Yankees Would Be Smart to Stick to Plan of Avoiding Big-Name FAs This Winter

Mike Rosenbaum@GoldenSombreroMLB Prospects Lead WriterNovember 11, 2014

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, left, and manager Joe Girardi sit behind the batting cage during spring training baseball practice Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

Believe it or not, the New York Yankees don’t plan on being big spenders this offseason. At least compared to previous years.

According to Mark Feinsand and Bill Madden of the New York Daily News, the Yankees are not expected to pursue top free-agent pitchers Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields, as well as free-agent third baseman Pablo Sandoval.

Instead, the team is likely to address its needs by targeting “mid-level free agents” such as Chase Headley and Brandon McCarthy, notes Feinsand and Madden.

Though it’s difficult to discount the Yankees' potential to make a splash on the free-agent market this year—especially after the team’s spending spree last offseason—avoiding more large, multi-year contracts to players approaching the wrong side of 30 is the right call.

Last year at this time, the Yankees expressed a desire to lower payroll below $189 million, the luxury-tax threshold, for the 2014 season. That obviously never happened, though, as the team went out and signed high-priced free agents Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka.

While the organization’s 2014 Opening Day payroll of $197,230,609 was below $200 million for the first time since 2007, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, it wasn’t low enough to clear them of any luxury-tax penalties.

However, with only $168,767,850 on the books for 2015 at the moment, per Cot’s, the Yankees will have roughly $20 million to work with this offseason if they want to avoid the tax.

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But the belief the Yankees will steer clear of Scherzer (30), Lester (30) and Shields (32) isn’t necessarily tied to concerns over once again exceeding the luxury-tax threshold; the reality is that the Yankees simply haven’t done well when it comes to giving highly lucrative, long-term contracts to older players.

The Yankees’ 2015 roster will feature six players on at least five-year deals, with five of those six players set to make at least $150 million over the duration of their respective contracts.

New York Yankees: Current Long-Term Contracts
Contract DetailsAgesWARContract Performance ValueContract Earnings
Alex Rodriguez10 years, $275 million32-4123.1$89.4 million$179 million
Mark Teixeira8 years, $180 million29-3615.4$70.5 million$130 million
CC Sabathia5 years, $122 million (2017 option)31-377.4$35.2 million$69 million
Masahiro Tanaka7 years, $155 million25-313.2$17.5 million$22 million
Jacoby Ellsbury7 years, $153 million (2021 option)30-373.6$20.1~$21.142 million
Brian McCann5 years, $85 million (2019 option)30-352.3$12.9$17 million
FanGraphs; Cot's Baseball Contracts

The problem is that, of the six players, only Ellsbury and Tanaka have produced at levels reflective of their annual salaries (and overall earnings), which is based on nothing more than a one-year sample size.

But there’s reason to be leery of both contracts moving forward; Ellsbury is entering his age-31 season and coming off a 3.6 WAR campaign, per FanGraphs—his lowest WAR in a season with at least 149 games played since 2009—while Tanaka, at 25, suffered a partially torn UCL in his right elbow this season and missed nearly three months on the 60-day disabled list.  

Speaking of the 60-day disabled list, both Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia are quite familiar with it. Sabathia has landed on the 60-day DL in each of the past two seasons with hamstring and knee injuries, respectively, while Tex bookended his 2013 with trips to the 60-day, both of which resulted in right wrist surgery.

Rodriguez famously was banned for part of 2013 and all of 2014 as a result of the Biogenesis scandal, in addition to battling numerous injuries prior to the suspension.

Basically, there are six clear reasons, seven if you include the luxury-tax situation, why the Yankees should avoid signing one of the top free agents this offseason. But let’s be real—we’re talking about the Yankees, and that means nothing can be completely ruled out when it comes to spending.

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

The Yankees will need to replace Derek Jeter at shortstop, but beyond Hanley Ramirez—who, at 31, comes with major durability concerns—Stephen Drew and Jed Lowrie headline this year’s crop of free agents at the position.

But rather than shelling out big bucks, the Yankees are better off addressing their needs through trades, especially for positions that are scarce on this year’s free agent market.

“I think it’s a limited market,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said of the shortstop market, via Joel Sherman of the New York Post. “I say ‘limited’ in terms of availability or acquisition costs.

"We’re going to talk with the available free agents and we’ll talk trade as with other teams.”

Therefore, it’s encouraging to see Cashman already exploring trades for shortstops with remaining upside.

According to Sherman’s report on Monday, the Yankees are “intrigued” by Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers, who seemingly would fit the team’s mold of getting younger. However, with an eight-year, $120 million extension set to kick in next year, he too would represent sizable investment.

The difference is that Andrus, at 27, technically still has his prime years ahead of him, whereas the team’s other long-term contracts in previous season have gone to players aged 29 to 32, save for Tanaka.

The Yankees also have reached out to the Chicago White Sox about 33-year-old Alexei Ramirez, per Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago, though he would serve as more of a temporary replacement at the position given his age and the two years remaining on his contract ($10 million team option in 2016).

Unfortunately, the Yankees have too many holes on their roster not to spend this offseason, and it’d be surprising if they didn’t at least sign one quality hitter, ideally an infielder that doesn’t cost upwards of $100 million, like Headley.

Beyond that, however, it makes little sense for the team to pursue any of the elite free agents.

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