How the Yankees Should Handle Each of Their Big-Name Free Agents

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How the Yankees Should Handle Each of Their Big-Name Free Agents
(Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Life is never simple when you're the general manager of the New York Yankees. As the 2013 season comes to a final conclusion at Fenway Park, every team not fortunate enough to be competing in the World Series, including the Yankees, will look to retool and make a run at a title in the near future.

For Yankees executive Brian Cashman, that means two things: competing at a high level and attempting to stay below ownership's $189 million luxury-tax mandate.

With the ongoing saga around Alex Rodriguez's suspension appeal, what he may be owed in 2014 (and beyond) and a plethora of free agents (Masahiro Tanaka, Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo) who would appeal to the Yankees, the hot-stove season will be closely followed in the Bronx.

Of course, before the team can allocate funds toward outside free agents, decisions must be made on big names with expiring deals who currently call New York home. That list includes Robinson Cano, Hiroki Kuroda, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan. 

How many will return in 2014? Which members should receive qualifying offers? Can they easily be replaced with the talent already in the system or by bringing in an outside free agent or trade acquisition?

The following is an attempt to answer those questions about six (potentially) former Yankees. 

 

Robinson Cano

Cano's impending free agency won't just shape the outlook of the 2014 Yankees; it will alter their franchise model for the next half-decade. If New York decides to break the bank for Cano, it will be relying on its current star to lead the team, both on and off the field, into a new generation—a generation without Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera or Andy Pettitte. 

Simply put, Cano's negotiation won't just be about baseball. It will be about becoming the face of the franchise.

As I wrote earlier this month, Cano should be worth somewhere around a seven-year, $185 million contract to the Yankees lineup and brand. He's the best offensive second baseman in baseball and on the path to Cooperstown. 

Offering Cano a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer within five days of the conclusion of the World Series is merely a formality for a player the team desperately needs back in 2014. If the team fails to reach an agreement with the All-Star second baseman, it's not due to a lack of want. 

Free agency is a tricky thing to predict, but unless a big-market team like the Los Angeles Dodgers, Detroit Tigers or Washington Nationals are enamored by his lethal left-handed bat, the Yankees should be able to bring him back at a number that marries his value (45.2 bWAR since 2005, per Baseball-Reference) with their budget.

Verdict: Re-sign to a long-term deal.

 

Curtis Granderson

Ironically, Granderson's injury plagued 2013 may help the Yankees in 2014. After missing 101 games due to injury this past season, Granderson's free-agent stock took a major hit. 

In the aftermath of the 2012 season, Granderson looked headed for a big payday in the offseason ahead. From the minute he arrived in a trade from the Detroit Tigers after the 2009 season, Granderson's left-handed swing and Yankee Stadium's right field porch were a match made in heaven. 

From 2010-2012, Granderson hit 108 home runs. That figure ranked second among all outfielders (subscription required) in baseball, trailing only the Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista. When combined with the ability to play center field, as opposed to a corner outfield spot where power is more prevalent, Granderson becomes one of the most valuable outfielders in the sport.

In baseball, value is often associated with wins above replacement, better known as WAR. When a team signs any player to a deal, value is taken into account. In Granderson's case, the new qualifying offer for free agents is a major factor in why the Yankees should offer him a one-year deal in lieu of a long-term offer sheet.

For a team trying to get and stay under the $189 million luxury tax, offering Granderson a three- or four-year deal, which he may get on the open market, is foolish. He's not a center fielder for the Yankees any longer and may not hit for as much power as he moves into his mid-30s. 

Yet, for one more season, he'll likely be worth $14.1 million.

During those healthy years from 2010-2012, Granderson was worth $54 million, according to FanGraphs. In 2013, during Granderson's lost year, 28 outfielders in baseball were worth at least that much, according to the same system.

As the following chart shows, only nine outfielders in baseball were worth as much from 2010-2012:

Most Valuable Outfielders in MLB (2010-2012)
Rank Player WAR Dollars
1 Ryan Braun 18.6 $80.6
2 Jose Bautista 17.3 $74.3
3 Josh Hamilton 16.6 $72.0
4 Ben Zobrist 15.8 $68.6
5 Matt Holliday 15.8 $68.2
6 Andrew McCutchen 15.6 $67.8
7 Michael Bourn 14.2 $61.9
8 Jason Heyward 13.0 $56.4
9 Curtis Granderson 12.4 $54.1
10 Carlos Gonzalez 11.8 $51.1

FanGraphs

There are concerns about Granderson's long-term ability and total value when playing a corner outfield spot, but for a team trying to stay away from long contracts, giving Granderson the one-year qualifying offer is too simple to pass up for the Yankees.

If he accepts, the team will welcome him back for one more season. If he takes a long-term deal from another team, New York will welcome the draft pick in return.

Verdict: Place a one-year qualifying offer.

 

Hiroki Kuroda

When assessing Kuroda's future in New York, two details emerge: age and nationality.

We'll start with the latter. As Brian Cashman addressed in his end-of-season press conference, per Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York, people around baseball believe Kuroda wants to end his career where it started in his home country of Japan:

"Of course we'd love to have him back, but I don't know what's going to happen," Cashman said. "Obviously, he was our ace this year ... but he's a free agent and there's always rumblings about returning to Japan and rumblings obviously about other teams wanting him, so we'll just have to wait and see how that plays out."

If Kuroda does choose to remain in the United States, the Yankees should eschew concerns about his age, 38, and re-sign him to another one-year contract. 

Normally, age would be a major concern for a free-agent starting pitcher, but Kuroda has shown the rare ability to pitch better as his birth certificate continues to be a talking point. Over the last two years in New York, Kuroda has pitched to a 125 ERA+ during his age-37 and -38 seasons.

