Major League Baseball finally got some big news today that had nothing to do with PEDs. According to reports, the Seattle Mariners have agreed to a five-year, $135.5 million extension with their ace and 2010 American League Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez. With Hernandez still having two years left on his current contract, he will be in a Mariners jersey thru the 2019 season.
The deal has ripple effects throughout baseball, most notably in New York. The New York Yankees were expected to be heavy bidders for Hernandez after the 2014 season as he, Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers and Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers were expected to hit the free agent market. With Hernandez now off the boards and the unlikeliness of big money teams like the Tigers and Dodgers not keeping their two aces, the Yankees will probably be shut out in terms of landing another number one starter to pair with C.C. Sabathia.
Now that isn’t to say that the Yankees still won’t offer the other two Cy Young winners contracts if they do hit the free agent market after the 2014 season. After all, if the Yankees manage to stay under the $189 million luxury tax ceiling in the 2014 season, they will reset their luxury tax rate to 17.5%.
If they manage to do so and with only $68.1 million in guaranteed contracts in 2015, the Yankees will be in line for a spending spree unseen since they signed Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett to a combined $423.5 million in salary in the winter of 2008. Plus, as we saw with the Albert Pujols signing to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim last season, some players don’t view staying with one franchise their entire careers as very important.
However, no matter how deep the Yankees pockets will be after the 2014 season, it will be tough going up against Tigers owner Mike Illitch and the new group of Dodgers owners led by Magic Johnson and Stan Kasten. As the the Tigers have shown the past couple of seasons, money seems to be no objective to them, as they’ve signed Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Prince Fielder to big money contracts. As for the Dodgers, just last season the team added $262.5 million in salary when it traded for Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett from the Boston Red Sox.
If the Yankees are unable to land the two in free agency after 2014, their plans for their starting rotation of the future looks murky. Sabathia will still be there, but he will be 34 in 2015 and as we saw last season, he is beginning to show wear and tear. The team will still have Ivan Nova and David Phelps under their control in 2015.
However, Nova is coming off a 5.02 ERA last season and despite Phelp’s strong rookie campaign, he pitched just 99.2 innings. Who knows what the two young hurlers will be like in 2015. The team still has Michael Pineda whom they acquired from the Mariners in exchange for former prized prospect Jesus Montero. However, the righty missed all of 2012 with a right shoulder injury and isn’t due to return at least until the mid-way point of the 2013 season. Who knows if he will be the same fireballer he was with the Mariners during his rookie season.
The same can be said for current prospect Manny Banuelos, who missed most of 2012 and will likely miss all of 2013 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Current starters Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda will most likely be retired by 2015 and Phil Hughes could be in another uniform if the Yankees don’t elect to bring him back after next season when he hits free agency. Remember, Robinson Cano will also be a free agent after next season and Derek Jeter could elect not to employ his player option, making him another free agent candidate.
Now all this pessimism could all be for naught. Maybe Sabathia continues to be the 20-win per season ace he was his first three seasons in pinstripes. Maybe Nova and Phelps prove to be steady, back of the rotation starters. Maybe the team can pry one or both of Verlander and Kershaw after 2015. Maybe Banuelos turns out to be the future ace the team envisioned a couple of years ago. However, if some of these events don’t happen, the Yankees could be looking at some lean years ahead of them.