First things first.
The Yankees still intend to get below the luxury-tax threshold in 2018, and there has been no indication that managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, who has publicly spoken about it for years, will change his mind.
“We’re committed to getting under that tax,” general manager Brian Cashman has said more than a few times this offseason.
So with a little less than a month before pitchers and catchers report to Tampa for spring training, everything left on Cashman’s to-do list — adding another starting pitcher and bringing aboard a veteran infielder — should continue to be seen through that prism.
That means that unless they Yankees are able to move a significant chunk of money off their payroll, to stay under the $197-million luxury-tax threshold, they have in the neighborhood of $25 million left to spend, all but eliminating the possibility of adding a significant salary.
“We’re more than prepared to go into spring training with what we have,” Cashman said by phone this past week. “We’re fully prepared to do that unless an opportunity presents itself that fits in our current [financial] environment.”
The rotation, currently expected to be Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, CC Sabathia and Jordan Montgomery, is not without questions but looks solid enough.
The infield situation is another matter. The trades of Chase Headley and Starlin Castro left the Yankees with intriguing possibilities at third and second but great uncertainty.
As of now — and that phrase does need to be stressed — there is the chance that the Yankees will start the regular season with rookies at third and second. The competition at those positions in spring training should be fascinating.
“It’s a statement in itself when you trade Starlin Castro and Chase Headley. You make those statements that you’re prepared to go that route,” Cashman said. “Obviously, it doesn’t mean that some other alternative doesn’t present itself over time, but when we made the trade on Castro and the trade on Headley, we made those with our internal environment in play.”
Central to that environment, of course, is Gleyber Torres, the centerpiece of the deal at the 2016 trade deadline that sent Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs. The 21-year-old Torres, considered by many the top position prospect in the sport, played second, third and shortstop in the minors last year before seeing his season end in June because of an ulnar collateral ligament tear in his left elbow suffered on a play at the plate in a Triple-A game. He’ll get a chance to compete for the job at second or third.
Also in the mix at third is another highly regarded prospect, Miguel Andujar, 22, who made his big-league debut last season, albeit a brief one (he went 4-for-7 with four RBIs).
Utilityman Tyler Wade, 23, who struggled at the plate during his debut season in 2017 (a .155/222/.224 slash line) but demonstrated a slick glove and exceptional speed, will be in the mix, as will fast-rising infield prospect Thairo Estrada. Estrada, 21, who played all of last season with Double-A Trenton and saw time at second, short and third, had a .301/.353/.392 slash line in 122 games.
Cashman downplayed the risk of potentially starting the season with two rookies in the starting lineup.
“There’s a risk signing somebody that’s not going to play well enough and there’s a risk going with someone that’s never played at this level on a consistent basis,” he said. “So risk exists all the time. You just rely on your evaluations.”
Addressing Torres, Andujar and Estrada specifically, Cashman said, “They’ve earned the right for strong consideration, it’s as simple as that.”
The Yankees won’t be completely reliant on the unproven and untested. They have Ronald Torreyes, who capably filled in at second, third and short last season and had a .292/.314/.375 slash line, and Jace Peterson, who signed a minor-league deal earlier this month. He has appeared in 383 big-league games, including 260 at second and 26 at third.
“We have two vacancies on the infield that some young guys are knocking on the door, and we have to determine if they’re ready just yet or not,” Cashman said. “And if not, we have some fallback guys that we can rely on if they need more time to develop, like Torreyes, who’s obviously filled in rather well, and we’ll have some non-roster invitees that can help cushion that blow if that’s the case. But in the meantime, if something comes more in line with what works in our arena [financially], we’ll consider it. But we are really prepared to go with what we have. We’ll see. Until or unless something changes our mind.’’