"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Order Of Operations

Some of you have noticed the changes I’ve made to the sidebar in the wake of the Yankees ALDS loss to Cleveland. For those who haven’t, I’ve separated the Yankees’ pending free agents from the remainder of the 40-man roster in the Players section at the bottom, and have put some of the key offseason dates in the Upcoming Schedule section.

The first date in the latter is November 11, which is the last possible date for Alex Rodriguez to opt out of his contract. His actual opt-out deadline is ten days after the end of the World Series. If the World Series goes a full seven games, that will be November 11. If it ends sooner, that date will move up accordingly.

The Yankees will make every effort to sign Rodriguez to a contract extension prior to his opt-out deadline, as well they should, but Brian Cashman is standing by his insistence that the Yankees will not pursue Rodriguez if he does opt out. The reason for that is that the Yankees are due more than $21 million from the Texas Rangers over the final three years of Rodriguez’s contract, but if Rodriguez voids his contract, the Yankees will not see a penny of that money, even if they resign Rodriguez as a free agent.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez’s agent, Scott Boras, is starting the public negotiations out at ridiculous heights. According to Peter Abraham, Boras is saying that Rodriguez, who turned 32 in July, “can play until he’s 45, hit 1,000 home runs and be worth up to $1 billion for a regional cable television network. He seems to be seeking at least a 10-year deal worth an average of $33 million a year.”

By way of comparison, only three baseball players made more than $20 million in 2007, all of them Yankees working on contracts signed in 2001 or 2002, when the market was at its peak.. Meanwhile, Carlos Beltran got seven years from the Mets and Vlad Guerrero got just five years from the Angels, both entering their age-28 seasons. The idea of a ten-year deal for a 32-year-old player with an average salary over $30 million is flatly insane. That said, if the Yankees can get Rodriguez to agree to an extension of, say, seven years or less for an annual salary in the twenties, they should probably do it. With the new stadium due to open in 2009, and the team payroll shrinking due to an increased contribution from young players not yet eligible for free agency and some of those big contracts (such as Giambi’s and Mussina’s) due to come off the books, they shouldn’t have any problem affording it. Rodriguez, meanwhile, has exceeded my expectations as a Yankee, winning (I believe it’s safe to assume) two MVP awards in his four seasons in the Bronx.

The Yankees’ first order of business, however, has to be naming a manager for the 2008 season. Though the team has made no announcements, George Steinbrenner’s statement earlier in the week, the tone of Joe Torre’s press conference, and reports of the wake-like atmosphere in the Yankee clubhouse after Monday night’s loss make it seem as though Joe Torre’s Yankee career is indeed over. If so, the Yankees should make it official and name his successor soon, as the team’s choice of manager is sure to influence not only Rodriguez, but also Andy Pettitte, who said he will either pick up his $16-million player option for next year or retire, and free agents Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.

Among the top candidates are bench coach Don Mattingly, 2005 bench coach and 2006 NL Manager of the Year Joe Girardi, and Torre’s successor in St. Louis, Tony La Russa, who’s most recent three-year deal with the Cardinals has expired. I’m sure you could throw in base coaches Tony Peña and Larry Bowa as well (the Yankees will have to at least include Peña to satisfy the requirements of the league’s minority-hiring initiative). Those who want to waste time can also toss in Bobby Valentine, Davey Johnson (who took an advisory position in the Nationals’ front office this past season, but hasn’t managed since he skippered the Dodgers in 2000), and Torre’s predecessor in St. Louis, the soon-to-be 76-year-old Whitey Herzog.

Mattingly seems to be the heir apparent, but he has no managerial experience at any level. I’d like to see Girardi get the job. My only concern with Girardi, who did a great job with an extremely green Marlins team in 2006, is that he might be too much of a taskmaster for a veteran team full of stars who are used to Torre’s gentler style of management. Girardi may also be unable to endure the persistent slights from both the media and ownership that Torre shouldered with such dignity over the past dozen seasons. Mattingly, on the other hand, is both a gentle man and one who, as a player, endured those slights with a similar professionalism during the worst of the Steinbrenner years. My only real concern about Donnie is that, from what little I saw of his in-game management when Torre was ejected or suspended this season, he seems to have a tendency to over-manage a bit, putting on small-ball plays at inappropriate times. Perhaps that tendency will fade once the novelty wears off. I certainly hope so.

As for those free agents, Mariano Rivera told the Star-Ledger that, since the Yankees declined to sign him to an extension during the season, he’s going to test the market. Jorge Posada said similar things earlier in the year. It should be noted that the Yankees are a large part of that market, and that it is simply a good negotiating tactic for them to take that stance. I expect both to return, though Posada’s leverage increased some yesterday when the Tigers picked up Ivan Rodriguez’s $13-million option.

Finally, Ron Guidry has said that he would be willing to continue on as pitching coach under a different manager, and Kevin Long is considered a key to luring Rodriguez back to New York. Bullpen coach Joe Kerrigan (honestly, how many of you remembered he was on the staff?) may be on the way out, however. I wonder if triple-A pitching coach Dave Eiland, who has worked closely with most of the organization’s young arms, is being considered to fill that role. I also wonder if that would be a misuse of Eiland with so many more talented young hurlers still progressing through the system.

At any rate, the Yankees’ order of operations is to first name a manager and then sign Alex Rodriguez to an extension. Then, and only then, can the organization set about a strategy for building next year’s team.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver