2014 Season Preview: Contract Years



Last year, the Yankees were faced with the impending free agency of Robinson Cano, the best second baseman in the game and a player who was always going to require a massive contract commitment. The Yankees don’t have a player of that caliber set to hit the open market after this season, but they do have a number of guys entering their walk years. Some, obviously, are more important than others.

David Robertson
After spending the last three years as one of the top two or three setup men in the game, the 28-year-old Robertson is about the begin the most important season of his career. He will be tasked with replacing Mariano Rivera at closer and he’s also pitching for a new contract, two things that are very much tied together. If he steps in and pitches well in the ninth inning, his next contract will be much larger than if he had remained a setup man. That’s the way the economics of the game work.

There is little reason to think Robertson won’t be able to close games out in 2014. He misses a ton of bats (10.45 K/9 and 29.4 K% in 2013) and gets a ton of ground balls (50.9%), plus he’s managed to cut his walk rate in half these last two years (2.62 BB/9 and 7.3 BB%). When Robertson stopped walking guys in the second half of 2012, it was easy to wonder if it was a half-season fluke given his track record. When he continued to not walk hitters last year, we knew it was legitimate improvement. Robertson does everything you could possibly want a prospective closer to do.

Brian Cashman recently confirmed the Yankees have not had extension talks with their new closer and it seems unlikely they will sign him long-term at any point during the season. Obviously the club would love to have Robertson back in the future, especially if he steps right in and replaces Rivera without a hiccup. Closers make good money though, and it could wind up costing the team upwards of $10-12M annually on a four-year term after the season. Maybe more, the market has been pretty unpredictable.

Aside from Rivera and the ownership mandated Rafael Soriano, the Yankees have not signed a reliever to a multi-year deal worth more than $4M annually since Kyle Farnsworth almost a decade ago. Will they buck that trend for Robertson next winter? I suspect they will. Another question is whether the team is willing to risk the qualifying offer so they recoup a draft pick if leaves. My guess right now is they would — Robertson is unlikely to top ~$15M annually but he would get more total money across multiple years.

Hiroki Kuroda
Man, how good have the Yankees had it with Kuroda these last few years? Not only has he been their best starter and one of the best in all of baseball (ninth by bWAR from 2012-13), but he’s also been willing to work on a series of one-year contracts. How great is that? The Yankees have had a very productive pitcher on a bunch of low risk, short-term deals. It’s awesome.



Kuroda, 39, is on yet another one-year contract, meaning in a few months we’ll do the “will he play or retire?” dance once again. He has been quick to make his decisions the last two winters — re-signed in late-November last offseason and early-December this past offseason — and that has made the whole process even better. If he had been dragging things out until after the holidays and into mid-to-late-January, it would be quite annoying. Thankfully that has not been the case.

As with Robertson, I’m sure the Yankees would love to have Kuroda back in 2015 if he has another strong, productive season in 2014. That strong season is not a guarantee given his age but the one-year deal means the team can simply walk away if he does hit that final wall. The Yankees spent a boatload of money on Masahiro Tanaka and they have some young arm knocking on the door, but there is no such thing as too much pitching. They can always make room for Kuroda on another one-year deal and they should if he continues pitching well.

Alfonso Soriano
Up until now, I hadn’t thought about the possibility of re-signing Soriano after the season all that much. That massive eight-year, $136M contract he signed with the Cubs way back when finally expires this year, though the Yankees are only paying him $5M in 2014. Soriano just turned 38 last month and he continues to hit dingers with very little signs of slowing down.

The Yankees have Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran locked up to big money deals for the foreseeable future, but Soriano is someone who would have a role on almost any team if he is willing to sign a one-year deal after the season. The Bombers could use him basically like they will this year, as a regular who splits time between the outfield and DH. If his game starts to slip and he becomes a platoon guy, that’s still a useful player.

The question with Soriano will be his willingness to sign a one-year contract. He could push for a two-year deal with another strong, typical Soriano season in 2014, at which point it makes sense to walk away. A one-year deal is much a different story. The Yankees could retain him as a power bat and if some prospect comes up from the minors and forces his way into the lineup, the team will have the flexibility to make it work.



Ichiro Suzuki
It is very hard to envision a scenario in which the Yankees re-sign Ichiro following the season. They tried to trade him over the winter and he’s already been pushed into a fifth outfielder’s role by the team’s free agent signings, so bringing him back for another year seems very unlikely. Younger guys like Zoilo Almonte and maybe even Slade Heathcott don’t have the same name value but they could do the same job next year and maybe even do it better considering how much Suzuki’s game has slipped in recent years. If they don’t trade him at some point this year, the smart money is on the Yankees parting ways with Ichiro when his contract expires after the season.

