What Does Hal Do Now?

Let me be clear from the get go, the following is not an argument that a payroll of $189 million is insufficient to win a World Series. Starting from scratch, that big a payroll would be much, much, more than you would need to compete and win. But, the Yankees aren’t starting from scratch, so keep that in mind as you read the following. 

I’m not sure Hal grasps the fundamental deal between the Yankees and their fans. The fans agree to pay exorbitant prices in exchange for star players and a competitive team. We respect the fact that ownership is in the business to make money, but we won’t tolerate that pursuit at the expense of a good team. If you want the attention and the dollars that come from owning the Yankees, you have to put a good product on the field. If you don’t, the fans won’t show up. Furthermore, the combination of HDTV and ridiculous prices at the ballpark have made it very easy for the fans to stay home.

The Yankees now find themselves at a crossroads. The $189-million mandate has been issued for 2014, but it is very hard to see how that figure would produce a championship club. I’ve detailed it before, but almost $90-million is already tied up in four players with serious questions hanging over them- A-Rod, Sabathia, Teixeira and Jeter (assuming Jeter exercises his player’s option). Cano, Kuroda, Pettitte, Granderson, Youkilis, Hughes, Logan and Joba will be free agents. Mo will have retired. The minors offer some hope of pitching help in 2014, but little in the way of positional help. And, as of right now, Cervelli and Nunez are the only potential 2014 starters under the age of 30.

Why does this matter now? Because the trade deadline is approaching and Brian Cashman needs to factor in that $189-million figure in his decisions over the next 11 days. Alfonso Soriano and his righty power bat would be a boost for this anemic lineup, but his $17-million salary hit in 2014 won’t work with the $189 million figure.

I use Soriano merely as an example of the type of trade the Yankees have traditionally made in the past. They have taken on salary while giving up less than stellar prospects. Without that financial flexibility, Brian Cashman will have very few options on the trade market this year. Some will argue that the additions of Jeter, A-Rod and Granderson will be enough, but can you really count on them? Jeter made it back for a game and got hurt again. A-Rod is headed for a MRI today on his quad and might be suspended.  Granderson isn’t even playing rehab games at this point. Look at tonight’s lineup. None of the bottom five guys are hitting above .239. The highest OBP among the quintet is .312 and the highest slugging percentage is .401.  And really, when you look honestly at the whole lineup, only Cano and Gardner are probably starting players on a true contender. The rest of the guys are role players at best.

So what is Hal going to do? If the Yankees had seen some of their younger players step up and contribute, meeting the $189-million goal while fielding a competitive team would have been achievable. But I think it is fair to say now that it won’t be. Hal can stick to the plan and force Cashman to run around signing cast offs and fading stars, or he can swallow hard and let the payroll stay where it is now. Financial restraint was a great idea, but the reality of four guys making $85 million and a lack of young talent should force the Yankees to come up with a new plan. Better they do so in July than wait until November.