The Yankees’ Bad Decisions and How They Can Reverse Them

Before this season, everybody knew that the Yankees wouldn’t exactly be in contention this year.  But nobody could have predicted the extent to which their performance would dip — especially in hitting.  They have gotten an amazing performance from Carlos Beltran (wRC+ of 132), but that’s about it.  Oh, and Beltran has been a complete flop at fielding, managing to accumulate a -10 DRS only halfway into the season.  To offset his defensive issues, the Yankees can’t move him to first base, because he’s blocked there by Mark Teixeira, who’s earning $22.5 million a year.  And it’s not as if Mark Teixeira is earning his fat paycheck, either.  As of of the All-Star break, he has a -1.1 WAR.  So with Teixeira’s $22.5 million paycheck this year and less-than-desirable performance, trading him to make room for Beltran at first base is not an option.

So what about moving Beltran to DH?  Or moving Teixeira to DH and having Beltran play first?  A bit of a problem there.  See, Alex Rodriguez is right now occupying the DH spot.  And he’s earning $20 million this year while hitting .220 with a -0.7 WAR.  And while, theoretically, the Yanks could move Alex over to the hot corner to make room for Beltran, there’s the small problem of Chase Headley, who’s earning $13 million a year.  And while, yes, the Yankees could trade Chase Headley, who holds enough value to be desired by some clubs, nobody in the Yankees front office wants to even think, much less see, this scenario:  Almost 41-year-old Alex Rodriguez bumbling around the hot corner, feebly trying (and failing) to convert routine ground balls into outs.

So Beltran will be staying in right field until the inevitable happens:  one of the many 30-year-olds on the Yankees gets injured.  Some of those those 30-year-olds — Beltran, Texeira, and Rodriguez — combine to have a -0.3 WAR.  That is well below league-average.  Their earnings on the other hand…$57.5 million combined for 2016 alone.  Paying $57.5 million for -0.3 WAR.  However way you look at it, that’s a bad deal.  A really bad deal.  And that’s only three of the 25 people on the Yankees roster.  And you can be sure that the other 23 aren’t a general manager’s dream.  Quite the contrary.  Let’s go position by position and see exactly how horrible the Yankees’ hitters are when compared to their salaries.


Position: Players: Combined Salary: Combined WAR:
Catcher Brian McCann, Austin Romine 17.5 million 1.5
First Base Chris Parmelee, Rob Refsnyder, Ike Davis, Dustin Ackley, Mark Teixeira 27.9 million -1.1
Second Base Starlin Castro 7 million -0.4
Third Base Chase Headley, Ronald Torreyes 13.5 million 1.1
Shortstop Didi Gregorious 2.4 million 1.5
Right Field Carlos Beltran, Benjamin Gamel, Aaron Hicks 16.1 million 0.6
Left Field Brett Gardner 13 million 1.0
Center Field Jacoby Ellsbury 21.1 million 1.4
DH Gary Sanchez, Alex Rodriguez 20.5 million -0.8

So the Yankees’ payroll for hitters alone is $139 million for 2016.  Although that is a big sum — a gigantic sum — it wouldn’t have been noteworthy if the big names had performed and driven the Yanks to a playoff run.  Instead, though, those big names have performed terribly (except for Beltran) and the Yankees have almost no chance of making the postseason.

Right now the MLB is averaging six million dollars per 1 WAR.  That may sound like a lot, but compared to the Yankees it is nothing.  Since it is halfway through the season, their 4.8 combined WAR is 9.6 on a full-season scale.  139 million divided by 9.6 is 14.5.  That means that the Yankees are paying $14.5 million per 1 WAR.  That is more than two times league average.  Although they are overpaying for many players, the big blows come from five players only:  Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Jacoby Ellsbury.  All these players signed their mega deals after one of, if not the best season in their careers.  Except for Beltran, who got a three-year deal, all these players signed deals for five or more seasons.  Here is the rundown on their salaries.

Alex Rodriguez:  Alex’s deal is probably the stupidest of all other Yankees deals in history.  He was signed to a 10-year deal with the Rangers in 2001, and was traded to the Yankees in 2004.  His contract would then expire after the 2010 season, when he would be 35 years old.  But the Yankees, for some reason, decided to renew his contract two years before it expired, in 2008.  If the Yankees had signed him to a new five-year deal, that would not have been too bad.  But instead, the Yankees signed him to another 10-year deal worth 275 million dollars, $25 million more than his former deal.  So now he is signed through the 2017 season, when he will be 43 years old.  If the Yankees would have only agreed to let A-Rod go after the 2010 season, they would have avoided all the bad/OK years of his career, which, incidentally, started in 2011.