As the following chart shows, only nine pitchers in the history of the game have done better during that same juncture of their respective careers:

Best Age-37, -38 Seasons in MLB History
Player Years GS IP ERA+
Randy Johnson 2001-02 69 509.2 192
Lefty Grove 1937-38 53 425.2 160
Babe Adams 1919-20 52 526.1 151
Dennis Martinez 1991-92 63 448.1 147
Dazzy Vance 1928-29 59 511.2 147
Cy Young 2004-05 74 700.2 141
Roger Clemens 2001-02 65 424.2 129
Pete Alexander 1924-25 50 405.1 128
Geoff Zahn 1983-84 55 402.1 125
Hiroki Kuroda 2012-13 65 421 124

Baseball-Reference

Kuroda was New York's best pitcher in 2013 and likely will remain the same in 2014 if afforded the opportunity. 

Verdict: Re-sign to one-year deal.

 

Phil Hughes

Heading into the 2007 season, Phil Hughes was rated as the fourth-best prospect in the sport by Baseball America. Prior to the 2008 season, Brian Cashman wouldn't include him in a trade for the Minnesota Twins' Johan Santana. By 2010, Hughes had helped the Yankees win a World Series, made an All-Star team and won 18 games in a season. The next great Yankees pitcher was on his way to stardom.

Until he wasn't. 

Reasons for failure can sometimes be seen as excuses, but in Hughes' case, one stands tall above the rest: Yankee Stadium.

At some point, Hughes stopped progressing. He never developed a putaway pitch to consistently get hitters out when he was ahead in counts. New York's decision to place him in the 2009 bullpen hurt his development. Those factored into a career 4.54 ERA and lackluster Yankees career, but none was as significant as the ballpark in which Hughes called home for six seasons. 

Simply put, Phil Hughes can't succeed in Yankee Stadium.

Over his career, Hughes has pitched to a 4.96 ERA in the Bronx. On the road, that mark is 4.10. While his strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio are similar in each split, home runs have been Hughes' undoing in New York. In Yankee Stadium, opposing batters hit a home run every 5.3 innings off Hughes. On the road, that number drops to one home run every 10.4 innings.

When free agency officially begins, Hughes can market himself as a 27-year-old starter, without any history of major arm issues and poised to take off outside of the Bronx. If he weren't such an extreme fly-ball pitcher, the Yankees would be wise to re-sign him and fix his issues in New York.

Without knowing the exact amount they'll have to spend on the 2014 payroll (at least until Alex Rodriguez's appeal is over), the Yankees can't risk Hughes accepting the $14.1 million qualifying offer. 

Unlike Granderson, Hughes on a one-year deal won't provide enough value to make it palatable.

Verdict: Allow him to walk away.

 

Joba Chamberlain

Much like Phil Hughes' rise through the Yankees system, Joba Chamberlain came with tremendous hype and promise. From the moment he arrived in 2007, he looked like the next big star in New York. 

/Getty Images

From role shuffling to arm injuries to loss of command and confidence, Chamberlain never put it all together for an extended period of time. 

If he had, it's likely that the Yankees would be interested in keeping him around. After all, relief depth will be critical in the aftermath of Mariano Rivera's retirement, Chamberlain's career strikeout numbers (9.0 K/9) are excellent and his velocity hasn't wavered.

Despite posting an ERA more than two runs higher in 2013 than he did in 2011 (2.83 to 4.93), the 28-year-old right-hander actually threw his fastball harder in 2013 (94.6) than 2011 (94.3), according to FanGraphs.

Of course, velocity isn't everything. Even if Chamberlain can regain some of his past effectiveness, offering him millions isn't good business for New York. At this point, the former phenom is a reclamation project and likely not worth a guaranteed deal, even in the newly chaotic state of business in the Yankees bullpen.

Despite losing Rivera, New York has a plethora of right-handed power arms to turn to in 2014. From David Robertson to Shawn Kelley to prospect Mark Montgomery, Chamberlain's ability and price can't match his place in New York's hierarchy any longer.

Verdict: Allow him to walk away.

 

Boone Logan

Normally, it would be easy to argue against bringing back a relief pitcher in free agency. On a yearly basis, some of the worst contracts in baseball are multiyear deals given to decent relief pitchers. General managers make the mistake of forgetting how unpredictable most relief pitchers, even the best ones, are on a year-to-year basis.

Despite that warning, the New York Yankees should bring back Boone Logan.

His inclusion on the projected 2014 roster isn't just because of talent, but rather due to the specific role he plays and how so few in baseball have done it better than him since he arrived in New York in 2010.

Logan, 29, isn't a former phenom like Hughes or Chamberlain, won't crack 100 on the radar gun like Trevor Rosenthal in St. Louis and will likely never ascend to the role of closer in Joe Girardi's bullpen; yet, considering the lack of young left-handed options behind him in New York's system, it's tough to imagine the team replacing one of the best left-handed relief pitchers in baseball.

Yes, Boone Logan is exactly that. As the following chart shows, Logan has been one of the best and most durable southpaws in any bullpen since 2010. While many relievers have down years, Logan has helped steady New York's bullpen from the left side since the day he arrived. 

Top Left-Handed Relief Pitchers (2010-2013)
Player Games ERA+ SO/9
Jonny Venters 230 175 10.11
Sean Marshall 247 168 10.27
Aroldis Chapman 205 167 14.68
Rex Brothers 195 161 11.17
Glen Perkins 209 147 9.73
Boone Logan 256 125 10.33

Baseball-Reference

Of course, any free-agent contract must fall within a reasonable amount of years and dollars, but if an agreement can be reached, the Yankees would be a better team for it. 

Verdict: Re-sign to two- or three-year deal.

 

Agree? Disagree? Which free agents should the Yankees bring back for 2014?

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