Part-5: Plan-B, Life Without Judge
by Cary Greene
December 2, 2022
of "Plan-B, Life Without Judge,” I established a positionally better balanced team that could contend for a World Series championship in a “Life without Judge” scenario. I haven’t revealed what the budget of this rather apocalyptic roster is yet, but last we convened, I left each of you with a vision of what the projected Plan-B lineup looks like:
LeMahieu 2B– Peraza/Cabrera
Benintendi LF– Cabrera/Yoshida
Bogaerts SS– Peraza/Cabrera
Stanton RF– Cabrera/Yoshida
Rizzo 1B – LeMahieu/Carpenter
Donaldson 3B – Peraza/Cabrera/LeMahieu
Carpenter DH– Yoshida/Stanton
Trevino C – Higashioka
Bader CF – Peraza
Bench: Cabrera, Peraza, Yoshida, Higashioka
Where Does the Budget Sit After All of This?
With the recent signing of Anthony Rizzo, the current Active Payroll sits at $151.2-million. When we factor in estimated salaries for players who are eligible for arbitration, ($48.4-million), the Active Payroll jumps to $199.6-million. Then, we get to subtract $6-million to account for $3-million still owed from Texas for the Rougned Odor trade and another $3-million from the Marlins for the Giancarlo Stanton trade.
With the Active Payroll now adjusted to $193.6-million, $7.9-million then needs to be added for players not yet eligible for arbitration, which brings the Active Payroll up to $201.5-million. Another $2.5-million is then added for the salaries of players on the 40-Man Roster but in the Minor Leagues. The number is now $204-million. Next, we add $16.5-million for player benefits and another $1.66-million into the Pre-Arbitration Bonus Pool, which brings the Yankees final Luxury Tax number to exactly $222,186,667 million.
Considering the Luxury Tax Threshold is $233-million in 2023, the Brian Cashman has about $10.8-million left before he sails Steinbrenner’s budget yacht into Tier-One of the Threshold’s seas. A 20% tax for Tier-One would then be assessed and, because the Yankees were a “Threshold Violator” last season, an extra 12% tax would be levied, causing Hal Steinbrenner to have to pay a 32% extra tax on all dollars spent beyond the Threshold’s $233-million cap.
If Cashman Lands Judge
Brian Cashman is going to get very creative as he tries to keep the payroll down this season. If he does sign Judge, he absolutely WILL NOT be able to do much else unless he makes a series of trades to achieve the desired roster changes he wants to make. If he is able to sign Judge at let’s say between $37-million and $43-million AAV, the Yankees payroll would be at between $259-million and $264-million.
This places the Yankees into Tier-Two of the Luxury Tax bracket - which is $253-million to $273-million and which carries a 32% tax for first-time-offenders and for the Yankees, an extra 12% for being a second-time-offender, so Hal Steinbrenner will pay a 44% tax if Cashman signs Judge. I will virtually guarantee that Cashman will do everything humanly possible to shed payroll to avoid being in Tier-Two. He will want to get below $253-million, so to do that, he’ll need to shed between $6-million and $11-million.
Best case scenario, Yankees fans will get brand new Aaron Judge jerseys for Christmas and little else, with the caveat being, they may see their team make a few trades. Many Yankees fans want to see Cashman make a series of aggressive free agent signings to improve the team, but what they may not realize is that Cashman has little choice but initiate a partial youth-movement and this is the offseason he has to hold the line if he wants to accomplish this. A partial youth-movement plan was set in motion during the 2021 offseason, when Cashman decided to abstain from trading for Francisco Lindor, then the plan was cemented last offseason when Cashman sat on the sidelines and let a bumper crop of star shortstops sign elsewhere.
Retrospectively, failing to trade for Lindor was a colossal mistake, as was trying to fix the shortstop position last offseason with a mere stopgap approach. The poor planning resulted in a postseason implosion in which Isiah Kiner Falefa, who was signed for his glove believe it or not, even had to be benched due to his poor fielding. Meanwhile, the listless Yankees offense bottomed out. Giancarlo Stanton struggled at DH all season long, Josh Donaldson’s age related regression began festering and even the mighty Aaron Judge was choked-out in the postseason by the Astro’s stellar pitching. The Yankee offense just couldn’t get hits when it mattered most.
