After the owners and players agreed on the most recent CBA, the Yankees, and everybody who followed the Yankees, saw there was a giant, flaming loophole begging to be jumped through in 2014. It’s entirely possible the loophole was forged and set aflame specifically to incentivize the Yankees to lower their payroll – temporarily or otherwise.
The Yankees, as gleeful, recidivist violators of the salary threshold, stand to be punished at ever-increasing rates according to the new CBA. However, if they get under the salary limit in 2014 ($189 million), they can reset their clock. The next time they go over, which we all hope and pray will be 2015, they will be punished as first time offenders and save a ton of dough.
Thus a goal was born in the winter of 2011 - to trim annual salary from the customary $210 million down to $189 million within two years. This is made more difficult because the Yankees owe a lot of money to CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira in 2014, and Alex and Teix no longer play up to their paychecks. To field a World Series contender in 2014 would take creativity, starting right then and there.
Spending big on free agents isn’t as easy under these new constraints, but there are other ways to acquire talent. International free agents have no track record and less bargaining power, so their first contracts are often very reasonable. Posting fees don’t count towards the salary cap and the contracts that follow them are also very reasonable.
Of course without the Major League track record comes a huge risk of getting a crappy, Kei-Igawa-level talent. That’s why the Yankees usually have an advantage when it comes time to sign them; they can absorb that hit better than anyone else. The Yankees employed Hideki Irabu, Orlando Hernandez, Jose Contreras, Hideki Matsui and Kei Igawa via these routes and, on the whole, they received excellent return on their investments.
Two major players came down the pike just after the Yankees signed the CBA. The Oakland A’s Yoenis Cespedes was one of the best outfielders in the American League last year. He makes nine million dollars a year.
Rather than find out just how much ground Brett Gardner can cover, the Yankees just gave Ichiro Suzuki a two year commitment for $13 million. And now they’ve pumped more 2014 cash into Vernon Wells, where’s there’s plenty of room where his baseball talent used to be. There no question that Cespedes was a risk, but I have a hard time thinking he was a bigger risk of failure than the players who have already proven they have straight sucked eggs for the last two years.
Yu Darvish was hot topic around here last year and he divided the room. Japanese pitchers have faired poorly in the USA, though not universally, domo arigato Kuroda-san, and Darvish came attached to a big posting fee. He won 16 and struck out 221 in 191 innings for the Rangers. He walked too many and wasn’t a Cy Young candidate or anything, but he sure looks good at $9.3 million a year for the next five years. After one-year deals to Kuroda and Pettitte expire and Phil Hughes files for free agency, the 2014 rotation looks like CC Sabathia and a wishing well.
The Yankees did not seriously pursue either of these players, nor did they get close to Aroldis Chapman, though his courtship took place before the current CBA and its loopholes. Whether that makes the Yankees lack of effort to acquire his raw yet undeniable talent more or less forgivable is up to you.
Either the Yankees don’t know how to evaluate international talent or they are cheaper than we thought. When Chapman came and went without any news of an offer from the Yankees, I was surprised. When they lost with a whimper on Darvish and Cespedes (not to mention Jorge Soler)?
The acquisition of Wells and Suzuki suggest a combination of penny-pinching and incompetence and incompetent penny-pinching that is downright scary.