When Andy Pettitte left New York after 2003, two schools of though prevailed. The first was that the Yankees didn’t make much of an effort to sign him to a contract extension during 2003 because they assumed he would never leave New York. The second was that Pettitte’s elbow, long a cause for concern, had pushed the Yankees beyond the point where they would consider signing Pettitte, but the team didn’t want to insult him by saying so.
Now, four years later, a similar negotiation – or lack thereof – is under way in the Bronx between the Yankees, but the stakes are bigger. The contract in question does not belong to Andy Pettitte but rather to Mariano Rivera, the Yankees’ stalwart closer and future Hall of Famer.
Based on a few reports – such as this one from Bryan Hoch at MLB.com – Mariano Rivera claims that he will test free agency. But more damning is his indictment of the Yankees. Hoch writes:
Rivera said he was not sure if the Yankees were his first choice. He seemed stung by the fact that he and his agent, Fernando Cuza, campaigned the Yankees for a contract extension in Spring Training but were rebuffed. Now, Rivera said, the Yankees are just one of 30 teams who have a fair shot at his services for 2008 and probably 2009.
“I’m going to be open to hear all offers,” Rivera said. “The Yankees had their opportunity and didn’t do nothing with it. I’m going to wait.”
Now, while this may just be a negotiating tactic Rivera and Cuza are using to leverage the Yankees, it is more than a little disconcerting to hear Rivera issue such a statement. Again, the Yankees have backed themselves into a situation where they think they can easily re-sign Rivera and may end up losing out. A lot of competitive teams – the Phillies and Cubs come to mind – could use a reliever of Rivera’s caliber and could afford him too.
Furthremore, the Joe Torre job watch comes into play here too. According to reports from the clubhouse, Rivera said today that Joe’s return could affect where he ends up. In other words, if Torre comes back, Rivera may stay. If Torre goes, Rivera may at least test the free agency waters and give the Yankees and their fans a little scare.
We could debate for hours whether or not players should start dictating management and personnel issues to the media. But Joe Torre is a factor with Rivera, and his return is probably a factor in the Jorge Posada negotiations as well. Managerial loyalty is just life in baseball, and Rivera, who was entrusted by Joe to pitch high-leverage innings in 1996 after a disappointing 1995 rookie season, owes a lot to Torre.
I don’t know why the Yankees aren’t being more aggressive with Rivera. Despite his stellar numbers this year – 74 K and 12 BB in 71.1 IP – he wasn’t as dominant as he had been in the past. His location and velocity were off at numerous times during the season, and he didn’t seem to have it as often as he has in the past.
Maybe the Yankees are worried about the elbow that pushed Rivera out of service at the end of 2006. Maybe they see a reliever quietly losing his effectiveness. But no matter what, I think the Yankees need to re-sign Rivera. Unless they’re willing to move Joba into the closer role, Rivera should come back to the Yankees.
Their corps of potential closers – and there are a lot of them – are still a year or two away from the Bronx. By the time Rivera’s ready to retire, they should have an internal replacement or two waiting in the wings. But for now, the Yankees need the Sandman, and I would hate to see them blow these negotiations.