All indications remain that Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has designs on trimming payroll an unspecified amount this offseason. The Yankees have made two moves toward that end, declining 2021 club options for outfielder Brett Gardner and lefthander J.A. Happ.
The Yankees made those moves Thursday and announced them — as well as the decision to pick up lefthanded reliever Zack Britton’s 2022 option for $14 million — late Friday morning.
Gardner, 37, who is the longest-tenured Yankee, having been drafted into the organization in the third round in 2005, had an option for $10 million but instead received a $2.5 million buyout. Given his defensive abilities and how the Yankees feel about one of their most respected clubhouse voices, he could return at a lower cost, though likely in a diminished role with the continued emergence of Clint Frazier.
Happ, 38, who was 2-2 with a 3.47 ERA this season, all but accused the organization of manipulating his starts and innings so he wouldn’t reach the 10 starts or 62 innings in this COVID-19-shortened 60-game season that would have automatically triggered his $17 million club option. He almost certainly will not be back at any price. Happ, who finished with nine starts and 49 1/3 innings in 2020, went 21-10 with a 4.13 ERA in three seasons with the Yankees.
The Yankees had until three days after the conclusion of the World Series to pick up Britton’s $14 million option for 2022. Had they declined, Britton could have opted out of his $13 million salary for 2021 and become a free agent.
"Very excited to continue the pursuit of a championship with the Yankees," Britton, 32, tweeted Thursday night.
That the Yankees picked up Britton’s option wasn’t a shock after he recorded a 1.89 ERA and eight saves in 20 appearances (19 innings). In three seasons with the Yankees, Britton is 5-3 with a 2.14 ERA and 14 saves.
Still, the Yankees doing so wasn’t automatic. Not with the economic uncertainty across the sport after a significantly shortened season that included no fans in any ballpark until the World Series at neutral-site Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
Teams already have declined 2021 options for players ranging from solid to spectacular in order to save money. Cleveland, for example, declined a $10 million option on lefty Brad Hand, one of the game’s best relievers in recent years, and on Friday morning, the Rays announced they had declined the $15 million option for Charlie Morton, one of their 2020 postseason heroes.
Like most teams, the Yankees aren’t expected to spend lavishly this offseason, certainly not at a rate that takes them anywhere close to the 2021 luxury tax threshold of approximately $210 million.
The kind of expenditure Steinbrenner OK'd last winter for ace Gerrit Cole — nine years and $324 million — is out of the question. The Yankees very much would like to re-sign two of their own free agents, DJ LeMahieu and Masahiro Tanaka, but because of the likely payroll constraints, they might not be able to sign both. It all depends on what other teams are willing to spend.
"Well, we'll see," Steinbrenner said earlier this month on "The Michael Kay Show" of his plans for offseason spending. "It depends what kind of money is going to be required to be spent based on what we look at and decide needs to change. But there's no doubt we sustained significant losses this year, more so than any other team in baseball. It's been a crazy year, but we're just going to have to see what we really feel we need and what that's going to cost, and we'll go from there. The way we do that every year."