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Taking Advantage Of…The Yankees: A Cheerful Offseason Series

Betances (L) and Warren (R) could find themselves on the move this offseason to bolster the roster and reduce payroll.
Photos — Getty Images

I know. How is it possible that the pauper Pirates could take advantage of the almighty Yankees ? Even without mentioning that they’ve done it twice in recent years (the Yankees salary-dumped A.J. Burnett and the Pirates outbid the Yankees for Russell Martin), the Yankees are bound and determined this offseason to get up the $197M threshold that activates the Competitive Balance Tax. As a 15-time payor (!), the Yankees have to pay a 50% tax on any payroll above this figure. They routinely are paying $25M+ in taxes in recent years. This goes to MLB Central and gets distributed to teams that do not trigger this tax, like the Pirates.

Not only are the Yankees not interested in paying unnecessary monies, the true reason is that they want to reset their tax obligation to 0% for one season so that they can go hog wild after the 2018 season. That’s when there will be a Free Agent Bonanza not seen round these here parts in many, many years. With Manny Machado and Bryce Harper both pending free agents after the 2018 season, plus Clayton Kershaw able to opt-out after the 2018 season, along with the scores of other top-tier free agents, they want to be poised to act with no regard.

So much like we did with the Diamondbacks and the Marlins, let’s examine the Yankees and see what may interest the Pirates in obtaining.

When you add in the Yankees’ $115M of committed salaries, plus their estimated $36M of arbitration salaries, then $6M for minimum-scale salaries, you get around $156M for a baseline payroll. It seems like the Yankees are free and clear of the $197M Competitive Balance threshold, but when you get to the upper reaches you also have to factor in $13.5M for benefits to players in the calculations. Now the Yankees are sitting right around $170M.

Again, all seems well. However, the Yankees have some real needs to address. It sounds strange to say this of a team that was one win away from the World Series, but the Yankees really need some help this offseason. All season long, their starting pitching was their weak spot. CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Jaime Garcia are all free agents. Although not spectacular, that’s 52 starts and 291 innings of around a 4.50 ERA walking out the door. Also consider that Masahiro Tanaka, who was underwhelming in 2017 until July and great in the playoffs, has an opt-out in his contract this offseason. Recent memories are freshest, so he may try to ply his wares on the open market to see if he can better the 3 years/$67M he has remaining on his deal. Even though his elbow is hanging on by pure magic, apparently, I think he can get a better deal. If that’s with the Yankees or not remains to be seen.

So the Yankees rotation if Tanaka leaves will be Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery, and two huge black holes. There’s not a young phenom from their great farm system waiting to step in, so they’ll have to head out on the market. Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish will be out there. Shohei Otani is probably coming over from Japan and the Yankees would be a natural fit, although they’re restricting by only being able to offer the maximum of $20M to him, unlike the old days when they could flex their financial muscle. There are also a myriad of other #3/#4 types floating about the market, too.

The reason that the Yankees got so far this year, both in the regular season and the postseason, is due to their amazingly deep bullpen. The Yankees were able to run out some permutations involving Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, Dellin Betances, the way underrated Chad Green, Adam Warren, and Tommy Kahnle. The Yankees’ starters really only needed to give 5 innings some nights. This is the area that I could see the Yankees being willing to trade from to bolster their rotation, while also shaving some payroll off in the process.

I’d love to see the Pirates get either Chad Green or Tommy Kahnle, but the Yankees are very interested in retaining cheap, high-production talent nowadays. Chad Green (1.83 ERA/1.74 FIP, 2.4 WAR) still has 5 years of team control remaining. Tommy Kahnle, obtained this summer along with re-cast David Robertson, has three arbitration-level years of control left. To re-iterate, my first choices for a trade target would be one of these two, but in this push for fiscal prudence, these players are extremely valuable to the Yankees, too.


During the arbitration process last offseason, Betances and the Yankees’ President Randy Levine, got into a heated and public war of words about his worth to the team. Betances seemed to have carried that resentment into this season, as his control suffered greatly and his attitude led to him getting used in low-leverage situations down the stretch and in the playoffs. His walk rate of 6.64/9 IP was unworkable, even if his strikeout rate of 15.08/9 IP remained at the top of the scale.

