In 2012, the Yankees were swept in the ALCS. In 2013, they endured a spate of injuries, produced their worst OPS-plus since 1990 and missed the playoffs with their worst winning percentage since 1992.
In that offseason, Hal Steinbrenner authorized a $438 million spending spree that included signing a 25-year-old decorated starter from Japan (Masahiro Tanaka), an athletic lefty-swinging center fielder represented by Scott Boras (Jacoby Ellsbury) and two more lefty-swinging bats (switch-hitter Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann).
In 2022, the Yankees were swept in the ALCS. In 2023, they endured a spate of injuries, produced their worst OPS-plus since 2013 and missed the playoffs with their worst winning percentage since 1992.
A decade later is Steinbrenner — under public siege now, like then — ready to do what is necessary financially and in prospect collateral to land a 25-year-old decorated starter from Japan (Yoshinobu Yamamoto), an athletic lefty-swinging center fielder represented by Scott Boras (Cody Bellinger) and two more lefty-swinging bats (switch-hitter Jeimer Candelario and Juan Soto)?
Steinbrenner keeps increasing what his tolerance is for a payroll having now said it does not need to be $300 million to win. But it almost certainly would have to be over that to echo the 2013-14 offseason because for luxury tax purposes that foursome would cost $111 million for just 2024 based on the free-agent projections of my colleague Jon Heyman, and the MLB Trade Rumors’ arbitration projection for Soto.
And the Yankees have roughly a $250 million payroll projection for next season if they do nothing. Finding trades for, say, Nestor Cortes and Gleyber Torres could save $20 million-ish, but also likely make the Yankees weaker when this kind of outlay would be clearly to go for it.
So would Steinbrenner bless a $300 million payroll? Remember, the Yankees were a “No” for most of the 2008-09 offseason before the owner was convinced that Mark Teixeira would be such a difference maker that they added his eight years at $180 million to CC Sabathia (seven years, $162 million) and A.J. Burnett (five years at $82.5 million).
And when the offseason began a decade ago, Steinbrenner did not envision spending as much as he did. Part of what convinced him to invest huge was an internal belief that there were inexpensive answers coming from the farm system to augment the big spending; a group that would include Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino (they might have liked Eric Jagielo most of all). Do the Yankees feel now like Jasson Dominguez, Anthony Volpe and Austin Wells are a first wave to help allow a gigantic offseason outlay?
Torres is a free agent a year from now if the Yankees keep him, as is Anthony Rizzo should his 2025 option not be picked up. DJ LeMahieu’s contract expires after the 2026 season and Giancarlo Stanton after 2027.
The Yankees almost certainly have different less-costly scenarios sketched out. For example, if they trade for Soto, they could try to sign Kevin Kiermaier far less expensively than Bellinger to play center and if they sign Bellinger, then maybe they still sign Kiermaier for center and have Bellinger move between the tough left field at Yankee Stadium and some first base time.
Of all the players listed, Soto is the most intriguing. You can find plenty of executives who believe he is going to be traded because the Padres are compelled to substantially cut payroll. And you can find plenty who believe Soto will not be dealt. One NL official said, “They are going to try to win in 2024 and it would be embarrassing for [San Diego GM] A.J. [Preller] after what he gave up to get him to now get so little back.”
San Diego gave one of the biggest prospect packages in history during the 2022 season to Washington to obtain Soto at a time when he had 2 ¹/₂ years left until free agency and was making $17.1 million. He is likely to earn near double that in 2024, his last year before free agency. He is such a great hitter that the Yankees should expect a bidding war with (among others) the Giants and Mariners. That will force teams to give up quality low-cost players to land Soto.
And you better love the bat. FanGraphs had Soto as the 10th-worst defender in the majors for any position last year and the 30th worst baserunner. He was part of a clubhouse that was viewed as the most toxic in the sport, so any acquiring team must do a deep dive to learn what part (if any) Soto played in a horrible culture.
The detective work must be done, because to give up serious prospect collateral, an acquiring team is going to want to be comfortable going long term with Soto. Remember, he rejected Washington’s 15-year, $440 million overture during the 2022 season before being shipped to the Padres. So the cost to retain him is going to be gigantic, reflecting a player who has amassed the 12th-most offensive Wins Above Replacement (Baseball Reference) in MLB history through his age-24 season (Soto turned 25 last month). The 11 ahead of him are nine Hall of Famers, a future Hall of Famer (Mike Trout) and Alex Rodriguez.
But the return also is about San Diego’s level of desperation. There is some reporting that the Padres might have to cut as much as $50 million from the 2024 payroll. So could a team lower the return it would have to surrender if it were willing to, say, take on the seven years at $80 million owed Jake Cronenworth or even chip away some by absorbing the one year at $5 million due Matt Carpenter?
I assume even though he is from Southern California that Stanton (owed four years at $98 million) would not waive his no-trade clause (though he has 12 career homers in 81 at-bats — postseason included — at Petco Park) nor would Yu Darvish (five years at $78 million left). But taking on Stanton plus Yankees prospects for Soto, Cronenworth and Darvish would save San Diego more than $90 million overall.
That falls into the pipe-dream category. What doesn’t is Steinbrenner spending huge this offseason. Because we have seen him in a similar situation go on a spree.