In my latest update to the budget situation on Wednesday, I had the Yankees' payroll sitting at $185.718 million before $10.1 million in bonuses. The team has since agreed to a $700,000 deal with Francisco Cervelli, which was $300,000 less than was projected, a $5.6 million deal with Brett Gardner, $1.6 million more than projected, a $1.765 million deal with Shawn Kelley which includes a potential $25,000 bonus, $265,000 more than projected, and finally a $5.215 million agreement with David Robertson, which is $285,000 less than projected. So at $186.998 million guaranteed, and with a large sum of incentives sitting in limbo, the team's roster is dangerously close to exceeding the luxury tax in 2014. In fact, when you add in a cushion for some potential mid-season acquisitions, the Yankees really have no shot at $189 million with this lineup. I obviously don't have any outside knowledge, but I find myself bracing for disappointment this offseason. As a Yankee fan, I would love to see the team go back up to $230 million, which was the starting payroll in 2013. With the Dodgers breaking payroll records of their own, as well as other teams spending more than ever, the Yankees getting below $189 million seems so silly at this point. (Which was the basis of my post yesterday) But with what we've seen over the past two seasons, I have myself believing that the Yankees will find some way to get below $189 million.
The Yankees wouldn't go to this length of payroll cuts to risk going over the luxury tax threshold with the current roster. As I mentioned, if any string of incentives are activated by either Brian Roberts or Derek Jeter, this budget will be well over $189 million. If a major injury occurs and the Yankees want to make an acquisition, like the mid-season Alfonso Soriano trade in 2013, they won't have any budget space this coming June. Realistically, if they're still aiming for a budget, the team should be $5 million to $10 million below $189 million to start the season safely. To get there, they would need to make some trades.
We've already heard that Ichiro Suzuki is on the block, and that makes a ton of sense from the Yankees' perspective. As an outfielder, Suzuki still has some value as a potential center fielder for a desperate team. While he remains a weak spot on the Yankees' roster as a $6.5 million 4th outfielder, a team searching for an everyday center fielder could certainly find some value in his relatively decent salary. His offense has been far from productive, but a team like the Reds needs outfield depth.
Speaking of which, Brett Gardner also landed in trade rumors. His $5.6 million is much more lucrative, and in a trade, he could land a decent starting pitcher. The rumors had the Yankees looking at Homer Bailey for Gardner, which would increase the payroll by around $4 million, but also add a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. In this case, if the Yankees were to find a way to deal both Gardner for Bailey, as well as deal Ichiro's contract, the team would find itself with a defensive downgrade in the outfield, but a major upgrade in the rotation. It would also bring the payroll down to around $185 million before bonuses.
Another trade target would be Jeff Samardzija, who's a riskier pitcher than Bailey, but carries similar upside. Samardzija has an extra year of team control, and the Cubs are likely looking for a younger return than Gardner or Ichiro. The Yankees would probably have to part with some of their young outfielders, perhaps Mason Williams or Slade Heathcott in a package. Yet the team would still need to do away with at least Ichiro's salary in a separate trade. This would also bring the team to around $185 million before bonuses.
There are a number of similar pitchers out there that you could plug into the Samardzija scenario, but none of these address the obvious problems in the bullpen and infield. Although we haven't heard much about the plans for the back end of the bullpen, just a month ago, Cashman said he wanted to add a couple legitimate bats to the offense. I don't believe that Roberts and Scott Sizemore count as legitimate bats, so I expect at least one more move to come offensively.
In this case, a Gardner for Nick Franklin swap would make some sense for both teams, although the Mariners recently re-signed Franklin Gutierrez to a one-year deal and already have Michael Saunders under team control. Gardner would be an upgrade over either player, and the Mariners are entering win-now mode. The Yankees could also target the Mariners' Dustin Ackley, who has struggled mightily at Safeco Field. I don't believe they would need to deal Gardner in this case, but I also don't see the Mariners giving away the one-time top prospect.
It is still possible to get below $189 million. It would take a series of trades, specifically with Ichiro and likely Gardner as well, but the fact that it's doable scares me. Hopefully the Yankees sign Masahiro Tanaka or another of the top-tier free agent pitchers in the coming weeks, which would push the payroll far beyond $189 million.