Kelly Johnson & Brian Roberts
Simply put, Johnson and Roberts are hired guns. They were signed to low cost one-year deals to plug short-term holes and if they play well this year, the team could re-sign them for 2015. It should go without saying that Johnson is more likely to be brought back after the season than Roberts, just given their age and recent history. Because of his versatility and left-handed bat, Johnson is someone the team would have little trouble squeezing onto the roster even if they make some big moves for infield help next winter.

* * *

Technically, there is one other player due to become a free agent next winter, but Derek Jeter‘s final season and impending retirement is another post for another time. He’s not in a contract year in the traditional sense. Someone like Frankie Cervelli, Eduardo Nunez, or Shawn Kelley could play themselves into a non-tender candidate and thus free agency, but the Yankees control them as arbitration-eligible players beyond 2014.

The six guys above are the team’s only notable free agents to be, with Robertson and Kuroda standing out as the most serious cases. Soriano and Johnson are a little further down the priority list. Keep in mind that so few impending free agents means there isn’t much money coming off the books, which could affect how the team approaches trades and free agency in another few months.

Categories : Hot Stove League


  1. Eddardo Nuney says:

    They are smart to wait on Dave Robertson. If he shows he can be a dominant closer then he deserves closer money and should be signed for multiple years. If he falters then they won’t be stuck with another albatross contract.

    This is Hiroki’s last year and Soriano’s last year so they won’t be extended. Ichiro’s last year should have been 2012.

    Johnson and Roberts won’t be back unless they are bench players. They are only fill ins until upgrades can be obtained at the traded deadline.

    • TWTR says:

      Given the variability of performance of most relievers, it’s not like one good season as a closer ensures that he can handle the role long-term. They already know he’s a good reliever though, so from at some point during last season on, any willingness on his part to accept a reasonable contract should be reason enough to seek to close a deal.

  2. LK says:

    So, between Jeter (12), Robertson (5.2), Kuroda (16), Soriano (5), Ichiro (6.5), Johnson (3), Roberts (2), and Vernon Wells (2.4), that’s ~52M to play with. A-Rod coming back on the books will reduce it to closer to 34M, then Gardner gets a substantial raise, so probably about 27M in room, give or take, before taking into account any Arb raises.

    Given what premium FAs cost, that means the Yanks can only sign one big name, or they have to increase payroll. Man, rebuilding this IF looks like it might be even more challenging than I was thinking.

    • Dalek Jeter says:

      I don’t think there is a way to even fill the roster without increasing payroll in 2015, unless they’re willing to go internal on a closer, a SS, and a 2nd Baseman…which…would probably be a bad idea.

      • LK says:

        Although, according to Cot’s the payroll for this year is only $198M. They’ve been higher than that for 6 straight years, including about ~$30M over that last year. So there actually should be room for next year (and should also be plenty of room right now, the team’s statements that they’re done spending notwithstanding).

        • Dalek Jeter says:

          I think a lot of the “we’re done spending” has less to do with a payroll limit (though it could very well have everything to do with a mandate to stay below $200 for whatever reason) and more to do with the only FA left when they said that who was worth even looking at was Drew.

          • Need Pitching & Hitting says:

            I don’t get that impression.
            They were interested in and had an offer out for Drew earlier in the off-season and now they don’t.
            The only thing that seems to have changed between now and then is that they spent money on other players.

            • Dalek Jeter says:

              One other thing that changed was Drew balked at their offer, both this season and last season. It could be that there is a payroll limit of ~200mil, or it could be that the team doesn’t want a player who has shown hesitancy to sign with them. To me both are realistic possibilities, but out of optimism I’m gonna go with the one that gives the team a brighter outlook going forward.

          • jjyank says:

            I agree.

      • jjyank says:

        Or if something happens regarding A-Rod and his contract between now and then. Probably unlikely, but not impossible.

        • LK says:

          Even if something happens where A-Rod isn’t on the team (and I don’t think he will be), I can’t imagine that “something” being that the Yankees don’t have to pay him his contract. He’d essentially have to agree to accept less money out of the goodness of his heart, and it’s very clear that he and Yanks have a pretty fractured relationship.

          • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead says:

            And I can’t imagine MLBPA would let him do that. Even if they hate him.

            • Dalek Jeter says:

              Yeah, the MLBPA’s personal relationship with A-Rod wouldn’t come before something that would set a terrible precedent for them going forward.

          • jjyank says:

            Oh I know that. It’s an extreme long shot, but I think the possibility exists that he fails another test or somehow his contract gets voided.

            I agree that there is probably a 99% chance that the Yankees are paying his salary.

            At any rate, I think it’s a bit premature to figure out how much money the Yankees can spend next offseason. We know how much is coming off the books, but we don’t know if they’d be willing to raise payroll, and by how much if they are.

    • I'm One says:

      Which is why trading for someone like Chris Ownings as opposed to trying to get a FA SS after the season would make so much sense.

      • LK says:

        Yeah that makes a lot of sense. Trade for Owings, sign someone, and there’s only one spot left that needs to be cobbled together.

