The Yankees will soon be exchanging numbers with 13 arbitration-eligible players. Following another “failed” year, do they all deserve raises?
Already in a luxury tax bind, the Yankees have thirteen arbitration-eligible players they need to settle with before mediation sets in, and a single arbiter must decide on the merits of each case.
Despite the fact they pushed for it, team owners are increasingly soured on the arbitration process, and it figures to be a major topic in negotiations when the current player’s contract expires at the end of the 2021 season.
There has never been a player taking a pay cut via the arbitration process. In fact, pay cuts following a poor season went out the window decades ago in baseball. At one time, even Ted Williams and Stan Musial were forced to take a 30% pay cut in 1960.
While there is no written rule or contracted language, the Yankees, like all teams, will grant raises to each of their 13 players for their length of service time or longevity.
Hofstra Law Review calculated the automatic raise at about ten percent. For the Yankees, what this means (my calculation) is that based on the total 2020 salaries shown below, the Yankees payroll will automatically increase by $2,191,960.
Yankees Arbitration Winners And Losers 2021
Like all teams seeking to rebound following a season of epic losses due to the COVID pandemic, plus the unknowns of the upcoming season, the Yankees will need to present their opening salary figure for each player with that backdrop in mind.
That figure will be based on an analysis of the player’s performance last year, plus his expected production level for the coming year.
It’s a tricky game, but see what you think of how I would handle each of the following players.
SS Gleyber Torres: 1st year eligible; 2020 salary: $675,000
Analysis: Off-year both on offense and defense. Too many deer in the headlights moments when on base. Yankees should use this underwhelming raise as (hopefully) a wake-up call to this talented star.
2021 salary: $850,000
3B Gio Urshela: 1st year eligible; 2020 salary: $2.475 million
Analysis: Along with DJ LeMahieu, the Yankees’ most consistent player with his glove and bat. Can he do it again was the question coming into the 2020 season – Urshela delivered the answer in spades. He gets a significant bump.
2021 salary: $4,000,000
LHP Jordan Montgomery: 2nd year eligible; 2020 salary: $805,000
Analysis: Coming off major arm surgery, Montgomery gets an incomplete for his 2020 season. His status with the Yankees hinges on additions (Charlie Morton, Trevor Bauer?), promotions (Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt), and losses (Masahiro Tanaka?) to their starting rotation. Montgomery is not a fit for the bullpen.
2021 salary: $950,000
1B Luke Voit: 1st year eligible; 2020 salary: $634,000
Analysis: It’s pay time for the AL Home Run champion, and the Yankees know it. The only question is the foot injury that hobbled Voit, especially in the playoffs. Emerging as a leader in the clubhouse with a spirited desire to win.
2021 salary: $2,000,000
OF Clint Frazier: 1st year eligible; 2020 salary: $588,100
Analysis: 2020 was Frazier’s coming out year. Reporting to camp, he caught the eye of the Yankees immediately. Injuries to Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Judge, plus the poor start by Brett Gardner, forced Aaron Boone to give Big Red a chance in the outfield. Frazier passed the test and even surprised with a nomination as a Gold Glove finalist.
2021 salary: $1,500,000
RHP Domingo German: 1st year eligible; suspended for 2020 season (domestic violence)
Analysis: German just completed his suspension, but it’s anyone’s guess what the Yankees will do with him. He’ll begin the season at Triple-A, and who knows what happens from there.
2021 salary: $563,500 (Major League Minimum)
3B/OF Miguel Andujar: 1st year eligible; 2020 salary: $632,500
Analysis: Wierd is the only adjective I can think of to describe Andujar’s 2020 season. Limited in at-bats, Andujar did not make the best of those he was given. Back and forth from the Yankee’s minor league camp didn’t help. With the steady emergence of Urshela, Andujar is excess, and therefore, a prime trade target.
2021 salary: $800,000
2021 salary: $2,000,000
RHP Jonathan Holder: 1st year eligible; 2020 salary: $750,000
Analysis: What do the Yankees need Holder for? Two years ago, he appeared in sixty games for the Yankees, finishing games fourteen times with no saves – indicating he was used at garbage time when the team was far ahead or behind. Long relief, maybe.
