Yanks riding high, but top brass has eye on future payroll

May 23rd, 2024

This story was excerpted from Bryan Hoch’s Yankees Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

NEW YORK -- We are nearly a third of the way through this entertaining opening act to the Yankees’ season, one in which Juan Soto has met all expectations as a new star of a club that plans to spend its autumn in pursuit of a World Series championship.

Let’s hit the pause button, ever so briefly, and take a good look at the present-day roster. Got it? Chances are, this group of 26 will look a lot different at this time next year. Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said as much on Wednesday at the Major League Baseball Owners Meetings in New York.

“I’m going to be honest, payrolls at the levels we’re at right now are simply not sustainable for us financially,” Steinbrenner told reporters. “It wouldn’t be sustainable for the vast majority of ownership [groups], given the luxury tax we have to pay.”

Before you panic, no, their chances of retaining Soto have not been altered. Steinbrenner, general manager Brian Cashman and pretty much everyone else in the organization have been singing Soto’s praises in recent weeks. What Steinbrenner’s comments do mean, however, is that there will be other changes in store between the end of the 2024 season and Opening Day ’25.

Steinbrenner said that his team has “got a considerable amount of money coming off” its payroll after this season, funds that can be allocated to make sure Soto plays the rest of his career in pinstripes -- or, failing that, address other areas of need.

With payroll at $305 million this season (according to Spotrac.com) and already set with $202 million of commitments for 2025, the Yankees certainly could hand Soto another nine-figure megadeal, joining those already on the books for Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole, Giancarlo Stanton and Carlos Rodón. Steinbrenner indicated that to make that happen, they must cut in other areas.

“I’ve been a broken record [on this topic]; I don’t believe I should have a $300 million payroll to win a championship,” Steinbrenner said. “I believe I need a good mix of veterans who are going to make a lot more money, but also, we’ve put a lot of money into our player development system in the last five to 10 years. And in my opinion, we have one of the better ones in baseball now.”

New York’s stable of potential free agents includes second baseman Gleyber Torres ($14.2 million), outfielder Alex Verdugo ($8.7 million), closer Clay Holmes ($6 million), right-hander Tommy Kahnle ($5.7 million), right-hander Jonathan Loáisiga ($2.5 million) and left-hander Caleb Ferguson ($2.4 million). First baseman Anthony Rizzo also has a $17 million club option for next year, with a $6 million buyout.

Will they stay or should they go? In many cases, it’s too early to definitively say. But Steinbrenner’s caution regarding payroll and the luxury tax could explain why the organization seemed lukewarm about discussing an extension with Torres this spring, to cite one example.

Steinbrenner, who spends many of his days at the club’s Player Development complex in Tampa, Fla., said that fans should expect to see more young talent advance through the pipeline to the Bronx -- just as shortstop Anthony Volpe, catcher Austin Wells and right-hander Luis Gil have in recent seasons.

No. 1 prospect (and No. 31 overall, per MLB Pipeline) Jasson Domínguez is likely to return to New York at some point in the second half, while No. 2 prospect (No. 69 prospect overall) Spencer Jones was the talk of Spring Training before going through some early struggles at Double-A Somerset.

“As they get ready, they’re going to continue to get their chances,” Steinbrenner said. “I believe being younger makes you faster. I also believe, whether I’m right or not, it makes you less injury-prone. They’re going to get their opportunities.”