The New York Yankees don’t have to do this, but they can. Heading into 2022, you’d probably assume the front office is banking on not enduring a roster-wide regression of inexplicable proportions, which, we have to admit, is a reasonable thought.
Outside of a handful of players, the majority of the roster suffered a backslide, culminating in a loss to the Boston Red Sox in the AL Wild Card Game. Assuming 3-4 of those players aren’t oft-injured or insufferably bad, we’re talking about a 100-win team.
But for the sake of experiment, let’s say the Yankees might be willing to do something a little crazy to prove they mean business in 2022. It wouldn’t take a whole lot for them to do that, either. A few extra bucks and some creativity can result in arguably the league’s best infield if Hal Steinbrenner is willing to throw caution to the wind.
Some might say this “isn’t going to happen,” and those people would probably be right! We’re by no means suggesting it will, but if the Yankees are serious about change there’s no way they haven’t at least thought of this as a possibility
At this moment, according to Baseball-Reference, the Yankees have $201.8 million committed to their payroll next year. It depends what the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will decide with the luxury tax moving forward, but speculation has suggested Steinbrenner doesn’t want to exceed the tax and the number that will eventually be decided upon between the MLB and MLBPA won’t be high enough to give New York more flexibility.
But we can still hope for this infield, right?
Projecting a stacked 2022 Yankees infield they can totally afford
- 1B Freddie Freeman
- 2B Gleyber Torres
- 3B Matt Chapman
- SS Trevor Story
- UTIL DJ LeMahieu
Some quick notes here. Freeman signs a six-year deal in the $180-$200 million range, which has been speculated for months now and the Yankees’ continued interest shows they aren’t scared of the price. Matt Chapman is acquired (alongside a starting pitcher) in a blockbuster trade with the Oakland Athletics (expect to see at least three top-10 prospects dealt). Trevor Story signs a one-year, high AAV deal ($30-$35 million?) to re-establish his market and allow the Yankees to keep the shortstop position open in 2023 for one of Anthony Volpe or Oswald Peraza. Both Luke Voit and Gio Urshela are traded, clearing $11.6 million in payroll.
Other potential trade candidates that have been at least speculated this offseason include Joey Gallo ($10.2 million), Aaron Hicks ($10.79 million), Gary Sánchez ($7.9 million), Gleyber Torres ($5.9 million), Chad Green ($4.1 million), Domingo German ($2.1 million) and Miguel Andújar ($1.7 million). If we’re being totally honest with ourselves, Gallo, Hicks, Sánchez and Torres probably won’t be moved. Another unlikely possibility is the Yankees convincing a team to take on Zack Britton’s $14 million salary by attaching a top prospect in a potential trade (also very unlikely). But if they can clear ~$30 million and supplement Freeman’s AAV, they’ll only be adding ~$50 million in payroll (Chapman is only projected to earn $9.5 million in 2022).
So let’s quickly break this down and move all of the realistic players via trades. That means we’re expecting Voit, Urshela, Andújar and German (total of $15.4 million off the books) gone. Let’s say they find a way to rid themselves of Britton’s salary ($14 million) or package Sánchez and Torres in a trade elsewhere to recoup prospects/add pitching ($13.8 million). This mini overhaul saves $29 million against the payroll. Now they’re sitting at ~$172 million.
Toss in Freeman’s $30 million, Story’s ~$30 million, Chapman’s $9.5 million, and another $10 million for whatever starter they get from Oakland. That’s ~$80 million, putting the Yanks just above the $250 million mark for 2022, with the ability for that number to take a dive in 2023 when they’re definitively rid of Aroldis Chapman, Jameson Taillion, Britton, Gallo, Sánchez, Green, Story (assuming it’s a one-year deal) and possibly Luis Severino (he has a $15 million team option for 2023). All of those departures, which are fairly likely, would represent just over $100 million in savings.
And in the end, shortstop will be freed up for one of the top prospects, Chapman will have another year at third base, Torres or LeMahieu will continue holding down the fort at second, Freeman will be the first baseman for the foreseeable future, there will be enough flexibility for an Aaron Judge extension, and relatively minor additions will need to be made to improve the team’s depth for 2023 and beyond.
And looking ahead to 2023, maybe Severino stays and the starting rotation doesn’t need to be addressed. Maybe one of the outfield prospects (Everson Pereira, Estevan Florial?) emerge and the Yankees don’t have to spend big for a left or center fielder. Perhaps most of the bullpen arms take the next step and only a few alterations need to be made after Chapman, Britton and Green are gone.
This, of course, is the best-case scenario, but if the Yankees are to keep most of their top prospects and make smart at-the-margins additions, this isn’t an outlandish plan to ensure 2022 isn’t a lost season while keeping the window of contention open despite the expected departures that are to come.