Mark Teixeira:  In 2009, the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira, who was coming off of a 6.9 WAR season, to an eight-year, 180-million-dollar deal.  To be fair, it was not a bad signing for the Yanks.  Teixeira was 29 in his first year as a Yankee, and got a 142 WRC+ while accumulating a 5.1 WAR.  Then the next year he dipped to a still-respectable 3.4 WAR.  But he was on a downwards path.  After one final good year in 2011, he slowly declined into what he is now: an expensive waste of a perfectly good roster spot.  But don’t condemn the Yankees for that.  Yes, they probably slightly overpaid for a .250 average/30 HR first baseman, but it wasn’t a horrible signing.  What was bad about it was the deal itself.  Not the money involved or the years.  The reason.  Why did the Yankees need a first baseman?  The year before the deal, 2008, Jason Giambi hit 32 homers and had a 131 wRC+ at first.  Yes, his deal was up after the season, but the Yankees could have easily re-signed Giambi without having to pay him $180 million.  So the Yankees didn’t need Teixeira.  They just wanted him.  And that is the same trap they’ve fallen into ever since the dawn of free agency.

Carlos Beltran:  The Yankees signed Beltran to a three-year deal worth $45 million in 2014.  At the time, he was 36 and coming off a good season with the Cardinals.  In fact, it was a great season — hitting-wise.  At defense, there is no way around it.  He was simply terrible.  He made almost all of the plays he got to, but he didn’t get to many.  He couldn’t run fast if you pointed a gun at him.  And somehow, for some reason, the Yankees expected him to play outfield for three more seasons — until he was 39.  And guess what?  It hasn’t worked out too well.  His hitting has been very good, but that hitting value has been stripped from him by his terrible fielding.

Brian McCann:  In 2014, the Yankees signed Brian McCann to a five-year deal worth $85 million.  At the time, it seemed like a good deal; a catcher who could hit well, signed for only $17 million a year.  In any other circumstance, that would be considered a good deal.  A great deal even.  But there was one problem.  It was a 30-year-old catcher they signed for five years.  A 30-year-old catcher who most likely wouldn’t survive two more years crouching behind the plate every inning for 140 games a year.  So for two years, they Yankees got a good deal.  But this year is the third year of the deal.  And surprise, surprise, your 32 1/2-year-old catcher is not performing too well behind the plate.  -6 DRS there.  And, frankly, his hitting is just not good enough to compensate the bad fielding behind the plate.

Jacoby Ellsbury:  In 2014 the Yankees gave Jacoby Ellsbury a 153-million-dollar, seven-year deal.  Ellsbury, who was 30 years old in 2014 and had a history of getting injured, was coming off of a 5.0 WAR season.  But that was mostly due to his well above-average speed.  He used it to his advantage on the basepaths and in the outfield.  All that is fine and good, but there is one problem:  Speed is the first tool to disappear from a player’s repertoire because of age.  And the Yankees’ deal with Ellsbury started when he was 30.  And after a 39-steal year for the first year of the deal, Ellsbury unsurprisingly swiped only 20 bags in the second year.  He used to consistently have 10 DRS every season; now, with the loss of his speed, that 10 has turned into zero.  And aside from steals and defense, Ellsbury doesn’t hold much value.  He hits about five homers a season, and is good for a .280 average.  And five homers, a .280 average and 20 steals is not worth 21 million dollars a year.

So where do the Yankees go from here?  Beltran, Teixeira, and Rodriguez’s contracts will all end this year or the next.  Then they are stuck with only Ellsbury’s and McCann’s.  McCann’s expires in 2018, and, realistically, the Yankees can deal with $17 million a year for two more years.  And with the way Ellsbury’s been playing this year, the Yankees can easily trade him for a small prospect and pay half of his remaining contract.  So if they trade Ellsbury the Yankees will be left with an (almost) clean slate at the end of this year.  How do they fill it?  Here are some suggestions on what and what not to do.

1.  Stay away from pricey free agents ages 31+.

2. Make sure not to sign any player who will be 37+ at any point during the deal.

3. Pay attention to the draft.  For the next few years, the Yankees won’t be very good, so they should make use of their high draft picks and start developing prospects, rather than just buying overpriced free agents.

4.  Only buy value-high, salary-low free agents, i.e. Ben Zobrist.

5.  Stay away from deals spanning eight years or longer.

Let’s get more in-depth with these five bullet points.  Oh, yeah, there’s a sixth:

6.  Get a new G.M.

So let’s get more in-depth with these six bullet points.  1. Stay away from pricey free agents ages 31+:  This rule should be one the Yankees know well by now.  After breaking this rule many times with no good results, this rule should be a relatively easy one for the Yanks to swallow.  Remember, the rule states “pricey free agents,” so that doesn’t include older players (35-36; as you will see in the next bullet, signing Jamie Moyer is forbidden) who still retain some value and can be signed for cheap.

