Building Back Better – Part 1 (A Quick Look At the Payroll and the Top Prospects)
by Cary Greene
October 22, 2021
I do not believe that the Yankees will not be big players in free agency this winter. I think the Yankees will be looking critically at their top prospects and looking to move payroll.
In this short two-part series, I’ll delve into all of this beginning with a look at the payroll and some important minor league players.
Once we have an idea of how the Rule 5 Draft strategy will position the 40 man roster, the Yankees will need to figure out what they are going to do with what is by far, the highest 2022 payroll in all of MLB.
The team is presently on the books for $231,069,049 for 2022. Suffice it to say, Brian Cashman has done a horrendous job of positioning the Yankees vs the teams they compete with not only in their division, but in all of baseball. Heading into the offseason, the Yankee payroll for 2022 is 31% higher than the Red Sox, 53% higher than the Blue Jays, 71% higher than the Rays and 90% higher than the Orioles — this before a single move is made this offseason. Hal Steinbrenner is apparently on board with spending so much for such little returns. I find it very hard to justify retaining Brian Cashman simply from a fiscal perspective, but perhaps Steinbrenner uses some other method to evaluate how little he’s accomplished and is somehow pleased with the job he’s done.
In fact, the Yankees payroll is 14% higher than the Dodgers and 15% higher than the Padres, suffice it to say that Brian Cashman is poised once again to do less, with far more, than other teams. The Yankees teetered on the verge of .500 baseball this season, and finished with 92 wins playing to a pedestrian .568 winning percentage.
The Yankees have lots of issues to fix in order to close the gap on all of these teams that spend so much less than they do. With the tax threshold potentially lowering dramatically, I’m not sure what Brian Cashman will do to improve the team or how he will attempt it, but he certainly has to do something. Getting rid of some big contracts sounds like a good place to start, but that would be a pretty unrealistic notion for the Yankees because many of the large contracts are largely so wasteful at this point that few to no teams would be interested and they’d want heaps of prospects included.
The other option is that the Yankees could simply DFA a number of people, eat their entire salaries and then look to spend big in free agency. We’re at that point actually. I highly doubt this idea would fly, but Steinbrenner might want to at least consider it if he wants to win.
The Farm System:
Accurately assessing the Yankee farm system in 2021 is the first step to unraveling where the team is at and how poised they may or may not be, to make a trade or two, since significant free agent spending looks to be a long shot for the Yankees.
2021 was a season in which the Yankee system was further depleted through trades. At the same time, we also saw most of the Yankees top prospects plummet in value due to injury or having poor seasons.
Brian Cashman officially ran the system further into the ground this past season in an attempt to make a Wild Card push and some of the top prospects haven’t exactly bolstered the system’s overall value.
The stalled trajectory of the players ranked as top prospects at the start of the season greatly reduced these players’ trade values. Instead of promoting a Wander Franco or a front of the rotation ace, we watched Deivi Garcia post a 6.85 ERA and a 1.875 WHIP while walking 6.8 batters per 9 innings. We witnessed an over-hyped Jasson Dominguez strikeout 35% of the time in the lowest levels of the minor leagues. Once highly valuable, top of the system prospects plummeted in value this past season.
We’ve also seen a changing of the guard at the very top of the system and quite honestly, it’s unsettling that so much value wasn’t utilized by Brian Cashman sooner, in trades.
In short, the top of the Yankee farm system heading into the season sure didn’t hold up well. Starting the season, the Yankees top prospects were headlined by Jasson Dominguez, Deivi Garcia, and Clarke Schmidt. I will take a look at each:
Once Top Prospects Have Plummeted in Value:
Jasson Dominguez, only 18 years old, struggled in Low-A Tampa striking out 35% of the time while hitting only .252/.379 /.731 with 5 home runs and 19 RBI’s in 206 at bats. These are numbers that would be fine for most 18 year-old prospects playing against 21 and 22 year-olds, but given that we’re talking about a player who has drawn Mike Trout and Mickey Mantle comparisons, whether fairly or unfairly, there is no denying Dominguez’s value took a huge drop this season, falling about 45% from where it was to start the season, which represents a significant value-hit to the player hyped as the crown jewel of the Yankee system.
