We’ve just started wading into the waters of free agency, with one of the most exciting and anticipated free agent classes in years ready to sign … well who knows where — which is the fun part! Besides Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, there’s also Craig Kimbrel and Josh Donaldson and Michael Brantley and Andrew McCutchen and, oh my God, so many more. Compared to last year it’s a veritable feast of interest.
Hopefully compared to last year’s may-or-may-not-have-been-but-definitely-seemed-like-collusion free agency window this year will also involve behind the scenes jockeying for the stars on the table, and some far more entertaining signing suspense. Right now, the Yankees are apparently hoping to trick people into thinking they will not be part of it.
To which I say:
There’s really no better way to put it, because it’s absurd to think the team that has had no trouble spending money when they want to for the last two decades is all of a sudden balking on opening the bank vault. Especially after a postseason where they got beat by a division rival who actually spent more money than they did.
In 2018, the Yankees acquired Giancarlo Stanton and the remainder of his massive $325 million contract from the Marlins. Between him and Aaron Judge, that put their outfield’s Holy Shit Look At These Guys scale at two-thirds full. But besides that big move they didn’t really do much else that required them to cut a massive check, making smart and deliberate decisions that put them in a great position for the postseason without going over the luxury tax threshold.
That made this season the first year the Yankees stayed under the luxury tax for 15 seasons — the first time since the system was implemented. They were meticulous in their avoidance of that limit. Doing so resets them to the lowest luxury tax threshold (17.5 percent) should they go over it this year, rather than the highest rate of 50 percent they were at before. They would not have done that in 2018 if they weren’t planning on really going for it in 2019.
Yet, before the postseason had a chance to be truly over, the powers that be in New York were already attempting to convince people that, no, they are not actually interested in either of the two mega-stars available on the open market this year why would you assume such a thing.
Despite reportedly attempting to trade for Manny Machado multiple times in the past year and a report just last week on the YES Network’s website that they are the frontrunners to sign him, the Yankees are now blatantly leaking reports to beat reporters that they are “lukewarm” on this top-tier talent because of some heel moves he pulled in the postseason. As if the Yankees themselves aren’t a team of heels signed by an organization of heels who generally love heel behavior — as long as it’s done subtly enough.
That report is one of my favorite things. When a team clearly wants a player, and are in the running for him, and they start obviously leaking their disinterest so the player’s agent can’t use them in a bidding war with other teams as effectively. It’s a classic move that makes free agency rumors a lot of fun, and is a welcome return to a more normal free agency experience after last year’s snooze of an offseason.
There’s also a larger attempt to convince people Machado’s postseason antics are going to lower the value of his final contract this offseason, which is also mostly absurd. However, the Yankees trying to say they’re not even interested is the most absurd of this entire thing. If anything, Machado’s actual postseason performance (.227/.278/.394 with 3 HR and 12 RBI, but 18 K, in 16 games but .182/.208/.182 with 3 RBI and 5 K in the World Series) will be the thing that lowers the ceiling of his offers, but even that seems unlikely.
They’re doing the same thing with Harper, which might be even less believable. The word coming out of New York is they’re not even going after him. At all. The logic behind that is Aaron Hicks is also returning to New York alongside steady outfielders Judge and Stanton. As if 10 years of Bryce Harper when he’s only 26 years old isn’t enough of a reason to find a trade partner for Hicks. Or Clint Frazier, if he returns at full strength in 2019.
Just like their reasoning for Machado is they have Didi Gregorius at shortstop and Miguel Andujar at third, his offense is absolutely worth convincing him to move back to third base despite that not being his preference. Or even starting him at short and seeing how Didi’s recovery from Tommy John goes and how Andujar’s defense at the hot corner looks early in the year.
With Harper, cutting ties with Hicks or Frazier and using Brett Gardner as a backup is not an unreasonable strategy. It’s disingenuous to pretend either of those things are prohibitive to these players signing in New York.
The upside, besides being able to laugh at these antics from the New York front office, is this proves there’s going to be some actual bidding wars this year. Or at least there should be a decent amount of intrigue around where players will sign, with teams jockeying at least a bit to sign them. The Yankees wouldn’t be going through all this trouble if this was going to be another winter of meager contracts and disappearing interest.