Looking at an extension for David Robertson

Core Values: New York Yankees
Monday Night Open Thread
(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

When the arbitration dust settled late last week, the Yankees had reached agreements with all of their eligible players except for David Robertson. The two sides filed salary figures — Robertson filed for $3.55M while the team countered with $2.85M — before Friday’s deadline, and those numbers will be used during a potential hearing late next month. It’s important to point out that Robertson and the Yankees can agree to a new contract of any size between now and a hearing.

As we know, Hal Steinbrenner is not a fan of contract extensions. We also know the team is willing to bend the rules a bit to sign players long-term before they hit free agency. The Yankees did it with Robinson Cano prior to the 2008 season and they were willing to do it again with Russell Martin last winter. Robertson is not due to become a free agent until after the 2014 season, but he’s an exception candidate for the no-extensions rule given the impending departures of Mariano Rivera (retirement) and Joba Chamberlain (free agency) next winter.

Robertson, 27, has emerged as one of baseball’s most dominant relievers over the last two seasons. His 1.84 ERA and 2.15 FIP both rank sixth among all bullpeners since the start of 2011 (min. 50 IP) while his strikeout rates (12.79 K/9 and 34.8 K%) both rank fifth. Robertson’s also thrown a ton of important innings these last two years, as his 1.57 gmLI (leverage index when entering the game) is the 27th highest overall and the third highest among non-closing relievers (arbitrarily defined as guys with fewer than ten saves). Sure, the walk rates are high (3.82 BB/9 and 10.4 BB%), but they aren’t astronomical. Robertson makes up for it by missing bats and getting grounders (45.6%).

Unsurprisingly, the number of non-closing relievers who have signed extensions two years before free agency is very small. That has much more to do with the teams wanting to limit risk than the players not being open to it, obviously. The only guy from that group who is remotely comparable to Robertson is Glen Perkins, who inked a three-year, $10.3M extension with the Twins during Spring Training last year. The left-hander had just one year as an elite reliever under his belt (2.48 ERA and 2.41 FIP) at the time of his extension and it wasn’t even as good as Robertson has been the last two years. We’re running very short on comparables here.

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

We know Robertson’s camp values his second year of arbitration-eligibility at $3.55M — a $1.95M raise from last season — thanks to their filing figure. MLBTR projected a $2.8M salary for next season, which is right in line with the team’s filing figure. Maybe that means the Yankees have a good chance to win a hearing, but I don’t think that’s a safe assumption. The club has been to just two arbitration hearings this century, beating both Rivera (2000) and Chien-Ming Wang (2008). That doesn’t mean much though, I’m sure they’re eager to work out an agreement with their setup man before having to step in front of a three-person panel next month. No one likes to go through a hearing, they tend to get ugly.

The Yankees would presumably look to sign Robertson for at least three years, which would buy out his final two seasons of arbitration-eligibility and one free agent year. Tacking on a club option or three at the end would be ideal for the team but not the player. I’m just going to spitball some numbers here: they could look at something like $3M in 2013 (a bit below the midpoint of the filing figures), $4.75M in 2014, and $6.5M in 2014 with a $250k signing bonus and a $500k buyout of a fourth year club option worth say … $9M. That’s a three-year, $15M guarantee that gives Robertson a $1.75M raise annually and the team a $5M luxury tax hit. He’d hit free agency at age-31 if the option was exercised.

Contract extensions are a two-way street since each side is giving something to get something else. The player trades maximum earning potential for financial security while the team trades the risk of performance decline for cost certainty. The unique twist here is Robertson’s role. If he were to assume the closer’s role at some point this year or next, his earning potential would skyrocket because saves pay. Given Rivera’s age and the likelihood of retirement after this coming season, you don’t have to try to real hard to envision a scenario in which Robertson becomes the closer within ten months or so. His agent is surely aware of that.

The other thing we have to remember is that Robertson is a reliever, and those guys have a tendency to fall apart without warning and for no apparent reason. Just using fWAR as a quick example, the three best relievers in baseball two seasons ago were Carlos Marmol, Brian Wilson, and Heath Bell. Four seasons ago Brian Fuentes, Kerry Wood, and Brad Lidge were in the top five. It’s a volatile position and no matter how much we like Robertson and believe he’ll be different than the rest, he’s just as risky as every other reliever, especially when you factor in his less than stellar command. Given the team’s newfound dedication to staying under the luxury tax threshold, having ~$5M in payroll tied up in a risky reliever might not be the wisest thing in the world, even if they envision him as Rivera’s heir.

