Yankees’ long-term contracts are becoming their Achilles’ heel

Yankees Giancarlo Stanton is seen Aaron Judge and Aaron Judge during a road trip to Atlanta in 2022.

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The Yankees’ 3-0 series loss in Atlanta by a big margin throws up a contrasting disparity between their and the Braves’ long-term contracts. While Atlanta continues to reap dividends on their long-term contracts, the Yankees’ slump is only becoming more visible with such deals.

The Braves outscored the Yankees 18-3 in the whole series. Although the Yankees were not the worst team then with a record of 60 wins and 61 losses and had big offensive names in the lineup, they showed up quite far from their usual position as one of baseball’s top teams. It was the same team that came on March 29 with a FanGraphs predicted 81.2% chance of making it to the playoffs to a mere 0.5% chance at present. This was primarily due to the failure of big names that are on the Yankees’ payroll with long-term contracts.

Yankees’ long-term contracts

The Yankees decided to bring back their top two free agents this year, but unfortunately, both of them have had seasons full of injuries. Aaron Judge, who plays in right field, signed a long contract that keeps him with the team until 2031. He had an amazing year in 2022, breaking a record for home runs in the American League (AL) and even winning the MVP award. This year, he still has a really good OPS+ of 179, which shows he’s a strong hitter. However, he had a torn ligament in his right big toe, which kept him from playing between June 4 and July 27. Even after coming back, his speed and defensive abilities haven’t been the same because of the injury.

First baseman Anthony Rizzo came back to the team this year with a contract for two years and a club option for 2025. He had a good start to the season, hitting .304 with 11 home runs until May 28. Unfortunately, he got hurt when he collided with a baserunner and hurt his head. He kept playing even though he probably had a concussion, and his performance from June to August dropped to .172 with one home run. Eventually, he had to go on the injured list because of his injuries.

The New York Yankees players are seen together in July 2022.

The biggest new player on the team this year was starting pitcher Carlos Rodon. He signed a contract for six years, until 2028. However, he had an injured forearm, so he couldn’t start playing for the Yankees until July 7. In the six games he played, he gave up 22 runs and 18 walks in only 27 innings. On August 6, he left a game early because he hurt his hamstring, and he’s been on the injured list since then.

Two other players who have specific positions and long contracts haven’t been playing as well as expected. Giancarlo Stanton, who mostly bats as a designated hitter, will keep his contract until 2027, but the team is likely to not use their option to keep him until 2028. His batting average is .199, and his on-base percentage is .281, his slugging percentage is .344, and his OPS+ is 94. These are all the lowest numbers he’s had in his career. Infielder D.J. LeMahieu has been a champion in hitting twice before, but this year he’s only hitting .240. He’s under contract until 2026.

Out of all the Yankees with long contracts, there’s one player who’s performing as expected, and that is the starting pitcher, Gerrit Cole, who will be with the team until 2028. He’s doing really well this season. He’s leading all pitchers in the American League when it comes to WAR (which shows his overall impact) and innings pitched (how long he’s played). Because of how well he’s doing, he’s becoming a top contender for the AL Cy Young Award, which goes to the best pitcher in the league.

The Yankees should learn from the Braves

The New York Yankees big earners Rizzo, Stanton, Judge, Donaldson, and LeMahieu.

The Yankees vs. Braves series showed two teams moving in opposite directions. Except for the players who are still in their early career stages and those who negotiate salaries through arbitration, Atlanta has signed nine position players and three pitchers to contracts until at least 2025. Most of these players are performing well and contributing to their success.

The Yankees have signed up four players for specific positions and two pitchers to play until 2025. Out of these, six of the seven players who earn the most money on the team are included. Unfortunately, many of them haven’t performed as well as people hoped, and this has become a big story about why the team is struggling.

In Atlanta, almost all of their main starting players have contracts that go until at least 2025, except for the left fielder. This even includes both of their catchers. One of their starters, Sean Murphy, is signed until 2029. Among all the starting catchers in the MLB, Murphy has the best on-base percentage of .383 and slugging percentage of .539.

Their first baseman, Matt Olson, is leading all of Major League Baseball with 43 home runs, and he’s signed to play until 2030. Their second baseman, Ozzie Albies, who came up through the team’s system, has a contract that goes until 2027. The shortstop, Orlando Arcia, who has a contract that goes until 2026, is doing really well with a batting average of .283, an on-base percentage of .337, and a slugging percentage of .443. The third baseman, Austin Riley, who is expected to stay with the team until 2033, has the best WAR in the National League.

Ronald Acuña Jr., who plays in right field, is signed to play until 2028. He’s considered the likely favorite to win the Most Valuable Player award in the National League. In center field, they have Michael Harris II, who will be playing with the team until 2032. He was named the best new player in the National League last year, and this season, he’s hitting the ball well with a .283 batting average and 11 home runs.

The top pitcher for the Braves is Spencer Strider, who is set to play until 2029. He’s really good at striking out opponents and currently has the most strikeouts among starting pitchers in MLB.

While the Braves have gotten a lot of benefits from their main players, who signed contracts for a long time, the Yankees haven’t seen the same success. This isn’t just about luck. On average, the 12 key Braves players who are signed through at least 2025 are about 28.3 years old, and eight of them are younger than 30. Acuna, Harris, and Strider are all 25 years old or younger.

Out of the six Yankees who have contracts until 2025 or later, their average age now is around 32.2 years old. Among them, Rodon is the youngest, at 30 years old. It’s likely that at some point, a few of them might not perform well enough to deserve a spot on the team or the roster.

In Atlanta, the core players will shape the team’s success for many upcoming seasons. Similarly, the Yankees have their core players too, but instead of being a good thing, it’s causing challenges for them to become strong competitors in the years ahead.

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

One thought on “Yankees’ long-term contracts are becoming their Achilles’ heel

  1. One thing the Atlanta Braved don’t have: Brian Cashman. He’s the bonehead who signed all of these albatrosses hanging around the Yankees’ necks.
    The players Cashman has signed to long-term, long-money contracts were already at their peak performance, and the vast majority had a history of being injury prone. What was Cashman thinking? Apparently he wasn’t. He seems to believe he has some sort of magic touch when signing free agents, when nothing could be further from the truth.
    The players who made up the core of the late-90s dynasty were all put in place by his predecessor, Gene Michael. Cashman has no problem trying to take credit for them, though. I think he’s even fooled himself into thinking he was the architect for that Yankees’ dynasty. He sure has Hal Steinbrenner fooled!

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