Yankees: When Will They Stop Handing Out Money In Arbitration Cases?

Aaron Judge: Yankees All-Star

The Yankees hand out money to their players in arbitration cases like it’s candy. Should there be any wonder when they play with nonchalance?

The Yankees’ last trip to an arbitration hearing was in 2017 when they defeated right-hander Dellin Betances in a battle over $2 million. Before that, their last trip to the arbitration table was in 2008, when they prevailed over right-hander Chien-Ming Wang.

Some will argue once-bitten, twice shy as Yankees fans recall the embarrassing intervention by Yankee’s President Randy Levine in the Betances case, but that’s letting them off too easy.

Here’s what the Yankees did with their arbitration cases in 2020.

Yankees Arbitration Settlements 2020 (MLB.com)
Yankees Arbitration Settlements 2020 (MLB.com)

Remove Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, and James Paxton (all bombs in the 2020 season), and the rest of the list seems fair – no?

Now, here’s a glance at what the Yankees did with arbitration-eligible players this year.

Yankees Arbitration Settlements 2020 (MLB.com)
Yankees Arbitration Settlements 2020 (MLB.com)

Not one of the settlements resulted in a reduction or continuance from the player’s previous salary. This, even though nowhere in the Owner’s Player agreement, says a player is entitled to an automatic raise due to years of service.

Joe DiMaggio - "Hi Partner" (PBS.org)
Joe DiMaggio – “Hi Partner” (PBS.org)

Historically, of course, players worked from year to year, often arriving at the owner’s office without an agent or packets filled with glowing analytics proving their value.

A contract was settled face to face, and always, the dollar amount was based on the previous year’s performance by the player. Get better or do it again, and next year you received a raise too – or not.

There’s a story about Joe DiMaggio, following a particularly prodigious season for the Yankees, marching in and declaring, “Hello, partner,” to the stammering Yankee’s owner.

Those days disappeared, of course, with the combination of Curt Flood‘s successful challenge to the reserve clause and  Dodgers pitcher Andy Messersmith challenged the system, becoming a free agent on Dec. 23, 1975.

So, as they say, the rest is history with regards to player contracts and salaries. Let it be.

Life At The Yankees’ Candy Store

But where is the Yankee’s rationale for granting Sanchez and Judge increases amounting to $3-4 million from last year – money that might have saved Adam Ottavino to exile in Boston – or that might be available now to make any of several needed roster changes?

Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
Gary Sanchez Photo courtesy of Sportress of Blogitude

The Yankees know, we all know the histories of both players of late – Judge’s inability to stay on the field and Sanchez’s elusive strike zone and pitch waving, along with a penchant for passed balls.

The Yankees’ generosity might be forgiven if either Sanchez and Judge had something different to show their team this year. Alas, we see the continuing trends.

Occasionally, when we don’t hear more whining from Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge will rear up telling us how disappointed he is about the Yankees performance this year, and over the past few seasons in which his team has failed miserably in the postseason.

But baseball (thank God) is not politics. Spin doesn’t work with most fans – hits and wins do.

Yankees Missing The Boat With Arbitration Cases

The Yankees, like all teams, have six years of player control that includes three years of arbitration before a player reaches free-agent status.

“Control” doesn’t have to be applying the whip and chain, armed with threats about their future with the team, unless…

But control should mean monitoring a player’s progress with salary rewards given as merited throughout the arbitration process.

All the Yankees have achieved with Gary Sanchez by granting him an unearned raise, for instance, is to remove him from the trade market because his value (now) does not meet the cost of his services.

Yankees: An Opportunity For Some Tough Love

Think of it this way. Next year, the Yankees will have (assuming no roster changes) eighteen arbitration cases to settle.

Yankees decision on Gleyber Torres coming up soon
Yankees decision on Gleyber Torres coming up soon

The season may be young, but maybe it’s time for the Yankees to drop some quiet feelers out there through Aaron Boone and his coaches that the front office is taking a different look at its arbitration cases next year.

So, maybe you need to be thinking about that as our season moves along.

Subtle, but hopefully an effective reminder of T.A.N.S.T.A.A. F.L – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch – to among others Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Mike Ford, Mike Tauchman, and Tyler Wade, all of whom (Sanchez and Judge too) need to be put on notice by the Yankees.

