The New York Post says that the Yankees aren’t talking extension with Jeter, Rivera or Girardi. This is not a surprise, really, as the Yankees have a pretty solid track record of not negotiating with their own free agents until their deals actually expire. Such an approach makes perfect sense for them, of course, because the one reason you try to lock up guys before they hit the market — to keep from having to fight off higher bidders — is not exactly a concern in New York.
Of course the Post does its damndest to try and make it an issue by slapping a quasi-inflammatory headline on the story and playing a breathless what-if game, but what else do you expect from the Post? The day they stop trying to make mountains out of molehills is the day I start worrying. But setting aside the timing and dramatics of it all, what do you do with these guys if you’re the Yankees?
I think you have to treat Girardi like a cog. Sure, if he manages another nice no-drama year and the Yankees make a good showing of it you offer him another year or two in the interests of consistency. But I’ve not seen anyone argue that the difference between success or failure in Yankeeland is whatever managerial genius Girardi possesses. Is he really telling Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez anything they don’t already know about how to play baseball? He’s Ralph Houk to Joe Torre’s Casey Stengel, isn’t he? Some people may argue that having him as a lame duck manager is a distraction. I think that locking him up for multiple years would create a much larger distraction later when the team wants to fire him.
Rivera is a toughie. He’s still awesome. He’s the best ever at what he does. He’s also 40, though, and while we all want to see him pitch forever, he won’t. If he’s still dominant this year I think you’re obligated to give him a contract with some risk attached (i.e. multiple years), knowing that you may eat most of it, because how do you say no to a legend who’s still got it? Likewise, if the wheels fall off in 2010 it’s not going to be too terribly hard to say “Look Mo, we love you, but this is probably it.” The real hard thing is going to be if he falters this season but is still generally OK. Like, if he becomes Bobby Jenks or Chad Qualls or someone like that. Superficially he’ll still look like an elite closer, but in reality he won’t be worth that kind of commitment. Such a dynamic could make for a very, very thorny fall and winter.
Jeter is kind of a no-brainer. He’s going to get a big fat contract that pays him just as much if not a little more than the $21 million he makes now over fewer years. Everyone will know the moment it’s signed that the back end of it is going to be ugly and no one will really care because he’s Derek Jeter. If a situation presents itself in which he’s making $22-25 million and can’t hit his weight, he and the team will get creative and turn his money into some lifetime contract, he’ll retire and become the greatest ambassador the Yankees ever had. The details aren’t important. What’s important is that both the Yankees and Jeter have zero desire to see the Captain in any other uniform, and no matter how it’s dealt with, it won’t happen.
Ultimately there will be an inverse relationship between the amount of ink that is spilled over these three guys’ contract status and how difficult the Yankees’ decisions with respect to these guys ultimately will be. We’ll hear about Jeter’s contract all season, but that gets done quickly. There will likewise be tons of hand-wringing “lame duck” articles regarding Girardi, but his deal (or termination) will only take about ten minutes more consideration than Jeter’s thing.
It’s Rivera’s situation that I’m planning on watching the closest, because if things break just wrong, it could be royal pain for the Yankees and Rivera and a total field day for the Post.