The Yankees, with the signing of Brett Gardner, will close the books on payroll additions for the 2020 season. With the Taxman looming, they’ve done enough…
The Yankees, and in particular the Steinbrenner family, have done their part to bring Number 28 home to the city of New York and their fans. The focus now shifts to the 25 players in the clubhouse.
In the process, the Yankees have blown past the luxury tax threshold of $208 million in payroll with the signing of Gerrit Cole to a record-breaking contract.
When the final tally comes in, it’s possible the team is also past the second tier of $228 million.
This is not a surprise; the Yankees knew they would be in this position if Cole were added.
Even so, the Yankees, despite having a boatload of cash left in the register, do not intend to squander resources or to do anything close to what Phillies owner John Middleton said he would do – spending “stupid money.”
No matter what, though, the Yankees will bring Brett Gardner back for a swan song. One executive who had spoken to Gardner recently about joining his team has said unequivocably – Brett Gardner wants to play for the Yankees.
And the Yankees want him as well. A stabilizing force in the clubhouse, Gardner is now the last remnant of the 2009 Championship team.
In fact, as I write this, ESPN is reporting the Yankees have indeed signed Gardner to a one-year $12.5 million contract. So, that takes care of that.
Yankees focus now shifts to another arena
However, Brian Cashman’s to-do list is far from complete. J.A. Happ needs to be cut from the payroll in a trade. This is not something the Yankees want to do, because as we know, you can never have too much pitching in major league baseball.
Happ represents about $17 million toward the taxable payroll. By trading him, the Yankees avoid reaching the Armageddon of luxury tax thresholds ($248 million).
A resourceful but largely ineffective pitcher over the full course of the 2019 season, Happ may prove to be a difficult sell for Brian Cashman.
He had a 4.91 ERA last season. He is 37. He has a 2021 vesting option for $17 million that triggers at 165 innings or 27 starts.
Knowing the Yankee’s predicament, teams in play for Happ could demand a “sweetener” is added – a top tier prospect perhaps – or a major league ready to play player off the 40-man roster.
In any event, this will not mean the Yankees are folding the tent on the offseason. The trade market is still there, and we can expect the Yankees to be heavily involved in deals that maintain or perhaps even reduces payroll.
It’s hard to believe, for instance, the Yankees are comfortable with Kyle Higashioka as their back-up to Gary Sanchez, replacing the more than reliable Austin Romine as he sets forth to greener pastures and a long-term deal.
Robinson Chirinos and Martin Maldonado, both with the Astros and having experience with Gerrit Cole as a battery-mate, could be trade targets of Cashman.
Beyond that, the Yankees appear to be in a position to let the battle between Luke Voit and Mike Ford play out at first base, as well as the one between Gio Urshela and Miguel Andujar at third base.
Andujar, however, remains an intriguing and valuable trade chip with several teams calling on his availability and could be used in a trade to shore up insurance for an unpredictable Giancarlo Stanton in the outfield.
And finally, there’s Clint Frazier and what the Yankees decide to do with him.
With Aaron Hicks gone for at least the first half of the season and Brett Gardner forced again to play out of position in centerfield, Frazier may very well find a hole to comfortably climb into in left field – assuming his defense doesn’t stink up the joint.
Yankees seek to find the final pieces
This is all conjecture, and although worthy of consideration, the salient point remains the Yankees did what they set out to do in signing Cole. Only pieces of the puzzle stay for the team to be complete.
Hal became George, and for that, everyone connected to the Yankees is grateful and energized.
But now it’s time for Brian Cashman to use his creative and imaginative skills, as he has done so many times before, to pull the rabbit from his hat, completing those final pieces that will make this offseason one to be truly remembered …