You know what I hear too often? “Well, we went over the $189 million, we might as well get everybody now.” No we shouldn’t. There are a few conversations I have with people that cause me to stop listening and walk away. This argument is one of them.
Getting under the luxury tax is not a onetime attempt. In fact, all 30 teams can go over or under the tax every year. This is a common fact. 2014 was not a special “get out of jail free” card for teams to get under. Under the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) 2014 just happens to be the first year that the luxury tax threshold increased. In 2012 and 2013, the luxury tax threshold was $178 million. The jump to $189 for 2014 was simply the first time the Yankees had a prayer at getting under it. The threshold will be $189 million in 2015 and 2016 as well. We came close to getting under the tax this season. However, with the new contracts that were signed this off-season, the team will not have the chance to get under the tax until at least 2017, if not much later.
From 2003-2013 the Yankees paid $254 million in luxury tax. That is over a quarter of a billion dollars, with a B. In that time, the Yankees have one World Series. In the history of the MLB, the Yankees have paid 95% of all luxury tax ever collected, and only five teams have ever surpassed it. I know what you are saying. Who cares? The Yankees have the money to. Where do you think that money comes from? Yes, partially by the YES Network and revenue sharing. However, a lot of the money comes locally from Yankee fans. Ticket sales and food and beverage sales are where we, the Yankee faithful come in. Yankees ticket prices averaged the second most expensive in baseball last season. Yankee fans had to pay the 4th most for beer per ounce in Yankee Stadium. Beer was fifty cents an ounce in the Bronx. Of course, New York City is one of the most expensive cities in the world. So is Los Angeles. The Dodgers and Angels expect their fans to pay thirty-nine and twenty-eight cents per ounce of beer. The Angels actually had the cheapest beer in baseball last season. New York is the greatest city there is, but do the fans need that kind of premium?
Let’s forget about the fan’s money for a minute. What do Yankee fans constantly hear, win or lose? The Yankees buy their teams. The Yankees pay more per win than anyone in baseball. The Yankees just treat other teams like their own personal farm system. Unfortunately, a lot of these statements cannot be defended well by Yankee fans. We can always say, “Well, our team wants to win. The Steinbrenners take as much money as possible and put it into the team year after year. Look at a team like the Astros. They collect money and hold it. We may buy our teams, but we are ALWAYS trying to win.” I would be willing to bet that most Yankee fans have a similar speech at the ready for anyone looking for an argument. It’s a strong argument, but it’s not enough. Yankee fans deserve a team that can win with a team that costs less than $200 million dollars. Masahiro Tanaka may be the contract that broke the threshold, but why is the team in a position that at nearly $180 million in salary requirements, they still only had half a starting rotation? The number of bloated contracts on this team is beyond comprehension.
In 2016, the Yankees will have 8 players under contract for just over $141 million dollars, as of today. Those 8 players alone would be the 5th most expensive payroll for the 2014 season. In 2017, that drops to 5 players making $93 million. We do not yet know the luxury tax payroll after 2016, but if current trends continue we will almost be sure to be over it.
Being over the luxury tax does not matter at the end of the day. If a team wanted to spend a billion dollars on salaries every year they would be free to do so. However, there is a certain pride in being an economical baseball team. The ability to use a farm system as a place to build future big league talent is almost foreign to Yankee fans. Until the Yankees can transform into a team that has a mix of free agents and homegrown talent, fans will always have to answer to the rest of the world saying the Yankees buy their wins.