The off-season begins with a look to the past and a look to the future

For my first off-season post of the year, I’m splitting my time talking about both the past and the future. I think the hardest part about off-season posts is that’s all you have to talk about — what was and what will (or may) be. It’s hard to believe it’s already November, but it certainly makes it easier to hold your breath until Spring Training. Thanksgiving is in a few weeks, Christmas just a month after that, the New Year, and then suddenly it’s February and the hopeful Baby Bombers roll into the Tampa complex with dreams of playing in the Bronx in 2015, sharing lockers and swapping stories with veteran Yankees. (By the way, season tickets for Spring Training are already on sale; single tickets will be for sale in January.)

Okay, looking forward first…

Yesterday was the Qualifying Offer deadline for those with a contract option for an extension on their current contracts. Two players had such an option — David Robertson and Hiroki Kuroda. Robertson was extended a qualifying offer of $15.3 million; he has 7 days to accept or deny this offer. (That number is set by MLB and the MLBPA, not the Yankees and is a 1-year deal and will allow the player to enter free agency following the end of the season.) Kuroda didn’t receive an offer.

Now, this is a tricky move for most players. If they think they can fare better on the free agent market (like a handful of players that made the postseason and offered yesterday), they will decline the offer and send their agents to the phones to wheel and deal. Should they be towards the end of their career or perhaps had a poor performance last year, they might choose to accept the offer and see if they can spend this next year improving their odds for next year’s free agency market. A declination of the offer (from either side) doesn’t mean the player won’t be playing for the same team next year, but rather it sends everything back to the negotiation tables.

Following that thought, there are some new developments on the free agent market, but the Yankees have already made it clear they aren’t going after many of the “big-ticket” players (for those interested, names like Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, James Shields, and Pablo Sandoval have all been crossed off the list). But I don’t hold much stock in rumors (as you know by now), so until all those guys have been signed elsewhere, anything can still happen. Personally, I don’t really see any of those guys playing in a Yankee uniform any time soon. I expect most of their current teams will try to negotiate contracts to keep their stars home.

However, two of last year’s players are in negotiations with the Yankees — Chase Headley and Brandon McCarthy. Headley’s name has been tossed about for retention since he was picked up by the Yankees in the middle of last season, and his performance since donning pinstripes has been outstanding, plus he’s very interested in staying in New York and with the team as long as he isn’t used as a bench-warmer. Not that I blame him on that line of thought, but the return of Alex Rodriguez does add a wrinkle to Headley. Word came last month that the team wants Rodriguez taking fielding practice at 1st base as well, so it looks a bit more promising for Headley. Perhaps the plan is to use Rodriguez as a DH and then relief at 1st and 3rd (for Teixeira and Headley, respectively) until he is back up to a daily playing routine in his age-40 season.

McCarthy comes as no surprise either as he became a crucial part of the dwindling, oft-injured rotation this past year. But he is considered one of the better free agent starters this off-season, so the Yankees could be in for a fight to land him. Tanaka, Sabathia, and Pineda will all be back for Spring, with Nova’s Tommy John surgery recovery completed by mid-2015 at the latest. So the starting rotation come Opening Day is still a big question mark. “Aggressive negotiations” with McCarthy seem like a good idea in that light.

There are some other players’ names being tossed about in the rumor mill, but between these qualifying offers, free agents, and arbitration-eligible players, it’s still fairly early in the off-season. Every year that I dive deeper into the contract business, I still feel a little overwhelmed by all the different aspects of the contracts. There is no such thing as a formulaic contract in baseball, though they all follow a similar basic pattern depending on the initial signing of the player. However, once they hit free agency, it’s really left to the most creative agents and lawyers and GMs to craft unique contract terms for the individual player. It almost makes me want to go to law school and study contract law just so I can get a better understanding. Almost…

“This Day in Yankees History” — Wednesday, November 4, 2009 — Yankees defeat the Phillies 7-3 in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium to claim their 28th title. Matsui was awarded the World Series MVP, for hitting 3 home runs, 8 RBIs, and going 8-for-13 during the Series. It was his last full season with the Yankees. It was the first year the Yankees played in the new Yankee Stadium, so this win was a great way to christen it. It was also the last postseason in which “the Boss” was alive; Steinbrenner would pass away the following July. In many ways, it was a send-off year for so many. But what I remember most is watching the Series with my mom at my place; my mom had just started liking the Yankees after I took her to her first Yankee game at Yankee Stadium that April. She and I intensely followed the team that year, something that was rather rewarding as they won 103 games and the AL East division that year. It was rather reminiscent of the late-90’s Yankees, except instead of my mom rooting against them in her Cleveland hat, she donned her new bright green NY cap and joined me in cheering on the likes of Posada, Jeter, Damon, Teixeira, and Swisher as they just plowed through to win it all that year. It was a very good year.

Go Yankees!

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