The Yankees open the Spring Training on Wednesday and, barring a big surprise, neither Manny Machado nor Bryce Harper will be in Tampa. They still do not sign in part because the Yankees opted to distribute the money this offseason instead of going for one or two huge signings. You can win that way. However, you rarely regret having hired a player of the caliber of a star of about 20 years.
Anyway, with Harper and Machado still in the market, Hal Steinbrenner was asked about the duo's signing last week and gave a defensive response focused on team expenses. "(There is) no discussion about our costs, that's always the problem." I hear all about our income, I do not hear anything about our cost, "Hal told Ron Blum. Unless the Yankees open their books (laughs), We will never know your expenses, that's life.
As part of Harper and Machado's discussion, Steinbrenner gave another reason related to the payroll to convey the two: the Yankees will have to sign their homegrown core at some point. From Blum:
"I have to see the big picture, and it's my responsibility, what my family expects, my colleagues expect, not only look at the present but also the future," he said. "In three, four, five years from now we will have many local children that we love, our fans will love, they will come for free agency."
Of course, the property has to monitor the future payroll, and yes, the core itself is about to become expensive. Luis Severino came to arbitration for the first of four times as Super Doses this offseason. Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez will come to arbitration for the first time after 2019 and then to Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres (Super Dos) after 2020. Children grow up fast, man. Some reflections on this.
1. Are we really supposed to believe this? Let's be real here. "We have to sign our nucleus in a few years" is a pretty boring excuse not to chase Machado or Harper or anyone else. It will sound especially silly if Machado or Harper end up taking short-term contracts, which is possible, but I do not think it's likely. A short-term contract would make this excuse completely debatable. Some acts:
- Hal is arguing that the Yankees can not sign Machado and Harper, now 26, because they will have to pay the 31-year-old Judge and 30-year-old Sanchez, among others.
- The Yankees moved away from Robinson Cano, 31, at that time the best second baseman in baseball and at its highest point, even though it was a first-class star homegrown.
- The Yankees have a contract in books beyond 2021 (Giancarlo Stanton) and possibly only two beyond 2020 (Stanton and Adam Ottavino), depending on how some exclusion clauses and award options are developed.
Also, who can say that it will be worth signing these guys in a few years? Severino could be broken (it is known that the pitchers do that), Sanchez and Andújar could be designated hitters, who knows how the Judge will age in that size, and so on. I know we're all supposed to be optimistic about young players, but damn it, everything goes wrong at all times. That is the hard reality of baseball. The table of WAR leaders of the rookie player 2015:
- Kris Bryant: +6.1 WAR (it's amazing!)
- Matt Duffy: +4.4 WAR (eh)
- Francisco Lindor: +4.0 WAR (he's great too!)
- Odubel Herrera: +3.8 WAR (oy)
- Jung Ho Kang: +3.7 WAR (eep)
Two of the five are not bad, I suppose. But do you understand why it is not a good idea to make decisions based on payroll hypotheses three or four years later? Especially when you're a winning team now and on the very short list of legitimate competitors in the World Series? I'll be sick to my stomach if the Yankees waste this window because the future payroll took precedence over putting the team in the best possible position to win at this moment.
2. Why not sign them to extensions? This is the other thing. The Yankees could be certain of long-term costs right now by signing some of their young players for extension. And maybe they are trying. Spring training is typically the season of extension. That's usually when we see that clubs lock up their guys for the long term, so be prepared for a series of extensions throughout the league in the coming weeks.
Maybe the Yankees are among the teams to sign one of their long-term young players before the opening day. It would be a bit great. However, the Yankees have been very stingy with the extensions in the last 20 years. They have signed a (1) player with an extension several years before free agency this century. That is Robinson Cano's four-year contract (plus two club options) in February 2008, when he lacked three years of service. That is the only one.
The Yankees signed Brett Gardner (February 2014), Javy Vázquez (January 2004), Derek Jeter (February 2001) and Andy Pettitte (January 2000) to multi-year extensions of this century, but those four were all One year of free agency at the time of your deal. It was time to act, you know? The Yankees signed Cano four years before free agency. I was where the judge is now, Sanchez and Severino in regards to the years of control.
The extension of Cano was a resounding success. The Yankees never regretted it for a second. That does not mean they all work well, of course. An extension of Chien-Ming Wang in February 2008 would have been a disaster. Someone could always be all Grady Sizemore in you. Signing someone in the long term involves risks and the Yankees avoid extensions during all these years and tell us that they want to avoid that risk. They tend to push the big payday off as long as possible.
To be fair, the Yankees have not had many young players worth extending over the years. There was Gardner and, David Robertson? That is all. However, the Yankees definitely have young players that are worth extending, and if being able to sign them on the road is really a big enough concern to pass to Harper and Machado *, then gosh, get these players to sign up as soon as possible. As possible (potentially at a discount) it seems worth it, right?
* The lack of willingness to sign Harper and Machado because the children will finally need to be signed does not coincide at all with the things of Nolan Arenado that we have heard, but I am digressing.
Given the state of free agency, waiting to sign young players for the long term makes a lot of sense to me because that big payday for the free agent might not be there in the future. That's the whole point of an extension, right? To lock a young player now with a lower salary than he would win as a free agent. Well, the pay days of free agents are disappearing, so why take the risk? If Severino breaks down or the judge forgets how to hit, the Yankees can get away without any commitment. That is not possible with an extension.
The current contractual commitments are not really a problem. All those free agents signed by the Yankees this winter signed short-term agreements. The huge contracts of Masahiro Tanaka and Jacoby Ellsbury disappear in two years. Stanton, who could choose not to participate in two years, but probably was not granted free agency status, is the only long-term contract in the books. It is impossible to look at the list and think that the Yankees will be held back by onerous deals within three years, given their current commitments.
For all intents and purposes, Hal told us that the Yankees will not sign Harper and Machado because they want to make sure they can have an old and expensive core in a few years. That is reduced, right? You can not sign those free agents now because we're anxious to pay the judge $ 35M a year from ages 31-35! Give me a break. And what about the young players in a few years? I look forward to hearing that the Yankees can not sign the Judge in 2021 because they will have to pay Everson Pereira down the road.
More than anything, I hate that young players are used as an excuse to let Harper and Machado go. The children have done absolutely everything that is asked of them. It has been extraordinary and fun. Now they are a reason to transmit great players? How unfair. I had the impression that one of the benefits of having cheap (young) players is to be able to use the available payroll space to complement them with more high-level talent. I guess that was my mistake.
It is clearer than ever that avoiding large money transactions is a top priority, which applies to all teams, not just the Yankees, and any excuse will suffice. Having many great young and cheap players is now cited as a reason not to spend on free agency. How in the world did baseball come here?