I’ve long compared Tyler Glasnow to Dellin Betances, in terms of future career path as a devastating multi-inning reliever. From 2014 to 2016, Betances was worth 3.2, 2.4, and 2.9 wins above replacement as a non-closer. That’s equivalent in value, on average, to a #3 starting pitcher. If properly harnessed and utilized, Betances is a weapon. (The same can be said of Glasnow, too.)

Betances has two years of control left and is estimated to make $5M this go-around. His financial cost and prospect acquisition cost would not be cheap, but he’d be worth it. It might take Kevin Newman plus other assets like a Taylor Hearn or Luis Escobar to make the surplus value of around $35M work right.


Adam Warren is a non-glitzy type of reliever that probably has some of you reading this thinking, “Who?” While not as dynamic as Betances, Warren was a very effective reliever in his own right last year. His 2.35 ERA/3.02 FIP over 57 innings resulted in a 1.2 WAR for the Yankees. The 30-year old has one year of team control remaining and is estimated to cost $5M, so his acquisition cost will be significantly less than Betances. It may take a Jordan Luplow or Clay Holmes-level of prospect to make it happen.

Warren transitioned last year to throwing more sliders than fastballs, which on the surface goes counter to the Pirates’ philosophy of establishing the fastball. Warren throws the slider, fastball, and a changeup primarily and all three graded out well last year, especially his changeup. Warren has toggled between being a starter and a reliever for most of his career, but 2017 he was solely a reliever. But it’s good to know that if in a pinch, the Pirates could stretch him out if needed.

Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

45 Comments on Taking Advantage Of…The Yankees: A Cheerful Offseason Series

  1. mark delsignore // November 7, 2017 at 7:42 AM //

    The Yankees were one win away from The Series — one win.
    Why in the heck would they trade anybody let alone cheap guys who have helped them unless they can fleece another team — meaning get the better part of the potential deal?

    I know this is maybe a new concept to us here who regularly follow the Pirates but when you are one win away from going to the World Series, you ADD to that team — not trade young, controllable guys away.

    No way the Yankees trade with the Pirates — no way.

    • Kevin Creagh // November 7, 2017 at 7:58 AM //

      I’m not sure if you read the article, but the Yankees are trying to get under the $197M CB threshold. That means about $182M of payroll and $15M left over for benefits.
      Also, in the article, it states that their starting pitching this year was their Achilles heel. They have an area of strength (bullpen) and are going to trade someone from it. I’m proposing the Pirates pick up either a player with 1 year of team control left (Warren) or a guy they have openly feuded with (Betances).

      • mark delsignore // November 7, 2017 at 9:12 AM //

        I dont understand why, if you are the Yankees and you are one game from the WOrld Series, that you trade from your strength, especially the bullpen.

        Bullpens are so valuable these days especially in the post season when/if the starter has an off night. Plus they have some cheap guys with control doing well.

        I dont care what the article says; $25M to the Yankees is nothing as their revenues last year and projected this year can support it.

        What expensive guy in the Pen are they going to get rid of in order to save a piece of the $25M?

        Plus, our beloved management team is not overpaying for a bull pen arm.

        I dont see it happening.

        I see the Yankees actually adding pieces.

        • Don Orris // November 7, 2017 at 9:48 AM //

          The Dodgers were one win away from a championship and yet you’re going to see substantial changes to their roster as they also look toward shaving some payroll.

          These Yankees aren’t the Yankees of George Steinbrenner. Tanaka exercising his option ties up a considerable amount of payroll and probably takes them out of any high-profile free agent pursuit. It’s not about having the revenue to support payroll it’s about avoiding the luxury tax.

          I agree with Kevin in that they’ll look to deal from strength and find better, cheaper, controllable starting pitching rather than look to free agency.

          • Kevin Creagh // November 7, 2017 at 10:09 AM //

            And, more importantly, they want to reset the Competitive Balance Tax rate to 0% so they can go hog wild after 2018 on the Kershaw/Harper/Machado FA bonanza.

          • Agreed, although I don’t think Kershaw is going anywhere.

          • Bob Stover // November 7, 2017 at 2:53 PM //

            You’re probably right that Kershaw isn’t going anywhere, but he might try and leverage his opt-out to renegotiate his current deal. It may come down to what the Dodgers want to do rather than what Kershaw wants. His health and his post-season failures will surely weight into the Dodgers evaluation of whether or not to renegotiate his contract.

          • mark delsignore // November 7, 2017 at 10:17 AM //

            Avoiding luxury tax is just another cost to the team.
            You and Kevin make it sound ideological.