2021 salary: $850,000
RF Aaron Judge: 2nd year eligible; 2020 salary: $8.5 million
Analysis: Crunch time is coming fast for the Yankees with Aaron Judge. How long will the team pay Judge the big bucks as a part-time player? A fan favorite, the Yankees have little choice but to treat him right, hoping he’ll play a full season.
2021 salary: $9,500,000 (With a $1,000,000 bonus for playing in 85% of the Yankee’s games)
RHP Tommy Kahnle: 4th year eligible; 2020 salary: $2.65 million
Analysis: Kahnle has refused an assignment to the Yankee’s minor leagues, choosing the free-agent marketplace instead.
2021 salary: Not-Applicable
C Gary Sanchez: 2nd year eligible; 2020 salary: $5 million
Analysis: The days of players receiving a cut in salary following a bad year have disappeared, but if anyone qualifies, it’s Sanchez. Still a favorite of Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman, fans can cry all day asking for his disposal; Sanchez gets only the 10% time of service raise.
2021 salary: $5,500,000
RHP Luis Cessa: 1st year eligible; 2020 salary: $895,000
Analysis: With or without Cessa, the Yankees are the same team. As with Jonathan Holder, do the Yankees have a role that fits Cessa? Expendable in a multiplayer trade, Cessa will not command much in a deal by himself.
2021 salary: $975,000
Yankees: The Net Effect Of Arbitration On 2021 Payroll
If the Yankees settle these arbitration cases at the salaries shown above, where will that leave the team payroll?
It’s bad news for Hal Steinbrenner and the Yankees, who have already busted through the $210 million luxury tax threshold – and that doesn’t include adding the monies attached to LeMahieu and Tanaka if they are resigned as free-agents.
If the arbitrated salaries stand as they are shown here, the Yankees’ payroll will increase by $7,568,900, raising their total payroll to $219,528,424.
In turn, the Yankees will be almost ten million dollars ($9,528,424) over the tax threshold and subject to paying a tax of around $4 million – well beyond Steinbrenner’s marching orders to Brian Cashman to cut team payroll.
The Yankees Elephant In The Room
For all the good Brian Cashman has done for the Yankees, one move is proving to all but destroy his legacy as the longest-tenured general manager the team has had.
Giancarlo Stanton’s contract is an albatross that will loom over the Yankees for the remainder of this decade.
If not for the $29 million owed to Stanton next season, none of the above would be a problem for the Yankees.
Next year and for several years thereafter, Stanton will earn $32 million, a sum that belies that there is only one position player other than Mike Trout worth that kind of money, plus one coming shortly (Mookie Betts).
One way or another, the Yankees need to dig themselves out of the hole they are mired in.
Cashman created the problem, and now he must find a way to move Stanton’s contract, even if it means eating a portion of the monies owed – do it so the team can move on.
Yankees Payroll Woes Just The Tip Of The Iceberg
While the Yankees print money as the league’s highest valued franchise, Hal Steinbrenner is correct in acting responsibly in insisting financial constraints be exercised, especially in the midst of a pandemic with still unknown consequences.
If you or I were a Yankees’ shareholder, we would insist on the same.
At a time when the Yankees should be considering contract extensions to players like Gleyber Torres, Aaron Judge, Gio Urshela – plus pursuing DJ Lemahieu without a blink of the eye – these Yankees are in over their head, and it will get worse before it gets better.
Soon, the New York stage will be turned over to the Mets and Steve Cohen’s burgeoning pockets of wealth.
When the day comes when the Mets have George Springer playing center field and Trevor Bauer behind Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard in their rotation, the back pages of New York newspapers will have forgotten their usual spin toward the Yankees, moving instead to a brand of baseball separate from what we see at a stale Yankee Stadium.
It all comes back to Giancarlo Stanton, and until the Yankees figure out a way to move him, the time has come to pay the proverbial piper, and this year is only the beginning.