I’ve changed what the 2023 narrative might look like but I’ve tried not to interfere much with the partial youth-movement the Yankees are presently implementing. Cashman is accomplishing two things with the partial youth-movement. The payroll is going to be easily reduced if he can add young, controllable talent and that could potentially lead to the 12% “multiple-time-offender” extra tax being “reset.” The reset feature was a built-in component to the nuances of the 2022 CBA, it allows a previously over the threshold team to avoid the 12% surcharge if they can dip back below the ever “slightly-increasing” threshold the following season.
The likely reset won’t happen in 2023 though. I see no way for that to occur, but the writing on the wall shows that the Yankees are moving towards putting themselves in position to accomplish this feat in 2024. The real question is, what will Stienbrenner’s approach be this offseason. What is he willing to spend?
Will Steinbrenner Go All-Out this Offseason? How do we define Steinbrenner going “all-out” this offseason? He would need to be wholly committed to trying to win a World Series championship. In payroll-speak, that means approving Cashman to go into Tier-Three of the Threshold - which would place the payroll somewhere above $273-million yet below $293-million. Steinbrenner would be hit with a whopping 74.5-percent tax if he approved doing this.
The 2023 Threshold-Table actually looks like the below for the Yankees. If Cashman exceeds the Threshold, 12-percent extra tax will be assessed, no matter which Tier the Yankee payroll winds up in.
Tier One: $233m to $253m = +32% Tax
Tier Two: $253m to $273m = +44% Tax
Tier Three $273m to $293m = +74.5% Tax for first year and then +77% every season after that
Tier 4 $293m or more = 92% Tax
Let’s say Steinbrenner decides to send a message to Yankees fans that 2023 is the year the “Empire Strikes Back!” Let’s say he stands tall and says, “We’re in it to win it!” If he spent near the ceiling of Tier-Three, which would be $292.something-million, he’d pay a maximum luxury tax of up-to $44-million. This is what “going all-out” would look like in budget-speak.
If he chose to stay in Tier-Two and spent up to a maximum of $273-million, he'd only pay a maximum luxury tax of $17.6-million, thereby “saving” about $18-million. This would be what spending to be “good enough” looks like.
Of course, if he stays in Tier-One, he only pays $6.4-million in luxury taxes. Doing this would not only cause a riot in the Bronx, but it would be what “being a cheapskate” looks like and Hal Steinbrenner, though he has a label of being a “bean-counter,” does care about the Yankees to a point.
In order to visualize the extra costs associated:
Staying under $233-million resets the 12-percent kicker penalty and results in Steinbrenner paying no luxury tax.
Staying in Tier-One costs Steinbrenner only an extra $6.4-million (max)
Going into Tier-Two costs an extra $17.6-million (max)
Tier-Three would cost an an extra $44-million (max)
What’s the Budget Look Like in Plan B, “Life without Judge?” In my Plan-B, I’ve willingly eaten most of Aaron Hicks’ salary in order to trade him, which means my 2023 payroll goes up $9.5-million. I don’t believe the Yankees will actually do this, but in my opinion, it’s what they should do. Remember, Hicks has negative offensive value and the Yankees offense can’t seem to take the hill in the postseason. The Yankees roster needs to be collectively swinging for a World Series win and top to bottom, they need players who have positive offensive value.
We started with a payroll of $222.2-million and failed to sign Aaron Judge. Considering Hicks was also moved, traded with the Yankees having to eat all of his contract, the payroll would be unchanged because his contract doesn’t magically come off the books. Therefore, if Steinbrenner wants to stay under the $233-million threshold, there is a little over $10-million left to work with but of course, after missing out on Aaron Judge, he could never face the wrath of Yankees fans if simply declared, “We’re standing pat, we don’t want to spend!” I think its fairly safe and therefore responsible to think that. Hal would need to spend, if nothing else, in order to save face.
Since “Plan-B, Life without Judge” involves offsetting the loss of Judge by using Giancarlo Stanton in right field, Harrison Bader in center field and Andrew Benintendi in left field, with Matt Carpenter serving as the DH, I’ve likely added about $22-million to the payroll. I say “offsetting” becasue we all know and realize that there truly is no replacing Judge. The payroll shoots up to $244-million with Carpenter and Benintendi added.
Putting one of the best available bats in the heart of the order and solidifying shortstop for the 2023, Xander Bogaerts would be signed to a contract that paid $28-million in AAV, so that increases the payroll to $272-million. Then, I signed Masataka Yoshida for another $15-million in AAV, so now the payroll sits at $287-million.
