1 Year-Deals and the Soft Yankee-Style Rebuild

By now, you’ve probably heard that the Yankees sent Kevin Youkilis a 1-year, $12 million offer to play 3rd next year. Given that Youkilis’s next best rumored offer is a 2-year deal for not much more money, it should be pretty obvious what the Yankee strategy is: use their financial advance to load up on 1-year deals, instead of signing costly free agents.

The Yankees are about to have a ton of surplus resources. Once the soft cap is in place, they will be forced to limit their spending below their optimal level. However, they have one year to spend a whole bunch of money, anticipating that they are spending future surplus resources, and giving the team some breathing room.

I’m of the opinion that this Yankee team is badly in need of a rebuild. Normally, the Yankees would do this (see the post-2008 offseason) by going out and spending a bunch of money, swinging a few trades, and promoting some prospects to the majors. Their lack of MLB-ready prospects makes the latter two very difficult, and the cap makes any long-term signings impossible. Mortal teams generally have to wait for the #4 option-let the team lose for a season or two while the young players in the organization develop-that is unacceptable to the Yankees. I think 2013 gives them a unique opportunity to have that chance.

Instead of just signing Youkilis to a 1-year deal, I think the Yankees would be smart to go bigger. Sign Youk, but also go out and make some big 1-year offers to other players. Josh Hamilton having trouble finding a multi-year contract? Offer him 1-year, $30 million. Offer Kyle Lohse 1-year, $16 million. Give Cody Ross and A.J. a big payday, etc. The Yankees would load up for one year, and have an open payroll ready for 2014 and beyond.

And if you really want to get crazy: jump start the rebuild early. After you sign a bunch of guys to 1-year deals, trade the less expensive 1-year guys on your roster. Phil Hughes and Curtis Granderson should be able to fetch something useful in return.

This strategy offers the following benefits:

  • You get prospects in return for trading Phil Hughes and Curtis Granderson
  • You get relatively risk free production out of 1-year free agents, at the cost of only a few draft picks and surplus money.
  • If the season starts off very badly, you have lots of pending free agents to sell at the trade deadline.
  • The big one: You give Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez, Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott, Manuel Banuelos and Mason Williams another year to get ready.

Its rebuilding, but without the sucky seasons of losing. From a business perspective, you get both a) Another solid run at the World Series, improving the Yankee brand and bringing money in and b) A better long term set up.

Obviously, there are more and less extreme versions of this strategy. You might go for Youk/Ross/A.J. on 1-year deals, but not trade away anyone or sign a Lohse/Greinke/Hamilton/Bourne/Etc. Or, you could go really crazy and include a Robinson Cano trade, and more free agents / 1-year deal trades. But the basic strategy remains clear: Significantly overpay for 1-year deals for 2013, using future Yankee surplus resources that will no longer be available.

I’m more and more convinced that there’s no other route forward toward a winning 2014 season that doesn’t involve gutting the farm season (and likely just delaying the inevitable losing seasons to 2015-2016). The Yankees need to use farm-raised players to make sure they don’t end up with a zombie roster.

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He is a Ph.D. student at University of Texas at Austin.

15 thoughts on “1 Year-Deals and the Soft Yankee-Style Rebuild

  1. roadrider

    You get prospects in return for trading Phil Hughes and Curtis Granderson

    Hughes might bring something back but he’s just a year away from FA, no? That will limit the prospect return.

    They’ll get bupkis for Granderson. He’s already expensive, only signed for one year and will be looking for a deal to take him through his decline phase. A win-now team looking for some lefty pop and basic OF competence might bite but, again, you’re not getting much more than salary relief back. Better to keep him.

  2. roadrider

    It’s doubtful that Williams, Sanchez, Heathcott and Austin will be ready to step in by 2014. One or two might make the jump but 2015 is more like it – presuming, of course that they don’t flame out in AA or AAA.

    I’m not arguing against rebuilding but I doubt there’s a way to do it while avoiding the suck years. Sorry, but Kevin Youkilis, Cody Ross and AJ Pierzynski are not going to stave off the losses (and neither would Keppinger or Schierholtz).

    • TheOneWhoKnocks

      I don’t see why the perception is that this is a team that needs a major overhaul or to add a major piece.
      They made it to the ALCS and won 95 games.
      They are losing Swisher and Martin, but there’s no doubt they will fill those holes with capable players. bringing back the whole pitching staff and could benefit from the continued progression of Hughes, Nova, Phelps and Pineda.
      I don’t see why this isn’t a 95 win team again, and I don’t see why they can’t keep it up without avoiding the suck years.
      This team doesn’t look like it’s going to suck anytime soon to me.

