By Jeff Capellini
How happy are the Yankees right now?
Though they probably won’t admit it, they have to be thrilled that they won’t have to deal with the distraction that would have come with Alex Rodriguez every waking second of next season.
And, oh yeah, the Bombers were just handed an additional $22 million to play with, too.
Assuming federal court doesn’t overrule independent arbitrator Fredric Horowitz’s decision to reduce Rodriguez’s 211-game suspension to 162 games, or a full season, the Yankees won’t have to pay their troublesome third baseman and will be able to make a lot more moves in what has already been — even for them — an extremely aggressive offseason.
Clearly miffed by their third-place, non-playoff showing showing last season, the Yankees doled out massive contracts to Jacoby Ellsbury ($153 million over seven years), Brian McCann ($85 million over five) and Carlos Beltran ($45 million over three). Then, after losing Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners, the Yankees responded by signing veteran infielders Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts, and replaced reliever Boone Logan with left-hander Matt Thornton.
The Yankees are also extremely interested in Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who has received attention from teams all over Major League Baseball since his overseas team decided to post him. It was already believed that Tanaka would command a contract paying him at least $17 million annually over multiple years, but with reports surfacing Friday that the Los Angeles Dodgers are all-in and then some, followed by Saturday’s bombshell that gave the Yankees a lot more money to play with than they had 24 hours earlier, the bidding for Tanaka, who is all of 25, coming off a 24-0 season and believed to be as good if not better than Yu Darvish, could reach the stratosphere.
Then there’s this: in the event the Yankees do not land Tanaka, they would still be compelled to find starting pitchers. Currently they have CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda in the rotation and had previously hinted that Michael Pineda, David Phelps and others would battle it out for one of the remaining two spots.
But let’s be real — this is the Yankees we’re talking about. Excess is not a bad word in their vocabulary. If the pursuit of Tanaka goes south, they could turn around and sign two of Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana, the top three starters left on the market whose futures have seemingly been hitched to the Tanaka sweepstakes. The Yankees weren’t in love with any of them initially, but would likely be compelled to change their mind as their options become limited.
Assuming A-Rod doesn’t get a gift from the courts, the Yankees will also likely need a third baseman, for it is believed they’d prefer to have either Johnson or Roberts play second, with the one who doesn’t get the job going to the bench. Manager Joe Girardi has always found ways to get everyone at-bats and a strong bench is a must for a team like the Yankees, who are older and, as we saw last season, injury prone.
Could the Yankees make a play for free agent infielder Stephen Drew to play third? It’s not out of the realm of possibility. Could they pursue veteran Michael Young or re-sign Mark Reynolds? Again, rule nothing out.
Another thought: do the Yankees now go hard after free agent reliever Grant Balfour? The Australian right-hander initially had a deal with Baltimore, but it fell through, and in my opinion Balfour would be the perfect complement to David Robertson at the back end of the bullpen as the Yankees search for ways to replace retired immortal Mariano Rivera.
Then there is the whole issue of the $189 million luxury tax threshold. The Yankees have said repeatedly that getting in under that number was a goal but not a mandate. Prior to the A-Rod decision it appeared they would have had a very tough time doing so, especially if they signed Tanaka or went to plan B with Garza, Jimenez or Santana.
But now the Yankees may be able to have the best of both worlds. After signing Thornton, the Yankees’ luxury taxable salary for 2014 was at $177 million, according to a report by The Associated Press. It appears they may have the room to add at least one starting pitcher, a top reliever and a third baseman and still get in under $189 million, provided their arbitration cases, player benefits and other expenses don’t get out of hand.
If they do get in under $189 million, they will slice their luxury tax from 50 percent to 17 percent, which would then open the door to potentially more extensive spending next season, when the market will reportedly be saturated with top quality pitchers. Barring something unforeseen A-Rod will be back in 2015 and due $21 million plus bonuses, but the Yankees would have more wiggle room.
So, as many in the media like to say, A-Rod is the gift that keeps on giving. The Yankees now know exactly what all of us scribes are talking about.
Strap yourselves in, folks. The next few weeks could get really interesting.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
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