Yanks never in on Scherzer sweepstakes
Offering blockbuster contract not 'realistic' with current payroll, rotation options
NEW YORK -- From the first days of free agency, the Yankees maintained both publicly and privately that they were not a likely landing spot for Max Scherzer, given the unappealing thought of adding another nine-figure commitment to a starting rotation that already features two of them.
There were some thoughts that the Yankees might be posturing in order to make a late strike, as they did to a certain extent in 2009 with Mark Teixeira, but it was no bluff this time. The Yanks never made a bid for Scherzer, who is finalizing his seven-year, $210 million deal with the Nationals.
With the Yankees owning a projected Opening Day payroll that is already inching toward $210 million and with the club not expected to pursue free-agent right-hander James Shields, their rotation figures to head into 2015 banking heavily upon rebound seasons from CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka.
"We're still the New York Yankees, all you guys know that," managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said last week. "We know what the fans expect. We know what the town expects. We're not going to be afraid to spend money."
In Scherzer's case, the Yanks' existing commitments -- $23 million for Sabathia and $22 million for Tanaka this year alone -- played into their thinking on sitting out the Scherzer sweepstakes. Team president Randy Levine noted the team's stance last month, obliquely referencing Scherzer's availability without using his name.
"The chances of us bringing in a guy for six [years] and $25 million or over, in my opinion, is virtually none," Levine said on Dec. 18. "At the end of the day, you have to be realistic in any organization."
General manager Brian Cashman repeatedly echoed similar sentiments, putting them most bluntly in a December television appearance when he told NBC: "I think that's a lot higher level than we're willing to play in right now. I don't think Yankee fans will be looking at Max Scherzer."
Adding a large contract would have been particularly difficult for the Yankees, who abandoned their goal of getting under $189 million to chase Tanaka last year, completing an offseason in which they also signed Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. Thus, they continue to be subject to luxury tax penalties of 50 percent, the highest possible under baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Because of that, a hypothetical deal that would have paid Scherzer $25 million per season would actually hit the Yankees for $37.5 million. That produced a set of tough new numbers to swallow at a time while the Yanks are riding out the last years of commitments to players like Sabathia and Teixeira, and will have Alex Rodriguez's contract come back online.
"It's obvious that when you know you have a certain amount of payroll each year that's not coming off the books, it gets more difficult," Steinbrenner said. "Having said that, most of those players have been great for us. Two or three years from now, there is going to be some more flexibility."
Acknowledging the uncertainty in a rotation that projects to be rounded out by the young power arms of Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi, plus journeyman Chris Capuano and possibly Adam Warren, the Yankees are looking toward Ivan Nova's expected return from Tommy John surgery in May or June and a younger, more flexible roster as reasons for optimism in 2015.
"We started out with a payroll that was already high before we did anything," Steinbrenner said. "We had a certain amount of dollars to work with, and I think Cash did a great job. There's just a certain amount I'm going to go. You all know my opinions about payroll -- where you should be and really where you don't need to be to win championships."