Bryce Harper signs with the Yankees in 2019! Manny Machado in pinstripes in 2019! ALL the free agents to the 2019 Yankees!
Fans and media alike succumb to visions of grandeur where it concerns the winter following the 2018 season. It seems tweets or articles placing Harper, Machado or other elite players on the Yankees in 2019 are posted daily. Unfortunately, the front office of a major league baseball club simply won't work in a dream state. It is time to reel the chatter in.
Of course, the Yankees front office looks ahead when making immediate decisions, but if you believe the club is considering roster choices in 2017 and 2018 based on when Harper, Machado and others become free agents, you couldn't be more wrong.
There are some obvious issues to this assumption. Clearly, there will be other teams in the mix when these players hit the market and there is nothing that says they want to be Yankees. Furthermore, there is always the possibility that the players have signed extensions, been significantly injured or have experienced a downturn in production from now until the 2018 season concludes.
The Yankees' current methodology toward roster construction began well before the trade deadline of 2016. Over the last few offseasons, the Yankees have shown restraint in the free agent market, understanding it was "stuck" with some hefty contracts which would not produce results expected of such salaries.
By throttling back spending, allowing large contracts to expire, working hard to draft better players and developing the farm system, the thought that the Yankees have put themselves into a position in which signing Harper, Machado or another high-priced free agent is surely reasonable. However, there isn't a list of potential free agents on a white board labeled "2019" in Brian Cashman's office.
The Yankees are seemingly more concerned with developing a deep young talent base, some of whom will rise to the MLB wearing pinstripes and others who will be used to trade for controllable talent able to produce elite statistics. These players might be earning half or even a third of the salary expected to be handed to Harper and Machado. This is an important concept for fans to consider.
Who knows, the Yankees could decide to spend some of the extra cash they'll have when the 2018 season ends in order to lock down some of the current crop of homegrown talent with extensions that might buy out arbitration and/or free agent seasons. This has not been the modus operandi for the organization in the past, but the Yankees' business philosophy continues to evolve, so excluding the option is shortsighted.
Considering the Yankees farm system is brimming with top level prospects, a large core of players could be ready to make a significant impact for the Yankees by 2019. We've already seen glimpses of the talent this spring and if the progression remains positive, the Yankees might very well pass on the players who will be looking for upwards of $40 million per season. The team might be wise to spread the payroll across more players versus bogging it down with a single expenditure that equates to 25 percent of the total spend.
When the Yankees built the dynasty which won four World Series in five seasons, the core was a group of young players balanced by veterans. The Yankees did not have one high-priced superstar player dominating the club's payroll. Instead, the veterans were earning quite reasonable salaries across the 25-man roster. In fact, the player making the highest salary on the historic 1998 club was homegrown Bernie Williams ($8.3 million), which was just under nine percent of the club's total payroll.
The Yankees have put themselves into a position to create a roster with a similar spread of payroll dollars. It's entirely conceivable that the team does not want Harper, Machado or another single individual clogging the payroll from 2019 through 2028. Instead, the club might prefer to sign two to three players with a combined average annual value similar to one elite player across four to five seasons, allowing for adjustments along the way.
The Yankees' former reliance on outspending the rest of the league in dramatic fashion has apparently come to an end. The notion that bringing payroll back under the competitive balance tax threshold only to break the bank on a singular player doesn't seem to be the direction the organization is heading.
The Yankees have the ability to once again develop its best players from within and supplement them with high quality veterans still on the right side of the age curve. With this in mind, the belief it is inevitable that the 2019 Yankees will feature Harper or Machado could be met with disappointment.