David Robertson has emerged as both the Yankees’ top setup man and one of the best non-closing relievers in baseball these last three years, and 12 months from now he will become a free agent. That non-closing part figures to change in 2013 with Mariano Rivera headed off to retirement. With the obvious caveat that New York could go off and sign an established closer, Robertson is the obvious candidate to take over the ninth inning.
Matt Swartz’s model projects Robertson to earn a healthy $5.5M next season, which is pretty close to top of the market dollars for a setup reliever. The pay scale for closers is considerably different though. Saves pay a ton even though they’re far from the best way to evaluate performance. Even through free agency, guys with lots of saves tend to get more than a comparable reliever who never held a ninth inning job. It’s not exactly fair or wise, but that’s the reality of baseball’s salary structure.
Despite payroll being slashed in the name of not paying the luxury tax, the Yankees still employ their silly and outdated “no extensions” policy. Even if payroll wasn’t coming down, it’s still a bad idea to have this umbrella policy that prevents the team from signing players at below-market rates early in their career. To their credit, the Yankees broke their policy to sign Robinson Cano way back when and they were willing to do the same to re-sign Russell Martin two years ago, but those are the only exceptions to date. Robertson should be the third.
The idea is simple: sign Robertson to a setup man contract now before he racks up a bunch of saves next summer and earns a closer contract next winter. We’re not talking about saving a little bit of cash here. The difference between a great free agent setup man and even a slightly above-average free agent closer is still a couple million bucks in average annual value. The Yankees want to keep payroll under the luxury tax threshold and signing Robertson now would help accomplish that while keeping an elite arm in the bullpen.
Believe it or not, a decent amount of setup relievers have signed contract extensions one year prior to free agency in recent years. Some pretty great ones as well. Teams are locking their best young players up to multi-year contracts more than ever before and that includes relievers, the most volatile position in the game. With an assist from MLBTR’s Extension Tracker, here are three setup relievers who signed long-term extensions one season prior to free agency in recent years:
|Robertson||Ryan Madson||Sean Marshall||Santiago Casilla|
|Platform Year fWAR||1.6||1.1||2.6||-0.4|
|Previous 3 Years fWAR||5.9||2.1||5.0||0.6|
|Platform Year bWAR||2.4||1.1||1.6||0.5|
|Previous 3 Years bWAR||8.1||2.2||5.8||3.6|
WAR is certainly not the best way to evaluate past performance — or project future performance, for that matter — especially when it comes to short relievers. The leverage component still needs work. WAR works just fine for this exercise though because we’re only trying to get in the contract ballpark, not pin down exact numbers. We just want to be close.
Madson’s contract is not a great comparable because he signed it prior to the 2009 season. It’s a bit outdated. The Marshall and Casilla contracts are a bit more relevant since they were signed prior to 2012 and 2013, respectively. Casilla is a good example of the earning power of saves — he’s been rather average overall but had piled up some saves before signing his contract, including spending a half-season as closer for the Giants immediately prior to signing his extension. Saves pay, man, and that’s what the Yankees should be trying to avoid with Robertson.
Robertson’s performance over the last three years is clearly a notch above the other guys, but his platform year performance (the year immediately prior to signing a multi-year contract) is in line with Madson’s and especially Marshall’s. Three years sure looks like the standard length here, meaning the Yankees would be buying out Robertson’s final year of arbitration-eligibility as well as two years of free agency. Since he’s projected to earn $5.5M in 2014 — a higher average annual value than Madson and Casilla and equal to Marshall’s contract — the team will have to offer their setup man a little bit more. At the very least, Robertson’s agent should ask for a bit more.
Here’s the complicated part: Robertson and his agent aren’t stupid. They know his earning power will skyrocket in the next 12 months if he establishes himself as a legitimate closer, so why would they settle for setup man dollars right now? I suppose Robertson and his family could really value the financial security that comes with signing right now, but even then there would have to be some compromise. The Yankees are planning to move Robertson into a more prominent role and at this point of his career, he’s earned the right to be paid accordingly. If the team doesn’t feel that way, then they could wait and get involved in the bidding way next winter.
