Nearly a full decade after acquiring him from Texas, and six years after forking over another contract worth over $275 million, A-Rod's chokehold on New York's bottom line continues to drag on.
According to Yankees manager Joe Girardi, per Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York, the organization's offseason plans are complicated by the drawn-out nature of Rodriguez's appeal on the impending 211-game suspension that stemmed from the Biogenesis scandal.
"It's important that we know," Girardi said to Marchand. "Because if we're not going to have him, we need to fill that void. It does cause us to think a lot about, 'Do we need a third baseman or do we not need a third baseman?'
Beyond just a possible void at third base, an entire winter of concern hangs in the balance for general manger Brian Cashman. As the organization attempts to stay under the $189 million luxury tax, the $25 million in base salary, along with $6 million in easily attainable bonus cash, allotted to Rodriguez on the 2014 books is weighing into every decision made in the Bronx.
Patience is a virtue, but in this case it's far from an enviable characteristic. With free agency open and qualifying offers on the table, movement will soon begin for some of the brightest stars in the sport, including New York's own Robinson Cano.
With Rodriguez's appeal not set to resume until November 18, arbitrator Fredric Horowitz is unlikely to have the case wrapped up and decision made until sometime in mid-to-late December. By then, the free agent and trade market could look drastically different than it does today.
How will Rodriguez's appeal shake up New York's offseason? Here are five key areas to monitor over the next 45 days.
Who will New York sign before Rodriguez's fate is sealed?
This subtitle could have also been titled 'mid-tier commitments'. In other words, don't expect the Yankees to break the bank by handing out a $100 million-plus deal until Horowitz renders Rodriguez's 2014 fate.
The only moves New York is guaranteed to make over the next 45-50 days are the contracts they've already tendered as qualifying offers to Hiroki Kuroda, Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano. After reportedly seeking a $310 million deal, per Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the odds of Cano accepting a one-year, $14.1 million deal are, well, slim to none. Until Kuroda decides on which country he wants to pitch in, accepting a one-year tender in November seems rushed. While Granderson could benefit from a big 2014 before re-entering the market, his numbers are too similar to Nick Swisher, per Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, to pass up a lucrative deal on the market this winter.
With the GM and Winter Meetings both commencing before mid-December, it's likely New York will try to add something to the club, especially if the Cano-Granderson-Kuroda trio declines the one-year deals.
If there's one name that makes sense early in free agency, regardless of Rodriguez's future, it's Stephen Drew. Even in the event that A-Rod's name is cleared, Joe Girardi can use an infielder capable of playing third base and shortstop to spell and/or replace the aging Derek Jeter and Rodriguez as early as opening day. After receiving a qualifying offer from the Red Sox, Drew will cost a pick but shouldn't command more than a two- or three-year deal on the open market.
Should they chase big-ticket items, like Brian McCann or Masahiro Tanaka, before knowing how much money is available?
Yes, to an extent.
Major movement on the free-agent front likely won't occur until December's Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla. Brian Cashman can stall on negotiations for free agents until then, but sitting out the December 9-12 trip to Disney World will cost the team dearly in negotiating power with top-tier players.
New York must proceed, but with caution. Juggling two, three or four lucrative offers at once is a yearly rite of passage for big market teams, but the Yankees can't get caught in a scenario where, say, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka all are ready and willing to come aboard. Backing out of a deal is far from an impossible move, but the public relations nightmare in New York for ignoring talented players to save dollars would be a major story.
Brian Cashman must enter December with two plans available to him at the negotiating table: with Rodriguez and without Rodriguez. If a player is in the plan regardless of how much the team will owe A-Rod in 2014, aggressiveness should know no bounds. If a potential acquisition is contingent on A-Rod's salary becoming greatly reduced or expunged, caution must be taken.
Of the big names, Tanaka is a fit regardless of how the A-Rod circus plays out due to the current advantages of the posting offer not counting against the payroll or luxury tax.
Who will still be left on the market?
If history is any indication, Scott Boras clients will wade through the early offers, let the market develop and not sign before Christmas.
This year, some of Boras' bigger clients are Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury and Kendrys Morales. If Carlos Beltran didn't move on from Boras' agency in 2011, the famous agent would have nearly the entire outfield market cornered. If Robinson Cano didn't dump Boras for Jay Z during the early portion of the 2013 season, the market would be driven by one man.
Still, there should be plenty of talent available for the Yankees to scoop up during late-December and early-January. While it's fashionable to think that the biggest and best free agents come off the board all at once, it doesn't work that way during baseball's offseason. Unlike the NBA and NFL, there isn't a shopping spree that lasts one week.
In 2012, Prince Fielder signed a nine-year, $214 million contract with the Detroit Tigers on January 24, over a month after the wheeling and dealing of that offseason's Winter Meetings. Last year, Cleveland signed free-agent outfielder Michael Bourn to a four-year contract on February 12. As you might have guessed, both were Scott Boras clients.
Aside from major bats represented by Boras, reclamation-project pitching will likely be floating around the market, hoping for a guaranteed offer before settling on short deals with lower financial clout. After suffering through a career-worst season (2-8, 6.20 ERA) in Toronto, Josh Johnson could be a high-upside strikeout artist available to sign well after A-Rod's appeal is finalized.
Will it impact Robinson Cano?
Despite leaving Scott Boras for Jay Z, creating one of the unlikeliest rivalries in professional sports, Robinson Cano will still take his time during his first foray into free agency. The idea of Cano receiving a lucrative offer and signing quickly is remote.
In fact, expect Cano to try to use the impending Rodriguez appeal to his advantage. If A-Rod is suspended for the entire 2014 season, Cano's camp can use the extra cash in Brian Cashman's pocket to its advantage. With the knowledge of $31 million extra funneled into New York's budget for 2014, Cano's representatives can ask for more money per season in a long-term deal. If Yankees fans are aware that money is there to spend on the franchise's best player, a frugal approach won't be accepted.
Furthermore, if Rodriguez's bat is gone for 2014, there's a hole to fill in the lineup. Although the former three-time American League MVP isn't the star of old, he still contributed to New York's lineup upon an August return this past season. Cano's leverage over the Yankees grows both on and off the field.
Of all the possibilities listed, losing Cano due to Rodriguez's appeal should be the least of New York's offseason concerns. The franchise has been preparing for Cano's contract negotiation for years and should not let anything get in the way of re-signing their current star.
While it's unlikely, the Yankees can enter the new year with a major roster problem and very few options. For the sake of their 2014 payroll and attempting to compete for a postseason spot while staying under the luxury tax, Rodriguez escaping the wrath of baseball without so much as a one-game suspension would hurt. It would hurt even more if A-Rod's appeal victory came after a long, drawn-out process.
If the Yankees lost out on a pitcher like Tanaka and an infielder like Drew, they could choose to wait out the big-name free agents until the Rodriguez decision is rendered. If it extends into late-December or early-January, names like Brian McCann and Shin-Soo Choo could be off the board.
Last, but certainly not least, is the worst-case scenario around Robinson Cano. Really, two separate, but troubling, scenarios could exist with the current Yankee star.
Cano could bolt, leaving the Yankees without their best player or reinforcements capable of replacing him. A lineup without Cano's left-handed bat would project to be one of the worst in all of baseball.
Or, as mentioned above, Cano could force the Yankees into overpaying him in both years and money, setting forth a chain of events that, at least in terms of dollars and production, makes Cano the next Alex Rodriguez in New York Yankees history.
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