The Yankees made some astute trades ahead of both the July 31 non-waiver and August 31 waiver deadlines. But one decision - to remain under the $197 million luxury tax threshold - might have been the make or break choice for how they finish the 2018 season.
Within the 15 days leading to the non-waiver trade deadline, the Yankees hovered around five games back of first-place Boston. With 57 games left on the schedule after July 31, some have asked whether the Yankees should have been looking to maximize their chances of winning the American League East instead of tiptoeing around the luxury tax threshold they are so desperate to reset.
It was apparent at the time that the Red Sox were not going to slow down this season, so it would have taken two very strong months to catch the defending division champs. The Yankees promise fans each season to do everything in its power to build a championship club, but the luxury tax implications have become too cumbersome in their view, which has limited the club's willingness to go the extra mile.
That stance was no different in July, yet the Yankees were reported to have made a strong offer to land Manny Machado. The Dodgers ended up with the star, but what we don't know is whether it was the money involved that hampered the deal coming to fruition for the Yankees, or Baltimore's unwillingness to make an intra-division trade?
The Rays would have traded Chris Archer to the Yankees if New York presented the best deal, but he would have cost the Yanks an increase in payroll for upcoming seasons, which might have been inhibitive to their future plans. Cole Hamels, a longtime favorite of New York's was available, and the $5 million he is being paid by the Cubs is not far off what the Yankees are doling out to J.A. Happ. However, Hamels also has a $20 million option for next season or a $6 million buyout.
The Yankees added Zach Britton, Happ and Lance Lynn (all true rentals), which amounted to about $9.4 million in extra salary when including players' salaries that were shipped to other clubs. So, this inquiry is not about the Yankees' reluctance to try to improve their club, but whether they should have (or could have) taken it to the next level in pursuit of a title rather than remaining on a budget path established years ago.
While Machado's presence in the lineup would have certainly helped, we do have to wonder if the Yankees would have also traded for pitching had they secured him and the $6.35 million Los Angeles took on at the time of the deal.
As for the pitching, adding Britton was a solid speculative move as far as the available relievers were concerned and was not cheap. Meanwhile, Archer is being outpaced by Happ since the deadline. It's unlikely even the Cubs believed that Hamels was going to revert to his best days upon leaving Texas. Again, besides perceived future performance, the future cash owed to Archer and Hamels certainly played a factor.
When reviewing trades made in August, the waiver priorities make it difficult to ascertain if there were deals that the Yankees could have completed before they added Andrew McCutchen on Friday. The Yankees could have used a right fielder well in advance of McCutchen becoming available and the price being right for New York. They did not exactly lose out on a superior outfielder during the span, though just about anyone would have been better than Shane Robinson.
It is obvious the Yankees are hellbent on resetting their luxury tax penalties ahead of the 2019 season, which has marquee names like Machado and Bryce Harper becoming free agents, while lefty hurler Patrick Corbin also represents a potential mark for New York. The Yankees would be able to add each of those players next season and remain under the $206 million luxury tax threshold next season due to the organization's gifted and inexpensive young stars along with more shedding of veteran payroll.
The Yankees won't admit to believing the Red Sox were going to run away with the league's best record, but it wouldn't be all that surprising if Boston's bulldozer run made it easier for New York to make moderate improvements with the eye of a bigger prize in 2019 and beyond. It's also arguable that the moves the Yankees made were among the best they could have considering the lackluster talent outside of Machado.
As such, it is difficult to argue with the Yankees' decision-making process related to outside roster additions this summer. That said, the proof will only come in the offseason should they, in fact, re-open the vault when the tax dollars are not quite as much a hinderance to the organization's ever important bottom line.