One issue that will influence all others this off season are the commitments the Yanks have heading into the 2010 season. So I wanted to take a minute to look at who’s coming off the books so we can factor that in going forward. The indispensable Cot’s Baseball Contracts has a spreadsheet detailing the payroll commitments of all 30 MLB teams. Here’s the link:
As you can see, the Yanks have approximately 40 mil coming off the books this off season. So lets go through each player whose contract is expiring and see who is likely to stay and who goes.
Jose Molina (2 mil)-As good as Molina has been for us defensively, it’s assumed by most Yankee observers that they’ll let him go this off season. Francisco Cervelli showed this year that he’s a fine defensive catcher, possibly even an upgrade over Jose defensively. Offensively, Frankie won’t have to do much with the bat to be an improvement. Even if Cervelli’s bat never develops, he should still be an adequate backup Catcher to hold the fort as Posada ages and until Montero/Romine arrives. Molina’s gone.
Xavier Nady (6.5 mil)-After having his 2nd Tommy John surgery on June 26th of last season, it’s an open question whether or not he’ll be ready to play on Opening Day of next year. Pitchers usually require at least one year before being able to come back. As a position player he might be able to come back a bit sooner, but that could still have him missing significant time early on. I think the Yanks will take the Wang approach with Nady. As I posted yesterday I think they’ll wait and see what Wang looks like when he’s healthy, and a similar tact would make sense for Nady as well. An incentive-laden deal signed around May of 2010 sounds about right to me. But if he insists on regular playing time to prove he’s healthy and earn his next contract (which is perfectly understandable) you let him walk. If I had to guess, I’d say he lands somewhere that offers him regular playing time.
Hideki Matsui (13 mil)-Coming off a World Series MVP and a terrific season, it would seem hard to let Godzilla walk. Not due to sentimentality, but because he’s still a very productive player. But Cashman doesn’t let the small sample size of the playoffs sway him into making deals and Girardi would like more roster flexibility and the DH spot open to rest his aging regulars and still keep their bats in the lineup. Not having an everyday DH means you could carry an extra arm in the bullpen or carry a 3rd catcher for the days you DH Posada, which will be often next year. The reality is that when you look at it in total, the contract Hideki signed in 2006 didn’t work out for the Yanks. They signed a player who had an iron-man streak going who spent most of 07 and 08 on the DL with knee injuries. 09 was great, but even then he couldn’t play the field at all, lest his knees blow up and you lose him for an extended period. Despite not playing the outfield for a single game this year, on Thursday Girardi said (on WFAN) that “They only had to drain Hideki’s knees 3 times this year” meaning that was a big improvement over last year. The contract is one they wouldn’t repeat in hindsight, Matsui’s gone.
Johnny Damon (13 mil)-Looking at the other free agent Left Field options, giving Johnny a 2 year 18 mil deal seems to make the most sense. Holliday and Bay will require expensive long term deals, and there are significant questions how they will play outside of their respective ballparks. I’m not that high on Carl Crawford, and its unlikely the Rays would trade the popular Crawford within the division, anyway. There aren’t any exciting Left Fielders available in next years free agent market either, unless you want to sign Werth to play RF and move Swisher over to LF. But if Johnny requires the 2nd year guaranteed, I give it to him. He’s our Left Fielder until A-Jax is ready to play CF and we can move Melky to LF, or possibly until Jeter moves off SS in a few years. I’ve always seen Jeter’s eventual landing spot as LF (possibly Montero as well) which is why I don’t think the Yanks will sign anyone to play there long term. Johnny’s back.
Chien Ming Wang (5 mil)-As I posted yesterday, I think the smart move is to do nothing until he gets back on a mound again. If another team was to swoop in and sign him before seeing him pitch again, especially after the season he had last year, then they’re batshit crazy. I have to assume other GMs will behave rationally. Like Nady, this one’s on hold and may come down to playing time.
Andy Pettitte (5.5 mil w/incentives)-Andy’s low base pay and incentive laden deal was based on the fact that he was hurt last year. Coming off a healthy 09 season, he should get what he earned for this year guaranteed for next season, which was around 10.5 mil. I know Andy always talks about retiring, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I think it’s just his half-hearted way of negotiating with the Yanks, since everyone knows he doesn’t really want to play anywhere else. 1 year 10.5 mil for Andy next year and he can keep adding to his post season records.
Chad Gaudin (2 mil)-Nice depth move that performed well for us down the stretch. You like the flexibility he gives you in being able to start or be your long man out of the bullpen. Having him around allows you to use Aceves more often as a multiple inning setup man, and Ace picked up 10 wins for us this year doing just that. I’d bring him back, as long as he’s willing to take the same dollar amount as last year. According to Joel Sherman of the NY Post, the Yanks are going to pick up Sergio Mitre’s 1.25 mil option and offer Gaudin a deal, who doesn’t become a free agent until 2011.
Eric Hinske (1.5 mil)-Nice depth player and bat off the bench who did little after hitting a bunch of HRs after he was traded. He seems to be a latter-day Luis Sojo, who was something of a World Series good luck charm. But the fact he wasn’t even put on the post season roster speaks volumes about what the Yanks think of him. Doubt he’ll be back next year.
Jerry Hairston (2 mil)-A steal at 2 mil, his defensive versatility and decent bat allows Girardi to mix and match late in games and always have an acceptable defensive replacement at virtually any position. More valuable on a good team than a bad one, I definitely bring him back.
All totaled, I think the Yanks have a relatively quiet off season where they bring back Damon and Andy and not do much else except fill up their bench. Opening Day payroll starts inching down further (as it did last year from 210 to 205) and likely settles in at 190-195 mil this year, or about 10-15 mil lower than last year. With a new Collective Bargaining Agreement to be negotiated with the Player’s Union coming up in 2011, I suspect the Yanks would like to take some of the steam away from their critics by lowering payroll over the next few years, lest they be hit by higher luxury tax rates and/or lower thresholds. With new MLBPA leadership and the country in a recession, it stands to reason the player’s association will be forced into some givebacks this go-around. If nothing else, inching down payroll now means you won’t be forced into doing anything drastic later. So fans most likely won’t be getting any big free agents under their holiday trees this year, they got #27 instead.
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