Steinbrenner’s money offers exciting times for the Yankees’ offseason revamp

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In 2012, the Yankees faced a sweep in the ALCS, and the following year, they grappled with a series of injuries, posted their lowest OPS-plus since 1990, and failed to make the playoffs, marking their poorest winning percentage since 1992.

During that subsequent offseason, Hal Steinbrenner approved a $438 million spending spree. This included the signings of a 25-year-old accomplished Japanese starter in Masahiro Tanaka, an agile lefty-swinging center fielder represented by Scott Boras, and two additional lefty-swinging bats switch-hitter Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann.

Can Steinbrenner do it for the Yankees?

A decade later, Steinbrenner, currently facing public scrutiny similar to that time, is considering whether to take the necessary financial and prospect collateral steps to acquire a 25-year-old accomplished Japanese starter (Yoshinobu Yamamoto), an agile lefty-swinging center fielder represented by Scott Boras (Cody Bellinger), and two more lefty-swinging bats (switch-hitter Jeimer Candelario and Juan Soto).

In 2022, history repeated as the Yankees faced another ALCS sweep. Subsequently, in 2023, they grappled with injuries, recorded their lowest OPS-plus since 2013, and missed the playoffs with their worst winning percentage since 1992.

Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto

Steinbrenner is adjusting his tolerance for payroll, having expressed that winning doesn’t require a $300 million payroll. However, to replicate the 2013-14 offseason, the payroll would likely need to exceed that threshold. The projected cost for the mentioned quartet, just for the 2024 season, would be $111 million, based on the free-agent projections by my colleague Jon Heyman and MLB Trade Rumors’ arbitration projection for Soto.

Currently, the Yankees have a payroll projection of around $250 million for the next season if no changes are made. While trading players like Nestor Cortes and Gleyber Torres could save approximately $20 million, it might also weaken the team when the intention is evidently to make a bold move.

Yankess offseason target Cody Bellinger with 2020 WS trophy.
cody_bellinger

Would Steinbrenner approve a $300 million payroll? Recall that in the 2008-09 offseason, the Yankees initially hesitated before committing to substantial contracts for Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett. The decision came after the realization that Teixeira could be a game-changer, leading to his eight-year, $180 million deal.

A decade ago, Steinbrenner, at the start of the offseason, did not anticipate such significant spending. The belief in inexpensive reinforcements from the farm system, including Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino, played a role in the decision to invest heavily. Now, the question is whether the Yankees see Jasson Dominguez, Anthony Volpe, and Austin Wells as the first wave to support a major offseason investment.

Looking ahead, Torres becomes a free agent in a year if retained, as does Anthony Rizzo if his 2025 option is not exercised. DJ LeMahieu’s contract expires after the 2026 season, followed by Giancarlo Stanton after 2027.

Team Future Payrolls
NameAgeYrsAcquiredSrvTmAgentContract Status202320242025202620272028202920302031
Aaron Judge318Free Agency6.051PSI Sports Manage…9 yrs/$360M (23-31)$40M$40M$40M$40M$40M$40M$40M$40M$40M
Giancarlo Stanton3314Traded12.118Wasserman13 yrs/$325M (15-27) & 28 team option$32M$32M$32M$29M$25M$10M [FA-*]FA  
Gerrit Cole3211Free Agency9.111Boras Corporation9 yrs/$324M (20-28)$36M$36M$36M$36M$36M$36MFA  
Carlos Rodón309Free Agency7.168Boras Corporation6 yrs/$162M (23-28)$22.83M$27.83M$27.83M$27.83M$27.83M$27.83MFA  
DJ LeMahieu3413Free Agency10.128Wasserman6 yrs/$90M (21-26)$15M$15M$15M$15MFA    
Anthony Rizzo3313Free Agency10.168Sports One Athlet…2 yrs/$40M (23-24) & 25 team option$17M$17M$6M [FA-*]FA     
Tommy Kahnle339Free Agency7.131Ballengee Group2 yrs/$11.5M (23-24)$5.75M$5.75MFA      
Gleyber Torres266Traded4.162Octagon1 yr/$9.95M (23)$9.95MArbFA      
Clay Holmes306Traded4.031Wasserman1 yr/$3.3M (23)$3.3MArbFA      
Nestor Cortes286Free Agency3.094Wasserman1 yr/$3.2M (23)$3.2MArbArbFA     
Jose Trevino306Traded3.063Paragon Sports In…1 yr/$2.36M (23)$2.36MArbArbFA     
Jonathan Loáisiga286Free Agency4.022ISE Baseball1 yr/$2.26M (23)$2.26MArbFA      
Kyle Higashioka337Amateur Draft4.005Beverly Hills Spo…1 yr/$1.46M (23)$1.46MArbFA      
Michael King285Traded3.004 1 yr/$1.3M (23)$1.3MArbArbFA     
Oswaldo Cabrera242Free Agency0.05 1 yr/$742k (23)$742.1kPre-ArbPre-ArbArbArbArbFA  
Clarke Schmidt274Amateur Draft1.148Excel Sports Mana…1 yr/$740k (23)$740.48kPre-ArbArbArbArbFA   
Ron Marinaccio272Amateur Draft0.154 1 yr/$740k (23)$739.9kPre-ArbArbArbArbArbFA  
Anthony Volpe221stAmateur Draft0 1 yr/$720k (23)$720kPre-ArbPre-ArbArbArbArbFA  
Art Warren303 1.146KHG Sports Manage…   ArbArbArbFA   
Ben Rortvedt252Traded1.086Wasserman   ArbArbArbFA   
Nick Ramirez334Free Agency1.077    ArbArbArbFA   
Scott Effross292Traded1.037Beverly Hills Spo…   ArbArbArbFA   
Joey Gerber261st 0.153    ArbArbArbArbFA  
Ian Hamilton284Free Agency0.126Northwest Sports …    ArbArbArbFA  
Estevan Florial254Amateur Free Agent0.088     ArbArbArbFA  
Luis Gil252Traded0.073     ArbArbArbFA  
Greg Weissert282Amateur Draft0.042     ArbArbArbFA  
Oswald Peraza232Free Agency0.035     ArbArbArbFA  
Aaron Hicks traded to/from Baltimore Orioles      $10.3M        
Aaron Hicks buyout       $9.79M$9.79M$1M     
Giancarlo Stanton traded to/from Miami Marlins         -$10M-$10M-$10M   
Josh Donaldson buyout       $8M       