Based mostly on the recent contracts but also considering things like performance and inflation, my guesstimate is that three years and $21M might be amenable to both the team and Robertson. That’s an average of $7M annually — they could structure the salaries something like $5M in 2013, $7.5M in 2014, and $8.5M in 2015 — which would be the record for a non-lolownership Rafael Soriano setup man. It would also be mid-range closer dollars, on par with guys like Jonathan Broxton and (the good version of) Brian Fuentes. Robertson would surely get more on the open market with a strong closer season under his belt, but remember, he’d be trading maximum earning potential for security by signing an extension.
Relievers are the riskiest investments in baseball but teams still need them. Robertson is an upper-echelon reliever and the Yankees know pretty much everything there is to know about him. They know his work ethic, his mechanics, his stuff, his medical history, his family, the whole nine. All of that is important when deciding whether to commit to someone long-term. The Yankees might not like the idea of signing Robertson for multiple years, it’s possible they think he’s an injury risk or whatever, but if they do want to keep him around well into the future, then they should look into signing him this winter before he racks up a ton of saves and the price tag goes way up.
I remember watching the Flip Play live and thinking “that just saved the season.” The Yankees were down two games-to-none in the best-of-five ALDS but had a slim 1-0 lead in the seventh inning when Terrence Long lined Mike Mussina’s final pitch of the game into the right field corner. Shane Spencer threw to no one in particular but Jeter intercepted the throw and flipped to the plate for the out. It was a play you never expect to see. Mariano Rivera went two innings for the save, the Yankees won both Games Four and Five, and the rest was history. Just remarkable.
Here is your open thread for the night. The Cardinals and Red Sox are playing Game Five of the World Series at 8pm ET on FOX (Adam Wainwright vs. Jon Lester) and you’ve also got Monday Night Football (Seahawks vs. Rams). The Rangers are (finally) playing their home opener as well. Talk about any of those games or anything else right here. Enjoy.
Via Susan Latham Carr: The Yankees have reached an agreement to relocate their High-A Florida State League affiliate out of Tampa and up the road a hundred miles or so to Ocala. We first heard the team was in talks with the city of Ocala last December, after plans with Orlando fell through. “I think it makes a lot of sense. It’s a good quality-of-life-type venue,” said Ocala mayor Kent Guinn.
The agreement is in place but the deal is not yet final. Staff will present the agreement to the Ocala City Council tomorrow, where they will also discuss plans for a new $45 million facility. The new building will be used for more than just baseball and will be paid for by a half-cent sales tax increase over the next ten years. The tax hike and several other things must be voted on before the deal is finalized. Preliminary polls show the public is in favor of the deal. If everything goes smoothly, the relocation could be complete in time for Opening Day 2016.
Josh Leventhal says the relocation of the High-A squad will not change anything regarding Spring Training. The Yankees still have 12 years remaining on a 30-year contract that locks them into Steinbrenner Field in Tampa for Spring Training. The Yankees are looking to move their High-A affiliate out of Tampa to improve the market. They currently have to compete with the Rays, the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, and various collegiate sports. High-A Tampa averaged 1,827 fans per game this past season, fourth highest in the historically attendance-starved FSL. · (12) ·
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the team’s super-setup man and likely heir to Mariano Rivera‘s throne.
Over the last three seasons, the Yankees have been very spoiled in the eighth and ninth innings. Regardless of whether Mariano Rivera or injury fill-in Rafael Soriano was closing out games in the ninth, the one constant since 2011 has been the elite performance of David Robertson in the eighth inning. He has emerged as one of baseball’s very best relievers and has reached the point where dominant performances are expected, not a surprise.
The 2013 season was more of the same from the 28-year-old Robertson. He pitched to a 2.04 ERA and 2.61 FIP in 66.1 innings as the primary bridge to Rivera, only twice going through a rough patch. Robertson allowed five runs in a 5.2-inning, ten-day span in late April and then five runs in a 3.1-inning, eight-day span in early-September. That’s it. Two-thirds of his season runs allowed in 13.7% of his innings. The Yankees actually sat Robertson down for five days after the hiccup in September because of fatigue, which somewhat explains the poor performance.