2.  Make sure not to sign any player who will be 37+ at any point during the deal:  It doesn’t matter if this deal is for three years or for 11.  The message is clear:  older players are at higher risk of either sharply declining or getting injured.

3.  Pay attention to the draft:  For most of their history, the Yankees lived in an era of no free agents, so they were able to rip the poor teams of their great prospects with the promise of good money.  Now, when almost every team has enough money, and those who don’t (Rays, Astros, Marlins, Pirates) are smart enough so that they won’t give away their prospects, this strategy is much harder.  So the Yankees switched their focus to high-priced free agents.  This new “strategy” has had its ups and downs.  Most of the ups came earlier, when teams didn’t try to retain their stars after the six years of cost-control.  Now, with many stars (Stanton, Strasburg) being offered luxurious extensions by their teams, most of the talent never hits the free-agent market until much later, when it is not worth much.  So, with extreme reluctance, the Yankees must turn their attention to the draft, an event they have somewhat ignored over the past years.  Although they do make an effort to sign players and do draft players with good potential, they have not made a real effort to dig deep and find hidden gems.  Remember, Mike Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round.  And furthermore, they must not be tempted to trade away these hidden gems they worked so hard to get in return for a major-league player with not half the talent as the prospect.

4.  Only buy high-value, low-salary free-agents:  In years past, this strategy would have worked wonders for the worst team in the league who has a small budget.  Imagine:  who would sign a .272 hitter with 10 homers to a 56-million-dollar contract 10 years ago?  Almost nobody.  But just this year, Ben Zobrist received that contract.  And according to WAR, he should have received more.  Here is a list of smart free agents for after the 2016 season:

Catcher:  There are three good catchers eligible for free agency after the 2016 season:  Jonathan Lucroy, Wilson Ramos, and Matt Wieters.  Out of the three, Jonathan Lucroy and Matt Wieters will most likely be the most wanted.  So that leaves Wilson Ramos.  He is 29 and a solid backstop with hitting potential.  Smart buy:  Wilson Ramos

First Base:  There are actually no standout smart buys at first base.  Justin Smoak, Carlos Santana, and Sean Rodriguez are all options.  The one who has the most value when compared the the estimated price, though, is Sean Rodriguez.  He is also one of the youngest first baseman of all free agents.  Smart buy:  Sean Rodriguez.

Second Base:  Most of the second base free agents next year are way above our target age.  The few that are in our age range are Gordon Beckham, Chris Coghlan, Daniel Descalso, and Neil Walker.  We can safely say that Gordon Beckham and Daniel Descalso are off the list, simply because they don’t provide the value to be a smart buy.  Neil Walker’s price will have shot way up after the amazing campaign he is having this year, so that leaves us with Chris Coghlan.  Chris, who is 32, holds loads of value as he can play second base as well as corner outfield positions.  He is also having one of the worst seasons of his career as of now, so he will be really cheap come the season’s end.  Smart buy:  Chris Coghlan.

Third Base:  At third there are only a few free agents in the Yankees’ age range.  They are Luis Valbuena, Justin Turner, and Martin Prado.  Luis Valbuena is eliminated, because he is too big and awkward to stick at third base.  Somewhere in his near future he will be transitioned to first base.  So that leaves us with Justin Turner and Martin Prado.  These are both good value picks, but Justin Turner must be eliminated.  He will be way too expensive, two years removed from the best season of his life (so far) and part of a playoff contending team.  Martin Prado is our smart buy for third base.  He has been amazingly consistent his whole career, and coming from the Marlins, his price tag will be relatively low.  Smart buy:  Martin Prado.

Shortstop:  There are only four shortstops available after the season ends, and three of them fit the basic criteria:  Alcides Escobar, Erick Aybar, and Ruben Tejada.  Ruben Tejada is the first elimination, as he does not have enough experience in the big leagues to validate his performance.  Alcides Escobar also must go, because he is most likely going to be re-signed by KC.  And even if he is not, his price will be driven up by their bids.  That leaves Erick Aybar.  He is consistent, and hardly ever injured.  He is also mired in a huge slump right now, which will significantly drive down his price.  Smart buy:  Erick Aybar.

Right Field:  There is simply no other competition for smart buy.  Josh Reddick has amazing defense in right, can hit very well, and is only 30 years old.  He is also playing for the obscure Athletics right now, which will drive down his price.  Smart buy:  Josh Reddick.