I don’t expect the Yankees to explore a long-term agreement with Robertson even though the two sides were unable to find common ground prior to last week’s filing deadline. Brett Gardner and Boone Logan didn’t sign until after the filing deadline last year, and there were no extension talks there as far as we know. Getting cost certainty from a reliever — especially a non-closing reliever — isn’t a huge priority for any team, so working out a multi-year contract with Robertson probably isn’t worth the hassle even though the club is likely to lose both Rivera and Joba after the upcoming season.

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Core Values: New York Yankees
Monday Night Open Thread
  • CapitalT

    I would take a different philosophy on the bullpen. Go non-Rivera/closer cheap and years short. Follow Tampa’s ability to fill in the pen with serviceable arms with the exception of paying one/two guys to ensure some consistency. Keep drafting power arms and let them fill in until either them flame out or move on. I’d use the savings on starting pitchers. Leverage the innings

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I’ll settle for a happy medium between the two.

      A Mo-less world is not going to be a happy one.

      • Alkaline

        Mo-less world? Enough of your blasphemy!

    • Ted Nelson

      I think that’s exactly the idea here, with DRob being one of the exceptions to ensure some consistency.

    • Laz

      I don’t think it works as well as it used to. Prior Tampa was able to get a ton of draft picks with the high turnover. That was the most attractive part, and those draft picks could be turned into more relievers.

    • MannyGeee

      We spend a lot of time praising Tampa for drafting gods amongst men (forgetting, of course, that high draft position is like gold)… But the other side of the Devil Ray empire was the ability to go out there and stock pile scrap heap guys who wouldn’t normally start on a “top 1/2″ team with the hopes of sticking. Past their prime guys (*cough Raul Ibanez) have a way of catching fire every nice in a while, and as it is much less publicized than the Yankees they can just burn through them like cord wood until someone catches fire.

    • Adam T

      Agreed. I like Robertson, but one more year and done for him. Spin him off at the winter meetings next year. Cashman/Girardi can build a less-expensive bullpen and still be successful.

  • Havok9120

    It’d be quite nice if the team announced a 2 or perhaps 3 year deal with DRob before the Arb hearing. Much as I’ve learned to respect the Yank’s ability to pull decent-to-good relievers out of thin air, I’ve no desire to see them try to replace the entire bullpen in 2 seasons.

    • trr

      welcome to the New (Yankee) World

      • Havok9120

        Well, to be honest, the mass-replacement of the bullpen is probably one of the things that was going to happen regardless of the budget plans. Mo WAS going to retire, the young guys WERE going to get older (and still remain just as risky as all relievers are), and Soriano WAS either going to stink or opt-out. The turnover was always going to be fairly high in this 3 year stretch, and there really hasn’t been anyone worth extending/signing that could have helped that, save perhaps DRob.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Because signing those middle relievers to multi-year deals worked so well for them before…

  • Hoss

    Robertson is a great set-up guy, maybe the best in baseball. But I don’t think that he can assume a closer role, where he may have to pitch 3 days in a role or 4 out of 5 days at times, if he continues to throw as many pitches as he does.
    It may be better to groom a guy like Whitley or Montgomery if they’re ready to work with Mo this year. Not sure how likely that is.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      It’s possible Whitley or Montgomery could be the better way to go, but I think that’s far riskier than signing Robertson to an extension at this point, as neither of those 2 has even thrown a pitch at the MLB level. Go with the known commodity until he proves you wrong. I understand the risk in a 3 year deal for him, but right now, he looks like he’s worth taking a chance on.

      • Ted Nelson

        Yes, I agree. Whitley seems like a pretty big long-shot to be a strong MLB closer in 2014, IMO. Montgomery is probably a long-shot statistically, as well, but at least has a shot.

        I love how Hoss has decided the Yankees are doomed, but also believes that all their decent RP prospects are better closer candidates than DRob. Whitley is a closer in one year’s time, but no contribution from any non-RP prospect is forthcoming to save them from their damnation… Not sure how that works.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I’m not a fan of high-walk closers, but there’s a whole lot of them, and there’s a whole lot of them that will make you have your heart in your throat much more than Robertson will. Hell, Mo’s predecessor did just that.

  • Eddard: Back and better than never

    Hal isn’t a fan of contract extensions when the extension is for a big contract player. An exception will be made for Robertson because he’s good and relatively cheap. They could lock him up and have a more cost controlled closer. No non-Mariano reliever should be getting $15 million/season from the Yankees.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    The big con to me with Robertson would be just basic reliever erracticness/erractivity/erractamundoness.