            To me, it is just another payroll number – -cost of doing business at that level of payroll.

            And if their revenues can support it, why not?
            With a strong bull pen, the Yanks can go and get a relatively cheaper starter in the open market — only need 5 innings if you have a strong pen

          • Bob Smizik // November 7, 2017 at 10:36 AM //

            The point you seem to be missing is this Mark: The Yankees have said they are going to try and get under with luxury tax threshold. This is not speculation on Kevin’s part.
            That being the case, it makes perfect sense for them to trade a strength to fix a weakness.

          • It ?s not ideaology, Mark. It ?s Cashman stating publicly that they want to remove the tax burden. Since taking over the franchise Hal Steinbrenner has been much more bottom line focused than his father.

            Their core is young, they ?re becoming more sabermetric driven and they ?re relying more on internal development. That ?s why Gerardi is gone.

            I just don ?t think you ?ll see them go out and spend $100M-$150M on a Darvish or Arrieta.

          • Bob Smizik // November 7, 2017 at 10:42 AM //

            Cashman: ?We Are Getting Under The Threshold Next Year ?

            This has been a long-time goal of the Yankees and they are committed to doing it this year.

            Despite what Mark says.

          • mark delsignore // November 7, 2017 at 10:43 AM //

            I get it Bob
            And I am not so much as criticizing Kevin as I am questioning the believe-ability of the article so referenced.

            If the strength if the Yanks is bullpen and the weakness is SP, would you trade bull pen for SP?

            I would not

          • *Girardi

          • mark delsignore // November 7, 2017 at 11:25 AM //

            While the Yanks may not go and get a Darvish or an Arrieta (although that remains to be seen) I do not see how getting rid of cheap controllable guys as described above helps them in their endeavor to get under the tax cap. These cheap controllable guys will need to be be replaced. They are, after all, losing Sabathia’s, Pineda d Garcia’s salaries already

          • Kevin Creagh // November 7, 2017 at 11:51 AM //

            There’s a whole paragraph in the article that says I would love the Pirates to go for Chad Green or Tommy Kahnle, but the Yankees will not trade cheap controllable arms because they are vital to the bullpen and the CB Threshold effort. I’m looking for the Pirates to get a 30 year old with 1 year of control left in Warren. I couldn’t have typed it any clearer.

          • They need starting pitching, Mark. They ?re most likely not going to pursue high end free agents so they ?d deal from a position of strength i.e.depth.

            They would not trade young controllable arms in an effort to stay under the tax as you seem to suggest. You trade them to address a greater need that would cost far more in the open market and THAT is what pushes you closer to the tax.

          • michaelstivic // November 7, 2017 at 1:04 PM //

            And I really don’t think the Yankees are as interested in Bryce Harper as the speculation the past several years dictated.

          • Kevin Creagh // November 7, 2017 at 1:08 PM //

            I personally think the Phillies are going to get Harper, but you know the Yankees will at least sniff around him.

          • Fish Monger // November 7, 2017 at 3:31 PM //

            I agree, Kevin, about the Phillies and Harper. They have a veritable Mother’s lode of cash from years of low payroll and a whopper of a TV deal I believe that was inked recently.

            I expect them to be a big player, next winter, in the Free Agent Armageddon.

  2. Henry Kassab // November 7, 2017 at 8:02 AM //

    I can absolutely see the Yankees trading from a position of strength. Betences, if the Pirates believe his BB/9 last season was an outlier, should look into a potential trade. Neither Newman or Hearn will probably see the majors this year with Frazier, Rodriguez and Moroff probably set as bench. His K/9 rate would fall nicely into that 8th inning role setting up Rivero. However, the last thing the Pirates can I ?ll afford I ?d another $5MM Hudson on the roster.

    • mark delsignore // November 7, 2017 at 9:14 AM //

      why do the Yankees want Newman or Hearns?

      Why would they trade from the most important area — bull pen — when they were 1 game from The Series?

      I dont see it happening

      I see the Yankees adding

      BTW: the $25M to the Yankees, while a King;s ransom here in the ‘Burgh, is nothing vis-a-vis their revenues

  3. Mark Gaudiano // November 7, 2017 at 9:22 AM //

    Although i would like to see Betances in a Pirates uniform, the Yankees are not going to want Kevin Newman, first of all they have Didi Gregorius as their ss and their number one prospect Gleber Torres is waiting in the wings and he also is a ss. Luplow for Warren i would do in a second, but the Yankees won’t.

