Torii Hunter was the first free agent to be linked to the Yankees this year, as a possible replacement for Nick Swisher, but now Joel Sherman is shooting that down in today’s New York Post. The reason? The Yankees’ 2014 budget plans. Sherman reports that, as a result of the team’s commitment to getting below the luxury tax threshold to put more money in ownerships’ collective pocket (or “gaining the financial benefits that are available”, as he more delicately puts it), a two year deal for Hunter that would add payroll to the 2014 ledger is a non-starter. That’s interesting, but I would imagine that it’s at least equal parts hot air, as a two year deal for the 37 year old Hunter is plenty problematic on its own terms. Yes, Hunter had a nice season in 2012, but he also saw his home runs and walks decline while his BABIP ballooned to .389, so there’s plenty of reason to worry that it was just a one year anomaly. If nothing else, I’d much rather have Ichiro Suzuki on a one year deal than commit two guaranteed years to Hunter if it were my decision.
The potentially more inflammatory report, however, is the possibility that the Yankees aren’t interested in Justin Upton either:
Though Arizona’s Justin Upton has become available at the GM Meetings, a person involved in discussions said, “The Yankees are not on him.”
The implication here is that the Yankees’ aversion to adding any money to the 2014 balance sheet is such that it extends all the way to acquiring a 25 year old All-Star who is already signed to a contract with a sub-$10 million AAV, but that seems like a stretch to me. For one thing, at some point the Yankees simply have to start spending some of that money if only to round out the roster, and if they’re going to fill those holes with nothing but old guys on one year contracts they might as well just concede that season right now. Secondly, the Yankees have consistently maintained that these payroll plans still allow them the flexibility to keep both Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson in pinstripes after this coming year, so unless they’ve just been flat out lying (a possibility you shouldn’t outright discount, by the way), it would seem to reason that swapping out Granderson for Upton would be perfectly doable, and in fact result in extra cap space for Brian Cashman to work with.
Much more likely, I think, is that the Yankees aren’t seriously pursuing Upton simply because their odds of acquiring him are quite low. Sherman lists the Rays, who have considerable pitching depth to draw on, and the Rangers, who could easily justify sending either Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar to Arizona in exchange for a 25 year old MVP caliber talent, as the favorites to get Upton, and I just can’t see how the Yankees realistically put more on the table than either of those teams in negotiations. This, incidentally, is a good illustration of why the Yankees’ financial resources and ability to compete for any free agent is a huge part of their success, as you just can’t make a good minor league pipeline simply on wishes, and another good example of why the Steinbrenners decision to take that advantage away from their franchise is so absurd from a competitive standpoint.