    The big plus would be the possibility that he may cost a lot less now than he will if he has another strong season AND Mo retires.

    I’d be fine with a three-year deal right now.

    • Blake

      Depends on the AAV of the deal though……Id maybe do like 3/15 or something now for him….anything beyond that I think Id just wait. Love DRob but a lot can happen with non-Mo relievers in 2 seasons

      • Joey from Jersey

        Agreed. See Chamberlein, Joba.

  • RetroRob

    If D-Rob is allowed to become a free agent, he is probably going to cost substantially more than the Yankees will be willing to pay since some team will give him a shot as a closer. Looking at the loss of Mo and Joba, and the unknown of Montgomery, locking up D-Rob at a below-market rate is a good idea. Risk, yes, but the Yankees pending 189 world requires they take some more risks by placing bets on some players.

    • jjyank

      I agree. Also, I’m assuming that Joba will leave as a free agent after the season (not that I want him to, but I would imagine some team will offer SP money). And who knows what Aardsma will be doing in 2014. So yeah, after Mo retires and Joba leaves, Robertson is our best reliever. I’d be nice to have him locked up for awhile.

      That said, the Yankees have put together pretty great bullpens the last several years, and aside from Mo and Soriano, none of them were high priced free agents. So I have a lot of faith in the organization in that realm.

      • RetroRob

        You’re right. A core strength under Cashman/Girardi has been building bullpens, so I have more confidence in that area. Yet arms like Joba and Robertson are not average fillers like Logan or Eppley. D-Rob was signed to be a potential impact bullpen arm. (Same as Montgomery), so they do need to assess what value they think he can deliver over the next few years compared to what will be available. It took Robertson a couple years to really hit his stride. It could take Montgomery the same time, or he may never hit it big.

        I’m not saying they have to sign Robertson, but they should be kicking the tires to get a feel for what Robertson will want. Robertson and his agent may believe they’ll get more on the open market, but they also know how up-and-down relievers can be, and how injury prone they can be. They may take less now to get one pay day, and then look at going into free agency a few years delayed. That’s the bargain, but it’s one the Yankees have not been willing to play. They need to change that thinking if they intend to stick with their $189M plan.

    • Blake

      Yea but it also means they can’t afford sunk costs or over pays either…..to sign DRob 2 years early I think you’d need a pretty big discount off what he’d figure to get on the open market should he actually become the closer in 2014…..to offset the risk of signing him early.

      Have to consider also that Robertson and his agent might choose to wait…..if he is the Yanks closer in 2014 and he does well in the role he sets himself up for a big pay day….

      • jjyank

        You’re right as well. I think it would behoove the Yankees to explore an extension before he gets a real stab at those save opportunities, but of course it takes two to tango. He and/or his agent may prefer to wait until he gets those opportunities.

    • YankeesJunkie

      If the Yankees are planning to get below 189 million dollars they are going to have be willing to sign extensions with players two to three years after arbitration. Robertson is a prime example of a player who can perform at a high level who is still young and in his prime. A three or four year deal at 5-6.5 million dollars could add stability to the pen especially when you think that most of the pen spots can be filled by the minors and veteran on the cheap. Gardner would be another player that I would love be signed to an extension just because he can be gotten on the cheap and is an undervalued asset.

      • Blake

        How much longer will Gardner be an undervalued asset though…..his game is heavily reliant on his legs and he’s nearly 30 now. Depends on the amount and length you’re talking about to extend him and whether he can show he can stay healthy and get on base consistently in 2013 as well.

        I agree about doing extensions when appropriate under the new CBA….but they have to be careful and make sure they are actually getting discounts on value too…..

        • Andy Pettitte’s Fibula

          Good point on Gardner. Probably not smart to sign him past age 32-33 since his game is all speed. Let someone else pay him for his declining years. Look at how weak the market has been for a similar player, Michael Bourn at age 30.

          • MannyGeee

            Yeah, but Bourne has the Scarlet B on his side, plus is compensation eligible. Boras price plus a draft pick is hurting his value more than the kind of player he is.

            BJ Upton is the control in my hypothesis. Older, more expensive “similar”player but with more power, and didn’t have nearly as good a contract year (not numbers wise per se, but more from a expectation perspective)… And he’s got a gig already.

