If the Yankees didn’t offer arbitration to any of their free agents, what does that mean for the players still under team control? Will the Yankees continue to play cautiously and avoid offering a contract to, say, Chad Gaudin, who could make $3 million or more in 2010? Or will they treat this like they would in every other year, offering contracts to most of their arbitration-eligible players?
The deadline to tender contracts is December 12, giving the Yanks about a week and a half to make their decisions. They have five arbitration-eligible players: Gaudin, Chien-Ming Wang, Melky Cabrera, Brian Bruney, and Sergio Mitre. To be clear, the Yankees are not offering arbitration to these players; an offer would imply that the player has a say in the matter. Rather, the Yankees will decide whether to tender them contracts. If they do, they have a few months to work out a deal, or else face an arbitration hearing.
After season-ending injuries in two straight years, Chien-Ming Wang remains a question mark. He’s been cleared to throw off flat ground, the first and very important step in rehabilitation. Still, he is far from a return, and although his time table looks optimistic it’s a near certainty that he won’t be ready for Opening Day. This would be a tough gamble for any team, but hey, these are the Yankees, right? When has a few million gotten in the way of a high upside project?
In years past, perhaps the Yankees would have tendered Wang a contract. Given their recent decision to not offer arbitration to any of their free agents, however, it’s clear that the Yankees aren’t operating as they have in the past. At this point I don’t think there’s any way the Yankees tender Wang a contract, meaning he will be a free agent come December 12. That could mean his departure from New York.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Given the arbitration decisions of last night — of the 74 players with either Type A or Type B status, only 24 were offered arbitration — it appears teams are preparing for a depressed market. This might mean that a team once willing to take a gamble on Wang (of which the Yankees would normally be one) might not. He’ll get a number of minor league offers, for sure, but in that case why would he leave the Yankees, the only team he’s known in his professional career?
The Yankees can make it an easy decision, too. They could work with Wang to create a split contract, one that would start as a minor league deal, but after certain milestones would become either a major league deal at a prorated amount, or else an out clause with a buyout parting gift. That could be based on date — say, if he’s not on the 40-man roster by June 1 — or a minor league innings milestone — after he pitches X number of innings in the minors, the Yankees would have to call him up or cut him.
This is the type of deal that could work out for both parties. The Yakees get risk control, and Wang gets some sort of guarantee. If the Yankees decide to cut him loose once he reaches the date or milestone in his contract, he can sign on with another team. Otherwise he’d be on the Yankees 25-man roster. It’s a level of security for Wang and a hedge for the Yanks. True, another team could offer this, but I think that if the Yanks did that Wang would accept.
In just over a week we’ll probably find Wang on the non-tender list. We then probably won’t hear much about him for a while, as the Yankees tend to their other off-season concerns. I do hope that the Yankees find a way to bring him back, even if it means a split minors-majors deal. Even at 80 percent of his 2006-2007 capacity, he’s an asset in the rotation. The Yanks can use all the pitching depth they can get.