Before you start laughing out loud at my suggestions, allow me to engage counter-measures and deploy chaff to avoid being shot down by Steinbrenner.
Residing on the Yankees roster are a number of “trade-chips,” which opposing teams would likely be interested in, that could and should be dangled this offseason. Players with negative trade value aren’t on the list, so that eliminates players Josh Donaldson, Aaron Hicks, and Giancarlo Stanton. I’ve identified some very tradable players though and if each was moved, it would be possible to do some discrete salary dumping while also enabling the Yankees to restock their depleted farm system. For a team nearing a partial youth-movement, a strategy such as this makes a lot of sense.
The following five-players make, or are projected to make (through arbitration eligibility) a collective $27-million and they bring a combined +19.1 in positive MTV per Baseball Trade Values:
Isiah Kiner-Flaefa ($6m) / +0.3 MTV
Frankie Montas ($7.6m*est) / +10.1 MTV
Gleyber Torres ($9.6m*est) / +4.6 MTV
Domingo German ($3m*est) / +2.2 MTV
Estevan Florial ($730k) / +1.9 MTV
Shedding each of the players I’ve identified above causes the payroll to come down to a nice, lean $245-million, which is only palatable $12-million over the Threshold. I’ve included Kiner-Falefa on this list even though his MTV is +$0.3, because there is a strong chance that a team would take him for basically a low-level prospect and moving him saves the Yankees $6-million.
Why Trade Gleyber Torres?
Soon to be 26-year-old Gleyber Torres is under team control for not only all of next season, but for the 2024 season as well. Under no circumstances do the Yankees “have” to trade him. The only reason I’m suggesting they should move him is that he’s getting expensive, he’s projected to earn $9.6-million this season and he was a 2.7 f-WAR player who was worth 26 RAR (runs above replacement) last season. If he were a free agent, he would have been worth a $21.8-million contract on the open market. His slash line was .257/.310/.457/.761 and he put up a 115 wRC+ paired with a .328 wOBA so as far as second basemen who plays minus-one OAA defense does have some value.
While Gleyber isn’t “Gold-Glove-LeMahieu” at second base, he’s also not a bad second baseman by any measure. However, due to the moves I’m advocating be made, the Yankees should move on from him while the “movin’s good” - even though Steamers is projecting an even better season for Torres in 2023 (.335 wOBA / 120 wRC+). The main motivation for the Yankees to do this is to offset the payroll and literally every penny counts in the model I’m suggesting. While it would be luxuriously nice to just keep Torres, the CBLT has to be reckoned with.
Replacing Gleyber Torres would be very easy and fairly straightforward. The Mariners are expressing interest in Torres, but considering that he was a 2.7 f-WAR player last season, we need to acknowledge that he isn’t simply akin to a low-budget Round Steak at the local Butcher shop. He may not be a Porterhouse or a Ribeye either, but let’s at least give him the credit that, say, a Top Sirloin deserves and these cuts aren’t just given away for nothing.
Gleyber was also the third highest rated International-Amateur in his class in 2013, per MLB.COM, so not only does he have real and present significant positive value, but he has prospect pedigree. He also presently is worth $4.6 MTV as highlighted above, so Moving him would be easy. Many Yankees fans mistakenly believe that Torres would bring back a significant return, but he simply wouldn’t.
While the Mariners may like or want Torres, they would need to overpay for him slightly and cough up a worthwhile prospect. Otherwise, I’d pivot to one of the many other teams that will also see Torres as a significant upgrade from their current second baseman - teams in dire need of offensive production.
Between fielding offers, looking at expanding the “to-Seattle'' trade to include other players or, if it comes to it, working with another team entirely, the value Torres represents should be maximized. Assuming the Mariners are the most interested team, what kind of return could the Yankees expect in a trade?
Cashman might look to do a “Torres for a single prospect” deal. In that case, he’d likely target the Mariners number-two ranked prospect, Double-A righty Emerson Hancock - who has a $6.6-MTV –or– he might have to scale back and look at their number-five ranked prospect, Double-A righty Brad Miller. If the purpose of Trading Torres was to achieve a straight salary dump, both Hancock and Miller might be worthwhile trade targets as either pitcher would help to improve the depleted Yankees farm system.