      • I’ll consider it an accomplishment if “the suck years’ becomes common parlance.

        I think things are a little bit worse than that, but maybe its because I’m a pessimistic. I think you’re going to get significantly worse production at 3rd base, shortstop, catcher, and right field, and you’d be lucky to get the starting pitching you got.

        • Chris

          I agree on the lack of production in those areas. Even if Youkilis signs I don’t expect much better than what he did with the White Sox, RF is likely going to be well below what Swisher has done in his Yankee career, as much as people hate on Martin the combination of Cervelli, Stewart, and Romine fall well short of what he does with the bat, Jeter is due for regression, Kuroda should pitch well but not as well, and who knows what kind of Mariano we get back at this point.

          I think there is next to no way this is a 95 win team, if they win 80 games and make it in as the 2nd Wild Card they’d be right around what I expect.

          Another thing to consider is a lot of people think this budget is just for 2014, but the incentives apply to 2015 as well. So we’re looking at the 2 years following 2013 where this team is going to be void of any kind of big free agent sign. I fully expect a Wild Card birth this year and then missing the playoffs in at least one, if not both, of the following 2 years.

        • roadrider

          I’ll consider it an accomplishment if “the suck years’ becomes common parlance.

          Happy to help!

      • roadrider

        They are losing Swisher and Martin, but there’s no doubt they will fill those holes with capable players

        No doubt? Really? I realize the off season is still young and trades are possible but given the new financial reticence of the FO and the lack of real trade chips from the farm system it’s hard to see much happening.

        And now we have to fill 3B for at least half a year and probably find another DH (or DH platoon). The pitching should be OK but injuries are always a possibility, Pineda can’t really be counted on for much and we really don’t know whether Nova and Hughes will progress, regress or plateau.

        It’s way too soon to predict how many games the 2013 Yanks will win. But they sure do have a lot of holes to fill and production that will be difficult to replace at the prices the Yankees are willing to pay. You’re welcome to your rose-colored glasses but I’ll reserve judgement.

      • Les

        You know, if the Yankees won only 92 games this past season instead of 95, they would have been out of the playoffs altogether. My point is, in the AL East only a small dropoff might mean the difference between making the playoffs and going home.

  3. TheOneWhoKnocks

    I do agree with the concept of this post (and the Yankees seem to also agree based on every FA they’ve targeted, they are only interested in 1 year deals)
    I think it only works to an extent though.
    Someone like Youkilis or possibly Pierzinski is at best probably looking at 2 year deals right now. For them, it may make sense to sign for 1 year 10mil as opposed to 2 years 16m.
    For someone like Hamilton who has no doubt been offered at least a $100m contract by now, it’s very hard to turn down an extra $70mil and long term security.
    I also think it’s unlikely the Yanks are willing to stretch the payroll that far even for 2013 (adding Hamilton in addition to filling the other holes would likely bring us to the 215-220 range, something they’ve been getting away from for a while now)
    I don’t think the Yankees are badly in need of a rebuild.
    They can operate every year with at least a $189m payroll moving forward, the only guys they have tied up long term are A-Rod, Tex, CC which is about $75m of the payroll and leaves $115m to play with in free agency in 2014. There are a lot of different ways to fill your roster with $115m, they’ll have Gardner in CF, they have a reasonably priced option on jeter for SS, A-Rod and Tex at the corners. Assume Cano is extended which cuts into the budget for around 23m and you have over $90m to fill LF,RF,C and a couple SP.
    (CC, Pineda, Nova, Phelps already penciled in)
    I don’t think the picture is at all as bleak as you’ve made it seem.
    This is a team that won 95 games last year, they’ll likely do the same this year and then they will once again have the flexibility and core in place to keep it going and going year in and year out.

    3 of their best 5 prospects are outfielders, Heathcott, Austin and Williams-you gotta figure one of these guys will be a factor in 2014.

