The Twins? For how much?
Saturday morning was quite the wake-up call for Yankees fans.
After finally accepting the idea that Carlos Correa had priced himself out of the Bronx with his demands for a record-breaking long-term contract, the shock of what he did sign for — and the team — was a bit much to swallow before that first cup of coffee.
According to multiple reports, Correa agreed to a three-year, $105.3 million contract with the Twins, a deal that includes opt-outs after the first and second seasons. That’s way more manageable than Francisco Lindor’s 10-year, $341 million extension from the Mets last April. And for commitment-phobes, the flexibility of what amounts to three one-year contracts could be a win-win for both sides as long as Correa performs like a perennial MVP candidate.
So why didn’t the Yankees do something similar with Correa?
Well, for starters, Hal Steinbrenner pretty much spelled it out Wednesday during an impromptu news conference in the hallway outside the clubhouse. While Correa was only alluded to in the question, along with Freddie Freeman, Steinbrenner did lay out a number of reasons why neither was a Yankee — and this was before either had signed.
"We do have two incredible prospects that I am excited to give a chance to," Steinbrenner said, referring to Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza. "Things like that play into it. Obviously, what we’ve been through [financially] with COVID the last couple years plays into it. And there’s other factors that have to do with the individual players that play into it.
"But I consider everything. I think you know me well enough to know — and Cash will tell you — that I am willing to discuss and consider anything that my baseball people bring to me. And that process was done this year."
The prospects line definitely has some validity, and that would help explain why the Yankees chose to go with more of a stopgap route last Sunday in trading for Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who was acquired from the Twins along with former MVP Josh Donaldson and catcher Ben Rortvedt.
As for Steinbrenner referring to the economic toll of COVID, that’s obviously legit as well, with the Yankees’ revenues going into a downward spiral since the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Just look at the money-neutral swaps made at last year’s deadline in getting the Cubs and Rangers to pay for Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo.
That bottom-line mentality was reflected again in last Sunday’s swap with the Twins. Sure, the Yankees picked up the $50 million remaining on Donaldson’s contract over these next two years, but a closer examination of the trade doesn’t show much of a payroll bump for 2022. While the Yankees are paying $28 million combined for Donaldson ($23M) and Kiner-Falefa ($5M), they did sent roughly $14 million to Minnesota with the arbitration raises due to Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela.
That’s a net cost of approximately $14 million for this season, as compared to the $35.1 million for Correa, who now owns the highest average annual value for an infielder. As the Yankees creep closer to the next competitive balance tax threshold, that $21 million is a sizable chunk. They also re-signed Rizzo two days later to a two-year, $32 million deal, paving the way for Friday’s trade of Luke Voit ($5.25M).
So where does all this buying and selling leave the Yankees at the moment? For CBT purposes, their payroll currently sits at $253 million, according to FanGraphs, slightly over the second threshold of $250 million, which carries a tax rate of 32%. In other words, if the Yankees exceed that threshold by $10 million, they’ll owe $3.2 million by year’s end.
The next two thresholds are $270 million (62.5% tax rate) and the newly created fourth rung of $290 million — the Steve Cohen Tax — which carries an 80% surcharge. Based on Steinbrenner’s comments, he certainly sounds reluctant to go much further beyond that $250 million plateau.
And with the Yankees’ reported interest in Trevor Story, a buzz that greatly intensified Saturday as soon as Correa’s deal leaked, it’s possible the Yankees were hesitant to bring aboard a player involved in the Astros’ cheating scandal (as Steinbrenner vaguely hinted at with his "other factors" comment). Even so, to add someone like Story, Steinbrenner is going to require a sudden change of heart to pile on that much additional payroll.
"That’s my job every year — to make sure that we’re financially responsible," said Steinbrenner, who also reiterated the annual goal of trying to win a championship.
As for the Yankees getting played by the Twins, taking the Donaldson cash off their hands to set up the Correa signing, that was some deft maneuvering by Minnesota. Remember, the Twins acquired Kiner-Falefa from the Rangers (for Mitch Garver) less than 36 hours before flipping him to the Yankees.
Despite all that, no one imagined the Twins stepping up in weight class to secure the winter’s No. 1 free agent with such a short-term investment. Not only is Correa’s 2022 salary more than double that of the next closest Twin — Byron Buxton is earning $14 million — but he accounts for 23% of this year’s $155 million payroll. And let’s not suggest small-market Minny is flashing a bigger checkbook these days than the Evil Empire. Steinbrenner currently is spending $100 million more than the Twins on this year’s payroll, and the Yankees currently rank third in MLB, behind only the Mets and Dodgers.
The bottom line, however, is that Correa will be playing shortstop for the Twins this season, not the Yankees. And that new reality was weird to wake up to Saturday morning.