Brett Gardner and Two Paths Forward
As has been widely reported, Brett Gardner is back in the fold for another year with the Yankees on a 1 year, $7.5 million deal. Here is what we know right now:
By exercising Gardner’s $2 million buyout and resigning him to a $7.5 million contract, the Yankees saved $3 million against the luxury tax threshold vs. simply exercising Gardner’s final year $12.5 million club option.
The Yankees now have 6 major league options for the outfield: Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Brett Gardner, Clint Frazier, and Jacoby Ellsbury.
River Ave Blues projected that the Yankees had roughly $49.7 million to spend before hitting the luxury tax threshold this winter prior to the Gardner signing. Signing Gardner gives the roughly $42.2 million to spend this winter in the Free Agent market.
Based on those facts, the Yankees can follow one of two paths: keep the current lineup relatively unchanged from last season (except for finding a Didi fill-in) and once again stay under the luxury tax threshold; or use the money saved in future tax savings by staying under the luxury tax threshold this year to make multiple splashes in the free agent market. Here’s what each path might look like this off-season:
Austerity – A Luxury Tax-Conscious Path Forward
The Yankees, despite a powerful lineup, have some real holes to fill this off-season. The Yankees only have two bonafide starting pitchers on the pitching staff, have to find a way to patch the middle infield until Didi Gregorius returns from Tommy John surgery, and have to find a way to patch the departures of Zach Britton and David Robertson in the bullpen. To summarize: the Yankees have approximately $42.2 million for somewhere between 4-7 players. We also have no way of knowing what the market is really going to look like this winter. Teams refused to enter the Free Agent market for any player that wasn’t at the top end of the market. So, here’s how the Yankees could fill the holes above and (probably) stay under the luxury tax threshold:
1.) Sign CC Sabathia and Nathan Eovaldi to fill two spots in the rotation. Sabathia will return on a 1 year deal for the same $10 million he made this year. Eovaldi is a tricky free agent case. His performance coming back from a second Tommy John surgery was nothing short of miraculous, and he was an integral part of the World Series-winning Red Sox. However, Eovaldi’s injury history is scary, he seemed to tire at the end of the regular season, and this was really the first season that he put all of the pieces together from a performance perspective. I really believe that Eovaldi has turned the corner, and the Yankees use the rest of baseball’s hesitance to their advantage, signing him to a 3 year, $45 million contract.
2.) Fill the final spot in the rotation with tandem starters, and use the kids. I will talk about this idea more in a post tomorrow morning, but the Yankees have numerous young starters in the farm that are all deserving of major league time next year. Not all of them are ready for a full rotation spot, but can develop all of their pitches and maintain effectiveness in a 3-inning role. The fifth rotation spot can feature Justus Sheffield, Chance Adams, Domingo German, Jonathan Loaisiga, Domingo Acevedo, and Mike King on a rotating basis. Each guy gets exposure to the majors so that they can develop, and each will likely be more effective in a shorter appearance. The Yankee get 5th starter performance for a cheaper price.
3.) Sign Adeiny Hechavarria or Josh Harrison to fill the middle infield gap. Neither signing would be especially exciting or flashy, but both have positional versatility and would come cheap. Move Torres to SS if Harrison is the choice, or keep Torres at 2B if Hechavarria returns. I would expect that either player could be signed for $7 million or so.
4.) Sign David Robertson, and allow one of the kids to become the next big bullpen piece. Based on the projections above, we have $10.2 million left to spend. Zach Britton is going to do better than that in AAV on the free agent market, so we can’t re-sign him. Robertson is representing himself this off-season, and is probably looking at his last MLB contract. I think that 2 years, $20 million is realistic for a 34 year old relief pitcher. To replace Britton, I think one of the aforementioned kids above turns into a high octane, multi-inning reliever this year. My bet is on either Acevedo or Adams.
Under this plan, the Yankees have roughly $200K left to spend throughout the season, and stay under the luxury tax threshold. Hope they don’t spend it all in one place!
Plan 2: Spend, Spend, Spend…oh, and SPEND
This is the New York Yankees – austerity just does not compute when the Yankees have more buying power than anyone else in the league. So, how would I spend if I were the Yankees?
1.) Follow the same plan for the rotation as they would under the austerity plan. This may come as something of a shock, but I think my austerity plan for the rotation is pretty good. I do not believe strongly in any of the high-end options available this winter and the Yankees have some intriguing internal options. If things go badly by the trade deadline, the Yankees can simply make a deal for starting pitching by utilizing their deep farm system.
2.) Sign Bryce Harper. Bryce Harper is, in my opinion, the best player available this winter and has a swing tailor-made for Yankee Stadium. His offensive output will more than make-up for Didi’s absence, meaning that the Yankees can fill the middle infield gap with any of the options I listed under the austerity plan, or give Tyler Wade one last shot.
3.) Re-Sign Robertson and Britton. The Yankees have employed one of the best bullpens in baseball for the last 3 or so years – no reason to break up the band now.
The Yankees’ ideal path forward in either scenario looks pretty similar, but there is no question but that an off-season that ignores the luxury tax threshold will yield a better baseball team capable of winning the World Series. The similarity between the two scenarios also means that the Yankees really are close to a World Series caliber team. Bryce Harper really can put the Yankees over the top.