How did the New York Yankees respond after missing out on the postseason for only the second time since 1996 and watching the Boston Red Sox celebrate their third World Series crown this century? By shelling out nearly half a billion dollars in new contracts, $189 million luxury tax threshold be damned.
Here’s a quick look at tab general manager Brian Cashman has run up since finishing 85-77 in 2013:
- Masahiro Tanaka: $155 million/7 years
- Jacoby Ellsbury: $153 million/7 years.
- Brian McCann: $85 million/5 years
- Carlos Beltran: $45 million/3 years.
- Hiroki Kurdoa: $16 million/1 year.
- Matt Thornton $7 million/2 years.
- Kelly Johnson $3 million/1 year.
- Brian Roberts $2 million /1 year.
When you factor in the Tanaka posting fee of $20 million, it’s roughly $486 million in contracts, pushing the Yankees 2014 payroll to about $192 million — unless Alex Rodriguez wins his court case.
For all the money dished out by the Yankees — none going in the direction of ex-second baseman Robinson Cano — the roster still looks unbalanced on paper. The infield is drawing the most attention, because the Yankees are counting on Mark Teixeira (coming off a season with only 53 at-bats); 40-year-old Derek Jeter (limited to 63 at-bats in 2013); and then some combination of Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts (192 games played in last four seasons) and Eduardo Nunez at second and third. Sure, there’s a chance that Johnson and Roberts do their best impressions of Scott Brosius and Chuck Knoblauch, but it’s still an infield with holes and injury concerns.
New York is banking on production from 38-year-old Alfonso Soriano, too. Will they get the guy who hit 17 homers in 58 games for the Yankees in 2013, or the guy who 17 for the Cubs in 93 games?
McCann, Ellsbury and Beltran have long enough track records in the Majors where you figure they should be productive moving to New York, assuming they avoid the disabled list. Yes, it’s a lot of money (and, in Ellsbury’s case, years), but from a baseball standpoint, all three players filled immediate needs in the Bronx.
Even with Tanaka in the fold – until he gets a couple hundred MLB innings under his belt we won’t know exactly how effective he’ll be coming over from Japan – the Yankees rotation is fairly suspect. Namely, how effective will Sabathia be – regardless of his new svelte appearance – coming off an injury-shortened 2013 that saw him lead the league in earned runs allowed? After that, it’s Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova, the latter who fluctuates between Cy Young stuff and Rick ‘Wild Thing’ Vaughn. Maybe Michael Pineda is finally healthy (notice a theme), but the Yankees do have some internal options to fill the No. 5 spot in the rotation.
That’s saying nothing of the bullpen, which no longer has the incomparable Mariano Rivera at the back end. David Robertson has been a fine set-up man, but he’s stepping into arguably the toughest shoes to fill in sports — until somebody takes over under center for the New England Patriots. Robertson is one of the lesser concerns for New York, but that non-quantifiable edge the Yankees had with Rivera waiting in the bullpen for the final three outs is gone.
Since the Tanaka signing, a lot of comparisons have been made between this offseason and the winter of 2008-09, when the Yankees hauled in Sabathia, Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett for deals totaling over $425 million. The Yankees missed the playoffs in 2008 and spending all that money provided a quick dividend as they won the World Series that October. It’s a decent comparison, although the 2009 signings focused more on front-end starting pitching, whereas this winter the Yankees had to bolster their entire 25-man roster.
Although they missed the playoffs in 2008, the Yankees lineup didn’t need a major overhaul from in 2009. Teixeira and Nick Swisher supplemented a solid core that still included a semi-effective Rodriguez (2009 was the last year he posted an OPS over .900); a very good Jeter (he hit .343) along with Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, Jorge Posada and Cano. Seven of the nine Yankees’ regulars hit over 20 homers in 2009. And, for all the money the Yankees spent to acquire Sabathia and Burnett, Joba Chamberlain and Sergio Mitre still combined to make 40 starts in 2009.
Perhaps the best reason to look back at the 2009 Yankees in comparison to the 2014 version are the marquee signings: Sabathia and Teixeira. Both acquisitions were excellent their first year in the Bronx – Sabathia put up a 3.37 ERA over 230 innings, while Teixeira posted a .292/.383/.565 line with 39 homers. For the 2014 Yankees to emulate the 2009 club’s success, those two players need to bounce back after disappointing and injury-riddled 2013 seasons. If they don’t, the Yankees might have committed to spending almost half a billion dollars to challenge for a Wild Card spot – for one year at least.