The last of our guest posts was done by (sic). Some of you might recognize him from RAB as “the artist formerly known as (sic)” or from twitter as @tafkasic, and you can read more of his work at thebatshatters.blogspot.com. He took a look at the 2011 free agent market and the Yankees’ place within it. It is an entertaining read that I think you will enjoy.
The 2010-2011 offseason could be one of the most exciting Hot Stove periods in recent memory for Yankees fans. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera will both become free agents, and the contracts of Andy Pettitte and Javier Vazquez will both expire. Additionally, Cliff Lee, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Manny Ramirez, Ted Lilly and Brandon Webb will all become free agents. Will CC and Cliff Lee stand side-by-side in pinstripes as the new New York Knick LeBron James throws out the first pitch of the 2011 season, causing the entire city of Cleveland to light itself on fire? Will they go for shorter contracts on pitchers, and pursue speedster Carl Crawford? Will they package IPK and Melky for Johan Santana? Wait…what?
There are a lot of moving parts, so the best way to attack this is to determine how much cash the Yankees will have to spend, try to hazard a guess at how much Lee and Crawford will earn on the open market, and see if there are any scenarios in which one, or both, fit into the Yankees 2011 payroll.
For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to be making several assumptions. First, I’m assuming that the Yankees resign Jeter for something close to $100M over 5 years. I’m also assuming the Rivera is resigned for $30M over 2 years. Finally, I’m assuming that the 2011 payroll will be in the $200-210M range. The first two are huge assumptions, obviously, but I can’t see those two leaving. The money may be different, but hopefully won’t be too much in excess of what I’m envisioning.
2011 Salary Commitments
Thanks to the invaluable tool at Cot’s Baseball Contracts, we see that New York already has $144M committed to the 2011 payroll. When you add my proposed $20M to Jeter and $15M to Rivera, and the payroll is already at $179M. From there, you have to factor in raises for Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, who will become eligible for arbitration for the first time. Using Liriano as a comparison, it won’t be unexpected to see them both pull in $1.5M apiece. This bumps the payroll up to $182M, and I’m going to round it up to $183M to cover raises for Boone Logan, if he’s still around, and for the pre-arb guys like DRob, Aceves and others.
With a budget of $183M, the Yankees will have, at the most, $17-27M to spend.
2011 Free Agents
The premier OF free agent in 2011 will be Carl Crawford. Crawford will be 28 years old at the time of his next deal, and is the owner of a career tripleslash of .295/.335.437, an OPS of .772. This line is a bit misleading, because its weighed down by his first two seasons as a 20 and 21 year old when he posted a line of .274/.304/.364. If you remove that, he’s good for a .300/.342/.456 line. Crawford has averaged 50 steals per year over 7 full seasons and has posted phenomenal defensive numbers over the course of his career in LF.
I can’t envision Crawford earning as much as Holliday, who scored a $120M/7 year deal from the Cardinals. A better comparison might be Jason Bay, even though Crawford and Bay are as different as they come in LF. Bay received a 4 year deal worth $66M, with a $17M vesting option for the 5th year from the Mets, a total value of 83M over 5 years. Still, I expect Crawford’s lack of power to keep the value of his deal low, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him find a new home for a contract of 5 years and 65M, an AAV of 13M. His age, his defense, and his speed will work in his favor, but his lack of power ought to prevent him from earning an eight-digit deal.
Cliff Lee is the biggest starting pitcher to hit the market in 2011. He’s the owner of a career ERA+ of 109, but has seemingly put it all together to become one of the best pitchers in the game. In his last two years, he’s posted a 2.89 ERA over 455 IP, striking out 6.9 batters per nine and walking only 1.5 per nine. His K/BB ratio over that period is one of the best, 4.56. That’s superb. The risk with Lee is his somewhat low K/9, and his age. As a 31 year old free agent, it’s hard to see Lee getting more than five or six years guaranteed, despite the Phillies’ claims that he is looking for “Sabathia-type” money. Instead, I look for Lee to receive a six year deal worth $100M, an AAV of $16.67M. It’s expensive, but it is becoming increasingly rare to see bona fide aces hit the open market in free agency, and Lee’s price may go up even further if the Red Sox sign Josh Beckett to an extension.
The most obvious holes in the 2011 roster are starting pitching and LF. Here’s where it gets dicey (as if it weren’t already confusing):
Scenario 1: Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain have successful, injury-free 2010 campaigns, and are considered locks for the 2011 rotation.
In this scenario, the Yankees can simply resign Pettitte to another one-year deal worth around $11M. This would bump payroll to around $194M, and leave around $6-14M to spend elsewhere. With a full rotation, the Yankees could become players for Crawford. Signing him to a $13M AAV deal would max out the payroll for 2011.
Scenario 2: Either Hughes or Joba gets injured or very ineffective in 2010, and is slotted for a spot in the bullpen in 2011.
Here, the Yankees will only have 3 starters under contract for 2011. If they bring back Pettitte for around $11M, they’ll have $6-14M to spend elsewhere, and will need a fifth starter. The Yankees could attempt to pursue Lee, creating a formidable rotation of Sabathia-Lee-Burnett-Pettitte-Joba/Hughes. This would leave them unable to sign Crawford and completely maxed out on budget.
Scenario 3: The Andy Pettitte Era ends
If Pettitte decides to retire, or the Yankees decide to go in a different direction, then any number of things could happen. With a healthy Joba and Hughes in the rotation, the Yankees could bring in Lee for $16.67M per and sit right at the $200M threshold. This would give them a rotation of Sabathia-Lee-Burnett-Chamberlain-Hughes, and leave them with up to $10M to spend elsewhere.
Scenario 4: The Andy Pettitte Era ends and only Joba or Hughes is in the bullpen
If one of Chamberlain or Hughes is in the bullpen, or injured, then the Yankees would still need a fifth starter in addition to Sabathia, Lee, Burnett and Hughes/Joba. Here, we might see the Yankees use Zach McAllister in the 5 spot, or attempt to bring back Vazquez for $10M per year. Other alternatives include Lilly or Webb.
Scenario 5: The Twins fail to resign Joe Mauer
Twins fans, avert your eyes! If Mauer hits the market, all bets are off with Lee and Crawford. The Yankees could offer Mauer a deal of $180M over 8 years, an AAV of $22.5M. Assuming they were able to outbid the Red Sox and ink him to a deal like this, no sure thing, they would see their budget rise to around $205-207M. Accordingly, they would need Joba and Hughes to man the 3 and 4 spots in the rotation, and then attempt to get a 5th starter for cheap. Signing Mauer would also mean the end of the Jesus Montero experiment at catcher, and so the Yankees could shift him to LF and have him split time with Posada at DH. Scenarios like this are why non-Yankee fans hate us so very, very much.
Personally, I think Scenario 5 is very unlikely. I think the Twins will pony up the dough they’re about to get from their new stadium and sign him to an extension, allowing Twins fans everywhere to come back in off the ledge. That said, I can’t see the Yankees landing both Crawford and Lee. Their payroll is already precipitously high, and management shows no inclination to blow past the $210M ceiling. Of the four remaining scenarios outlined above, I’m fairly excited about #3, even though it involves saying farewell to Andy Pettitte. Signing Lee would provide them with a second ace, and a good hedge against the risk of Sabathia leaving after 2011. The best thing that can happen to the Yankees in the meantime is Joba and Hughes putting together successful 2010 campaigns, which will give the Yankees more flexibility and more options going into the 2010-2011 Hot Stove.