By Sweeny Murti
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Last week the Yankees brought back Joe Girardi and likely very soon will bring back his coaching staff and keep intact the group that garnered so much praise around baseball for keeping New York afloat during their injury-challenged 2013 season.
Now, as fictional President Jed Bartlet was fond of saying, “What’s next?”
What’s next happens to be a long list of players that become free agents, officially five days after the World Series ends. There’s nothing but speculation until then, so let’s take a look, starting with the most obvious one:
Robinson Cano: There is no question the Yankees need his bat. One Yankees player, late in the season, estimated this team would have won about 70-75 games this year if it wasn’t for Cano holding down the middle of the lineup every day while everyone else was injured.
And yes, he plays every day. Cano has played at least 159 games every year since 2007. He has hit at least 40 doubles and 25 home runs every year since 2009. While it’s true he is guilty of jogging out ground balls instead of hustling them out, one Yankee player told me he’ll take Cano’s numbers over a lesser player who happens to get thrown out by a lesser margin on a play that is an out 95 percent of the time anyway. No, it’s not ideal — but those numbers are hard to replace.
We have seen by recent reports how far apart the sides are at the onset, but this negotiation is still in its infancy. The Yankees never really believed they were going to keep him from the open market, so this is all about negotiating now. And I still believe both sides will figure out a way to keep Cano in pinstripes. The terms? Well it won’t be 10 years and $300 million. But it will be for a lot of money, and it will be designed to keep Cano in a Yankee uniform into his late 30s.
Derek Jeter: The Captain has a player option for next year that would pay him $9.5 million. It’s an $8 million base plus a $1.5 million bonus for 2012’s Silver Slugger award (he just missed another $2 million bonus for a top 6 finish in AL MVP voting; he finished 7th). The injuries that caused him to miss almost the whole 2013 season add some interesting possibilities.
If Jeter had played a full season at a somewhat reasonable Jeter-like level, then he could very easily have declined his option and asked to negotiate a new multi-year deal closer to his $17 million average of the last three years. If he had a declining year, he could have picked up his option for the lower rate, but still put the Yankees in a position to dedicate a key position to a player who might decline further. The multiple injuries having taken away any real ability to measure his productivity over a full season, it would seem that we are heading toward Jeter picking up his option for $9.5 million. And the Yankees are banking on the fact that the ankle and assorted leg injuries will not be the same factor next year, allowing Jeter to return to a more normal level of production.
Another possibility that might benefit the Yankees is having Jeter decline the option. They could then, theoretically, pay a $3 million buyout and give him a new one-year contract. How does that help? The player option is treated as guaranteed money under the CBA rules and folded into the three previous years, so his $9.5 salary would still be treated like an AAV (Average Annual Value) of around $14-15 million. The Yankees could save a little money with a new contract that guarantees him the same money or more—so let’s say one-year, $7 million, plus the buyout pays him more money and saves the Yankees a little bit of coin as they try to get under the $189 luxury tax threshold.
Curtis Granderson: Granderson’s season was cut short by injuries and by not putting up another 30-40 HR season, he probably lost a few dollars. But there will still be a market for Granderson, who hit only seven home runs in 61 games back and posted a .407 slugging percentage, his lowest since 2006.
The Yankees will make Granderson a qualifying offer and would be perfectly happy taking him back on a one-year, $14-plus million deal, but it seems unlikely they will offer him a multi-year pact. I do wonder if another team would be willing to give up a coveted draft pick in order to sign Granderson to a multi-year deal, but two major league executives told me the same thing recently — there is such a need for offense in today’s game that a draft pick won’t hold teams from going after a guy with legit home run power. And teams with protected first round draft picks — like the White Sox or Mariners — are likely to pursue him.
Phil Hughes: With just an average season (record somewhere around .500, ERA a little over 4.20, let’s say), Hughes could be cashing in somewhere between the Edwin Jackson (four years, $52 million) and Anibal Sanchez (five years, $80 million) deals signed a year ago. A package in the $50-60 million range would not be unusual for a 27-year-old starting pitcher without a major arm surgery on his medical chart. The free-fall Hughes suffered in the second half cost him a good bit of money. One executive I spoke to a few weeks ago wondered if Hughes could even get a Jeremy Guthrie deal (three years, $25 million) off this season.
