contract.
Why would you give a 31-year-old a 10-year contract worth $275 million? Even Masahiro Tanaka’s contract is starting to look suspect. He’s yet to crack the top 5 in Cy Young voting. His pitching elbow can go at any minute, he’s been in the top 20 for the American League in home runs allowed the last three seasons, and has an ERA dancing around 4.00 during the previous three seasons. And he’s been getting $20+ million per season!
At 31 years old, I think Tanaka has to think about moving to the bullpen if he wants to stay an effective pitcher for the Yankees moving forward. And now the Yankees gave a guy who averaged playing 95 games per season, his whole career, a 7-year contract (Aaron Hicks). And really? You HAD to trade for Giancarlo Stanton and his behemoth contract?
What’s this about staying under the luxury tax?
Why The Luxury Tax Quest Will Hurt Us in 2020
Now it’s highly suspect we’ll let Didi sign elsewhere, to slide Gleyber over to shortstop. This is a mistake.
Gleyber’s sample size defensively in the majors is small, but it’s pronounced. Gleyber Torres is a MUCH better defensive second baseman than he is at shortstop.
In his career, Torres has a major league fielding percentage of .969 at second, and a career .954 fielding percentage at shortstop. His career range factor at second is 3.75 compared to 3.42 at short, meaning YES! He covers more ground at a new position rather than his “natural” position. And this includes the fact that Gleyber spent MORE time playing shortstop last season than he did second base (77 appearances at short compared to just 65 at second). And part of the reason why Didi will be passed over is that the qualifying offer would work too much against the Yankees luxury tax.
What’s going to happen when Gary Sanchez AND Aaron Judge both need new contracts by 2023? Are we going to let one of them walk? I already made the case that Sanchez is on pace to have a Hall of Fame career. Judge is just too good to let walk! Gio Urshella will be owed money by then, also, as will Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres.
What made the dynasty of the 90’s so consistent was the fact you had the SAME core of players on all those teams. O’Neil, Martinez, Jeter, Brosius, Williams, Posada, Pettite, Rivera, and Knoblauch. The core of Gregorius, Judge, Torres, Voit, Andujar, Sanchez, Severino, and Betances (another 2020 free agent) is a team that wins. We saw what this group is capable of over the last two seasons, and they’re just hitting their stride as a cohesive unit. Do you think the Giants would have been as successful as they were without Bumgarner, Posey, Sandoval, and Pagan at a bare minimum? Of course, they wouldn’t have been!
This is a team that needs to be reinforced with better starting pitching and a reevaluation of the bullpen. That means that Hal and Brian need to open the checkbook and go over that luxury tax. Moving Gleyber to short would be detrimental to his development as a player. Gardner will be willing to take a team-friendly discount for a one year deal in 2020 because he wants to stay a Yankee (and they need him in center). Didi has shown he’s worthy of a deal comparable to other elite shortstops in baseball with his regular-season and postseason performances (even Derek Jeter struggled in a few postseasons). A tag team of Urshella and Andujar, with one of them getting a chance at first to help rest Voit and DJ is more security at the corners than the Yankees have had in a long time.
Besides, the Yankees made $668 million in revenue last year as a 100 win wild card team that got eliminated in the ALDS. They were a 100+ game-winning division champion who got to game 6 of the ALCS while blowing past the record they set for most home runs as a team in 2018. They will have made closer to $1 billion this 2019, mark my words. They can afford to pay the luxury tax. And they should.
It’s a championship or bust, remember? Clearly what Hal and Brian have been doing hasn’t been working. It would be insanity if they stuck with that plan moving forward into the 2020s. Because by the standard of the Yankees organization, it was an abject failure trying to field a championships caliber team while staying under the luxury tax in the 2010s.