Steinbrenner Says Yankees Not Done Yet
by Cary Greene
December 25, 2022
First, the Big News
When the Yankees introduced Carlos Rodon the other day to the New York media, Brendan Kuty tweeted that Hal Steinbrenner stated that the team wasn’t done spending yet and that they potentially were still looking to upgrade the lineup and add to the bullpen.
Presently the Yankees payroll is sitting at $291.8-million, only $1.2-million below the CBT’s Tier-Four threshold of $293-million. We all know that Steinbrenner has very likely commanded the ever-loyal Brian Cashman to not allow the Yankees now menacing payroll, akin to a giant, flaming budget-Balrog that has now been awakened beneath the pinstriped Mines of Moria, intent on passing beyond the $293-million barrier like the spelunking cross-town rival Mets have done under Steve Cohen’s leadership.
Unfortunately for Cashman the grey, he’s staring into that scorching budget-Balrog’s eyes, holding only his wizards staff (useful for making trades) and his trusty, budget-cutting sword. He has only one choice right now. He must yell, “You shall not pass!” as he attempts to slash at the budget-Balrog and shed necessary payroll so he can free up CBT space and sign a left fielder and a reliever or two.
Below are the Yankee’s CBT implications, which have been adjusted to reflect an extra 12-percent added tax because the team is now a “two-time” Threshold offender. as we begin today's trek beneath the offseason mountain.
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
Now for the Confusing Part
There’s a general consensus in the media that Cashman the grey and Yankees have been trying to shed payroll so far this offseason. Trying and actually doing are two different things though. What team in their right mind would take on the contracts of the players the Yankees want to send packing - the two most mentioned of which are Josh Donaldson and Aaron Hicks?
With Donaldson, we have a great fielding third baseman who put up a .302 wOBA with a below-average wRC+ of 97, on the way to a triple-slash-line of .222/.308/.374 while hitting 15 home runs and 62 RBI’s. Thanks to being six-outs-above-average defensively though, Donaldson did post an f-War of 1.6 last season. Gio Urshela put up a 2.4 f-WAR for the Twins last year by the way and just to properly frame Donaldson’s worth, his 2022 performance on the field was equivalent to that of a free agent contract of $12.9-million, yet the Yankees paid him $21-million last year.
He’s due another $27-million for the coming season and Steamers is projecting a 2023 slash line of .226/.318/.396 with a .315 wOBA, a 106 wRC+ and a 1.4 f-WAR.
Unfortunately, Donaldson is a liability on the bases (-4.5 BsR), an extremely slow runner (16th percentile in MLB in sprint speed) and his advanced metrics say he wasn’t unlucky offensively. Age-related decline is very likely to be the issue going forward with Donaldson.
Using history to learn about the future and for those that don’t place a lot of weight in Steamer’s projections, the recently turned 37-years old Donaldson’s PECOTA player comps are Ron Cey, Gary Gaetti and Doug DeCinces. All are names from that past that would bring a smile to most baseball fans faces, but when we look at each of their 37-year-old seasons, the smile turns to a bleak, blank expression. Cey had a 0.6 f-WAR at age 37, Gaetti’s was 2.1 and DeCinces retired at age 36. Therefore, it’s more than likely that Donaldson, who has clearly reached the end of the line, will probably hold true to the Steamer’s 1.4-WAR projection and for $26-million, is their a team in baseball that would agree to take him? It’s very doubtful.
Regarding Aaron Hicks, he’s due $29.5-million over the next three-years and he was only a 1.5 f-WAR player last year, with his value being strictly defensive in nature. His on field performance last season was worth $11.7-million and since he was only paid $10.5-million, the Yankees probably viewed him as marginally useful, though too expensive to justify going forward. Steamers has him down for being a 1.2 f-WAR performer for next season and based on the money he’s due - another $10.5-million, then two more seasons at $9.5-million, what team would willingly take him on? Likely not a single one.
