What would the Yankees look like with the Pirates' budget? We tested it out

With baseball on indefinite hiatus, we here at Yahoo Sports MLB decided to have a little fun. We can’t watch real baseball on TV, but we can still play it … with a twist. We’ve decided to run some experiments using “MLB The Show 20” to simulate some unique baseball scenarios. This concept is lovingly inspired by Jon Bois’ Breaking Madden series.

If you’re a baseball fan who grew up outside New York, chances are you hate the New York Yankees. It’s a rite of passage, especially for those who grew up in the ‘90s.

You know why you hate the team, too. It’s not necessarily the fact that the Yankees have experienced a tremendous run of success over the past quarter century, it’s how they’ve been able to sustain that success: With a seemingly limitless pocket book.

Over the past 27 years or so, the Yankees have bought every major free agent who has hit the market. Gerrit Cole, Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina, Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira are just a sampling of players who were purchased — or acquired — by the team over that period. That willingness to spend absurd amounts of money is what has kept the Yankees on top for so long, and has made them the most hatable team in the game.

But what if that was no longer the case? What if the Yankees were suddenly forced to operate with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ budget?

Since the team will never do that, I took it upon myself to make it so. Since I don’t have any real-life authority to actually make that happen, I did the next best thing: I made it happen in “MLB The Show 20.”

The task: Give the Yankees a $50 million payroll and try to win

Here’s what I did, I started up a franchise in “MLB The Show 20,” took control of the Yankees and immediately had regrets. The team’s payroll is listed at $231 million in “The Show.” The real-life 2020 Pirates are planning to field a team with a payroll of roughly $50 million. In order to start simulating the 2020 season, I had to cut $181 million from the Yankees’ payroll.

I couldn’t do this mindlessly. The goal here is to win as many games as possible with the reduced Yankees squad. Though the team carries a massive payroll, the Yankees have plenty of young players still under team control on relatively cheap contracts. It’s possible I can still field a competitive team even after shedding $181 million. Since optimism springs eternal in March, I am going to claim my Yankees have World Series aspirations heading into the season. If the Marlins can say that every season, my fake Yankees team can too. Secretly, I’d love to just make the playoffs.

The plan takes shape: It’s time to make a ton of trades

The enormity of the task became apparent almost immediately. Thinking I could easily cut about $15 million off the Yankees’ payroll, I attempted to trade a $16 million Aroldis Chapman to the San Francisco Giants for a $584,000 Mike Yastrzemski. That trade was rejected due to budget reasons. Turns out, the simulation Giants aren’t interested in adding $16 million to their payroll.

This presents my cost-cutting Yankees with two major issues: a) I have to take real-life budgets into consideration with our trades and b) I’m going to have to balance out the salaries in each deal. I won’t be able to cut $15 million in a single trade, but I can cut $5 million and keep reducing from there. 

Keeping that first issue in mind, I go straight to the Los Angeles Dodgers and make my first trade. Chapman and his $16 million salary go to the Dodgers for a $5.9 million Enrique Hernández and a $4 million Pedro Báez. The Yankees are down to $225 million.

In total, it took 31 trades (!) to get the Yankees all the way down to our $50 million target. Eat your heart out, Jerry Dipoto. It was a painstaking exercise. Around the fifth trade, the Dodgers decided their budget was tapped out. I had to start getting even more creative. Down to a $128 million payroll, it became apparent that I needed to trade Gerrit Cole. While I initially tried to keep him around, it was unfeasible to have one player — no matter how good — take up $36 million of the team’s $50 million budget.

Because I care about you, the reader. I wrote down all 31 trades just in case you wanted to experience the madness of this experiment for yourself.

I spent actual time doing this. (Image via Yahoo Sports)

For those of you who value your time, I’ll let the Cole deal speak as an example for how this experiment went.

Cole ($36M) was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Mike Foltynewicz ($6.4M), Cole Hamels ($18M) and Shane Greene ($6.3M). Hamels ($18M) was then shipped out for Tyler Chatwood ($10.5M), who was dealt for Derek Holland ($6.5M) who was dealt for either three or four players who made less than $584,000. My notes literally just say “Anderson” was one of the players involved in the trade. Both Foltynewicz and Greene were dealt for players making less than $1 million.

Eventually, I got there. In fact, I even gave myself some room to work with. I managed to get the Yankees’ payroll down to $49 million. If I need to make an addition during the season, I now have “payroll flexibility.”

(Hold for applause.)

I’m even talking like Mark Shapiro now. All I care about are years of control and cost certainty. 