Yankees want the best value of their money

The Yankees likely have alternative, more budget-friendly plans in consideration. For instance, if they acquire Soto through a trade, they might explore the possibility of signing Kevin Kiermaier at a lower cost than Bellinger to fill the center field position. On the other hand, if they secure Bellinger’s signing, they could still pursue Kiermaier for center field and utilize Bellinger in both the challenging left field at Yankee Stadium and occasionally at first base.

Among the listed players, Soto stands out as the most intriguing. There’s a division of opinion among executives regarding whether he will be traded due to the Padres’ significant need to reduce payroll. While some executives believe Soto might be traded, others hold the view that he won’t be dealt. An NL official mentioned, “They intend to compete in 2024, and it would be embarrassing for A.J. Preller after what he sacrificed to acquire him, to now receive minimal compensation.”

San Diego made a significant prospect investment in 2022 to acquire Soto from Washington, even though he still had 2 ½ years until free agency and a $17.1 million salary. As he approaches his last year before free agency in 2024, Soto’s expected salary could nearly double, leading to a potential bidding war involving teams like the Giants and Mariners. This competition may compel teams to sacrifice quality, low-cost players to secure Soto’s services.

Padres star and Yankees target Juan Soto at Petco Park in 2022.
Jose Soto Pacheco

While Soto is an exceptional hitter, ranking among the top offensive performers in MLB history through his age-24 season, other aspects raise consideration. FanGraphs rated him as the 10th-worst defender across all positions and the 30th-worst baserunner last year. Additionally, he was part of a clubhouse perceived as one of the most toxic in the sport, necessitating a thorough investigation into his role in the team culture.

Acquiring teams must conduct comprehensive due diligence, especially given the substantial prospect collateral involved. Considering Soto rejected a 15-year, $440 million offer from Washington in 2022, his long-term commitment will come at a significant cost. His offensive performance, ranking 12th in offensive Wins Above Replacement (Baseball Reference) through his age-24 season, aligns him with elite company, including nine Hall of Famers, future Hall of Famer Mike Trout, and Alex Rodriguez.

However, the potential return for San Diego is also influenced by the Padres’ level of urgency. Reports suggest they may need to slash up to $50 million from the 2024 payroll. In such a scenario, a team might negotiate a reduced return if it agrees to, for instance, absorb Jake Cronenworth’s seven years at $80 million or even alleviate some by taking on Matt Carpenter’s one year at $5 million.

While it’s unlikely that Stanton (owed four years at $98 million) would waive his no-trade clause, even with his Southern California roots (despite having 12 career homers in 81 at-bats, postseason included, at Petco Park), or that Yu Darvish (with five years at $78 million remaining) would be part of such a deal. However, the prospect of taking on Stanton, along with Yankees prospects, in exchange for Soto, Cronenworth, and Darvish could save San Diego over $90 million overall.

While this may seem like wishful thinking, Steinbrenner’s willingness to make significant investments this offseason is a plausible scenario, drawing parallels to past instances where he embarked on spending sprees in similar situations.

What do you think? leave your comment below.

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