Two Yankee heroes, two tough decisions. OK, maybe not. Let's just cut to the chase, the Yankees need to bend over backwards to keep Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada. It may take a four-year deal for Posada and a guaranteed three-year deal for Rivera. They may have to overpay for both of them. They're probably going to wind up with about $25M in dead weight two or three years down the road, and you know what, it doesn't matter.
Let's face facts, the Yanks will have about $42M in dead weight on the payroll in 2008 (Giambi, Mussina, Pavano). When you spend this much money, it's bound to happen. I'd rather see the Yanks carry a couple of guys who carried them to four championships than see them sign borderline free agents to asinine deals. This isn't the only reason to sign these guys, we'll get to baseball reasons in a second, but this is an important statement for the Yankees to make to their fans as they head into the new ballpark, jack up ticket prices, shrink the number of available seats and try to make amends for failing to bring Joe Torre back.On the field
I always tend to view stats from contract years with a bit of skepticism, but you just can't ignore the monster numbers Jorge put up this year. He turned 36 in August, yet set career marks in average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. Among all catchers in the majors he was #1 in average (.338), #2 in home runs (20), #2 in RBI (91), #1 in runs (91), #1 in walks (74), #1 in doubles (42), #1 in OBP (.426), #1 in SLG (.544) and #1 in OPS (.970). Those numbers are mind-boggling. I never thought he'd be able to keep up his torrid pace after the All Star break, but he finished the year just as strong as he started it (in September he hit .395 with a .511 OBP and a .632 SLG).
Will he be able to duplicate those numbers? Probably not. You can't go into the season expecting that kind of production out of him. One thing this season has told us, however, is that he's still got something left in the tank. His numbers will drop off next year, but they won't plummet to the point where he isn't a viable middle-of-the-lineup bat. He's going to drive in runs, he's going to be patient at the plate, and he's going to provide leadership at a key position on a team in desperate need of a stabilizing force for their young staff.
There is going to be plenty of interest in Posada if he hits the free agent market. I have a feeling the Mets are going to be heavily involved. Do you want to see him wearing orange and baby blue next year? I know I don't.
There's one last thing to consider: If Jorge does leave, who catches for this team next year? There's no one in the minor league system waiting in the wings. I suppose they could re-sign Jose Molina, but he isn't an everyday catcher, never was and never will be. Here's the list of free agent catchers:
- Brad Ausmus (39)
Michael Barrett (31)
Ramon Castro (32)
Jason Kendall (34)
Paul Lo Duca (36)
Jorge Posada (36)
Jose Molina (33)
Yorvit Torrealba (30)
Not a starter in the bunch, outside of Torrealba, and he doesn't bring enough of a stick to crack the Yankee lineup. Posada is the alpha and omega as far as catching options go for the Yankees in 2008. They need to act as such and lock him down before he files for free agency. I expect them to do so soon after the managerial position is filled.
This brings us to the Sandman. If you're unfamiliar with my feelings for Mo's contribution to the Yankees over the past 12 years, take a look at this post
. As for 2007, his peripheral numbers were down a bit, or up, as the case may be (3.34 ERA, 1.131 WHIP), but his 30/34 conversion rate was still among the best in the game. He's still got the velocity, movement and command that have made him the best closer in the game throughout his career, and although he probably no longer holds that title, he's still in the top 5. At the age of 37 Mariano threw 71.1 innings. Only 3 full-time closers had a heavier workload. Papelbon only threw 58.1 innings, and he tired at the end of the season.
Unlike Posada's situation, the Yankees do have a closer waiting in the wings
in Joba Chamberlain. The only problem, as I stated in an earlier post, is that Joba may hold more value as a starter. The Yankees need to find out what they have in Chamberlain, if they don't re-sign Mo, they won't get that opportunity. Even if Joba ultimately returns to the pen, even if it's sooner rather than later, the Yankees are much better off with a 1-2 punch of Joba and Mo for the next two or three years than Farnsworth and Joba.
If you undervalue a closer who can get you six-out saves, shut down the best hitters in the league, and completely demoralize the opposing team on any given night, you do so at your own peril. Mo is still that guy, and I think he will be for another two years, minimum. If you have to sign him to a three-year deal to get it done, so be it. He has a farewell tour in the new stadium, and the Yanks have some time to figure out who's going to replace him. I can't help but think if they don't bring him back they're forcing the matter with Joba, and we'll never find out what might have been.
In case you were wondering if there is a viable closer option on the free agent option, here are your choices:
- Armando Benitez (35)
Joe Borowski (37) - $4MM club option for '08
Francisco Cordero (33)
Octavio Dotel (32) - $5.5MM mutual option for '08
Eric Gagne (32)
Todd Jones (40)
Al Reyes (37) - $1MM club option for '08
Mariano Rivera (38)
Bob Wickman (39)
Again, no one in there who you can trust to get the job done. (Joe Nathan could become a free agent, but the Twins have an affordable team option, he won't hit the free market).
I know some Yankee fans, and media types thought the way the Yankees handled Bernie Williams (they offered him a minor league deal to come to Spring Training in '07, he declined) was indicative of the treatment Rivera and Posada would receive this season. That's comparing apples to oranges. Bernie was clearly done. In fact, I think he was running on fumes for his last two seasons with the team. That is not the case with Posada, nor Rivera. I think the Yankees value them for their contributions on the field and in the clubhouse, and they'll reward them with contracts that will keep them Yankees for the remainder of their careers. If they don't, the front office is going to have a lot more questions to answer than they did after Torre left, and rightly so.