Earlier this week, the annual MLB GM meetings in Tampa kicked off on Monday with a few important notes from the Yankees; namely, that Robinson Cano, Hiroki Kuroda and Curtis Granderson had each declined the qualifying offer extended to them by the team. While not entirely shocking- who can blame a player for wanting security for more than one year, especially if he feels he can get more AAV with a longer deal, or with another team- the declinations serve as a reminder that the Yankees may not be able to bring these players back in 2014. After missing the playoffs for only the second time since 1995, the Yankees have some holes to patch and re-configuring to do (that is to say, “rebuilding”), but doing so with thin options on the free-agent front and in the farm system would be a lot easier with each of those guys back in the fold.
Sep 14, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano (24) congratulates center fielder Curtis Granderson (14) after scoring a run during the fourth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Two of the biggest knocks on Granderson from a player standpoint have always been his defensive ability (though perhaps he was mismatched with center field, which would require him to cover more ground), and the strikeouts. His defense can be mitigated in a system with a good center fielder and a move to left (see, Brett Gardner), and there are far worse options in the outfield around baseball than he.
Further, while has over 200 strikeouts on his resume the last few years, excluding his injury-riddled 2013, his bat is enough to warrant putting him in the lineup. Left-handed power bats don’t grow on trees, and certainly not ones that have produces 84 homers in 2011 and 2012 year- the most in the majors.
Granderson is certainly an offensive asset, and with a team with questionable production in other areas- Ichiro Suzuki was abysmal, Mark Teixeira‘s numbers have declined each year, questions remain about Jeter’s ability to stay healthy, Alex Rodriguez an unknown quantity at third in 2014, and virtually nothing from the catchers tandem- would certainly benefit from his return. However, Granderson in 33 years old, and this will likely be one of the last, if not the last, contract of his career. Wanting something that is more long-term and offers more financially is in Granderson’s best interests, and by reports, many teams, including the Mets, are interested. It all comes down to numbers; if the Yankees can tweak their payroll plans to include a slightly higher number for Grandy, with a 3 year commitment, he might take the bait. The Yankees shouldn’t go more than that, and may suffer for just that, but with the tax implications over after 2014, it may be palatable to bring Granderson back. Would losing Granderson be a back-breaker? Probably not. Would his return leave the Yankees in markedly better circumstances than his departure? No doubt.
It seems odd to suggest that a 38 year-old pitcher who only moved to the American League 3 years ago was the ace of the New York Yankees, but the numbers just don’t lie. While CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes struggles mightily, Ivan Nova was inconsistent and the fifth spot in the rotation was filled by the generic pitcher of du jour. Despite a bumpy month towards the three-quarter mark of the season, Kuroda was the single most reliable pitcher in the starting rotation for the Yankees. While Hughes did not get a qualifying offer, the only two definite for 2014 are Nova and Sabathia.
Even if Kuroda is a fraction of what he was last year, he is a quantifiable entity: the Yankees know what they will/will not get out of him, and know that with his durability, he is good for about 200 IP. There aren’t any better options on the free-agent market, or within the franchise, either. If Kuroda bolts for another team, the Yankees get a compensatory draft pick (but bear in mind, that was how they got Phil Hughes, so do with that what you will); however, if he retires or he goes back to Japan, the team gets nothing.
Having Kuroda back, even at $16 million (more than 2013 and the qualifying offer), it would be a worthwhile move to attempt to solidify a rotation that was shaky at best last year, and looks like a piece of Swiss cheese this year. While it seems like Kuroda’s move is more of an insurance option for the Yankees to retain a pick, I would guess that he will re-sign with the team. On the whole, I’m not a fan of signing pitchers at that age, but here’s a better question: who else can be in that slot? If nothing else, Kuroda is a space filler until the 2014 season when the purse strings open again, and the pitching crop may be better- and, in the short term, he gives you a legitimate chance to win every turn through the rotation.
It’s really not a contest at all in determining the Yankees’ best player. From his defense to his offensive production, Cano is far and away the center of the Yankees on-field activities, and his loss will be an incredible one. There is no other comparable talent on the market. Further, the matter is complicated by the grassroots effort to keep Cano in a Yankees uniform throughout his entire career. While one could easily get behind the idea of keep Cano close, the bigger issue becomes simply: how much would it take? Earlier this year, reports were that Cano’s team floated a $300 million dollar/10 year figure. That would be an unmitigated disaster for the Yankees.
At his age (31), his value as a player and his production will only plummet from here on out. Players don’t get better with advanced age. Not to put too fine a point on it, but there’s glaring example of why not to give up everything (and the kitchen sink) to invest an inordinate amount of money in a player way past his prime hanging around MLB offices these days. Cano’s loss would be huge and immediate for a team that had as staggering loss in production from one season to the next as the 2012 to 2013 Yankees. However, the issue remains the cost: would it ultimately cost less to let him walk as opposed to keeping him, in terms of the impact- cap issues, roster spots, etc.- that it would cost the team down the road? Probably, but that’s an issue for later, as the Yankees tend to be a “making a move now, think about tomorrow, tomorrow” franchise.
In all honestly, while Cano’s youth, production and sheer talent level make him the most likely to be missed, the point very much remains that the Yankees will miss each of these players immensely should they walk away. The biggest holes (and there are many) that the Yankees faced last year were with offensive production/struggles to score runs and pitching. Each of those players brings out some of the best of the team in each of those areas.
Kuroda arguably served as the ace on a staff that underwhelmed and under-performed, while Cano’s production carried the team. For his part, even though Granderson missed much of 2013 with injuries after being hit by pitches, a guy who hits 40 homers a year will be hard to replace, and the move to left field mitigated his average defensive skills. Though Cano shouldn’t get that $300 million, 10-year deal; Granderson isn’t the best defensive player in the world; Kuroda is a 38 year-old pitcher. Championships and consistently strong teams rarely have a core such as this. But with the Yankees, as always, it is different: to put fans in the seats, to have a chance of competing, to build a team that fans (for right or wrong), have come to expect certain things of, the Yankees will miss not just one of these players, but all of them.