Checking In On The 2022 Payroll
By Andy Singer
Despite the fact that the Yankees’ season has only been over for half of a month, significant conversations regarding next year’s team are already brewing. As good as those conversations are, none of it really matters unless we really take a hard look at where the payroll stands right now. Reading through the various publicly available payroll tracking services, it can get confusing very quickly to try to parse out where the Yankees’ current obligations stand. Luckily, Fangraphs’ Roster Resource page keeps a comprehensive accounting of each team’s current and future salary obligations, including extensive breakdowns for a variety of cost buckets.
Our own Cary Greene gave a quick overview of the 2022 payroll as part of his offseason plan (I highly recommend checking it out for a different perspective), but I’d like to dive a little deeper into how that number is calculated and analyze its implications.
Looking To The Future
My job in writing about the Yankees is to not just to analyze what happens on the field or predict future roster moves; sometimes it is more important to take a step back and look for trends or coming tide changes. When looking at the Yankees’ payroll obligations for 2022 and beyond, it becomes very clear that 2022 is likely to be a pivotal year for the future of the Yankee roster. More to the point, 2022 will either be a year in which the Yankees double-down on the current roster, or one in which significant transition begins.
Why is that the case? 7 players are either in the last year of their contracts or in their final year of team control. Those players are as follows:
Britton will not pitch at all in the final year of his contract as he recovers from Tommy John Surgery, and we already saw the beginnings of changes to the bullpen hierarchy in 2021 to cover for Britton’s extended absences.
Each of the other 6 players on the list are core members of the current team. Aroldis Chapman has been the closer since returning to the Yankees prior to the 2017 season; Aaron Judge is the face of the franchise, one of the best players in baseball, and a player that will garner significant discussion this offseason as someone who could be an extension candidate; Gary Sanchez, for better or worse, has been the team’s starting catcher since his call-up in 2016; Chad Green has been a Swiss Army Knife for both Girardi and Boone out of the bullpen; Joey Gallo was a key acquisition as part of the on the fly re-tooling Brian Cashman undertook last summer; and Jameson Taillon was a key acquisition via trade prior to the start of 2021, and he was a solid cog in the rotation prior to hurting his Achilles.
Numerous members of this list aren’t even sure bets to begin the 2022 season on the Opening Day roster, so I think 2022 will be a significant year of transition. I also find it interesting that so much change could come during the final year of GM Brian Cashman’s contract. In any case, the 2022 payroll is fascinating just from the perspective of natural transition and roster turnover.
The Yankees currently have $151,319,047 committed to guaranteed contracts. Of those contracts, the Yankees are getting $3 million from the Miami Marlins for Giancarlo Stanton and the entirety ($12,333,333) of the amount owed to Rougned Odor from the Texas Rangers. Additionally, the $151+ million figure also includes a $3 million club option for Joely Rodriguez, a $2.3 million player option for Brett Gardner, and a $1.4 million player option for Darren O’Day.
I fully expect the Yankees to pick up Rodriguez’s option as he appeared to be a good fit in the bullpen during his 2021 audition following his trade from the Rangers, and O’Day has no shot to get $1.4 million as a Free Agent following a disastrous 2021 campaign, so he should take out his player option as well.
The big question mark is Gardner; I think it’s 50/50 he picks up his player option following a conversation with the Yankees. It’s not a lot of money, but after a down year offensively, advanced age, and CBA uncertainty, I’m not certain that Gardner could get a much deal on the open market. However, the Yankees may be ready to move on, and Gardner will surely have a conversation with the team regarding his role in 2022 before he returns.
Given these factors, the Yankees’ current estimated obligation for guaranteed contracts is roughly $133,685,714.
Arbitration Eligible and Pre-Arbitration Players
The only pre-arbitration eligible player on the current MLB roster is Nestor Cortes. Fangraphs lists his likely salary at $1.41 million, and I won’t quibble with that estimate.
Predicting a salary bucket for arbitration eligible players is always a difficult task. Fangraphs pulled their figures for this estimate from MLB Trade Rumors’ estimates, which have traditionally been pretty close at a macro level. MLB Trade Rumors currently predicts $80 million for 19 arbitration eligible Yankees.
A couple of notes about that figure. I think MLB Trade Rumors likely overestimates contract figures for the following players: Gary Sanchez ($7.9 million estimated). Gio Urshela ($6.2 million estimated), Luke Voit ($5.4 million estimated), Clint Frazier ($2.4 million estimated), and Miguel Andujar ($1.7 million estimated). Realistically, I wouldn’t expect much more than a $1-1.5 million savings versus the estimates for these players as a whole, but every dollar counts!
Meanwhile, I think MLB Trade Rumors could be underestimating contracts for Domingo German ($2.1 million estimated), Jameson Taillon ($4.7 million estimated), and Jonathan Loaisiga ($1.7 million estimated). Again, I wouldn’t expect the discrepancy to be much more than $1 million, so I’d assume that this is a wash versus arbitration figures that were overestimated.
The real wild card is Aaron Judge, predicted for an arbitration salary of $17.1 million. If the Yankees were to extend Judge’s contract this offseason, it is very likely that games could be played to adjust Judge’s salary for 2022, even if the AAV causes the Yankees’ luxury tax figure to rise.
The only other buckets that need to be considered are salaries for 40-man roster players in the minors and estimated player benefits. Fangraphs estimates minor league 40-man roster players to be paid $2.25 million in 2022, and pegs player benefits at $16 million.
Total Payroll And Final Analysis
Total payroll (not for luxury tax purposes) currently on the books for 2022, if we exclude Brett Gardner’s player option and a potential $500,000 buyout for Joely Rodriguez, is $208,126,715. Were the current luxury tax system to remain for 2022 (newsflash: it won’t), the Yankees are already at a luxury tax payroll of $223,707,667, according to Fangraphs.
Pretending for a minute that the CBA doesn’t change the luxury tax rules, it’s pretty obvious that the Yankees would struggle to get under the first luxury tax tier again. Thus, spending at least up to the next threshold ($240 million) is not only possible, it would be likely given that the Steinbrenner family would not be likely to get any further tax benefit out of the 2022 season.
Unfortunately, all of that speculation is a moot point until the next CBA is agreed upon. Frankly, it’s going to be a while before that happens. The only leaked “proposal” we’ve heard is MLB’s insulting offer to drop the first luxury tax threshold to $180 million in exchange for creating a higher salary floor for bottom-feeding teams. The MLBPA has been fleeced in previous negotiations, but even they’re not weak enough to accept such a laughable proposal, particularly given the reality that baseball is awash in cash, no matter how much revenue the league’s owners claim they lost from the pandemic.
No matter what the financial structure of baseball looks like in 2022 and beyond, the Yankees’ current financial picture alone makes it clear that change is coming to the 2022 and 2023 rosters.