    • nyyankfan_7 says:

      I thought Vernon was $0 this year towards the payroll

  3. nyyankfan_7 says:

    I see them trying to go under 189 next year if it benefits them. If they’re at 198 now – I can see them shedding 9 mil next year.

    If above poster is correct that there is 27 million or so compared to this years – so 18 to get to 189. Sign DRob to a raise closer to 10 / yr if he has a good year. (so 5 mil of the 18) Resigning Roberts or Johnson if they are productive or someone like at 3-5 mil. And unfortunately we will probably end up with a weak hitting SS either b/c they want to save money or the market just doesn’t have anything else. Almonte will replace Ichiro. Possibly resign Soriano for RH power or if not some reclamation project like Mark Reynolds. And more than likely they are projecting Banuelos or Pineda to step up and take Kuroda’s spot. It would be close.

    I’m not saying I agree with it, in fact I am very much against it – but I could see it happening.

    • LK says:

      Signing DRob for 10M would eat 10M of the 27M, not 5M. The 27M assumes they don’t re-sign any of the FAs.

      Also, to get under the threshold they have to take into account non-rostered 40-man players, and player benefits; they really need to be closer to $175M than $189M. Basically if they want to get under the luxury tax next year they have to sign almost literally no one.

  4. John C says:

    Brian McCann hit his 1st Spring homer off Max Scherzer. 1-0 Yanks

  5. Tanakapalooza Floozy says:

    I completely disagree that if Soriano requires 2 years to stay after another good (or better) year that you walk away. If you’re going to sign him for 1 year, might as well sign him for 2, unless the money is completely preposterous. I understand that even if he takes a big pay cut, the Yanks would have to pay him more than the Yanks will pay him this year (thanks Cubs!) but that doesn’t mean he isn’t worth it, and isn’t worth the risk of a 2nd year, especially if his NY rejuvenation wasn’t a total fluke.*

    * note I’m not saying he needs to perform the way he did for us last year (I don’t even think it’s possible) but if he settles in somewhere between his last 2-3 years and his 2nd half last year then I keep him, 2 years if need be.

    • TWTR says:

      They are going to have Beltran and probably A-Rod to DH, and many of their best/ML ready prospects are OF. I am not sure where Soriano fits.

      • Tanakapalooza Floozy says:

        That guy on the bench you want to PH during a crucial situation. Seems like we haven’t had one of those since……Justice or Raines or something.

        • TWTR says:

          Then he would have to be really cheap unless the payroll is going up again because the majority of their spending should probably go toward rebuilding the infield.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

          My guess would be that we’ve also been more likely to carry 12 pitchers than 11 since.

  6. The Great Gonzo says:

    So, from the “Counting Chickens Before They’ve Hatched” section of the comments thread… Is Kuroda the only QO to make? Do they roll the dice on Robertson as well?

    I mean, if he’s a ‘proven closer’, he’ll make in the $12M AAV range anyhow… but if he’s a ‘failed closer’, then he’s signed for much less than that.

    • LK says:

      At this moment I’d say Robertson is more of sure bet than Kuroda, simply because at his age he’s more likely to have a successful season. But assuming they both perform roughly like last year I’d offer both of them.

    • Dalek Jeter says:

      I probably make a QO to both if they have good seasons. Robertson, because it gives us the insurance of netting a draft pick if he goes on to another team while hopefully working out a long term deal with him. As for Kuroda, 1 at $15 mil is probably about what he would make anyway so you have his contract right there waiting for him to sign. Otherwise, you get a draft pick if he decides to go back to LA.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

      I guess anything can happen but, right now, that’s a no-brainer. QO for sure.

  7. Joseph says:

    Bottom of the 5th. 2-0 Yankees. Yankees scored their other run on a deep bomb to left by Gary Sanchez.

  8. Joseph says:

    Brendan Ryan flashin’ the leather at SS. Tiger announcers singing the praises of his glove. Uh…not so much his bat:)

  9. Joseph says:

    Jose Pirela with the 2 run jack and Yangervis Solarte with the 3 run line shot off the foul pole. 7-0 NY.

    • lightSABR says:

      My man Solarte. Kid’s hitting .800 so far. Who cares if that’s relatively easy to do when you’ve only had 5 PA – .800!

  10. Darren says:

    My only concern about any of these players is how their walk year status effects their performance this year. Out of all of them, I could see Robertson pressing the most.

  11. Joseph says:

    35 year old Brian Gordon on to pitch for NY in the bottom of the 7th. Gordon was drafted by Arizona in….1997. He’s bounced around for years. 14 innings in the majors. Ya gotta route for a guy like this. Meanwhile, Gordon has given up 3 straight singles, sacks loaded, nobody out…

  12. Joseph says:

    Tigers plate 4. Gordon had a little bad luck but..uh..actually, you give up 6 hits in an inning whadya expect?

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