Since these two-players are sunk costs, as I learned from reading the fan comments here on SSTN, the Yankees will likely have to give each one a roster spot this coming season. Speaking of fan-comments, if you’re an SSTN reader but you haven’t read the comments section, it’s really the best part of any article. The topic tends to expand and develop and the board is littered with very knowledgeable Yankees fans who banter back and forth. I highly recommend checking back on an article you liked periodically, as the pieces run for a couple of days straight this time of year. You’ll be treated to lot’s of fun and informative bonus material and you won’t be disappointed.
DFA-ing one or both would result in the Yankees still having their contracts on the books and as such, the CBT implications would be disastrous. In a Plan-B, Life without Judge scenario, the Yankees could have easily DFA’d or traded one of the two, while likely having to pay most of their remaining AAV. After signing Judge, Rizzo and Rodon and considering that Steinbrenner very likely won’t deliberately go into the CBT’s fourth-tier, the likely plan of action is to still try to beat the budget-Balrog back a bit, by whatever expendable players who are likewise desirable to other teams. Keep in mind, Hal Steinbrenner did say the team isn’t done yet. The Yankees plan to do more. Since he was purposefully vague and not willing to give specific budgetary numbers when interviewed, Yankees fans were left wondering. Would he actually spend really big and go into the CBT’s Tier-Four or would we see a few trades? If trades are made, who will get traded?
So Who is Tradeable, if Not Donaldson or Hicks?
A current trade candidates short list of Major League players who are desirable to other teams and who the Yankees could live without can be easily established. Gleyber Torres heads the very short list, with Domingo German also movable. From there, the Yankees other trade chips are Minor League players and as mentioned, many of them are players the Yankees are counting on for 2024.
It’s likely that Gleyber Torres and Domingo German will both be traded as each has positive trade value. Torres ($11.6 MTV) and German ($2.6 MTV) could be packaged or dealt separately, with the express goal of shedding some payroll. Torres is projected to make $9.6-million through Arbitration and German will make about $3-million. If both are traded, the Yankees would have some necessary space to sign a free agent.
What Should the Yankees Ask for in Return?
It doesn’t seem likely that the Yankees would be looking for established major leaguers who are owed significant payroll. The Yankees might want nearly ready prospects or controllable, younger big league players in return.
The Yankees could look to restock their Minor League pitching depth, considering Cashman traded a lot of it away last season. Don’t expect highly rated pitching prospects coming back to the Yankees, but rather, the Yankees might add arms with some upside or characteristics that they like and feel they could work with. Therefore, pitching-rich franchises may become potential trade partners.
A few teams stand out as potential trade partners. Teams that would likely be interested in acquiring Torres would be the Brewers, White Sox, Red Sox and Tigers. It’s doubtful that Cashman would trade with the Red Sox so we can most likely discount a Torres to Boston deal being done.
Lefty Robert Gasser ($4.6 MTV), the Brewers 10th-ranked prospect might be a centerpiece in a Torres trade, with the Yankees also asking for another lefty, MLB ready Ethan Small ($2.9 MTV) and perhaps the trade would be rounded out with Cashman wanting righty Abner Uribe ($3.2 MTV) as a bullpen piece. The Brewers make sense on the surface because these three pitchers all make the MLB-minimum $720,000 in salary so $2.16-million coming back to the Yankees creates pitching depth, some added left-handness and a bullpen piece while also managing to shed $7.44-million that could be put in a pot and used to further improve the team while avoiding Tier-4 of the CBT.
Another headliner, the White Sox third-ranked prospect, 19-year old lefty Noah Schultz ($5.4 MTV) might intrigue Cashman as a “dollar and a dream” type prospect with a high ceiling. Double-A righty Norge Vera ($5.1 MTV), the White Sox sixth-ranked prospect, would round out this trade, which is 100-percent a salary dump.