Alas, Yankees Fans – Dream On

Now, do I (or you) see a chance in hell of this happening, where the Yankees front office steps up to Demand from their players the equivalent production in return for the money they are being paid?

Not a chance, because this Yankees franchise is in a quagmire of denial and routine acceptance of mediocrity.

Make the playoffs for sure, though with a $200 million payroll you at least should do that – but after that, we’re (Hal Steinbrenner and shareholders) good.

Hal and George Steinbrenner - the last Hurrah. (Photo:
Hal and George Steinbrenner – the last Hurrah. (Photo:

Sprinkle a million here and two million there, just enough to keep our players happy. Then, sit back to watch as another season unfolds as George Steinbrenner looks up to ask, “Are you freakin’ kidding me”?

We can’t expect a break in the ranks as the Yankees have their best foil in Aaron Boone to lead the spin-charge, covering up for his players, making no waves, and lighting a candle every night with a wish and a prayer “things’ll get better”.

And maybe they will. We hope they will.

Last night’s win over the Braves was one of those “must-wins” early in the season or not, and the Yankees came through, although the AL East Standings didn’t change one bit.

To get to .500, the Yankees need to win their next four, and that will not count what those Red Sox in Boston are doing, acting like what the Yankees are supposed to be.

 Nothing Will Change Until They Make It Change

We began by looking at the Yankees settlement of arbitration cases over the past two years when players received raises that should have been declared unwarranted.

They weren’t by anyone in the Yankees front office, so be it.

But next year, based on this year, should be different, and if applied correctly by the Yankees as an intelligent and honest discussion, reasonable but honest salary agreements need to be reached based on the old axiom in baseball – “What have you done for me lately.”

The money was different back then when Mickey Mantle made $100,000 off a Triple-Crown year for the Yankees, but that should still not foreshadow realistic arbitration settlement cases based on performances by Torres, Voit, Judge, Urshela, Sanchez, et al. this year.

Giancarlo Stanton is living in an FBI witness protection program while Gerrit Cole and DJ LeMahieu have earned their due – but of the rest – c’mon…

Here’s What Readers Are Saying…

I am not looking at totals because I don’t care how much players make but the statement “This, even though nowhere in the Owner’s Player agreement, says a player is entitled to an automatic raise due to years of service. is wrong in the context of what you’re talking about, The basic agreement does say that years of service is a factor in arbitration decisions. This is a little bit of Section E, Paragraph 10 of the basic agreement.
“(10) Criteria
(a) The criteria will be the quality of the Player’s contribution to his Club during the past season (including but not limited
to his overall performance, special qualities of leadership and
public appeal), the length and consistency of his career contribution, the record of the Player’s past compensation, comparative baseball salaries…”.
And this is Paragraph 11.
“(11) Confidential Major League Salary Data. For its confidential use, as background information, the arbitration panel will be given a tabulation showing the minimum salary in the Major Leagues and salaries for the preceding season of all players on Major League rosters as of August 31, broken down by years of Major League service.
The names and Clubs of the Players concerned will appear on the tabulation. In utilizing the salary tabulation, the arbitration panel shall consider the salaries of all comparable Players and not merely the salary of a single Player or group of Players.
” I interpret the line “broken down by years of Major League service” as implying that length of service is to be taken into account for arbitration-eligible players. It is not taken into account in free-agent negotiations because they have a free market.
As far as how the Yankees’ salary strategies affect their player’s willingness to work, they also paid players like Jeter and Pettitte, and Williams at the top of the market also, didn’t they? How is it different now?
It’s all about the contract and the money first…postseason play and titles are secondary…that’s today’s professional athletes…back in the day, they played for the sheer love of the game…
Andrew Limoli

You’re right. When you can make $40M/yr for jacking 40 homers, who’s going to move that runner over from 2nd to 3rd with less than one out? And who’s going to then make sure they make contact to get the runner home? I don’t know what the WS winners share is anymore; maybe $100K or thereabouts? Not even walking around money for the big bombers anymore. The financial incentives are all about individual numbers now. Winning is a distant 2nd.

James Harrington

The Yankees are not the only team to do this. Money has ruined professional sports.

Steve Contursi

yes seems that no matter what this team does for 11 years it does not produce a WS win and not this year either I fear🙏😥

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Author: stevecontursi

I am an amateur writer with a passion for baseball and all things Yankees and Mets.