Locking in one Yankee at a time

Being that today is the first day of November, it’s the day I consider the first day of the off-season. Now, technically, the Yankees off-season began the day after their last game in Houston (September 30). But with the final game of the World Series being just two days ago and the continuous replay of Game 6 all day yesterday, I have to say that today was really my first day of the off-season.

But even on this day, the Yankees didn’t disappoint with news. You see, the beginning of November is when all the negotiations begin for the following season. This coming week is the deadline for all sorts of trades, waivers, reinstatements, contract options, assignments, and outrights. (Plus the next two weeks are also awards weeks, like the Silver Slugger, Rookies of the Year, Managers of the Year, etc.) Following all these shifts, which are relatively minor in most of the public, the next week (November 11-13) is the GM/Owners Meetings in Orlando. That meeting is well-known for basic negotiations on current trade possibilities, free agency options, and the future of both their own clubs and the entire MLB. For example, I’m sure there  will be discussion on how instant replay will affect the game next year.

In the mean time, there are some major discussions, negotiations, and contract issues that will cross the Yankees’ desk this off-season. Free agents: Robinson Cano, Joba Chamberlain, Curtis Granderson, Travis Hafner, David Huff, Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda, Boone Logan, Lyle Overbay, Mark Reynolds, Brendan Ryan, Kevin Youkilis, and Mike Zagurski. Arbitration-eligible (a form of free agency more related to retaining with a new negotiation of salary): Francisco Cervelli, Brett Gardner, Shawn Kelley, Jayson, Nix, Ivan Nova, David Robertson, and Chris Stewart.

Now, while most of the postseason gossip (I like to call it like I see it) has been about Cano’s options and his decision for 2014 and beyond (because his contract will probably be the biggest investment the Yankees want to make this off-season), I think many people realized the afterthought of another name in the Yankee clubhouse wasn’t going anywhere and would simply pick up his player option as part of his contract. But since when does Derek Jeter ever do anything expected or by the book?

Okay, the Yankees are very much interested in keeping their payroll under the $189 million salary cap to avoid paying the luxury tax once again, and with some very overpaid players locked into their roster and thus already using up quite a bit of that salary, they are looking to cut corners where they can. However, following what was a disappointing season, the powers that be have changed their tune (slightly) and are now using that number not as a mandate but rather a goal. I think everyone agrees that they’d rather see a winning Yankees team than a cheap one at this point. Once those high contracts have expired (in the next 3-4 years), I imagine the team can recreate their payroll at a more manageable level led by some of today’s current “non-names” or “names-in-the-wings”.

Anyway, Jeter decided to avoid the same drama that last contract negotiations and take control of things himself this time around. In a more one-on-one level with Hal Steinbrenner, they worked out a deal. A player option is written into the contract to allow the player to extend the length of his contract for one year at a predetermined salary; should the player decide to not pick up the option, the contract ends and the player enters free agency. According to Jeter’s 2010 3-year $51 million contract, his 4th year player option was for $9.5 million. I think the entire sports world just assumed he would pick it up and take it because of the sub-par, crazy year he had in 2013. But no, this is Derek Jeter we’re talking about. He opted out of the player option, chose free agency, chose to return to the Yankees (can we actually picture Jeter playing anywhere else at this point?), and negotiated a pay raise — $12 million for the 2014 season.

Now, after this initial announcement, much of the news, social media suppositions, and chatter was regarding how this will affect the Yankees’ luxury tax “goal” (as we’re now calling it). At first, it seemed like it would lower the impact because it’s not seen as an extension, which would hike up the value of the salary, but the people who set the value haven’t really put a value on the new contract. Last estimations (that I could find) seem to think that it will save the Yankees $1 million. That million can actually pay a salary for one of their returning free agents, at least for a year.

I have to admit that I really know so very little about the whole luxury tax, salary cap, contract negotiations, trades and waivers, and the whole free agency thing. Every time I have to write about the business side of baseball, I have to do so much reading and research and verifying, and somehow translate all the legalese into blog-acceptable language. I have great respect for the men and women who make baseball function, setting up all the stuff that only a handful of people will ever understand so that the world can watch their favorite players play a little ball game for a summer. Perhaps, they are the unsung heroes of the sport, they get all the blame when things don’t work and none of the glory when they do.

Needless to say, Jeter’s back for 2014, and we can only hope back at full form and full force ready to lead the Yankees to that increasingly elusive #28.

Go Yankees!

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