The New York Yankees still have a legitimate chance at signing right-hander Yu Darvish, even with their luxury tax threshold limitations. After agreements with their remaining six players that were eligible for arbitration on Friday, the team’s project luxury tax payroll sits at $177 million, according to the Associated Press, which is $20 million below the aforementioned $197 million threshold.
The Yankees have made it known that they have interest in Yu Darvish, as general manager Brian Cashman confirmed on Thursday on WFAN.
“He’s a tremendous pitcher,” Cashman said about Darvish. “Do we recognize Yu Darvish as a unique talent and a premier starting pitcher available in this marketplace? The answer to that is yes. Would we in the end be one of the last teams standing? I can’t answer that. But I have talked to Joel Wolfe, his agent. I can acknowledge that. And I will continue to do my job, which is to stay engaged with what’s available in the marketplace to make sure that any opportunity that does exist I share with ownership . . . so [I] can make the most informed decision for this franchise. And I’ll leave it at that.”
They originally had their sights set on acquiring righty Gerrit Cole from the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement on pieces, halting talks, as he was eventually dealt to the Yankees’ main competition in the American League: the Houston Astros.
No matter who the Yankees end up adding to their rotation, if they in fact do so, it will come at a price. Cole would have cost a package of highly talented prospects, though he’d only be making $6.75 million in 2018 and he’s under control through the 2019 season. The 31-year-old Darvish wouldn’t cost the Yankees any prospects, which bodes well for a young Yankees team that is filled with fantastic prospects in the farm system, but he would come at a monetary cost. That makes things interesting.
According to John Harper of the New York Daily News, New York believes that they could possibly pull of a heist and land Darvish on a five-year deal in the $80-90 million range, which would have him earning around $16-18 million per season. With the way teams have been acting this offseason, not wanting to give players long-term deals, accompanied by Darvish’s struggles in this past year’s Fall Classic, this isn’t too far fetched.
Even with a smaller deal like this, the team would still have to climb some financial hurdles.
If Brian Cashman seriously wants to sign Yu Darvish, he could make it happen. However, that would mean a number of things would have to fall in place in order for Darvish to be donning pinstripes in Tampa come February 13 when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. Here are a couple of options for the Yankees that would allow them to make a reasonable run at signing the talented Japanese right-hander and complete one of the most memorable off-seasons in team history.
Trade Jacoby Ellsbury
With a plethora of solid outfielders still available on the open market, whether it be via free agency or trade, it has become harder and harder to find a willing suitor for the pricy 34-year-old outfielder. Ellsbury signed a seven-year, $153 million deal before the 2014 season that was supposed to keep him in pinstripes through 2020 with a $21 million team option for 2021 ($5 million buyout).
However, he has significantly failed to live up to his contract. Over his first four seasons in the Bronx, Ellsbury has slashed .264/.330/.386 with 39 home runs, 86 doubles, 16 triples, 273 runs scored and 198 runs batted in, along with 102 stolen bases. His OPS+ of 95 means that the league values him as a below league-average hitter in 520 games with the Yankees.
Ellsbury is still owed roughly $68 million over the next three seasons, as well as a buyout in 2021. According to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, the Yankees are even willing to eat at least half of his contract ($34 million), but no team has budged at the outfielder. The fact that he also holds a full no-trade clause further complicates matters. The San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks seem to be fits.
If the Yankees somehow were able to find a taker for his services, that would almost certainly help the Yankees cause to land Yu Darvish. It’s been a tall task all off-season and it will continue to be during Ellsbury’s tenure in pinstripes. The team could always package a highly-touted prospect like Clint Frazier along with him to sweeten the pot for another team, but the ball still lies in Ellsbury’s court with his no-trade clause.
Trade Brett Gardner
Brett Gardner is currently the longest tenured Yankee on the roster, as he was drafted by the organization in the third round of the 2005 amateur draft and made his big league debut in June 2008. Gardner was a huge part of the Yankees success in 2017, as he was the team’s leadoff hitter and best outfielder. With the injuries to Aaron Hicks and Jacoby Ellbsury, he had to shift around between left field (122 games) and center field (22 games).
Gardner also had his best season, in terms of power output, of his 10-year big league career, as he smashed 21 home runs in 151 games, while slashing .264/.350/.428 (104 OPS+), driving in 63 runs and stealing 23 bases.
Coupled with the acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins, the team’s (likely) failure to find a willing suitor for Jacoby Ellsbury, the emergence of Aaron Hicks and the team hanging on to rookie Clint Frazier in trade talks, Gardner could be used as a trade chip to free cap room. The 34-year-old outfielder is due to earn $11.5 million in 2018, as he will hit free agency after the 2018 season.
The Yankees could trade Gardner and have over $30 million to work with. The Yankees would be able to replace Gardner in the lineup and in the outfield, as they have a plethora of options in left field and center field. Aaron Hicks, Jacoby Ellsbury and Clint Frazier are a few players that could fit holes in the Yankees outfield.
Trade David Robertson
David Robertson debuted in the majors with the Yankees back in 2008, before signing a four-year, $46 million contract with the Chicago White Sox before the 2015 season. He landed back in New York this past summer when he was involved in a blockbuster trade that brought Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle and the 32-year-old right-hander to the Bronx.
Robertson experienced some sort of a rebirth once the Yankees re-acquired him in July. In 30 games with the Yankees, he posted an exhilarating 1.03 ERA in 35 innings, along with a 51/12 K/BB ratio. This came after a respectable 2.70 ERA in 33 1/3 innings with the White Sox, along with a 47/11 K/BB ratio.
Robertson had an undefined role with the Yankees, other than him being the go-to “stopper” when the Yankees had the lead, no matter if it were the sixth inning or later in the ballgame. He was arguably one of the team’s best relievers down the stretch and a key component to their dominant bullpen.
However, the Yankees have a number of high-end relievers in the bullpen (Aroldis Chapman, Tommy Kahnle, Chad Green, Adam Warren, Dellin Betances) and a number of valuable arms in the minor leagues (Jonathan Holder, Ben Heller, Domingo German). He’s due to make $11.5 million in 2018 and, like Gardner, would give the Yankees over $30 million to work with in an effort to sign Darvish.