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Why Alex Rodriguez suspension might actually be good news for Red Sox

01.14.14 at 8:01 am ET
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Surprise, surprise.

The prevailing thought throughout baseball circles upon hearing about Alex Rodriguez‘s 162-game suspension was that the Yankees‘ newfound budgetary relief would be an American League game-changer. And it very well might be. Just not in the way many originally thought.

Yes, the Yankees will be getting about $24.5 million in wiggle room for the 2014 season thanks to the Rodriguez decision. But, depending on how Hank and Hal Steinbrenner view their business model, that actually may have made things more complicated for the New Yorkers while offering renewed hope for their AL East rivals.

Here’s what you should know:

– Even with the newfound financial flexibility, the Yankees are right up against the $189 million luxury tax threshold. If Rodriguez’s suspension was knocked down to the point where he would be playing a good chunk of the season, they most likely would have been over.

– The Yankees have consistently gone on over the threshold, meaning if they were to do so for ’14 the bill could be around $100 million for the next seasons (with each dollar spent over the limit being taxed in excess of 40 percent). The Yanks have long suggested this was the year they didn’t want to go over the $189 million, a goal that was fading away after the free agent contracts already given out to Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran.

– With the Yankees now on the south side of the threshold because of the Rodriguez decision, they now have an interesting choice to make: Either they could aspire to stay under $189 million (which would mean no more major signings), or Brian Cashman‘s club could blow through the threshold and join the Dodgers in becoming baseball’s most liberal spending organization in the history of the game.

That leads us to Masahiro Tanaka.

The 25-year-old free agent pitcher’s importance in the balance of power in the American League was thought to be all about ability. And that is partially true. Tanaka is perceived as a potential top-of-the-rotation pitcher, the likes of which New York would seem to desperately need.

But it’s more than that.

Tanaka is the one player the Yankees would seemingly throw Benjamins to the wind for, leaving the luxury tax in the rearview mirror. He is valued that much. And while New York desperately needs bullpen help, it’s doubtful that it would incur such serious financial penalties in order to sign the likes of Grant Balfour. Even free agent starters Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and Matt Garza might not be viewed worth storming past $189 million.

But if the Yanks do sign Tanaka, then that could open the door to New York exploring bringing in the likes of Balfour and the rest, filling what are currently a few glaring holds on its roster. The threshold will have already been crossed and belt-tightening won’t be the priority. Simply put, once past the $189 million, the dollar diet will probably be done and the free agent buffet will be open once again.

If there is no Tanaka signing, and the Yankees see staying under $189 million as a possibility and priority, they will be left with an extremely thin bullpen and starting rotation that wouldn’t seem to match up with the likes of the Red Sox and Rays.

So, other than the chaos that would follow Rodriguez throughout the ’14 season, the absence of the player isn’t any sort of game-changer for the Yankees. You could even make a case that it makes life more difficult for the Yankees, who not only have the luxury tax decision but are very likely going to have to live through a downgrade at third base. (A-Rod isn’t the player he used to be, but he would offer more production than Kelly Johnson.)

This is hardly a get-out-of-jail-free card for the Yankees, the likes of which the Red Sox received via the Dodgers trade in ’12. After making the deal with Los Angeles, the Sox freed up $54 million for ’13, and another $53 million in ’14 without having to worry about anything but how to spend it.

The same can’t be said for the Yankees after Rodriguez’s suspension.

Read More: Alex Rodrioguez, Masahiro Tanaka,
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