Hal Steinbrenner has not yet told Brian Cashman what the 2021 payroll will be, but we do know this: As SNY was first to report, the Yankees will be on a tight budget this winter.
When you crunch the numbers, in fact, a tough question emerges: Will the team be able to retain both Zack Britton and DJ LeMahieu?
As New York Post reporter Joel Sherman estimated a few days ago, the Yanks will have about $30 million to spend this offseason if they wish to get under the $210 million luxury tax threshold.
The Yankees owe Britton $13 million next season, but because of a unique contract situation they have a chance to get out of the deal altogether. The team has until three days after the World Series to exercise Britton’s $14 million option for 2022. If they decline to do so, Britton can choose to become a free agent.
LeMahieu, one of the best hitters in the sport, is expected to seek at least $20 million per year on the free agent market.
So: 13 plus 20 is … more than 30.
See where we’re going with this?
If the Yankees want to keep both -- and make no mistake, the organization loves Britton and LeMahieu, both as players and as people -- they might have to find creative ways to dump payroll. Can they move the contacts of Aaron Hicks, Aroldis Chapman or Adam Ottavino? Non-tender Gary Sanchez and make Kyle Higashioka the starting catcher?
We’re not pitching any of these ideas as appealing ones. We’re just saying that this could get tricky. Perhaps the Covid economy will render LeMahieu more affordable than expected. Perhaps his desire to be a Yankee will lead him to accept a backloaded deal to free up money for 2021. Those are but a few factors in this unpredictable market that could help the Yankees avoid this difficult choice.
If the Yankees do find a way to retain both Britton and LeMahieu, it obviously won’t bode well for the returns of organizational and fan favorites Masahiro Tanaka or Brett Gardner. And it should be obvious what all of this means for free agents like J.T. Realmuto and Trevor Bauer.