Monday, August 26, 2013

Bloated Yankees' Payroll Could Doom Team For Years To Come


David Lariviere
David Lariviere, Contributor
I have been covering sports and business intensely for 30 years.

The resurgent New York Yankees have won 12 of their last 16 games to pull within 3 ½ games of Oakland for the second AL wild-card spot with 32 games to play. Just two weeks ago, it looked like the Yanks were done but the return of Alex Rodriguez, despite all the controversy, and Curtis Granderson from injuries and the power and clutch production of Alfonso Soriano have catapulted them back into the race.

It’s still a long shot that they’ll make the playoffs as they have the A’s, Indians and Orioles to pass. A 24-8 record (a .750 winning percentage) is probably required which would give them a 93-69 finish.

Yankee fans better enjoy this playoff push because next season could be the beginning of a decline reminiscent of the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s. The reasons are obvious — aging, injury-prone players who have big contracts. The leader of the pack is A-Rod, who will make $26 million next year unless he is suspended by MLB for PED use in the Biogenesis scandal.

Mark Teixiera, who essentially missed all of this season and the last two months of 2012 with injuries, is due $23 million in 2014 as is former ace C.C. Sabathia, who has declined significantly this season experiencing a drop in fastball velocity. Ichiro Suzuki ($6.5 million), Soriano ($5 million), Derek Jeter ($3 million) and Vernon Wells ($2.4 million) are the others with guaranteed money coming. That totals $89 million, exactly $100 million shy of the $189 million luxury tax figure the team said it was committed to staying under next season. Because they are repeat offenders, the club pays a tax of 50 percent of every dollar over $189 million.

David Robertson and Brett Gardner are expected to combine for about $10 million in arbitration and the team will have to pay an estimated $11 million in benefits totaling $115.4 million for nine players on a roster of 25.

Then comes the issue of signing their two best players – Robinson Cano and Hiroki Kuroda – who are both free agents. Cano, 30, is expected to command between $20-25 million a year for eight years. Because of his importance, it’s hard to imagine the Yanks letting him go although the Dodgers may make a play for him. His agent, rapper Jay-Z, also could be problematic in terms of negotiations. Kuroda, who has been the Yanks’ best starting pitcher, figures to earn between $10-15 million annually. So that brings the payroll to around $150 million for 11 players with 14 still to sign.

It seems almost impossible that the Yanks could find room for free agent outfielder Granderson, who figures to receive between $10-15 million annually. That would leave $39 million for 14 players, or an average of about $2.8 million per player. They catch a break of sorts in shedding the $15 million salary of closer Mariano Rivera, who is retiring, but his loss will surely be felt on the field. Starter Andy Pettitte will likely retire as well.

Could the Yanks be on the verge of World Series droughts comparable to the ones between 1964 and 1976 and 1981 and 1996? Time will tell but it would behoove them to make one last playoff push with A-Rod, Rivera, Pettitte and Granderson on board.

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