In a trade with the Tigers, Cashman might want the Tigers third-ranked prospect, Double-A righty Wilmer Flores (9.3 MTV) in a deal that might be expanded to not only include Torres, but German as well, seeing as how the Tigers are starved for immediate help in their rotation and they also badly need a second baseman and more offense. Cashman might look to also dig into the Tigers Major League bullpen, insisting on lefty Greg Soto ($2.1 MTV) and or righty Greg Lang ($3.6 MTV) in a trade that helps both ball clubs. If Torres were dealt to a different team, a smaller deal involving German only for a reliever might be something for Cashman to look at.
What About Upgrading the Lineup?
Steinbrenner also indicated the Yankees are planning on upgrading the lineup. Where to turn and what to do? With Torres and German dealt, the Yankees will have enough payroll to potentially upgrade from Aaron Hicks in left field, but it won’t be easy. Considering the Yankees are likely trying to add a stop gap, short term solution and barring a shockingly welcomed salary dump created by trading Donaldson or Hicks, the Yankees will likely need to focus on a player who probably doesn’t fit into the teams long term plans.
Since a time-tested strategy for the Yankees has always been to pilfer the American League’s Central division and they have an established history of dealing with certain teams like the Twins, Royals and Tigers, it seems fitting to “look to the Central” first but the main reason for doing so is that at this moment in time, the Tigers do appear to be a trade partner that lines up in multiple ways.
Since the Tigers and Yankees line up so well, the first name that jumps out is the Tiger’s Austin Meadows ($2.6 MTV), who is an above average defensive left fielder who can also DH and play serviceably well in right field as well. He’s valuable offensively as well, which makes him a perfect stopgap solution for the Yankees, who might even be useful beyond the coming season in a fourth or fifth outfielder role. Fangraphs is projecting a 1.8 f-WAR season with 19 home runs and a .330 wOBA/117 wRC+ season for Meadows in 2023.
The Tigers recently signed Meadows to a 1-year deal for $4.3-million. If the Yankees expanded a Tigers trade to not only include Torres and or German, they could also offer either Estevan Florial and Aaron Hicks, the Tigers might like the two-for one concept and pull the trigger in the context of the expanded trade - providing the Yankees picked up Hick’s 2024 and 2025 AAV - with the understanding that the Tigers pay his 2023 salary.
As I see it, trading with the Tigers makes a whole lot of sense. Obviously the Yankees have been linked to the Diamondbacks and the Twins in trades as well, mainly because the Yankees need a left fielder and both teams have players the Yankees like. Personally, I’ve ruled the Diamondbacks completely out, mainly due to the MTV cost of their more “desirable to the Yankees” outfielders (Daulton Varsho and Jake McCarthy). Considering the Twins Max Kepler, who the Yankees also have inquired on, doesn’t play left field and isn’t as good as Meadows projects to be, I’m slowly arriving at what the left field solution might look like.
It may also be a fantastic idea for the Yankees to work on a different front and look to work out a deal with the Royals for Michael A. Taylor, who would provide insurance in case Harrison Bader’s injury-prone track record continues. Taylor (2.8 MTV) would be very realistic to trade for and if used as a fifth outfielder, he might be able to impact the Yankees in a good way and he might even wind up helping to save the season if Bader goes down.
Would an outfield of Meadows, Bader/Taylor Judge work, considering the team also has Giancarlo Stanton and Oswaldo Cabrera who will each get some outfield duty in 2023? Considering Stanton is probably going to be the primary DH and Cabrera will be in a utility role in all likelihood, I think this outfield would be pretty solid.
Cabrera is a perfect spot starter in the outfield and Taylor could also play left field a lot, considering how expansive the dimensions of left field are in Yankee stadium. Having Taylor in left field would be like having Brett Gardner out there and Yankees fans well know the impact that Gardner had on the position over the years he patrolled it.
Bleakley stated, the list of remaining free agent left fielders is quite a bit less attractive than what I’m proposing with trades for Meadows and Taylor. David Peralta and AJ Pollock are the two top remaining players and neither is a good fit for the Yankees. While Peralta does hit left-handed, he’s a well below average left fielder and he’s not particularly good offensively either - as he’s projected to be a 102 wRC+ contributor in 2023. Pollock meanwhile bats right-handed and the Yankees clearly need more left-handedness in the lineup.
