Hey, remember when the Yankees structured their entire offseason around trying to stay under the $189 million luxury tax threshold in 2014, a move that was going to save them millions?
Well, as Jeff Passan reports, that’s probably off.
The idea of the Yankees on a budget was always a little hard to believe, but they did appear to be serious about it. That’s why you’re now looking at a team that is relying on Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart behind the plate instead of Russell Martin or even A.J. Pierzynski; Vernon Wells instead of Michael Bourn or Nick Swisher; Jayson Nix and Lyle Overbay instead of, well, almost anyone. (I do have to note that all of those players are, actually, performing well. But it’s hard to imagine that lasting, except perhaps for Wells.)
The financial intricacies of the collective bargaining agreement are complicated, and I will admit to not being certain that I fully understand all the details. However, it seems that the Yankees may not have fully understood them either. Or maybe no one did:
Barring a change in the game’s economics over the next few years, the big rebate money, sources said, simply won’t exist, and the impetus for the Yankees won’t be nearly as strong.
“The assumptions on the market-disqualification rebate haven’t held,” one American League executive said. “The pool is going to be much less than everyone anticipated.”
The gist of Passan’s piece — which does a good job of laying out those complicated details — is that it turns out the Yankees were going to save less money than initially thought, largely because of other teams’ shifting finances, and so it may not be worth it to stick to that $189 million budget. At least not if the team and attendance would suffer for it, as seemed likely.
On the one hand, it’s hard to get too outraged at the Yankees trying to be frugal for once, since $189 million is not exactly subsistence level, and for decades the knock against them (well, one of the knocks against them) was their indiscriminate overspending. But it is easy to get annoyed when they then claim to have enormous faith in Chris Stewart and try to sell you a Special Platinum Luxury Elite Field-Level Enclave Suite for the cost of a degree from a highly ranked private university. They Yankees spend tons of money, but they also make it hand over fist.
Perhaps more to the point, while there are many teams that have found success spending well under $189 million a year, the Yankees are just not built for that right now. Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez alone take up more than $90 million in salary, and Robinson Cano will need to be re-signed. The farm system, while not barren, has been disappointing. The Yankees will need to spend this offseason to compete next year; they may have needed to spend last offseason to compete this year, early success notwithstanding. If they want to lower their spending, they should — but gradually, giving general manager Brian Cashman a chance to prepare properly. A ship this big takes a long time to turn.
Even if the Yankees lowered their spending in a careful and reasonable way, there’s no denying it would be odd. After all, the saving grace of the Yankees’ profligate spending and (some would argue) accompanying arrogance has always been that it came in the service of winning at all costs. It wasn’t always smart, or pretty, or fair — but it was at least sincere. That’s the covenant the Yankees have had with their fans throughout the Steinbrenner era. And that’s arguably even more important in the age of the new Stadium. The team is squeezing every drop out of the fans; now more than ever, that needs to show up on the field.