The Yankees’ season of underwhelming reached a crescendo with a stunning loss last night that saw them blow a four-run lead by yielding seven runs in the ninth inning. New York currently sits at 41-39 with a -3 run differential, an 8.5-game deficit in the AL East and a 5.5-game deficit in the AL Wild Card race. There’s been plenty of speculation about the team selling off some veteran pieces prior to the July 30 trade deadline, but Hal Steinbrenner made clear today when addressing reporters that he has no such plans.
“That’s not a direction I’m contemplating,” Steinbrenner said when asked whether the Yankees might be deadline sellers (Twitter links via Newsday’s Erik Boland). To the contrary, it seems rather that Steinbrenner expects his team will work to improve. The Yankees have taken plenty of flak for being the game’s most valuable franchise but staunchly refusing to exceed the luxury tax for a third straight season. Steinbrenner now, however, says he’ll consider crossing that line at the deadline if it gets his team over the edge.
The Yankees currently sit just under $4MM shy of the $210MM luxury barrier, per Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez, and it’s no coincidence that they so narrowly managed to limbo under that bar. The vast majority of the Yankees’ offseason moves made ownership’s desire to avoid that line transparent. The club targeted Jameson Taillon and his $2.55MM salary as its second rotation piece after inking Corey Kluber for a year and $11MM. The Yanks also traded right-hander Adam Ottavino to the archrival Red Sox in a trade that lopped around $8MM off their luxury obligations. (Ottavino, conversely, has pitched quite well for the first-place Red Sox.)
Late signings of Justin Wilson, Darren O’Day and Brett Gardner were all structured to include player options which were unlikely to be exercised but nevertheless lowered the luxury commitment on those additions because player options count as “guaranteed” money and thus drop a contract’s average annual value. From the jump this past offseason, nearly every decision the Yankees made was colored by a desire to drop under the luxury barrier.
If the Yankees do indeed end up crossing the line, the question will naturally be one of whether it’s too little or too late. Exceeding the barrier will come with the maximum dollar-for-dollar tax rate possible on any overages: 50 percent for the first $20MM, 62 percent for the next $20MM and 95 percent for any spending thereafter. It’s unlikely at this point that they’d spend to reach the top level of penalization, of course, but exceeding the tax this year would again subject the Yankees to luxury penalization in 2022 — assuming some iteration of the current system remains in place after the expiration of the 2016-21 collective bargaining agreement. Were they to remain under the tax, they’d “reset” their penalty level and only be subject to the first tier of luxury payments in 2022.
Steinbrenner also voiced confidence in general manager Brian Cashman, manager Aaron Boone, and the team’s coaching staff (Twitter links via Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News and MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch). Steinbrenner noted that his GM has “done a good job” assembling the roster and praised his communication skills, scouting acumen and knowledge of analytics while suggesting that a clearly talented roster simply hasn’t performed up to standards. As for Boone and the coaches, Steinbrenner called them “absolutely” the right people to lead the team.
Yankee fans who’ve followed the team since Hal’s father, George, was running the ship are no doubt aware of the likelihood that the elder Steinbrenner would’ve cleaned house in the front office and the dugout by now. But Steinbrenner emphasized that he’s his own person while pointing out that oftentimes, his father’s more rash personnel decisions didn’t actually pay dividends.
On the whole, Steinbrenner’s comments are something of a mixed bag for Yankee fans. While many are surely relieved to hear that the club will finally consider exceeding the tax line, there’s no doubt frustration that said point wasn’t arrived upon back in the offseason. As with any struggling team, fans have become increasingly frustrated with the front office and field staff alike, so the vote of confidence in Cashman and Boone may not be as popular as it once would’ve been.
Nevertheless, Steinbrenner’s comments are telling of the Yankees’ direction not only over the next 30 days but perhaps in the coming offseason and beyond. A prolonged losing streak could ultimately change the organization’s calculus, but for the time being it seems we should expect today’s pickup of outfielder Tim Locastro in a small trade with the Diamondbacks to be the first of multiple acquisitions as the Yankees look to change their fortunes in what has been a challenging 2021 campaign.