By JON HEYMAN
David Robertson, the top free agent closer this winter, is said to have such a vibrant mark that he’s likely to get a four-year deal despite having a draft pick attached to him by virtue of him declining the Yankees‘ qualifying offer.
Some around the game questioned whether Robertson was taking an unnecessary risk when he turned down the Yankees’ $15.3 million offer, which would have given the highest salary ever for a relief pitcher without ever even testing the market. But one rival executive said he’s heard Robertson already has an offer of about $39 million for three years in hand, and that it seems likely with all the outside interest that Robertson will get a four-year offer.
The Yankees, who seem most focused on finding a shortstop to replace the retiring iconDerek Jeter, clearly hope to keep Robertson, about whom GM Brian Cashman raved as the GM meetings, saying he has “all the boxes checked.” But word is, at least initially the Yankees weren’t expecting to go to four years.
The Astros are thought to be one interested team, but there are said to be other teams in the mix, as well, which could put pressure on the Yankees, who have seen the rival Red Sox and Blue Jays each make two significant acquisitions this winter.
The Yankees clearly have work to do, as they not only need to replace Jeter but third baseman Chase Headley and starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy, two more free agents they’ve had interest in bringing back. The Yankees are also considering whether to aim higher on the rotation front, and as was reported here first, have had some contact with Max Scherzer’s agent Scott Boras (though no concrete offer yet, it is believed).
The Yankees love Robertson, who seamlessly replaced the iconic Mariano Rivera, baseball’s greatest closer (Rivera’s $15 million salary in four different years is the annual record), and maintain keen interest in re-signing him to pair again with emerging bullpen star Dellin Betances. Bettances gives the Yankees a seemingly ready-made candidate to fill the closer’s role should Robertson leave, but Robertson’s departure would considerably weaken what was easily the Yankees’ greatest strength last year, a bullpen that gave them a decided edge in close games. It allowed them to post a winning record despite a negative run differential; the Yankees were 84-78 despite being outscored, 664-633.
There’s been skepticism as to whether Robertson made the right call in turning down the qualifying offer despite a superb season — he was 4-5 with 39 saves and a 3.08 ERA. The was even more doubt about whether he might receive a contract in the neighborhood of the total-dollar relief record $50 million, four-year deal Jonathan Papelbon got from Philadelphia three winters ago. But while Robertson hasn’t said publicly what he seeks, it seems more likely than ever he will wind up in that very ballpark, despite having that pick attached to him.
Robertson is a hard thrower with no injury history, and he struck out 13.4 per nine innings last season, about the same as Betances’ 13.5. In this market, where the best players are cashing in — top free-agent set-up man Andrew Miller also may get a four-year deal and will certainly break the relief record for a non closer — Robertson appears set to obliterate the original expectations. Robertson’s agent Scott Leventhal declined comment.
The Astros, whose interest was first reported by Ken Davidoff of the New York Post, wouldn’t lose a first-round pick by signing a top free agent since their first pick is protected. However, there are believed to believed to be a few suitors, and some surprises. The Blue Jays and White Sox are among teams seeking closers, though it isn’t known if they are involved here.