COMMENTARY | At some point, the New York Yankees need to deal with the post-Steroids Era reality that signing free agents through their mid-30s is risky business.
There are no more magic creams and personal trainers offering dietary supplements to ward off Father Time. If the Yankees want to win, they need to get younger. Fast.
The Yankees would be remiss not to continue taking advantage of one of the biggest changes to the latest collective bargaining agreement -- the qualifying offer.
The one-year offer ($14.1 million this year) is calculated by averaging the top 125 player salaries from last season. Each player presented with a qualifying offer has until November 11 to accept the deal. If he rejects the deal, the team making the offer will receive a "sandwich" draft pick -- a pick between the first and second rounds of the June amateur draft -- if the player signs elsewhere.
Last year, New York accounted for three of the nine qualifying offers made throughout the major leagues and came out winners in the June draft. This postseason, the Yankees are responsible for 3 of the 13 qualifying offers presented to players earlier this week.
Most free agents reportedly on the Yankees' radar have qualifying offers on the table, including Brian McCann (Atlanta Braves), Shin-Soo Choo (Cincinnati Reds), and Carlos Beltran (St. Louis Cardinals). The Yankees, meanwhile, made qualifying offers to Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and Hiroki Kuroda.
If the Yankees want to continue building for the future, they need a repeat of last offseason when the team did not sign any qualifying free agents, thus retaining their first-round pick.
The Yankees also earned "sandwich" picks when Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano turned down qualifying offers and signed with other teams. The result? The Yankees had one of the team's best draft classes in decades. (Baseball America recently ranked the Yankees' 2013 draft class third-best in the majors.)
As I wrote about during the World Series, the Yankees would be wise to continue building through the draft and forgetting about signing someone like Beltran, who turns 37 in April, to a multi-year term deal.
If they want to sign free agents this offseason, they'd be wise to take a gamble and chase players who were not offered (or didn't qualify to receive) qualifying offers. Among them, pitchers Masahiro Tanaka (who I wrote about last month), Josh Johnson, and Bronson Arroyo stand out, although Arroyo's propensity to give up long balls to left-handed hitters doesn't exactly make him suited for Yankee Stadium.
Brian Cashman, meanwhile, should learn from recent history and not offer long-term deals.
Free agents CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira helped bring the Yankees a championship in 2009, but their long-term contracts delivered little in 2013 besides payroll inflexibility, luxury taxes, and long-term anxiety. (Both are on the book for more than $20 million/year through the 2016 season, when Teixeira will be 36.)
Sure, the draft has not been kind to the Yankees. The Internet is ablaze with accountings of the organization's inability to identify, judge, and develop talent. (For example, the team wasted its first pick in 2011, 51st overall, with Dante Bichette, Jr., who batted .214 at Single-A Charleston this year.)
However, if they don't sign a qualifying free agent this offseason, the Yankees will pick at least 18th -- their highest draft position since 2005, when the team passed over Matt Garza, Clay Buchholz, and Jacoby Ellsbury to select C.J. Henry, one in a series of first-round draft busts since selecting Derek Jeter with the sixth pick in 1992. (If Granderson rejects the qualifying offer, the Yankees would likely gain a top 30 pick.)
In 2014, I'd like to see what the Yankees have on the farm and root for homegrown talent rather than watching multimillionaires swing through waist-high fastballs. Yes, such a team may not finish above .500, but it would go a long way toward making 2015 and beyond more enjoyable.
Howard Z. Unger is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, New York. He has written about sports, media, and popular culture. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, New York Post, and New York Times.
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