Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Yanks eye potential monster 2014 FA class
By Jim Bowden
Brian Cashman is trying to clear payroll in preparation for potential monster 2014 free agent class.
The New York Yankees have been relatively inactive this offseason, but that doesn’t mean general manager Brian Cashman hasn’t been busy.
Fans might wonder why their team, which has historically used free agency to fortify its roster, would limit spending and hold off on signing the big free agents this year and instead just bring back veterans such as Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Hiroki Kuroda after the Yankees’ disappointing 2012 campaign. But Cashman has been adamant to get his payroll below $189 million by 2014, and for good reason.
Most important is the Yankees’ luxury tax goes up to 50 percent for every dollar over $189 million in 2014. The Yankees are the only team in baseball in that situation, because they’ve been over the threshold limit three times in a row. If they stay under the $189 million in 2014, they won’t pay a tax that year and they get to restart their luxury tax history. By restarting that history, the tax rate reverts to just 17.5 percent the next time they exceed it, which we should all expect to be 2015.
As the Yankees get below the luxury tax threshold, Cashman will have lined up his team for a possible bonanza free-agent haul – specifically starting pitchers -- in 2014 and perhaps 2015. The timing could not be better for the Yankees over the next two years. Here are several reasons why it should surprise no one if the Yankees blitz the 2014 offseason with a major spending spree.
Best free-agent class ever?
While the 2013 free-agent class will be flush with quality starting pitchers, it has as much uncertainty as potential because most of the players are either coming back from injuries or in decline. The class still will be well-represented with a pair of St. Louis Cardinals aces in Adam Wainwright (who's likely to re-sign) and Chris Carpenter, and two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, who’s coming off the worst year of his career. A few pitchers with questionable injury history, such as Josh Johnson, Matt Garza and Dan Haren, will also likely make it to free agency.
Verlander could possibly command $30 million per year as a free agent.
However, consider the 2014 class. The top five reads like an All-Star Game rotation: Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, James Shields and Brett Anderson, who has the potential to be a Cy Young candidate someday. That’s three of the best starters in baseball and two more who are pretty close, all eligible for free agency. (The A's hold a 2015 option for Anderson, so he might have to wait a year.)
So, imagine the Yankees with a reset tax history and cleared payroll ready to rebuild their starting rotation. They could do it in one offseason. Or perhaps two? The 2015 class is almost as loaded with pitching as 2014's, headlined by David Price, Cliff Lee, Johnny Cueto and Yovani Gallardo.
The only option
The Yankees have had one of their worst offseasons in some time with the departures of Nick Swisher and Russell Martin, not to mention Alex Rodriguez’s hip surgery and latest PED saga. When was the last time the Yankees headed into spring training not knowing who would start at two everyday positions? That’s where the Yankees find themselves now at both catcher and DH. They lack depth in the farm system and major league roster to fill those positions from within, a shortcoming that is made worst by the fact that they play in the deepest division in the game.
The farm system is missing top-of-the-rotation-caliber starters and lacks enough talent to exchange for the best on the trade market. Therefore, the Yankees will probably have to turn to the free-agent market after 2014 and 2015 to build the rotation up to World Series caliber.
It’s belt-tightening time for both Yankees front office and fan alike. However, should Cashman and the Yankees be able to reset that tax history, the 2014 and 2015 shopping sprees should be pretty exclusive, as the Yankees will be one of the very few teams that will be able to afford the massive average annual salaries ($25 million to $30 million) Verlander, Kershaw, Hernandez and Price will command.
Some members of these two free-agent classes will undoubtedly be signed to extensions and never sniff free agency; however, several still will reach the open market. Outside of CC Sabathia, there could be a complete turnover in the Yankees’ rotation in the next year and a half, with the Yankees perched in the catbird seat.