The atmosphere is right for the Yankees to — at minimum — consider more pre-free agent multi-year contracts, like the four-year, $40 million extension signed Friday with Luis Severino.
They went under the luxury tax in 2018. That reset, at the lowest penalties, the next time the Yankees go over (almost certainly this year). For tax purposes, the average value of a contract is used. That tends to be higher than an arbitration player’s yearly wage. The Yanks shunned the multi-years not wanting the average value to inflate payrolls while trying to slip under the tax.
Now — with the tax reset — the Yanks showed they are willing to do these deals, as they showed with Severino, who now cost $10 million toward the tax rather than the $5.25 million had he even won his arbitration hearing.
2. The Yanks do better with players they know. They have free-agent and trade successes, but an awful lot of Carl Pavanos, Kei Igawas and Sonny Grays, too. In the last quarter century, they have signed seven players to significant long-term deals prior to their first free agency. All seven — Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner — have worked out. Like No. 8, Severino, all but Martinez were homegrown.
3. In the past week, Severino, Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola and Minnesota’s Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco signed long-term extensions. The slow free-agent markets of the past two years might be motivating more players to consider early multi-year deals if free agency is going to be less lucrative/attractive. Often these early deals turn team friendly as they avoid the more expensive risk of upper-end free agency while tending to buy mostly prime years.
So if the Yanks are open for business, who should be considered and at what levels:
He does not even become arbitration-eligible until next offseason. With two years and 86 days of high-end results going into last year, Gary Sanchez earned just $620,400 for 2018 from the Yanks. Judge (two years, 51 days) is probably due in the same range for 2019.
With near equivalent service time, Mike Trout signed his six-year, $144.5 million extension with the Angels in March 2014, that went into effect in 2015. Judge has not been as productive as Trout. But he has been pretty darn productive and is every much the face of the franchise as Trout. That five-year old agreement at least provides a concept.
Judge might shun long-term overtures because a) he is a great player who should do fine in arbitration, and b) he is the rare baseball player who has lucrative off-the-field endorsements. But his first full season was age-25. He will not be a free agent until after his age-30 season, as most teams hesitate to invest heavily any longer in players in their 30s — and he is a big guy who teams could have extra worries about aging poorly. So, if the Yanks acted now to get his last pre-arbitration year included to lower that average value and bought out two free agent years, would that be amenable? Seven years at $146 million — $1 million, $10 million, $20 million, $25 million and three at $30 million — is $20.86 million toward the tax.
The word is he’s healing ahead of schedule from Tommy John surgery. Still, assume the Yanks want to see games. The Yanks adore this player on the field and in the clubhouse. Gregorius seems to love being a Yankee and now sees how damaging an injury can be. Does that combination push him to avoid a free agent market next offseason with Boston shortstop Xavier Bogaerts.
Jean Segura signed two years before free agency and as part of the deal got $14.25 million each for his walk year plus three free agent years. So does $15 million for five years ($75 million) land Gregorius now? It might have to be six years?
He would be a fascinating free-agent case. On one hand, he has been dominant the past five years in a bunch of relief roles when teams are willing to invest on versatile, strikeout-heavy relievers. But there are bits of wildness, Tommy John surgery in his past and constant worries about his mechanics due to his size.
The Yanks have protected themselves somewhat against Betances leaving as a free agent next year and Aroldis Chapman opting out by signing Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino. But the Yanks love a deep bullpen, and Betances has become — along with Gregorius — an important clubhouse elder as Brett Gardner and CC Sabathia likely face their final Yankees season.
Britton got three years at $39 million and Ottavino three years at $27 million. Does the midpoint — three years at $33 million beginning in 2020 — get it done?
He took years to become productive and even performing well in these past two seasons he has endured injuries. But Hicks is a switch-hitter with power, patience and defensive skill in center. The Yanks do not have a ready-made solution in 2020 with Gardner likely gone, Jacoby Ellsbury a non-factor and Clint Frazier not viewed as a center fielder. The optimistic ETA on Estevan Florial is 2021.
Analytic teams are really going to like Hicks should he get into next offseason’s market? Perhaps the four-year, $55 million deal the injury-prone, but talented, A.J. Pollock signed with the Dodgers in the offseason is the gauge.
Maybe you expected Gary Sanchez here. But his 2018 was so disturbing that unless he was ready to do a sweetheart deal, I cannot imagine the Yanks going long term now — and I can’t imagine Sanchez selling himself low.
Romine doesn’t sound like a big deal in money (probably two years, $5 million-ish) or name. But catching has never been as depleted in the majors at a time when teams having never put a bigger mental burden on their catchers. One NL executive likened what the team does information-wise with its catchers like preparing a quarterback to play a game.
Romine, who can be free after this season, knows the Yankees’ video, analytic and scouting system. The pitchers like throwing to him. The team knows he will handle the backup role well and can step in competently if something happens to Sanchez. And unless you think Kyle Higashioka is ready to do that, the Yanks have no other internal alternatives.