Yankees analysts (including us) have been assessing which premier free agents the team should sign and whom they should trade for during this offseason. For the most part, analysts are recommending that the Yanks pursue the best – and often the most expensive – players on the free-agent market and those stars who might be available in trades to improve the team for 2022.
GM Brian Cashman has publicly announced that he has been given “latitude” by Yankees managing owner Hal Steinbrenner to pursue top players during this offseason.
Even though Cashman has been given permission to spend, we can assume that he still has a defined budget ceiling.
He has not publicly revealed (nor should he) the maximum amount he has been authorized to spend. Without knowing this information, it is hard to determine who the Yanks can afford and who they cannot pursue due to high salary costs and the several holes they need to plug.
Yankees’ 2022 opening day payroll situation
Cot’s Baseball Contracts reports that the Yankees will presently have a 2022 Opening Day payroll of $211,235,714. Of course, Cashman is under no obligation to offer every arbitration-eligible player a contract. He can significantly reduce the team’s current salary budget by designating non-tender candidates in the short run (Clint Frazier, Miguel Andújar) or sign and trade them this offseason. For example, Joey Gallo ($10.2 million), Domingo German ($2.1 million), Gleyber Torres ($5.9 million), and Chad Green ($4.1 million) could all be considered attractive options to other clubs.
Since we don’t know Cashman’s upper limit for spending, we can put together a wish list to fill the Bombers’ central needs (e.g., center field, shortstop, starting pitching, etc.) for three possible ceiling amounts. Such an exercise will inject an economic rationale into the Yanks’ roster-building for the 2022 season and reveal what is possible and what is not to fans.
This will allow us to see which collection of players Cashman can acquire based on expected additional salaries for new players above the Opening Day payroll. Based on Cashman’s budget constraints, we can see which players he can afford to acquire and the possible tradeoffs he might have to make this offseason.
3 possible budget ceilings for the Yankees and the players they might pursue
Based on what we are hearing, Cashman’s total salary budget limits might be either $250 million, $270 million, or $290 million for 2022, amounts significantly above Cot’s Baseball Contracts projected opening day salary for the team.
For each budget category below, we identify the best players who can satisfy the most significant needs of the Boys in Pinstripes and indicate what it would cost the Yankees in 2022. Jim Bowden of The Athletic has published contract predictions (subscription required) for each of his rank-ordered top 25 MLB free agents of 2021-2022. His estimates are mainly based on information he gathered in conversations with executives in every MLB front office.
Most of the information below is drawn from Bowden’s publication. I have also included possible trades with other clubs that have been recently discussed in the media.
Who might be pursued under a budget ceiling of $290 million
SS Corey Seager, 10 years, $320 million ($32 million per year)
1B Freddie Freeman, 6 years, $187 million ($31.67 million per year)
SP Max Scherzer, RHP, 3 years, $150 million ($50 million per year)
SP Marcus Stroman, RHP, 5 years, $110 million ($22 million per year)
RP Kenley Jansen, RHP, 2 years, $40 million ($20 million per year)
CF Starling Marte, 4 years, $104 million ($26 million per year)
Who might be pursued under a budget ceiling of $270
SS Carlos Correa, 10 years, $300 million ($30 million per year)
1B Anthony Rizzo, 4 years, $80 million ($20 million per year)
SP Robbie Ray, LHP, 5 years, $120 million ($24 million per year)
SP Unidentified (via trade), 1 year, $15 million (estimated)
RP Raisel Iglesias, RHP, 3 years, $51 million ($17 million per year)
CF Chris Taylor, 4 years, $64 million ($16 million per year)
Who might be pursued under a budget ceiling of $250
SS/2B Marcus Semien, 5 years, $148 million ($29.6 million per year)
1B Kyle Schwarber, 3 years, $54 million ($18 million per year) or 1B Matt Olson (via trade), 1 year (2024 UFA), $12 million
SP Kevin Gausman, RHP, 5 years, $118 million ($23.6 million)
SP Carlos Rodon, LHP, 1 year, $12 million, with incentives pending a medical examination
RP Andrew Chafin (via trade), 1 year (2023 UFA), $5 million
CF Bryan Reynolds (via trade), 1 year (2026 UFA), $4.5 million
Due to the paucity of capable catchers in the free-agent market and available through trade, I did not list any backstops. At this point, the Bombers will likely be forced to invite Gary Sanchez back for another year. Bummer.
As readers can see, the elite level of free agents on the market this year (primarily listed under a budget ceiling of $290 million for the Yanks) will command very high salaries (for a massive total of $181.67 million, which admittedly includes Scherzer as a prominent outlier).
Even if the Yanks can clear a significant amount of money from their present salary and backload salary distributions in new multi-year contracts, they would be unable to sign all players listed for the wages indicated if $290 million is indeed their budget limit. Still, the Yanks can sign Seager, Freeman, Stroman, and Marte provided the team can clear a modest amount of current wages (which they should be able to do). Not a bad haul — now, about those Stroman tweets…
Players listed in the other two categories will require substantially less money to sign. For instance, the Yanks could sign Taylor for about $10 million less than they would have to pay Marte, who has now become a hot commodity in free agency. Similarly, if long-term cost is an issue, the Yanks can save money by signing the durable MVP candidate Marcus Semien to play shortstop. This would buy the club time before one of the Yanks’ outstanding minor league shortstops is ready to play at the major league level.
Fans should expect the Yanks to cherry-pick and choose players across all three categories to meet their budget limit, whatever it is. This means that the Bombers will need to set priorities and make hard choices during this offseason. And, of course, new rules and policies contained in the new CBA remain a wild card in terms of financial impacts on MLB clubs.
For us fans, it is amazingly good news that the Yanks are now willing to spend considerably more money than in the past. But they also must make wise personnel decisions. If they do, we should expect the team to have a much better roster in 2022.