Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
All through the offseason, as we tracked Bryce Harper and Manny Machado's free agencies, the Yankees' couldn't have been more clear about their current philosophy. It's just that many in the public and fan base didn't want to believe it.
Now, with Aaron Hicks joining Luis Severino as valued members of the core locked into relatively team-friendly extensions, the Yanks are actively executing the plan that they decided months ago to pursue. After years spent building a team of young, affordable players, Brian Cashman and his staff is betting on that group, rather than on big-ticket free agents.
And they're not done yet. According to major league sources, the Yankees are also interested in finding common ground with Didi Gregorius and Dellin Betances. The team is not close to an agreement with either player, but sees value in them, both in terms of production and clubhouse presence, and will continue to explore agreements.
It's a new day for the Yanks, who aren't even the slightest bit engaged on Harper, and who took only a cursory look at Machado. The idea is to retain players they like, while adding strategically, as they did earlier this winter with J.A. Happ, James Paxton, Adam Ottavino and Zack Britton.
Keeping Hicks and Severino on team-friendly deals also helps the Yankees remain agile. Had they signed Machado to a ten-year, $300 million contract, they would have been stuck with him no matter how it went -- as they are with Giancarlo Stanton and Jacoby Ellsbury.
But Hicks and Severino's deals are easily tradeable, should the Yankees ever pivot to a different approach. The four-year, $40 million pact that Severino accepted makes him one of the most affordable aces in the game. And the Yankees cleverly structured Hicks' seven-year, $70 million deal to be more team-friendly than it might initially appear.
If the length seems startling at first glance, remember that average annual value (AAV) determines the luxury tax number of a contract. With Hicks' AAV at a mere $10 million, he pushes that tax to a far lesser extent than other players of his caliber. That enhances the Yankees' ability to add to their payroll when necessary.
These are decent deals for the players, too. At the news conference earlier this month to announce Severino's extension, the player was clearly overjoyed to have found generational wealth. Hicks, who would have been a free agent this fall at age 30, no longer has to worry about an increasingly unpredictable market.
In earlier labor climates, Hicks might have bet on himself to exceed $70 million in free agency. As one of the top center fielders in baseball, that gamble would have been reasonable. But after watching so many excellent players struggle on the open market over the past two offseasons, it must have been appealing to avoid all that.
There is a larger conversation to have about how teams have effectively pushed players into accepting discounted extensions, but say this for the Yankees: They have taken stock of the changing business model that is transforming the game, and quickly developed a strategy to take advantage of it.
That is how they increased their control over Hicks and Severino, and might do the same with Gregorius, Betances -- and, in future seasons, will take a run at keeping the biggest piece of all in the new core, Aaron Judge.