The Yankees, despite being wildly outspent by the Dodgers, appear content with their newly constructed roster. But is it enough for No. 28?
The Yankees, practicing fiscal restraint and despite no logical explanation for doing so from Hal Steinbrenner, stuck to their guns in keeping team payroll below this year’s $210 million luxury tax threshold.
This, while the Dodgers and Padres gathered up talent via trades and free-agent signings at an exhaustive pace, with little or no regard to financial consequences today or tomorrow.
Seemingly content in knowing their competition among American League teams has limited challenges from the usual suspects like the Rays, Astros, Red Sox, and Indians – the Yankees appear content to ride the regular season wave to and through the playoffs, leaving those two potent teams in the NL to deal with in October.
As of today, and given the no-holds-barred approach of Dodgers owner Andrew Friedman, as seen in the tables below, there is a wide disparity between the Yankees and Dodgers regarding team payroll. (Source: Spotrac – MLB Team Payrolls)
Yankees: From The Evil Empire To The Feeble Empire
Yankees fans have legitimate cause to wonder about the team’s ongoing interest in avoiding a luxury tax payment for three consecutive years – while still maintaining their role as the richest team in major league baseball and the second-highest valued team in all of the professional sports. (Forbes)
Choosing to ramp up a non-existent “battle” for the services of DJ LeMahieu (did you ever think he wouldn’t sign with them?), the Yankees idly watched as two top-tiered catchers (J.T. Realmuto and James McCann) signed elsewhere, Blake Snell was lost in a trade to the wide-awake Padres, and Trevor Bauer opted for the Dodgers.
It’s a lineup that banks heavily on several assumptions and, in at least one case, a wish and a prayer.
When rolling on all nine cylinders, this Yankees lineup, with the possible exception of the formidable lineup put out there by the Chicago White Sox, rolls through standing American League competitors.
However, the proverbial proof in the pudding comes during the playoffs when fourth and fifth starters sit in the bullpen, with the impending prospect of the Yankees facing premier pitchers like Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Bauer, and Walker Buehler on successive days is the norm.
Yankees Leap Of Faith Starting Pitching
Even more concerning and replete with risk, though, is the Yankees’ approach to their starting pitching. Signing Corey Kluber and James Taillon, together with Luis Severino, Domingo German, and Jordan Montgomery’s impending return – all of whom have less than 100 innings pitched between them in the last two years – is a leap of faith.
Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt, Michael King, and Albert Abreu also figure in the Yankees’ plans for 2021 as the fallback team of rostered rookies in the event of injuries to Gerrit Cole (God forbid) or any of those named above.
Thankfully, the bullpen is intact and remains among the best in all the major leagues. That being said, the Yankees expect and deserve a better performance from Aroldis Chapman, their closer who has failed to close out playoff wins in each of the past two seasons.
Thus, once again and as always, the Yankees will go only as far as their pitching takes them this year.
Yankees With A Do Or Die Spotlight
The 2021 Yankees season is filled with dramatic sub-plots regarding several players grabbing at straws to prove their worthiness.
At the top of the list, of course, is Gary Sanchez, who, despite being generously retained and eventually awarded a raise by the Yankees, must face the inevitability of this being his last chance to be “Gary Sanchez” and not Hobie Landrith.
Equally at risk, though in a different way, is Aaron Judge. Once thought of as a shoo-in for a handsome contract extension before reaching free-agency, Judge needs to show he can stay on the field – a task that has been unreachable the last three seasons.
Gleyber Torres, according to Brian Cashman and other Yankees principles, was out of shape last year when he reported to the second “Spring Training.” His performance, especially at shortstop, was notoriously unacceptable, and Torres will also need to continue with the brand of bat that finally flourished during the playoffs.
What To Expect As The Season Progresses
Although both Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman seem to believe in the Yankees roster currently set, the 2021 season promises to be even more unpredictable than usual, given the constant need to adjust to the COVID pandemic and its consequences.
Anticipating a full schedule of 162 games, the bounceback from last year’s minimal number of innings played and therefore pitched automatically sends up flares that are destined to demand the full attention of Boone and Yankees pitching coach, Mike Blake.
Boone, who has been previously criticized for his bullpen misuse, is particularly subject to scrutiny. It is noteworthy that the Yankees did not extend his contract beyond this season.
As expected, the Yankees appear close to bringing Brett Gardner back into the fold for a final run at his second World Series title and a close to noteworthy career, all with the Yankees. Reportedly, he will sign for $3 million, an amount that will keep the team below the luxury tax threshold.
Whatever is left (about $15 million) can be considered Brian Cashman’s go-to account at the trade deadline to secure the player or two that can push the Yankees over the top and to the World Series.
At that point, non-contending and mid-market teams who face the chance of losing talent to free agency in 2022 will likely be ready to move these players in trades that can help the Yankees.
Starting pitchers like Danny Duffy (Royals), Alex Cobb (Angels), and Dylan Bundy (Angels) might be available then, as well as position players Khris Davis (Rangers), Nick Castellanos (Reds), Andrelton Simmons (Twins), and more.
In the meantime, all we can do as fans is hold our breath, hoping Boone and Cashman are correct in their assessment the Yankees are good-to-go (at least for now) when Opening Day arrives in less than six weeks.