  4. Martin

    EJ Fagan you are my hero…I have been telling my fellow Yankee fans that the Yankees needs are going to be significant in 2014…you hit every single need I am always preaching to them. Just the starting pitching alone is going to be 3 shy come 2014. I like your ideas but I hardly think they will work. Most of the free agents are looking for some security and are unlikely to go for 1 yr deals no matter how big the money is. But I am all for trading Cano. Scott Boras will make the Yankees pay huge if Cano hits free agency. Then the vicious cycle of paying big money to an aging star starts all over again. Kudos on “the suck years.” Love it …I will begin using it immediately.

  5. Paul

    It’s a great idea in theory. But not so mich in practice. Youk, Lohse, Ross? None are that good to make an overpay for one year worthwhile They would need to add a stud or two. If the Hamilton thing was more than just delusional fantasy and you throw Grienke in for one yr and 30 mill (we are fantasizing, right?).then it wod be a great idea.

  6. Duh, Innings!

    Hamilton and Lohse aren’t accepting one-year deals and I doubt Ross would. I’ve changed my mind about Pierzynski – the Yanks should start Romine.

    The Yanks should offer Teixiera and half his remaining salary to Seattle for Montero. The Yanks clear $45M they could use to lock up Cano and the Mariners get a veteran Gold Glove firstbaseman who’d be their best all-around player in 2013-14 hands down and under control through 2016 (they lose Montero’s final year under control – big deal.)

    My 2013 Yankees starting nine where I bench A-Rod if/when he returns:

    C – Romine
    1B – Montero
    2B – Cano
    3B – David Adams
    SS – Jeter
    LF – Ronnier Mustelier (trade Granderson)
    CF – Gardner
    RF – Tyler Austin
    DH – Nunez (He can hit but he can’t field so just have him hit and let him work on his shortstop defense while being a DH.)

    There you go. An ALL-HOMEGROWN starting nine. NO ONE, not even Jeter, is under a guaranteed contract beyond 2013. THREE OR FOUR starters would make the rookie minimum (Romine, Adams, Austin, and if he didn’t sign for more money Mustelier.) Jeter and Cano are the ONLY expensive starters and starters over 29 until Gardner turns 30 next August 24, and those three would be the ONLY starters who’d be 30 years old or older on that date. Those three would also be the only starters who’d make six or more figures unless Mustelier makes six figures as a free-agent signing from Cuba.

    So what if this starting nine (and an all-homegrown bench of Cervelli for backup C, Ramiro Pena for backup 2B/SS, and Juan Rivera for the fourth outfielder) was so bad the 2013 Yanks didn’t make the postseason? What did they do the year after they missed the postseason in 2008? The 2013 Yanks would have a legitimate excuse for missing the postseason: they’re rebuilding by playing kids.

    The Yanks could rebuild their entire starting nine, bench, rotation after Sabathia, and bullpen after Robertson for 2014.

    • roadrider

      You do realize that Montero is no longer a Yankee or have you out of the galaxy for the past 10 months? You don’t say how you propose to get him back, why you think he can play 1B at the MLB level (he never has) or what you you will do with Teixeira and his immovable contract (and NTC).

      Other delusional aspects of your “proposal”:

      Romine has not shown he can be a viable ML starter.

      David Adams has little experience at 3B and has not played above AA.

      Mustelier is an infielder.

      Tyler Austin has a grand total of 8 PA above A ball.

      Nunez has some ability as a hitter but he has little plate discipline and there’s little reason to believe he can be an every-day starter.

      This team would not only suck it would be an embarrassment. They wouldn’t get within 20 wins of the 2008 team. And by the way, the 2008 team morphed into the 2009 championship team by virtue of major FA acquisitions not new found maturity.

      Get a grip pal.

  7. Gstar

    Time to sign Ichiro, he was made for the stadium. Going to boycott Yanks if they let him get away. He did great in the regular season and in the postseason, The Yanks don;t need any more players that can hit homeruns against bad pitching in the regular season, they need someone who can hit in the postseason and against good pitching. He has speed, defense, and most importantly he was playing with passion and loved being on the Yanks.

    • roadrider

      Suzuki sucked big time for an entire year and a half before being traded to the Yankees and he did barely more than suck for the first 5 or 6 weeks he was with the team. He had a three week hot streak and then did OK (not great, or did you miss that seemingly endless series of harmless ground balls and pop ups in the ALDS) in the post-season. And he’s not getting younger – his speed and defense are not the assets they were when he was younger.

      I dislike Suzuki and always have but I hope all of you Suzuki fan boys get your wish and he’s signed so that you can experience the reality of his decline over the course of a full season.

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