Can Any Yankees Positional Prospects Help in 2023?
If we’re responsibly projecting the start of the season, names like Anthony Volpe and Austin Wells are likely at best second-half of the year candidates to help the big league team. Volpe is rated the fifth-best prospect in MLB by MLB.COM, so the allure in relation to him ascending to the big leagues can’t be understated, especially considering the Yankees need a shortstop and many scouts don’t feel Oswald Peraza’s bat is going to allow him to stick at the position. Peraza is no doubt a competent defensive shortstop, every bit “big league caliber” at the position, possessing very good range and an above average arm. But, as far as projections go, he’s a barely above average offensive player who’s likely not even close being what the numbers from his small sample size in 2022 say he was.
In 57 big league at-bats, Peraza slashed .306/.404/.429 with a terrific .371 wOBA and a .146 wRC+ which, if he could put numbers like that up for a full season, the Yankees would be overjoyed. His xwOBA of .343 suggests he got a lot lucky in the few at-bats the Yankees gave him. Unfortunately, he doesn’t hit the ball hard at all, as shown by his well below league average (35.8%) hard-hit-percentage of only 30.0-percent. Compounding this that Peraza’s batted ball splits show that he hit the ball on the ground 57.5% of the time. Suffice it to say that he won’t be winning any Silver Slugger awards for the foreseeable future.
Volpe on the other hand is a different animal altogether as his bat has vastly more pop and he’ll likely be only a tick worse than Peraza is defensively. Scouts outside of the Yankees organization, including one’s I’ve dined with and discussed the Yankees in depth with, are very high on Anthony Volpe as a major league shortstop. Volpe aside, is there anyone else who might be able to help in 2023 at some point?
Based on the Yankees desperate need for left-handed pop, one name that truly is intriguing is Austin Wells, who streaked from Low-A to High-A all the way to Double-A last season, mainly on the strength of his sweet stroke that helped him literally bludgeon baseballs to the tune of a combined .277/.385/..512 triple-slash line with an .897 OPS. If Giancarlo Stanton ever makes it back to the outfield even semi-regularly, Wells could not only give the Yankees a fitting, left-handed DH, but he might be an okay backup first baseman. What is clear is that he’s not going to stick at catcher and most scouts outside of the Yankees organization have known this since he was drafted back in the First Round of the 2020 Draft, with the Yankees 28th overall pick. Wells was seen then as one of the best all-around bats in the draft and it's his bat that’s been what the Yankees are still and presently ogling over the most.
Could Austin Wells move rapidly into Triple-A next season and somehow vault into a DH role, while providing depth in case Anthony Rizzo’s balky back issues flare up in the heat of the summer?
Personally I do think Wells is the candidate most likely to move quickly as he finishes in the minor leagues, but Stanton is basically blocking his playing time so there’s that to consider. Advanced bats are always intriguing, but Wells also has terrific strike zone recognition, which helps him swing mostly at strikes while taking his walks. Wells was pulling the ball 45.2% of the time last season, once he made it to Double-A, which is also intriguing and if he can keep drilling balls to right field I could see the Yankees promoting him a bit ahead of schedule.
However, there is one other player to really keep an eye on in 2023 and no, it’s not Jasson Dominguez. Everson Pereira, who went from extended spring training, to High-A and then to Double-A last season has really begun to impress with some of the highest exit velocities in the system, a strong throwing arm and the potential to play all three outfield positions, including a little bit of center field. Given Bader’s fragility, could there be a path for Pereira to wind up getting called up some time in the second half of the season? With the Yankees needing a left fielder now, Pereira might be the prospect who relieves whomever the stopgap left fielder is going to be. Presently, that’s Aaron Hicks of course, unless we see a trade happen.
Well that’s all for today Yankees fans. I wish you and your families a very happy holiday season and invite you rock your opinions and holiday cheer in the comments section below, with your thoughts on not only this article, but all things Yankees baseball!