Hughes actually hurt the Yankees both on and off the field this year. On the field is obvious. Off the field, the Yankees will no longer be able to get a compensation pick for losing Hughes via free agency because they can no longer risk making him the qualifying offer (one year, around $14 million) that it would take to get the pick. Can’t risk it because he might say yes! And if his market would be depressed because of performance, then his market might shrivel up if a draft pick were attached.
Regardless, I think the Yankees have seen the last of Hughes. I am among a legion of many who believe he will sign with a West Coast team to be closer to his California home and pitch to a good deal of success in a bigger ballpark.
Joba Chamberlain: It seems pretty safe to say the Yankees are letting Chamberlain walk. Joe Girardi stopped bringing him into close games long ago this season. There are definitely teams out there who think that with a fastball that still hits mid-to-upper 90s he can pitch in the back of their bullpen. It just won’t be the Yankees.
Hiroki Kuroda: His finish to the season threw a wrench into this, but it seemed a given the Yankees would want Kuroda back after the way he has pitched the last two years. I am going on the theory Kuroda will bounce back and is physically okay. If that’s the case, I believe the Yankees will try to re-sign Kuroda for next season.
There are some who believe Kuroda would be interested in playing for the Dodgers again, since his family still lives in LA. And of course the Dodgers have money to spend, so perhaps they could make a push for him. One thing the Yankees have in their favor is the qualifying offer.
Once the Yankees make Kuroda the qualifying offer (which they will, just as they did a year ago) it means the Dodgers, or any other team that signs Kuroda, would have to surrender a draft pick. Since Kuroda has made clear he is going one year at a time here, it would make sense that no team would give up a first rounder to sign a soon-to-be 39-year-old pitcher to a one-year deal. Much like last year, the Yankees can make the qualifying offer and then try to negotiate a slightly higher salary to seal the deal.
Of course there is a possibility that Kuroda decides it’s time to retire, at least from Major League Baseball in the U.S. There are some around the Yankees who believe he may choose retirement. Kuroda was said to have requested to keep his pinstriped jersey at the end of this season, perhaps as a going away souvenir.
Andy Pettitte: He’s retired. Yes, I know we’ve heard it before, but this time I really think he means it.
Mariano Rivera: Pray all you want. He’s staying retired too, and there isn’t anything you can do about it.
Kevin Youkilis: The Yankees are unlikely to take the same health risk with Youkilis that they did in 2013.
Travis Hafner: See Youkilis, Kevin.
Lyle Overbay: Could be a perfect backup option to Mark Teixeira, who the Yankees expect to have back from wrist surgery. But what if he’s not ready? Hard to think there is a better backup choice than Overbay, who could also be a good lefty pinch-hitter. Overbay nearly thought he was retired when he was released by the Red Sox in spring training, but that lasted only a couple hours because of the Yankees need to fill Teixeira’s spot. As the season came to a close, Overbay said he would have no problem returning as Teixeira’s backup if the Yankees were interested too.
Mark Reynolds: The Yankees got a few home runs out of him, but he wasn’t great defensively and his strikeouts …well, it’s just who he is. Reynolds might be a nice fit on the cheap, but could also try to parlay a 20-HR season into something more substantial than the Yankees are willing to give. The need will likely not become clear until a decision on A-Rod’s status for next year is made.
Brendan Ryan: He is the perfect defensive shortstop for this team and made a good impression in a short time in September. His lack of versatility keeps him from being a true utility man like Jayson Nix, but Ryan is a guy you would love to have if Jeter’s comeback is slowed in any way.
Boone Logan: A durable reliever for the last four years, the Yankees probably wouldn’t mind bringing Logan back if the price was right. After all, it couldn’t turn out any worse than Pedro Feliciano, right? A bone spur in his elbow should not be a long-term concern now that it’s been repaired. Logan will have a choice for the first time, and might take a good offer anywhere else to avoid the scrutiny in New York. He’s never seemed to enjoy the extra attention that comes with being a Yankee.
A pretty long laundry list to be sure. There will likely be no movement on any of these guys for several weeks. So sit back and try to enjoy leaves changing colors. Or, like me, binge on The West Wing on Netflix.
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