            • Blake

              Point was that Gardner is in fact undervalued perhaps when he can run very fast and doesn’t make much money…..if he loses a step in his 30s while making real money then he will no longer be undervalued and could be overvalued on the wrong contract

              • RetroRob

                Agreed, but here’s the obvious challenge. I hear words from a segment of Yankee fans right now who don’t want to sign free agents to longterm contracts, or commit to players much beyond 30. Nice words. Reality says there needs to be a blend.

                Words like not “paying for past performance” or a player’s decline years make sense, but they don’t fit into the economic structure of MLB. Young players, who generally are the most productive, are very cheap, well below market rate. Veteran players are quite expensive. It really doesn’t matter if Mark Teixeira is no longer a 135-140 OPS+ player. It would great if he was, but the Yankees knew he would decline to a 125 OPS+ player (or whatever metric they want to use), and then eventually a 115 OPS+ player (probably where he is now), and then a 110 OPS+ player, and then a 100 OPS+ over the course of the contract. They’re fine with that. They understand that. Many fans don’t.

                The trick is the balance, and here’s where the Yankees have a developing problem. As a player starts to decline, the Yankees have always been willing to sign for an in-prime player or two to pick up as the other player(s) decline. Mix in a very low-cost rookie like a Gardner and a Hughes, and it all works, even if the dollar/value equation is not evenly distributed by position. Some players are way expensive, some cheap, but as long as they remain productive as a unit, it’s all good.

                For the first time, the Yankees have not been willing to go out to the free-agent market to pick up the in prime players to start off setting players in decline. Now this wasn’t the greatest free-agent market, but we’ve seen enough over the past two years to know that even if there were better free agents out there, the Yankees would not have jumped in. They even let a productive RFer and catcher leave, overall weakening the team. This is new ground here. They don’t want to pay for the new toy to offset the declining players, and their younger players are a few years off.

                So while I remain positive about the Yankees longterm, I am concerned about them in the near term.

        • Herby

          As well as having problems making it through full seasons..he’s been dinged up more than just last year, and he never has really lit the world on fire. He’s an average player with above average speed.

          • YankeesJunkie

            Average hitter, sure, but he is an elite defensive outfielder, and an elite baserunner in terms of taking the extra base whether first to third or second to home. That all together has when healthy makes him a solid 4 WAR player and a deal with an AAV of 5-8 million that takes him a couple years past arbitration is very good deal considering that Swisher got nearly twice that in free agency over the same time span.

          • RetroRob

            He played in 150 or more games the two prior seasons. He’s a speedster. They all get dinged up. He’s been durable up until the elbow issue last year.

            YankeesJunkie addressed the other statement. He’s been better than an average player, generating 4-5 WAR seasons.

            That all said, he’s not a free agent for another couple years. Like Robertson, if they can buy out even one of his free agent years and do it at below-market rates, then they should look at it. Like you, I’d be concerned about how he’ll perform age 32 forward when so much of his value relates to speed. Not too concerned about it three next three to four years.

      • Andy Pettitte’s Fibula

        If the Yankees can sign Robertson for 3-4 years at $5.5-6 million AAV, I thnk they should be all over it. It’s a lot to expect them to be able to replicate what the Rays have done picking guys off the scrap heap year after year while getting excellent results and with the Yankees resources, they shouldn’t have to take that approach. Sign a few of their best bullpen arms on 2-3 year deals and fill in the gaps with power arms from the farm and undervalued vets like Aardsma and Wade, riding them while they’re hot.

        • Herby

          I’d certainly go 3 with an option at that. I think Robertson has the ability to be a good closer. I think he’s better suited for it than Joba. Even though I really don’t feel Joba is going to be going anywhere. Yankee fans value him more than he really is around the league.

  • And

    I always remember this comment when discussing Robertsons future

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs.....nt-2272295

    Didn’t he shelve his curve for a while last season?

  • thomas

    Aardsma may surprise! He has closed before.

    • Herby

      Coming off a injury. Hopefully he can provide some quality innings out of the bullpen, but I don’t think anyone really wants to rely on him as being the Yankee closer of the future.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        If he comes back incredibly strong, why would you not welcome that? He’s not an old man.

  • ClusterDuck

    Not sure that it’s “likely” that the Yanks will lose Joba after this year.

  • RetroRob

    Yes, Tatum, I did have a crush on you when I was eleven since I’m from that generation. She seems a little depressed now as an adult. Then again, she comes from a totally crazy family/upbringing.

    • RetroRob

      Wrong thread. Thought I was in the open thread! Watching Costas interview Tatum O’Neal.