Yankees GM Brian Cashman met with reporters yesterday, discussing numerous Bronx Bombers-related topics with Newsday’s Erik Boland (Twitter links), MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, The Associated Press, and other media members.
Aaron Judge’s contract was one of the subjects addressed, as the star slugger didn’t agree to terms with the club on his 2022 salary before last Tuesday’s deadline to file arbitration figures. As it stands, Judge and the Yankees will now head to a hearing, with Judge seeking $21MM and the Yankees offering $17MM — the $4MM gap is the largest between any player and team slated for an arb case this spring.
However, a much larger contract could be in the offing. Judge is set for free agency next winter, and Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner has already stated that the club will discuss a long-term extension. Cashman said the same Saturday, with a nod to Judge’s preference to have all negotiations wrapped up prior to the start of the season.
“Between now and Opening Day we’ll make an offer and he’ll obviously receive an offer and all the conversions will have taken place and will either resolve into a multiyear deal or it won’t,” Cashman said. “We’re committed. We’ll make an offer and hear what he has to say in response and then it will be pencils down before Opening Day.”
It should be noted that the opener probably isn’t an absolute deadline, as the two sides aren’t likely to cease talks if they’re on the proverbial two-yard line towards finalizing an extension. Most players have shared Judge’s preference to restrict contract talks to the offseason, yet it isn’t uncommon for major extensions to be announced a few days or even a few weeks beyond Opening Day.
In fact, Judge himself told The New York Post’s Dan Martin and other reporters Saturday that there could be some flexibility to his April 7 deadline. “If there are negotiations [after Opening Day], I won’t be talking to [the media] about it at all. We haven’t decided yet, but for right now, that’s what we’ve got.”
Given that the Yankees have rarely extended players in the Hal Steinbrenner era, the fact that the two sides are talking long-term is itself notable, and a nod to just how well Judge has performed over his first six seasons. If a multi-year pact can’t be arranged, it isn’t out of the question that the two sides might still just work out a one-year pact in order to sidestep the potential awkwardness of an arbitration hearing. As Martin notes, the Yankees haven’t gone to a hearing since 2016.
“Our position has always been, we wind up only in a hearing if we’re dragged there,” Cashman said. “We only go when forced to go. We’re not afraid of going. Our history shows that we stay out of that arena unless we’re compelled to get there.”
Judge’s situation might dominate the headlines for the Yankees in their final days of camp, as the team could be finished with its major offseason work. “We’re prepared to go with what we have here,” Cashman said, while acknowledging that the door is always open in some respect for potential new moves: “We’ve stayed in touch and engaged a lot of clubs about our needs. If something comes out of those discussions, great.”
In terms of what any new additions might cost, Cashman noted the financial “flexibility” provided by ownership “doesn’t mean it [the payroll] won’t get higher but that doesn’t mean it will either.” Team spending has been a hot issue in the Bronx over the last two years, as the Yankees looked to get under the luxury tax line in 2021, then largely sat out free agency both before and after the lockout. (This isn’t to say that the offseason has been all that quiet, given that the Yankees’ five-player blockbuster deal with the Twins is arguably the winter’s biggest trade.)
Cashman did point out, however, that the Yankees are set to have their highest-ever payroll. Roster Resource projects the club for roughly $245.9MM in actual dollars spent on payroll, with a luxury tax number of just under $262.3MM. That latter figures not only puts New York back in excess of the $230MM tax threshold, but beyond the first tier ($250MM) of penalization. That means that the Yankees are currently slated to pay a 32% surtax on every dollar spent beyond the threshold, given they reclaimed “first-timer” status after getting under the tax line last year.
A new deal with longtime Yankee Brett Gardner isn’t likely to cost all that much, though it remains unclear if Gardner is a candidate to return for a 15th season in the pinstripes. “Right now we’re focused on what we have,” Cashman said in regards to the roster, while also adding that he has had multiple talks with Gardner’s representatives since Spring Training opened.
In theory, New York already has plenty of outfield depth on the roster, between the starting trio of Judge, Aaron Hicks and Joey Gallo, Giancarlo Stanton and Miguel Andujar capable of playing on the grass, and Marwin Gonzalez, Tim Locastro and Ender Inciarte all in the mix. With injuries an ever-looming threat, a reunion with Gardner could be feasible, especially since Gardner has been such an important clubhouse leader.