From May 1st through September 1st, a span of 48 appearances and 46.1 innings, Robertson allowed five runs and 43 base-runners. Opponents hit .182/.257/.252 against him during that time, which is more or less what David Adams hit for the big league team this summer (.193/.252/.286). He was pretty much automatic during those four months — Robertson didn’t blow a single lead and took only one loss, which came when he allowed a run in a tie game. There was every reason to feel confident when the Yankees handed a lead over to him.
Overall, Robertson struck out 77 batters (10.45 K/9 and 29.4 K%) and walked only 18 batters (2.44 BB/9 and 6.9 BB%) while posting a career-best 50.9% ground ball rate. The most important thing to me is those walks. Somewhere around the All-Star break last season, Robertson simply stopped walking guys. It’s very cool but also kinda weird. Here, look:
This is a guy who walked 4.72 batters per nine innings (12.2% of batters faced) during the first four seasons of his career. Robertson then went on to post a 4.38 BB/9 and 11.4 BB% in the first half of 2012, but since then? A 2.20 BB/9 and 6.2 BB%. For whatever reason, either improved mechanics or improved confidence or something else entirely (all of the above?), Robertson cut his walk rate in half after the All-Star break last year. He followed up this season by showing it was no fluke. That’s probably the best thing the Yankees could have seen out of their setup man in 2013.
After three straight dominant seasons, Robertson has both raised expectations and put himself in position to be key long-term piece for the Yankees. Unlike much of the veteran dreck on the roster, it’s easy to see him as part of the next Yankees team to make the postseason and contend for a World Series title. Robertson is due to become a free agent next winter and barring a catastrophic injury, he’ll get paid top of the relief market dollars. He’s earned it. New York could bring in a Proven Closer™ to replace Mo this winter — it’s hard not to notice Joe Nathan will become a free agent in about a week — but they have the perfect internal candidate. Robertson has shown everything a team could possibly want to see out of a potential closer and he’s earned the opportunity to inherit the ninth inning in my opinion. Sustaining that improved walk rate this year clinched it.
Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees continue to have Padres third baseman Chase Headley on their radar. San Diego recently wrapped up their organizational meetings and believe they will keep their franchise player even though he is due to become a free agent next offseason. The Padres will listen to offers but they don’t consider New York a good trade partner because of their lack of big league ready young players.
Headley, 29, hit .250/.347/.400 (113 wRC+) with 13 homers in exactly 600 plate appearances this summer. He missed the start of the season after breaking his thumb sliding into third base in Spring Training and was much better in the second half (134 wRC+) than the first (99 wRC+). That makes sense, players tend to perform better as they get further away from hand injuries. Headley was a legitimate MVP candidate just a year ago, when he hit .286/.376/.498 (145 wRC+) with 31 homers and his typically strong defense.
Matt Swartz projects Headley to earn $10M through arbitration in 2014. Even if Alex Rodriguez’s suspension is overturned, the Yankees have an obvious need at third base because they can’t count on A-Rod to stay healthy or play the field everyday. Headley is a switch-hitter with power and strong defense, so he’s a pretty great fit for any team. If the Padres trade him during the season, his new team won’t be able to make him a qualifying offer and he won’t cost a draft pick to sign next winter. That would be the best case for New York outside of prying him loose via trade this winter. · (40) ·
2013 Season: 85-77 (637 RS, 671 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), didn’t qualify for playoffs
Top stories from last week:
- Among the players the Yankees were rumored to have interest in last week were Stephen Drew, Paul Maholm, and Shin-Soo Choo. The team has been scouting righties Seung-Hwan Oh (Korea) and Ordisamer Despaigne (Cuba). Scott Boras was slated to talk to New York about Korean righty Suk-Min Yoon last week. Meanwhile, MLB and NPB are close to an agreement that will change the posting system.
