What to do with the Yankees’ arbitration-eligible players

This morning, Matt Swartz and MLB Trade Rumors released 2017 salary projections for arbitration eligible players. If you’re unfamiliar, this has been released annually for the past few years and has been rather accurate at pegging who will earn what in the following season.

The Yankees have ten players eligible for arbitration that, if the team wishes to keep them, must be tendered a contract to by the end of November. An arbitration case would be heard on any of the tendered players some time in January or February if both sides fail to reach a agreement beforehand. It’s unlikely that the Yankees will need to go to any hearings, as the organization has a track record of reaching deals before any case is necessary. The last time the franchise went head-to-head with one of its players was in 2008, when the Yankees prevailed over Chien-Ming Wang.

Under no obligation must the Yankees decide to move forward with the ten eligible players. By not tendering a contract to a player, the team rescinds its exclusive rights, thereby allowing the player to become a free agent. This is as much of a financial decision as it is based on a player’s talent and health.

Below are Swartz’ salary projections for the players the front office must determine the futures of. Service time, formatted in Years.Days, is in parentheses. I’ll provide my thoughts on what should happen with each after.

The Keepers

Michael Pineda: Big Mike is set for a big raise (81%, up from $4.3M in 2016) in his final year before free agency. Despite a second straight disappointing season, Pineda needs to be kept around. The rotation is thin as it is, and even though Pineda struggled in 2016, it would be in worse shape without him. $7.8M is a somewhat hefty price for the Dominican right-hander, but if you’re a believer in some of his ERA estimators (i.e. FIP, SIERA, or DRA), better things could be in store.

Adam Warren: In his second go-round as an arbitration eligible player, Warren is expected to receive a $600K raise. There’s no reason to let him go, as Warren provides bullpen versatility. A trade is possible, as Bryan Mitchell could step into his role. For now, assuming he stays put, he’ll be a jack of all trades reliever that the Yankees won’t have a second thought offering a contract to.

Didi Gregorius: He was Super-Two player last winter, so this is his second time through the process despite having only three-plus years of service. His home run barrage certainly paid off, putting him in line to more than double his salary from a year ago ($2.425M). He’s developed into a very good shortstop in pinstripes, so it’s a no-brainer to keep him.

Dellin Betances: This is the tall reliever’s first time as an arbitration eligible player, meaning he’s set for his first real pay day since his $1M draft bonus way back in 2008. Like Didi, there’s no reason to debate tendering a contract to arguably the best reliever in baseball.

Austin Romine: It’s also Romine’s first time eligible for arbitration, albeit not quite as lucrative as Betances’ expected pay. That’s to no one’s surprise, of course. Still, a bump from $556K to $900K is nothing to sneer at. He did an acceptable job as a backup catcher this past year, and might even garner some trade interest this offseason. He could be the backup again in 2017, pending Brian McCann‘s fate.

Aaron Hicks: Although Hicks was nothing short of poor this past year, now isn’t the time to give up on him. $1.4M is reasonable for a reserve outfielder, who theoretically is better than the replacement level performance he provided in 2016. If the ship doesn’t reverse course after the upcoming season, then it will probably be time to seriously consider cutting him loose.

Attempt to re-sign after non-tendering

Dustin Ackley: Swartz’ model forecasts no change to Ackley’s salary because of season-ending surgery undergone in June. This is the same surgery Greg Bird had, meaning Ackley is likely out for twelve months or so, targeting a return perhaps some time around the All-Star break. The front office should and will likely let Ackley go, but should also try to re-sign him at a cheaper rate.

Nathan Eovaldi: Tommy John surgery will make 2017 a lost campaign for Eovaldi. There’s no reason to pay him $7.5M to not set foot on the diamond. The Yankees will non-tender him, and then likely pursue a two-year deal for the minimum salary in 2017 and a higher base plus incentives for 2018. The Yankees signed free-agent Jon Lieber to a similar contract prior to the 2003 season which paid off upon his return the following year.

Let go

Tommy Layne: I have a suspicious feeling that the Yankees feel differently, but Layne shouldn’t be tendered a contract. It’s not that the $1.2M is a back breaker,  rather it’s that he’s not useful. I suppose he did a fine job after being picked up off the scrap heap this summer, but the Yankees can almost certainly obtain a similar performance from someone in the minors. Moreover, to me, carrying a LOOGY is a wasted roster spot.

Donovan Solano*: A decision has already been made, and it wasn’t surprising:

This is just the first step for Solano to become a minor league free agent, so there will be no need to consider arbitration matters for him any further.

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