Like it or not, cutting payroll beneath $189 million has always made sense for the Yankees. The collective bargaining agreement gives significant financial incentives to do so, and the Yankees have understandably expressed some displeasure at the idea of paying a luxury tax that’s specifically designed to help out their competition. The theoretical idea of the $189 million goal is not so much a matter of being cheap, it’s a matter of being sensible.
And there were two reasons that — despite having a ton of roster holes to fill — this offseason was a solid opportunity to get beneath that number.
1. Alex Rodriguez’s absurd contract, or at least a large part of it, could come off the books temporarily.
2. The top starting pitcher on market was likely to get a below-market-value contract because of the Japanese posting system.
The Yankees still have no idea what to expect about No. 1, but the situation with No. 2 has changed. Based on yesterday’s reports of changes to the posting system, there’s now a chance that Masahiro Tanaka will not be available at all.  And if he is posted, he’ll be, essentially, just another free agent. The posting bid limit is low enough that multiple teams will be involved, and having multiple teams involved — none of which has been forced to pay an overwhelming posting fee — means a pretty typical offseason negotiation.
It’s not about making an offer that Tanaka will find acceptable, it’s about making an offer that he prefers over several others. And his contract will count toward the Yankees $189 million goal.
Whether this changes the Yankees approach to Tanaka remains to be seen. They certainly haven’t been timid so far. In fact, they’ve basically spent to the point that it seems almost impossible that they’ll avoid paying a luxury tax without a full-season suspension for Rodriguez, and even then it might get tricky.
But still, the goal is the goal, and it became a goal for a reason. It’s won’t be dismissed without good reason.
Derek Jeter didn’t accept his player option without a negotiation, and that landed him a slight raise. Carlos Beltran never became an easy signing, and that led the Yankees to a larger contract with Jacoby Ellsbury. Now the Robinson Cano negotiations are still ongoing, and even if the Yankees refuse to go too high, it’s clear they aren’t going to get him on the cheap. It’s not like players have been falling in the Yankees lap, which was never a reasonable expectation to begin with. Now, one of the Yankees only cost-cutting advantages has largely disappeared.
There are still very real and very obvious reasons to keep payroll low, but it seems to be getting harder to meet that goal while achieving the Yankees other stated goal of building a championship contender.
Associated Press photos