Happy Friday, everyone. The Yankees are set to take on Boston for a 4-game set tonight, and you know what? I’m really excited for it. I think even splitting this series all but finishes Boston. I am here for that. Enough with the Red Sox, please. It’s always great when they lose but even better when it’s the Yankees doing it. Let’s just hope our Bombers bring the heat.
It will also be nice to have real games to focus on again, as the last few days have been fairly exhausting. The discourse! Folks, sometimes it gets old. But hopefully not too old: as you can imagine, this week’s mailbag is defined by deadline questions. For good reason! So all 5 chosen questions today focus on the deadline, the new rules, or the fallout from the deadline.
Mark Asks: The Yankees passed on Keuchel, who they could have had for nothing but money (prorated at that, and only through the end of the season) because they wanted to get an impact starter in a trade. But then they refused to pay the price in prospects for an impact starter. The latter is a valid strategy — and I support keeping prospects and bringing in a SP for dollars alone — but you can’t have it both ways. Either you spend the money, or spend the prospects. Instead, the Yanks did neither and let the Astros blow right by them in terms of AL championship odds. I guess I need to ask a question, so here it is: How mad should I be?
It is certainly frustrating, and I think I’ve said everything I can say about their process already on this here website. I do think it’s really annoying, and I spent the 4-5 pm hour on Wednesday extremely irritated. I won’t deny it. It’s clearly true of many Yankee fans, frankly. And for good reason: we all just want the team to put itself in the best position to win.
But I also think that some of the reaction (including from yours truly) was a bit hyperbolic. The Yankees are extremely good and will likely win the division for the first time since 2012. That means no Wild Card game for once. Rejoice! And remember, once you get into the playoffs, literally anything can happen. A dominant rotation like Houston seems impossible to beat, but we know from watching the 2014 Tigers, the Braves throughout the 1990s, and the 2010s Phillies that it really is just a crapshoot. Anything can happen.
I remind myself of this constantly these days. It’s not worth it. The 2019 Yankees are a fun ride, and sports are supposed to be entertaining. We have it really freaking easy as Yankee fans. The last time they were under .500 for a full season was 1992. More than a quarter century of success, and that’s not counting the multiple titles, pennants, division championships, playoff runs, and individual performances that have made this fandom so rewarding. We are extremely spoiled. Can things be better? Of course. Obviously. But as I said, the 2019 Yanks are a fun ride. Just enjoy going on it with them and hope we all get to celebrate in late October.
Matt Asks: What’s the DFA process look like now that there’s no August trade deadline?
This is the first year of the new trade deadline, and it does impact the waiver wire in August. Players can still be placed on waivers/DFA’d, but the process is a bit different. Any team that claims a player on the waiver wire is responsible for a straight waiver claim. In other words, they take on the full remaining salary for that player and they cannot receive financial incentive or send another player to the original team. That’s it. We might see a few of these happen across the league, but I highly doubt they’ll impact the Yankees, who are so far down the waiver wire as to essentially make this irrelevant for their planning.
Paul Asks: Did they at least trade for international money to sign the folks they have a deal with?
No, the Yankees did not trade for IFA money, which surprised me…until I learned that the deadline for that is actually a bit softer. Teams, believe it or not, can still trade players on MiLB contracts. News to me! What does that mean? Essentially, it means that a team could swap a prospect for IFA pool space or something like that. So it’s true that the Yankees used most of their $5.4m allocation on phenom Jasson Dominguez, but there’s still a change to open up more space.
For what it’s worth, it’s really not worth criticizing the Yankees for this–it’s just an interesting observation. They know what they’re doing. If they need more IFA pool space, they’ll get it. You can take that to the bank.
Mark Asks: Why aren’t we talking more about Clarke Schmidt as a possible future rotation piece and/or trade chip? First round pick who would have been top 5 (probably, MLB draft is weird but still) had he not gotten hurt pre-draft. He’s got a sub 3 FIP, and is striking out 9.5 per 9 at high A. One would think that means he’ll get promoted to AA in the next few weeks. If he continues to pitch well at AA he could be in the major league rotation by next year. Is he just having his shine stolen by Garcia? Does he have flaws we haven’t discussed?
Funny you mention Clarke Schmidt, because as it happens, people were talking about Clarke Schmidt. And by people, I mean Brian Cashman and Arizona Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen. According to Jon Heyman, the Diamondbacks requested Schmidt as a part of a package that would have bene headlined by Clint Frazier for Robbie Ray. The Yankees, quite obviously, did not find that deal worth it.
Schmidt is having a good year in the minors, to be sure, but there are still serious question marks surrounding him. He has been plagued by injury his whole career. I mean, he has only thrown 85 professional innings . So, yeah. He’s someone to keep an eye on for sure. The Yankees loved him enough to draft him despite the nasty injury, so definitely keep following him. But we will all need to see more before having a real, honest evaluation.
Jose Asks: In light of the oh-so-relevantly-disappointing trade deadline and constant narrative about the Yankees staying under the second luxury tax tier all while posting historic revenues, I can’t help but wonder about the Astros financial situation. With their recent acquisition of Greinke, Sanchez, and Biagini (not to mention Verlander 2 years ago, Cole, and even signing Michael Brantley this past offseason) I’m curious of what their payroll currently sits at? Are they in a luxury tax tier? If so, which one? And what percentage of their revenue goes to payroll?
Per Spotrac, the Astros now have a payroll totaling $168,256,950, which falls $22,029,310 short of the first luxury tax threshold ($206 million). The Greinke contract is a big one–his annual salary is $32 million–but Houston did get relief in the move and owes Greinke only $53 million between now and the end of his contract in 2021. I don’t think this should take away from the fact that the Astros added a huge contract to their roster, but it’s worth keeping in mind: they have more so-called “flexibility” under the soft cap. They used it. Good for them.
I understand why Yankee fans are frustrated, though, because if you peel back the layers a bit you see that no two franchises are the same. It’s apples to oranges. Percentage of revenue spent on payroll is an imprecise and yet still useful (in my opinion) metric to judge teams’ willingness to spend, but it’s an imprecise science. We have access to rough figures estimating 2018 revenue for the clubs, but obviously not yet for 2019. So if you excuse some back-of-the-envelope math and understand that there are assumptions underpinning all of this, here is how the Astros payroll as a percentage of their revenue compares to the Yankees in 2019 alone:
- 2019 Astros Payroll as Percentage of Revenue: $168,256,950 salary obligations out of a reported $368 million 2018 revenue, or roughly 46%
- 2019 Yankees Payroll as a Percentage of Revenue: $217,121,067 in salary obligations (over the luxury tax tier) out of a reported $668 million 2018 revenue, or roughly 33%
So, yeah. Again, this is an imprecise science. It’s likely that both teams percentage figures are actually a bit lower than what I listed there. That’s because the trend is that teams are generating more revenue overall and it stands to reason that the two best teams in the AL are among those. It is absolutely fair to say that this is frustrating.
Now, I harp on this constantly, so I do want to say that the Yankees do have a lot of debt and bonds owed to the City of New York. That’s how the team financed the construction of Yankee Stadium. Hal is absolutely, 100% correct when he says so. It is an empirical fact that they took out $1.3 billion to pay for Yankee Stadium. Moreover, in 2017, Crain’s New York Business reported that the Yankees pay $92 million a year to service that debt (and also that they failed to refinance their debt as they’d hoped). That is a lot of money!
As for whether or not the team spends enough money on payroll, well, it’s just another thing to keep in mind. But remember, payroll hasn’t changed in real terms in 15 years. That’s worth keeping in mind, too.