With Torres traded, DJ LeMahieu could slot in at his natural position and the Yankees would be just fine. This would open a little playing time for Oswald Peraza and or Oswaldo Cabrera, the two rookies slated in my plan to be the team’s utility players. I don’t believe either player is a starter on a World Series contender, but I think each could and should play vital utility roles as they continue to acclimate to the big leagues.
The Matter of Montas and German
Considering that German and Montas are presently slated to both be in the starting rotation, replacing them would be a simple matter of turning to free agency. I had previously advocated that Brian Cashman should have signed free agent lefty Tyler Anderson, but the Angels floated down on a cloud recently and have already sworn him to service, on a very team friendly 3-year, $39-million deal.
Cashman could have signed Anderson for a cost-effective $13-million AAV and slotted him in as the team’s fifth starter. Anderson represented a significant upgrade from Taillon and he’d have been a far better fit with the Yankees, but Cashman missed this boat completely and was left standing at the dock – he never even checked in on Anderson.
Anderson made some adjustments to his usage this past season with the Dodgers and with his ability to limit hard-contact and his strong ground ball rates, plus considering his valuable postseason experience, he might have been a very nice lefty-starter for the Yankees. Que sera, sera - the show must go on!
Montas is very inexpensive, considering he projects to be a solid number four starter for the Yankees for the 2023 season. Steamers projects Montas to be worth 2.4 f-WAR next season, thinking he’ll pitch 166-innings and post a 3.81 FIP. Those numbers are pretty solid, considering Jameson Taillon is projected to be worth 2.3 f-WAR next season with a 4.20 FIP.
Unfortunately, if the Yankees want to win a World Series, they simply have to get better starting pitching. Montas would pitch out of the bullpen in the postseason mostly, but he might get one start. Why not upgrade from him this offseason and put a true Ace into the rotation, wouldn’t that increase the Yankees chances in the quest to go from good enough to great? Could they finally take the hill and end the Championship drought?
My Pitching Plan was Forced to Change
Therefore, the offseason starting pitching plan I envisioned now has to pivot at this point. Because Anderson was wisely scooped up by the Angels, the Yankees likely lost the opportunity they had to not only improve the rotation somewhat affordably, but get decidedly more left-handed in the process.
Presently, the Yankees have Montas slated as the fourth starter and German tabbed as the fifth starter. Considering that Jameson Taillon is now a free agent, the Yankees do need at least one starter. Montas has a $10.1 MTV, while German’s MTV is only $2.2. It probably makes the most sense to send each to a different, pitching starved team and focus on bringing in two higher-shelf starters via free agency. Neither player will be hard to trade. The Yankees should insist on solid High-A or Double-A left-handed starters in any trade. That way, Cashman’s Deadline trades of lefties J.P. Sears and Ken Waldichuk wouldn’t sting as much and the cupboard could be restocked a bit.
Cashman is presently busy giving relievers away for nothing, as recently he left the tantalizing but injured Stephen Ridings unprotected and the Mets claimed him off waivers. It should be interesting to see how that works out. Cashman also is busy adding relievers for nothing, as he also recently claimed erratic fireballer Junior Fernandez from the Pirates. Rumors also connect Cashman to a number of free agent pitchers and this may indicate Steinbrenner is okay with spending this season, considering so much payroll is coming off the books in 2024. It also shows that the Yankees consider improving the pitching as a being in a separate swim lane from what they’re doing positionally. I find this to be encouraging news.
My top priority for the 2023 offseason besides signing Aaron Judge was to see the Yanees rotation get more left-handed and more capable of winning in the playoffs. The team needs to go all-in on starting pitching to do this but they also have reimagine the rotation a bit. It is my belief that pitching will win the Yankees their next championship and it's certainly an area that the Yankees need to go all-in on.
German’s value is significantly lower than that of Montas, as he’s only projected to be a 0.7 f-WAR pitcher next season, with a 4.44 FIP. There are teams out there that are so desperate for rotation help, they’d likely be in on trading for German, so this offseason is as good a time as any to cut the cord and start valuing and prioritizing pitching roster spots. Imagine if Montas was replaced with an Ace and German was also replaced with a good lefty-starter?
In my final article, I’ll scour the baseball landscape to create the best possible pitching plan for 2023. At this point, dear readers, please understand that the best pitching plan isn’t cheap. Unless Cashman can find another Nestor Cortes Jr, he’s going to have to pony up and pay for what he wants. The competition in this year’s free agent pitching market is the fiercest I’ve ever seen it - in my five decades of being a baseball fan.