Meanwhile, Deivi Garcia, who was supposed to be a near lock to make the Yankee rotation last season, has pretty much bottomed out in Triple-A Scranton this season. Garcia pitched to a 6.85 ERA, allowing 2.1 home runs and 6.9 walks per nine innings. Needless to say, Garcia’s value also plummeted into what could be the canyon of no return. Garcia is now less valuable than Mike King.
In fact, using Mike King as a reference point, at the start of the season, Deivi Garcia could have been traded for 5 ½ players as valuable as King was. Now, you’d have to include a lesser prospect with Garcia just to fetch a single pitcher comparable to King and that illustrates what is about an 82% drop in prospect value for the once promising Garcia. Scouts from other teams view Garcia now not as a front half of the rotation starter and potential future ace, but rather, they are talking about him being a bullpen arm – if he can even become that.
Moving along to Clarke Schmidt, his value has dropped by about 33% this year, after having sat most of the year out with an elbow strain. Schmidt still has triple the trade value of Garcia, but he’s sliding rapidly in the wrong direction as opposing scouts have serious concerns about the long term health of his pitching arm.
On the other hand, to be fair and accurate, the Yankees did see some prospects rise in value and have impressive years:
The Prospects Who Have Become Vastly More Valuable:
Balancing the demise of the best Yankees prospects out, there are cases of the opposite occurring in the Yankee system this season, as a few players have made huge strides forward. This group would be headlined by Anthony Volpe and Luis Gil, the latter of whom’s value has pretty much doubled. Gil is now about 32% more valuable than Deivi Garcia was to start this season. Presently, Luis Gil is worth eight pitchers similar to current Deivi Garcia – he’s THAT valuable. It may even be safe to say that Gil may be part of the 2022 Yankee rotation, his stuff has been electric, even though his command remains an area he needs to work on.
Massive strides have also been made by Anthony Volpe as mentioned. Volpe absolutely raked across two levels, having opened the season with Low-A Tampa, then getting promoted to High-A Hudson Valley. He batted .294/.604/1.027 with 27 home runs, 86 RBI’s, 35 doubles and 33 stolen bases. Volpe is now rated by MLB.com as the Yankees number one prospect. Volpe actually has more trade value presently than Aaron Judge does. The Yankees would be completely crazy to trade either Judge or Volpe, in my opinion. Judge’s value is declining not due to performance, but dwindling service time. He’ll be a free agent after next season, unless the CBA makes him a free agent this offseason and he is, after all, the face of the franchise.
One top prospect who hasn’t lost any luster this year is Oswald Peraza. He handled his in-season promotion to Double-A Somerset very nicely. Peraza hit .297 across two levels, with 18 home runs and 58 RBI in 465 at bats and he posted an .834 OPS. Peraza may find himself starting for the Yankees at shortstop by the All-Star break next season, providing the Yankees don’t sign a free agent or potentially use Peraza as the valuable trade chip he now is.
Putting Peraza’s value in perspective, he’s now roughly 33% more valuable than Gleyber Torres! This fact was nearly unthinkable at the start of the season and is due more to Torres having an awful Major League season than Peraza making a big jump. If anything, Peraza has simply handled his business and continued to be the prospect some scouts thought he was, which is to say – a very good prospect.
Presently, Peraza could be traded for a player similar in value to Joey Gallo and the other team would even have to kick in a lesser prospect. Of course, keep in mind, the player similar to Gallo would only have one year of team control. The team acquiring Peraza would have a blue-chip prospect that is looking very much the part of a shortstop of the future.
With Volpe’s gigantic surge this year, one has to wonder, what will the Yankees do with Peraza. In 2024, do they plan to pair Peraza at second base and Volpe at shortstop as part of an uber-talented, young, controllable double play combination for years to come, or will Brian Cashman squander one or both players away because he’s failed to build a starting rotation? In one camp, there will be voices this offseason that lobby for the Yankees to sign Corey Seager away from the Dodgers. Some may lobby for Trevor Story or one of the other free-agent-to-be shortstops that are part of this coming season’s offseason class.
These decisions, I think, will have the biggest impact on what the Yankees of 2022 and beyond look like.
While the big names in the system faltered, these other blue chip prospects remain the Yankees’ hopes.
(end Part 1)