It wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement.
Hal Steinbrenner gave his approval and vote of confidence to Aaron Boone when the Yankees announced the manager would be back on a new three-year deal on Tuesday. But the team’s managing partner also added the caveat to his manager, general manager and everyone in the organization that the Yankees have to get better.
There is obviously one easy way to do that. The Bombers could go back to their George Steinbrenner-like ways and spend a lot of money to fix their issues at shortstop, center field and first base.
Brian Cashman said Tuesday that he has not yet been given a budget to work with this offseason. That is not surprising, considering that baseball’s collective bargaining agreement with the players union expires on Dec. 1, so the terms of the luxury tax are unclear moving forward. Still, navigating an improvement of this team and creating some payroll flexibility will be the biggest challenge of Cashman’s job this winter.
Obviously, the Yankees brass could soothe their angry fans by going out and landing one of the big-name shortstops who will hit the free agent market this winter. Similar to when they went out and gave Gerrit Cole a then-record setting, $324 million, nine-year deal after the 2019 season.
Corey Seager, when he is done with the Dodgers’ run to try and win a second straight World Series title, seems to be the best fit for the Bombers if not the sexiest name in the pool. There’s also Carlos Correa, but would Yankees fans embrace him, though? The Astros shortstop, whose post-cheating scandal apologies were not accepted by Bombers fans and players, would be the biggest splash, but it might take more than money — and potentially former Astros teammate Cole helping — to erase the feeling he helped steal a World Series appearance from this group of Baby Bombers.
Cashman pushed back hard on Tuesday, defending Steinbrenner’s investment in the Yankees.
“He’s all in… but there’s only so much he can do at the same time,’’ Cashman said of “the tightrope he has to walk’’ in terms of being fiscally responsible while still trying to put a championship-caliber team on the field.
“He’s not in this to be a wild-card, first-round knockout to our rivals,’’ Cashman said of Steinbrenner. “I would defend him and his family to the fullest. They are all in.’’
And, to be fair to Hal Steinbrenner, there is no way to compare the business of baseball back when his dad ruled via backpages and now in the time of the luxury tax. Even his father would not be throwing big money at big problems with a team that heads into the 2022 season roughly $209 million already committed to the payroll. The defending World Series Champion Dodgers were the only team with a higher payroll than the Yankees this season, $267 million compared to $203 million, according to Spotrac. (The Astros and Red Sox, who are playing in the American League Championship Series, were fourth and fifth with $194 million and $184 million respectively.)
The Yankees have $131.5 million already on the books for 2022 with the contracts for Cole, Giancarlo Stanton, Aroldis Chapman, DJ LeMahieu, Zack Britton, Aaron Hicks and Luis Severino.
The young Baby Bombers, who were supposed to give the Yankees a few championships during their cheap and under-team-control years, are starting to get more expensive. They are part of the 15 arbitration eligible players that the Yankees will have to pay this year, so that’s about another $75 million for the likes of Aaron Judge, who made $10.175 million this year and will make more in 2022 via arbitration or a possible long-term extension.
Obviously, that leads to the question of whether this will be another winter of Cashman looking for ways to dump salary. He did it last winter, sending Adam Ottavino to the Red Sox along with nearly $9 million in payroll obligations.
The Yankees have potential to dump salaries in two ways. They could non-tender (or not offer a contract to) players like Gary Sanchez, who made $6.35 million in 2021, Luke Voit, who made $4.7 million, or Clint Frazier, who made $2.1 million.
They could also try and dump salaries via trades. There are teams who would be interested in Sanchez, thinking a change of scenery would unlock more consistent power. The Bombers could move on from Gleyber Torres, who made $4 million last season and proved he is not the shortstop of the future.
While the Yankees’ deep pockets are definitely a huge advantage, Cashman has to figure out how to spend wisely and win.