Payroll has been a hot button issue for the Yankees for roughly a decade now. It’s amazing to write that sentence, but it’s true. For far too long we as fans have had to wonder whether or not the Yankees, the richest organization in the sport, would flex its financial might. We probably shouldn’t get our hopes up anymore.
Hal Steinbrenner’s mantra is that the Yankees should be able to win with payrolls below the luxury tax threshold, of course. I think everyone reading this knows how we here at the blog feel about that at this point, so no need to beat a dead horse. All I’ll say is that the team’s payroll is largely unchanged since 2005 while revenues have skyrocketed. The club has decided to treat the luxury tax as a de facto salary cap, but in what I’ll illustrate below, you’ll see that it will be difficult for the team to avoid the tax in 2022 (pending CBA negotiations).
It’s important to note that there is no new collective bargaining agreement in place yet for 2022 and beyond, so the luxury tax system as we know it is likely to change (I sure hope so). The minimum threshold (currently $210 million) should go up significantly, though I’m not going to hold my breath. With all that in mind, let’s take a look at where the team’s payroll stands ahead of this winter’s activity.
Now that we’ve had a few days to let the end of the Yankees’ season simmer, it’s time to look forward. Technically, the offseason doesn’t begin until the World Series ends, but for all intents and purposes, the Yankees are in offseason mode.
The next few months could be incredibly tumultuous. Not just for the Yankees, but for MLB as a whole. The collective bargaining agreement expires at 11:59pm on December 1st. Things between the owners and players don’t seem too peachy, so there’s a chance for tense negotiations upcoming. Those negotiations could create a standstill for all trade and free agent activity.
Aside from the front office working on its roster, the group (and ownership) needs to make a decision on Aaron Boone and his coaching staff before anything else happens. Boone’s contract is up, so the team could simply walk away. I imagine the Yankees will have that settled before the World Series ends. So with that, let’s break down the offseason calendar:
The Yankees have made a move with the clock winding down. They’re getting Andrew Heaney from the Angels. He’s had a rough season in terms of run prevention with a 5.27 ERA in 94 innings. But he does own a 4.05 FIP and solid 28.2 percent strikeout rate vs. a 7.7 percent walk rate. Home runs are a big issue for him.
Heaney, a 30 year-old southpaw, is purely a rental for the Yankees. He’ll be a free agent at season’s end. He’s a natural spin rate guy, meaning, the sticky-stuff ban didn’t affect him. Still, his performance to date is unsightly, even if there are some underlying reasons that might indicate upside:
Eno has some thoughts about new Yankees acquisition Andrew Heaney below. I'll additionally note that his 5.22 ERA reflects the impact of pitching in front of one of MLB's worst defenses; 4.05 FIP and 4.22 xERA offer more hope https://t.co/qJWH3IcOVP
Nonetheless, Heaney is here to soak up innings over the next two months more than anything else. He’s not someone who I’d want to start a playoff game. The Yankees are taking a pretty big chance here by banking on one of Luis Severino and/or Corey Kluber to get healthy (and effective) in time for the postseason. A Gerrit Cole-Severino-Kluber trio is very tantalizing, without a doubt. But it’s also a gamble.
As for the prospect return: the Yankees sent away more Rule 5 eligible minor leaguers in Janson Junk and Elvis Peguero. Not surprising considering what we’ve seen the team do in trades in recent days.
Junk, 25, was the Yankees’ 22nd round pick in 2017 and has been a player development success this season. After being a pretty nondescript org-guy through 2019, Junk is in the midst of a breakout in Double-A this year. In 65.2 innings (14 games, 12 starts), Junk has a 1.78 ERA behind a 68:20 strikeout to walk ratio.
Peguero, 24, a righty who can touch 98 out of the bullpen. He’s spent time with High-A Hudson Valley and Double-A Somerset this season, totaling 44.1 innings pitched, 57 strikeouts, 16 walks, and a 2.23 ERA.
