Free agency officially started last Friday, but unlike last winter, the Yanks are approaching this offseason at a snail’s pace. “I’ll talk to our guys first,” said GM Brian Cashman. “And after I have my conversation with our guys, I’ll be full blown into the marketplace.” He said that today at the World Series DVD premier, which means he still hasn’t talked business with any of the team’s free agents, most notably Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Andy Pettitte.
However, before the team can even begin to have serious discussions with those guys, Cashman will need to sit down with ownership to hammer out the budget. Or at least I assume that needs to happen first. It would make sense if it did. Anyway, that meeting with the Steinbrenners apparently won’t happen until next week, which is after the December 1st deadline to offer free agents arbitration.
Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but that indicates to me that the team isn’t planning on offering any of their free agents arbitration. After all, if you’re going to offer a player arbitration – especially well-compensated players like Damon, Pettitte, and Xavier Nady – you have to be prepared for the guy to accept. How can you risk offering these players arbitration before you know what the exact 2010 budget will be?
Given his unspoken stance of “Yankees or retirement,” there doesn’t seem to be much of a point in offering Pettitte arbitration. He’s only a Type-B, and if he accepts, he’s looking at a $12-14M guaranteed deal. Declining to offer him arbitration affords the team some flexibility to negotiate a lower base salary. Xavier Nady is a no-brainer offer on the other hand, because he’d earn just $7-8M should he accept, and there are worse things in the world than Nady on a one year deal. That assumes his elbow is sound, of course.
The most interesting case is Damon, the team’s only Type-A free agent. After pulling down $13M next year, he’d likely earn $14-15M in 2010 should he accept arbitration. We found out yesterday that Scott Boras is going to use Bobby Abreu’s two year, $19M contract as a blueprint for Damon’s next deal, so he’s already made it known that he’s willing to take less money. The two draft picks would be nice (assuming another team would actually give up a draft pick for Damon), but maintaining roster flexibility and sticking to an offseason plan would be even nicer. Of course, offering Damon arbitration could very well be part of that plan.
Like I said, I might be reading a little too far into this, but I don’t think my logic is insane. If you offer all three guys arbitration before knowing your budget (or before ownership is on board with your offseason strategy, for that matter), and they accept, suddenly the Yanks could find themselves in quite the predicament. The Yanks surprised everyone by not offering any of their free agents arbitration last year, but I wouldn’t be shocked at all if they did the same this year.