- Injury News: Outfield prospect Tyler Austin was removed from the Arizona Fall League when the bone bruise in his right wrist flared up.
- Despite rumors that changes would be coming, amateur scouting director Damon Oppenheimer will remain with the team. Strength and conditioning coach Dana Cavalea was let go.
- Brett Gardner and David Robertson are projected to receive healthy raises during their final trips through arbitration.
- The Yankees are currently valued at close to $3.3 billion. Ticket prices for the 2014 season have been announced.
- Robinson Cano was named a finalist for the Gold Glove Award.
- Alex Rodriguez‘s appeal hearing will continue November 18th.
Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
Saturday: Hope you enjoyed your Saturday, everyone. Here’s the nightly open thread. The Cardinals and Red Sox play Game Three of the World Series at 8pm ET on FOX (Joe Kelly vs. Jake Peavy) plus all three hockey locals are in action. I’m sure there’s college football on somewhere as well. Talk about anything here. Go nuts.
Sunday: I’m going to take the easy way out a repurpose last night’s thread tonight. The Cardinals and Red Sox are playing Game Three at 8pm ET of FOX (Lance Lynn vs. Clay Buchholz) and the late NFL fame is the Packers and Vikings. That’s pretty much it. Enjoy the evening.
First, two quick notes courtesy of Matt Eddy:
- UTIL Addison Maruszak has been sent to the Arizona Fall League to replace OF Tyler Austin, who was pulled from the league after his wrist starting flaring up again. It was originally reported a player from another organization would replace Austin, but I guess not.
- The Yankees have re-signing IF Carmen Angelini to a minor league contract. Injuries limited the former $1M bonus baby to only nine games from 2010-2012. He resurfaced to post a 133 wRC+ in 32 games for High-A Tampa this year, but only managed a 73 wRC+ following a promotion to Double-A Trenton.
Now, updates on the various winter ball action:
Arizona Fall League
- OF Tyler Austin: 4 G, 4-12, 2 R, 1 3B, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 HBP (.333/.438/.500) — he is indeed done for the year
- C/3B Peter O’Brien: 9 G, 6-36, 4 R, 3 HR, 5 RBI, 2 BB, 13 K (.167/.211/.417) — between the regular season and AzFL, he’s at 147 strikeouts in 483 plate appearances (30.4%)
- OF Mason Williams: 11 G, 12-46, 6 R, 3 2B, 2 RBI, 5 BB, 7 K, 2 SB, 1 CS (.261/.333/.326)
- RHP Brett Gerritse: 5 G, 7.1 IP, 6 G, 5 R, 5 ER, 5 BB, 9 K, 1 WP (6.14 ERA, 1.50 WHIP)
- LHP Fred Lewis: 6 G, 6.1 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 5 BB, 7 K, 1 WP (0.00 ERA, 1.58 WHIP)
- LHP Vidal Nuno: 3 G, 3 GS, 10.2 IP, 14 H, 8 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 1 HR (5.06 ERA, 1.41 WHIP) — results aren’t terribly important, he just needs to make up some of the innings he lost due to groin injury
- LHP James Pazos: 5 G, 4.2 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 7 K (0.00 ERA, 1.50 WHIP)
Via Joel Sherman: MLB and NPB are close to finalizing an agreement that will change the posting system. We first heard changes were in the works last month. A single team will still win the player’s negotiating rights, but the player may now be allowed to pick his destination from the top two or three bidders. The system is expected to be in place by November 1st.
The Yankees “are going to be serious players” for Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka — they’re reportedly in the mix for the South Korean right-hander Seung-Hwan Oh as well — and he figures to be the first to use the new posting system. The changes are designed to help keep posting fees down and give the player some freedom to pick his new team. Maybe the new system will save New York a few bucks if they manage to land Tanaka, but the posting fee doesn’t count towards the luxury tax anyway. Only the contract will. · (23) ·
Happy Friday everyone. Today’s a travel day for the World Series, so there’s no baseball tonight. The Islanders, Knicks, and Nets are playing, however. Other than that, you’re on your own for entertainment. Have at it.