The season begins: Maybe this can work

Opening day has arrived. Here’s how the low-budget Yankees are looking 31 trades later:


SS Tyler Wade
CF Jasson Dominguez
2B Gleyber Torres
RF Aaron Judge
3B Miguel Andújar
1B Luke Voit
C Gary Sánchez
DH Nick Williams
LF Mike Tauchman

Starting rotation:

Luis Severino (who is not injured in “The Show”)
Freddy Peralta
Jordan Montgomery
John Means
Félix Hernández


Dane Dunning
Brooks Kriske
Michael Rucker
Ben Heller
Jonathan Holder
Adam Cimber
Emilio Pagán

I’ve seen worse teams and “The Show” agrees. This Yankees club ranks 21st by talent, according to the game. It ranks ninth in power, fourth in speed and is bad everywhere else. Still, there are some strong players here. The middle of the lineup actually looks legitimate, and at least the top three in the rotation has promise. Trading for Félix Hernández brought me actual joy, which tells you how fried my brain was around trade 26. You’ll also note that Jasson Dominguez — a 17-year-old prospect — made it all the way to the majors. This is what happens when you trade away almost everyone making $1 million or more.

After a 3-2 start in March, the team drops to a 14-18 record by the end of April. There’s hope things can get better, though. Torres is batting just .209, Dominguez is at .183 and Sanchez has a .161 average. If Sanchez and Torres can turn things around, this team can get to .500.

By May, I start to see some cracks in the foundation. Voit — one of the team’s best hitters — loses two weeks to a hamstring injury. Torres doesn’t bounce back, and is hitting .201 now. Both Dominguez and Tauchman are under the Mendoza Line. The pitching has actually been OK. The low-budget Yankees are about league-average in preventing runs, and sit at 26-33 at the end of the month.

The team desperately needs offense, so I trade for Delino DeShields Jr. He’s a massive upgrade over Dominguez — who, not surprisingly, isn’t ready for the majors at 17. We also acquire Joey Wendle to get Tyler Wade out of the regular lineup. Yastrzemski is brought in to take Nick Williams’ spot at DH. Those trades bring the low-budget Yanks to a $50 million payroll. The team now ranks 20th in talent.

Disaster strikes in June. Voit comes back and promptly re-injures himself. He’ll miss 1-2 months with a shin injury. Days later, Aaron Judge fractures his wrist and will also miss 2 months. Despite this, the team somehow remains only four games below .500. The Yankees also now rank 17th in team talent. I have no idea how.

With things looking grim, other teams start circling the Yankees like vultures. A number of teams attempt to acquire Luis Severino for young talent. I decline all of them. The Yankees don’t make white-flag trades, dammit.

Midseason: One last chance to make this work

In a last-ditch effort to salvage the season, I make two moves around the trade deadline. I want to deal for Chicago Cubs third baseman David Bote, but he makes $3 million. That’s too rich for the low-budget Yankees, so I have to turn my attention to Boston Red Sox second baseman Michael Chavis. He’s the lesser player, according to “The Show,” but he’s cheaper. I’m starting to understand what the real-life Pirates saw in Colin Moran. I also trade for lefty Sean Newcomb to help the rotation. At the end of July, the Yankees are 52-57. If Judge and Voit can get back soon, .500 — which has become the new goal — is still within reach.

But that hope ends quickly. The Yankees go 10-16 in August. Dejected, I simulate through the rest of the season. The bargain basement Yankees finish 76-86, scoring 663 runs and allowing 731. Those figures rank 22nd and 19th in the majors, respectively. 

Curiously, “The Show” believes the Yankees have the 15th-best talent level in baseball. After all those trades that severely cut the team’s budget, I made the Yankees the most average team in baseball. This is the biggest win I’m going to get, so I’ll take it.

The low-budget Yankees' rotation at season's end. (Image via Yahoo Sports)

The season ends: What did we learn?

With the season over, I have time to reflect on this experiment. Did I have fun? No. Was it worth my time? Almost certainly not. Did I learn something? Actually, I kinda did. 

Sports games have become frighteningly accurate. This was just a silly virtual experiment, but I understood some of the inherent issues in trying to run a team on a shoestring budget. Despite my early optimism, the low-budget Yankees had no shot. It’s not just that I couldn’t afford Gerrit Cole, it’s that I traded him away not caring what came back. As long as the players I received were cheap, I was happy. Even at the trade deadline, I couldn’t afford to trade for David Bote because his $3 million salary was too much. I had to settle for a lesser option and hope for the best. 

The margin for error the real-life Pirates face — if ownership holds them to that budget — is razor-thin. One or two injuries to key players quickly become insurmountable. Basically everything needs to go right to even break .500. I can’t even fathom what would have to go right for the team to actually contend for the postseason. The Pirates are the extreme example, but any small-market team that adheres to a strict budget can’t hold winning as its primary objective. Once you’re forced to consider a player’s cost as much as his on-field talent, you’ve already lost. Winning takes a back seat to dollar signs. It’s a frustrating reality for both fans and players.

To drive that final point home, nearly every player on the low-budget Yankees hates me. Nineteen players in the organization are unhappy. Eight players are outright angry. The losing has taken its toll on morale. The same can be said for players whose roles changed drastically as a result of my strict budget. On top of that, players want new contracts they’ll never receive. 

It’s no surprise all of my players want out. How can I expect them to be happy when winning games is no longer the priority?

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