I know. How is it possible that the pauper Pirates could take advantage of the almighty Yankees? Even without mentioning that they’ve done it twice in recent years (the Yankees salary-dumped A.J. Burnett and the Pirates outbid the Yankees for Russell Martin), the Yankees are bound and determined this offseason to get up the $197M threshold that activates the Competitive Balance Tax. As a 15-time payor (!), the Yankees have to pay a 50% tax on any payroll above this figure. They routinely are paying $25M+ in taxes in recent years. This goes to MLB Central and gets distributed to teams that do not trigger this tax, like the Pirates.
Not only are the Yankees not interested in paying unnecessary monies, the true reason is that they want to reset their tax obligation to 0% for one season so that they can go hog wild after the 2018 season. That’s when there will be a Free Agent Bonanza not seen round these here parts in many, many years. With Manny Machado and Bryce Harper both pending free agents after the 2018 season, plus Clayton Kershaw able to opt-out after the 2018 season, along with the scores of other top-tier free agents, they want to be poised to act with no regard.
When you add in the Yankees’ $115M of committed salaries, plus their estimated $36M of arbitration salaries, then $6M for minimum-scale salaries, you get around $156M for a baseline payroll. It seems like the Yankees are free and clear of the $197M Competitive Balance threshold, but when you get to the upper reaches you also have to factor in $13.5M for benefits to players in the calculations. Now the Yankees are sitting right around $170M.
Again, all seems well. However, the Yankees have some real needs to address. It sounds strange to say this of a team that was one win away from the World Series, but the Yankees really need some help this offseason. All season long, their starting pitching was their weak spot. CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Jaime Garcia are all free agents. Although not spectacular, that’s 52 starts and 291 innings of around a 4.50 ERA walking out the door. Also consider that Masahiro Tanaka, who was underwhelming in 2017 until July and great in the playoffs, has an opt-out in his contract this offseason. Recent memories are freshest, so he may try to ply his wares on the open market to see if he can better the 3 years/$67M he has remaining on his deal. Even though his elbow is hanging on by pure magic, apparently, I think he can get a better deal. If that’s with the Yankees or not remains to be seen.
So the Yankees rotation if Tanaka leaves will be Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery, and two huge black holes. There’s not a young phenom from their great farm system waiting to step in, so they’ll have to head out on the market. Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish will be out there. Shohei Otani is probably coming over from Japan and the Yankees would be a natural fit, although they’re restricting by only being able to offer the maximum of $20M to him, unlike the old days when they could flex their financial muscle. There are also a myriad of other #3/#4 types floating about the market, too.
The reason that the Yankees got so far this year, both in the regular season and the postseason, is due to their amazingly deep bullpen. The Yankees were able to run out some permutations involving Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, Dellin Betances, the way underrated Chad Green, Adam Warren, and Tommy Kahnle. The Yankees’ starters really only needed to give 5 innings some nights. This is the area that I could see the Yankees being willing to trade from to bolster their rotation, while also shaving some payroll off in the process.
I’d love to see the Pirates get either Chad Green or Tommy Kahnle, but the Yankees are very interested in retaining cheap, high-production talent nowadays. Chad Green (1.83 ERA/1.74 FIP, 2.4 WAR) still has 5 years of team control remaining. Tommy Kahnle, obtained this summer along with re-cast David Robertson, has three arbitration-level years of control left. To re-iterate, my first choices for a trade target would be one of these two, but in this push for fiscal prudence, these players are extremely valuable to the Yankees, too.
During the arbitration process last offseason, Betances and the Yankees’ President Randy Levine, got into a heated and public war of words about his worth to the team. Betances seemed to have carried that resentment into this season, as his control suffered greatly and his attitude led to him getting used in low-leverage situations down the stretch and in the playoffs. His walk rate of 6.64/9 IP was unworkable, even if his strikeout rate of 15.08/9 IP remained at the top of the scale.
I’ve long compared Tyler Glasnow to Dellin Betances, in terms of future career path as a devastating multi-inning reliever. From 2014 to 2016, Betances was worth 3.2, 2.4, and 2.9 wins above replacement as a non-closer. That’s equivalent in value, on average, to a #3 starting pitcher. If properly harnessed and utilized, Betances is a weapon. (The same can be said of Glasnow, too.)
Betances has two years of control left and is estimated to make $5M this go-around. His financial cost and prospect acquisition cost would not be cheap, but he’d be worth it. It might take Kevin Newman plus other assets like a Taylor Hearn or Luis Escobar to make the surplus value of around $35M work right.
Adam Warren is a non-glitzy type of reliever that probably has some of you reading this thinking, “Who?” While not as dynamic as Betances, Warren was a very effective reliever in his own right last year. His 2.35 ERA/3.02 FIP over 57 innings resulted in a 1.2 WAR for the Yankees. The 30-year old has one year of team control remaining and is estimated to cost $5M, so his acquisition cost will be significantly less than Betances. It may take a Jordan Luplow or Clay Holmes-level of prospect to make it happen.
Warren transitioned last year to throwing more sliders than fastballs, which on the surface goes counter to the Pirates’ philosophy of establishing the fastball. Warren throws the slider, fastball, and a changeup primarily and all three graded out well last year, especially his changeup. Warren has toggled between being a starter and a reliever for most of his career, but 2017 he was solely a reliever. But it’s good to know that if in a pinch, the Pirates could stretch him out if needed.