    • Bob Smizik // November 7, 2017 at 10:38 AM //

      And why, Henry, would Taylor Hearn — he of the 4.13 ERA in Class A — be of any interest to the Yankees?

      • Bob, teams like power lefties. Hearn has a great bit of upside. I don’t think the Yanks would give up a stud for Hearn, but they would be very interested.

      • Henry Kassab // November 8, 2017 at 5:03 AM //

        Thst ?s A fair question. I referenced Newman and Hearns from the article, for no other reason. From what I ?ve read, the Yankee farm system is considered deep so I believe they will look for quality in any trade for Betences or Warren

        • Hearn is quality. GM’s don’t only look at stats when making evaluations. They look at stuff. Hearn has excellent stuff.

    • I would not want to deal Luplow for Warren.

  4. Fish Monger // November 7, 2017 at 11:58 AM //

    The Pirates have little to nothing to offer in prospects to the Yanks, so while a Betances might be a good fetch, I just don’t see it happening.

    A weak farm system and flamed out prospects. Extensions all around!

    • michaelstivic // November 7, 2017 at 1:13 PM //

      Maybe the Pirates could get Betances for Danny Ortiz if they also agree to take Jacoby Ellsbury

    • Bob Stover // November 7, 2017 at 2:57 PM //

      As often happens, prospects go elsewhere and flourish. You can’t evaluate the Pirates farm system easily because our development team just stinks.

  5. The Pirate farm system is actually still pretty strong. You will start to see more contributions from the farm now. The guys down there now aren’t as sexy as the supposed future stars of the past. They will be solid contributors though.

    • Fish Monger // November 7, 2017 at 1:56 PM //

      Awesome. A few more Max Moroff’s. Just what they need.

      Perhaps Huntington should intern with the Stros for a couple months and see how it’s done.

      Seeing more contributions from the farm is not what I’m looking for. I’m looking for impact from the farm and it’s been a while since we’ve seen much of that. Outside of 1st round picks Taillon, Cole, Cutch, Bell (yeah, yeah, I know he’s a 2, but not really), when was the last time the farm produced an impact player?

      You keep touting the farm. Just pinch me when a non 1st rounder (who anybody could pick) makes an impact. I don’t want to miss it.

    • Fish Monger // November 7, 2017 at 1:57 PM //

      Still pretty strong? That insinuates that it was strong at one point in the recent past. Outside of what Keith Law says, when has this farm produced much of anything?

    • mark delsignore // November 7, 2017 at 5:18 PM //

      please…..stop with this
      totally comical

      what “supposed future stars form the past”

      Sexy? More like “trashy”

      The Pirates have lousy prospects — especially for a team that had high draft picks for years

      add to that , their development is…well…..bad.

      Other than “i hope this guy and that guy get better”, there is no hope for this train wreck called the Pirates.

  6. Some of these articles lead me to believe that the author(s) believes that what ails the Pirates can be cured with a back-up catcher and some relief help. Please, I hope that isn’t all you think is needed for this team to get significantly above .500 and compete.

    Quite simply, the Pirates have many issues. And for those of you who think their rotation is just fine….ha! Williams and Kuhl surprised at the back end of the rotation last year. They are not of the pedigree that can sustain continued success in the majors. These are exactly the types of pitches that falter in their second year, as major league hitters adjust. The rotation needs a serious upgrade and in no way can compete with the primary contenders in the NL Central.

    Of course, an upgrade of any major significance would require spending some major $. So, I can see the tendency to want to talk about back-up catcher and bullpen upgrades. Par for the course for this organization.

    • Bob Stover // November 8, 2017 at 12:06 PM //

      Since both Kuhl and Williams were first year starters, it is absolutely impossible to tell what trajectory their future careers will take. It is not unusual, in fact it is quite common, for rookies to be back end starters when they first break into a major league rotation. There is no such thing as a pedigree for pitchers. May I suggest that you find a dog blog to comment on.

      • Based on the “history” (there, I’ll dumb it down for you Bob), of the Pirates and their pitching, I do not expect these two guys to develop into anything special. Too many question marks in this rotation to compete. My analysis on these issues in the past has been backed up by the passage of time…so mark it down. This staff is nothing better, and will be nothing better, than mediocre.

        Suggestion…google “pitching pedigree”. No dogs will appear.

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