Left Field:  There are so many standout left fielders going into the 2016-2017 free agency that they will all drive down the price of each other.  That will allow the smart buy to be a big player.  The big left field names are Michael Saunders, Matt Holliday, Ian Desmond, and Yoenis Cespedes.  Matt Holliday is too old, so he’s out.  Yoenis Cespedes is too fluky, and can be injury-prone, so he’s also out.  That leaves us with Ian Desmond and Michael Saunders.  Both of these players are having breakout seasons so far.  Ian Desmond offers more flexibility in the field, as he can play shortstop, second base, and all the outfield positions, including center.  Michael Saunders might be a little cheaper, but it is hard to tell.  It was close but Ian Desmond is our smart buy for left field.  Smart buy:  Ian Desmond.

Center Field:  There are three very good possibilities:  Carlos Gomez, Dexter Fowler, and Austin Jackson.  Dexter Fowler would be a very good pick almost any other season, but he is having a breakout year so far for the Cubs, so he’s out.  Austin Jackson, on the other hand, is having one of his worst seasons ever.  The problem with him is that he doesn’t seem capable of ever making a return to the player he used to be.  He is coming off three straight seasons in which he failed to hit higher than .270.  So Carlos Gomez it is.  He has struggled mightily with the Astros, but that is probably just the effect of playing in a huge ballpark rather than in hitter-friendly Milwaukee.  Smart buy:  Carlos Gomez.

DH:  With many players to choose from, the only player that really catches the smart buyer’s eye is Pedro Alvarez.  He hasn’t found much playing time with power-packed Baltimore, so that will bring down his value significantly.  Smart buy:  Pedro Alvarez.

Starting Pitchers:  With so many choose from, there will be five smart buys for starting pitchers.  There are many soon-to-be free agent starting pitchers ages 28-31.  Smart buy #1 (note:  smart buy number does not imply any greater value for pitcher):  Brett Anderson.  Coming off an injury but with many years of experience with him, Brett Anderson is a great pick for any team.  Smart buy #2:  Jaime Garcia.  So far he has been OK this season, but very consistent.  A very good pick for any team looking for a cheap starting pitcher with a high ceiling.  Smart buy #3:  Jeremy Hellickson.  Hellickson has never had a horrible year in his career.  Although he did have one 5.00 E.R.A. year, he still had a positive WAR.  And aside from that season, he has been pretty good, but not good enough to warrant a big contract.  Smart buy #4:  Matt Moore.  Moore is a dependable, extremely young left-hander.  In fact, he is one of the youngest starting pitchers on the market for next year.  Smart Buy #5:  Ivan Nova.  Although he’s had a rough year so far, you have to love the potential!  He is only 30 years old, and best of all, he’s on the Yankees right now, so they have easy access to him.

Those are all the smart buys.  I am not suggesting that the Yankees sign every single one of those players, but three of four of them wouldn’t hurt.  In fact, they would most likely help the Yankees turn their club around quickly — much quicker than anyone projected them to.

5.  Stay away from deals spanning eight years or longer:  This rule will help prevent the Mark Teixeira deals, the Alex Rodriguez deals, and the Jacoby Ellsbury deals.  This way, if a player is signed for five years, and only performs well for three years of the deal, the Yankees only have to deal with two bad years.

6.  Get a new G.M:  Brian Cashman simply hasn’t gotten it done.  He was given a good team with an unlimited budget and has turned it into one of the worst clubs in baseball.

Hopefully, the Yankees will use their bad experiences to their advantage and become one of the smarter teams in baseball, a la the Astros, Rays, and Pirates.  With the help of these rules and suggestions, they can become the most dangerous team in the MLB, with money and smarts.

We hoped you liked reading The Yankees’ Bad Decisions and How They Can Reverse Them by Stat Whiz Kid!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs

newest oldest most voted

Good thing this was posted on a Saturday.


Lucroy is not a free agent after this year he has a 5 million team option which means he’s under contract for one more year because that option will be picked up.

Operation Shutdown

Just wanted to comment on the SP situation: 1-3) I agree that Anderson, Garcia, and Hellickson are not bad options to kick the tires on, but Hellickson has pitched to a 4.67 ERA from 2013-2016, and Anderson and Garcia are not the most durable pitchers. Anderson averaged 52 innings per year from 2011-2014 and had another back surgery this year, in the same area that he had injured in 2014. Garcia averaged 14 Starts and 88 IP per year from 2012-2015. 4) I thought Tampa has cheap club options on Moore available until 2019. 5) Nova has had a rough… Read more »


Arod opted out of his contract after the 2007 season, if ya wanted to know why he was resigned