Last October, New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said the $189 million luxury tax threshold was “certainly a goal” but “not a mandate.”Had the Yankees still been playing, it might have been.
The team went above and beyond with its spending this winter, acquiring big-name free agents Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and perhaps the most sought-after of them all in Japanese starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
As the Yankees say hello to these new faces, and goodbye to a cherished old one, they aim to return to the hallowed ground of October.
The signings raise just as many questions as they answer. Joe Girardi now has a very crowded outfield, consisting of Ellsbury, Beltran, Brett Gardner, Alfonso Soriano and Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro is tradable, but dividing time between the remaining four could get tough. Soriano can DH, but the team also has several older players who will be in need of that spot.
The Ellsbury signing in particular has seemed like a bit of a panicky move in response to the knowledge that Robinson Cano was slipping away. Ellsbury and Gardner profile as nearly the same player, with their greatest strengths being speed and defense. While being long on the aforementioned traits could be a positive, Ellsbury also has injury concerns that have already manifested in the form of a right calf injury during spring training.
The signings of McCann and Tanaka, on the other hand, were ones the Yankees needed to make.
McCann bolsters the offense at a position at which the team struggled mightily in 2013. He hit .256 with 20 HR and 57 RBI for the Braves last year, a far cry from the menial production the Yankees got from their 2013 catchers.
Tanaka was, without question, the best available free agent starting pitcher. CC Sabathia is aging, Hiroki Kuroda is probably near retirement and the Yankees’ farm system has been lacking, all signs that the need for quality starting pitching was and is as pressing as ever. Signing any foreign starter is a gamble, but it is hard to imagine that a guy who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last year cannot be at least a competent and reliable piece to an MLB rotation.
The anticipation as to how these new players will perform was already enough to make the 2014 season a must-see. It is now even more of a must-see for another reason: At its conclusion, Derek Jeter is retiring.
Not much needs to be said about Jeter’s iconic status, and his many accomplishments will undoubtedly propel him to the MLB Hall of Fame one day. Yankees fans will get to say their goodbyes as he closes out that Hall of Fame career with one last season.
Jeter made his name and his legacy by winning championships. The 2014 Yankees, including their newest additions, have the chance to do the same.
They have the chance to send a baseball legend out on top.
If they can do that, and seize a 28th glorious October victory, that payroll will be worth every penny.