While Alex Rodriguez and Brian Cashman continue to dicker over the third baseman’s reinstatement to the active roster, the Yankees are set to welcome back the man they traded for Arod 10 years ago. The acquisition of Alfonso Soriano juxtaposed against the Rodriquez saga might seem like an amusing coincidence, but both events say quite a bit about the current and future state of the franchise.
The most obvious connection between Arod and Soriano is the former’s absence has, in part, necessitated the latter’s arrival. The Yankees need Soriano’s right handed power bat because the team is in the midst of a historic home run decline. However, Cashman can’t blame his team’s shortcomings completely on injuries like the one that has sidelined Rodriguez. Rather, the Yankees’ penny wise approach to building an off season roster has left them looking pound foolish during the pennant race, leaving Cashman to cast his net wide for an army of has-beens and never weres.
Because the Yankees were unwilling to open their checkbook in the winter, they’ve spent the summer throwing good money after bad contracts. Soriano is the latest example. The left fielder still has two years and $25 million remaining on a contract that quickly became an albatross for the Cubs, who have to be thrilled with the chance to rid themselves of the obligation, even if it means recouping only pennies on the dollar.
According to one report, the Yankees will receive approximately $18 million from the Cubs to take Soriano off their books. Considering how poorly the Yankees’ offense has performed, and the team’s desperate need for a right handed power bat, the remaining $7 million price tag seems like a bargain, especially when you compare Soriano’s modest production to the black hole he’ll be asked to fill. In that context, the acquisition of Soriano makes perfect sense, and is not unlike how the Yankees have operated in the past.
However, there is more to the story. Unless and until Hal Steinbrenner publicly disavows his plan to slash the Yankees’ payroll beneath the $189 million luxury tax threshold, the moves the team makes this season can not be viewed in a vacuum. Assuming the early numbers are correct, and the Yankees receive $11.2 million from the Cubs next season, that creates a $5.8 million liability against next year’s luxury tax (Soriano’s current AAV is $17 million). Under the old administration, that would be a mere drop in the bucket, but under a $189 million cap, the amount owed to Soriano in 2014 isn’t insignificant. Based on this number and using other reasonable assumptions (see chart below), the Yankees would now have approximately $40 million left to fill 13 slots on the active roster. In light of the team’s self imposed limited resources, Soriano isn’t merely a two month rental, but an important piece of next year’s puzzle, which isn’t exactly a positive harbinger.
Note: Click here for further explanation off contract assumptions. Wells’ and Soriano’s AAV are reduced by the amount of money being sent to the Yankees by the Angels and Cubs.
Source: Cots Contracts for salaries, MLBTR for base arbitration estimates.
The number that stands out most from the chart above is the $27.50 million AAV attached to Alex Rodriguez, which brings the conversation full circle. While the Yankees are scouring the scrap heap for useful players at reasonable prices, they also seem intent on making sure they don’t have to pay Arod next season. That might seem like a pipe dream, but if you do the math, it looks more like the linchpin in the Yankees’ budget plan. Needless to say, Brian Cashman would have a lot more flexibility if Rodriguez’ money could be spent elsewhere, which is probably why the Yankees, more than anyone else, are hoping their third baseman is given a lengthy suspension. That motivation is probably also why Arod has little trust in the organization.
Follow the money is always the best strategy when trying to unravel a conspiracy. In this case, however, it isn’t money spent, but rather money the Yankees hope to save. That’s why the acquisition of Soriano and de facto banishment of Arod represent more than just a coincidental passing on both legs of a long voyage. Each event is being piloted by the same captain, and the circumstances that led to them are evidence of a ship that is taking on water.