Update, 11:36am: The Yankees “are at least lurking” on RHP José Berríos. (Joel Sherman)
Update, 12:05pm: The Rockies don’t plan to trade RHP Jon Gray. (Jon Heyman)
Update, 12:34pm: The first big deal of the day has been struck. The Blue Jays are getting RHP José Berríos. Strike one option off the Yankees’ list. (Ken Rosenthal)
Update, 12:39pm: Big haul for the Twins in return for Berríos: top prospects SS Austin Martin and RHP Simeon Woods-Richardson (Dan Hayes). Based on this, the Yankees would have had to include at least SS Anthony Volpe to get Berríos.
Update, 1:11pm: Here’s a weird one. Cleveland is trading OF Eddie Rosario to Atlanta for 1B/3B Pablo Sandoval. (Mandy Bell)
Update, 1:14pm: OF Adam Duvall won’t face the Yankees this weekend. Miami is dealing him to Atlanta. (Craig Mish)
Update, 1:29pm: Finally, something Yankees-related although it’s not exactly new news. The Yankees are still looking to move Luke Voit. (Mark Feinsand)
Update, 1:55pm: Not much interest in 1B Luke Voit thus far. (Brendan Kuty)
Update, 2:19pm: Wow. The White Sox are getting RHP Craig Kimbrel. (Jeff Passan)
Update, 2:32pm: 6 or 7 teams are looking at CF Byron Buxton. (Jon Heyman)
Update, 2:41pm: The Mets are going after SS Javier Báez. (Joel Sherman)
Update, 2:51pm: That was quick. The Mets indeed got Báez. (Andy Martino)
Update, 3:01pm: The Phillies are trading for RHP Kyle Gibson and RHP Ian Kennedy. They need pitching badly, and this helps. (Ken Rosenthal)
Update:, 3:11pm: Old friend LHP JA Happ is on the move. He’s going to the Cardinals. (Mark Feinsand)
Rizzo, who turns 32 in a little over a week, is the second lefty power bat acquired over the last 24 hours, joining Joey Gallo. Rizzo is purely a rental, but the Cubs are covering the remainder of his salary this season. That leaves more room for the Yankees to navigate the trade market before tomorrow afternoon.
Quick reaction: this is a great trade for the Yankees. I could complain about the Cubs sending cash to obtain a better prospect package, and believe me, I hate it. The Yankees should be taking on money, not the other way around. And yet, this is a huge boost to the current roster without subtracting any of the organization’s top prospects.
Not only does Rizzo offer power, but he makes a ton of contact. This year, Rizzo’s 15.7 percent strikeout rate is in the 85th percentile of the majors. That’s right in line with his 15.8 percent career mark.
Prime Rizzo has come and gone — he hit .284/.388/.513 (141 wRC+) from 2014 through 2019 — but he’s still a damn good hitter. This year, he’s batting .248/.346/.446 (115 wRC+) and has 14 homers in 376 plate appearances. Yankees first basemen have been awful this year, though Luke Voit has been out much of the season (more on him in a second), so Rizzo is a huge boost at the position.
Additionally, Rizzo is an elite defender at first base. He’s in the 97th percentile in outs above average at the position this year, and is consistently one of the highest rated first basemen in the game. He and Gallo drastically improve the team’s defense immediately, which is much needed.
Alcántara, 19, is a long way from the majors. The Yankees paid him a $1 million bonus as an IFA in 2018 and he’s currently in the GCL and hitting .360/.448/.520 in just 29 plate appearances. There’s a ton of upside here for the 6-foot-6 center fielder, who ranked 14th on the team’s midseason prospect list over at Baseball America. But given his age and distance to the majors, it’s difficult to project his future. He could make the Yankees look really bad a few years from now! He could also flame out.
Vizcaíno checked in at 12 on the updated Baseball America list. The right-handed pitcher had been hurt to start the season and was just getting back into games in recent weeks. He’s 24 years-old and looks like a future reliever, albeit a potentially dominant late inning type. Trading him opens up another 40-man roster spot, by the way.
Now, about Voit. He appears close to a return from the injured list after seeing him face Luis Severino in a simulated game today. His return just may not be with the Yankees, apparently. Curry mentioned on the YES postgame show, well before the Rizzo deal was reported, that Voit could be on the move. It would be a pretty unceremonious exit for Voit, who was the team’s MVP last year and an excellent hitter since his acquisition. Perhaps Voit goes in a deal for a pitcher.