Recently, Hal Steinbrenner came out and gave a strong indication that David Robertson is going to replace Mariano Rivera as the Yankees' closer in 2014. The final decision will belong to Joe Girardi, but barring some unforeseen and totally unrealistic circumstances (like a trade for a certain pitcher in Atlanta), it seems very likely that Robertson is going to take over the role previously held by the greatest reliever the sport has ever seen.
Those are some big shoes to fill, but if there were anybody in baseball that I'd choose to fill those shoes, Robertson would be pretty high on the list even if he weren't a Yankee. He blossomed as one of the best relief pitchers in baseball during the 2011 season with a 13.50 K/9 and a sparkling 1.08 ERA in 70 appearances. What has made Robertson so good, however, is that he hasn't been the one-year wonder that many other relief pitchers have turned out to be (I'm looking at you, Fernando Rodney). He's one of those rare relievers that's both dominant and consistent year in and year out, as he followed his 2011 with back-to-back excellent seasons in 2012 and 2013.
It is for this reason that Robertson is one of the few relievers I would advocate giving a multi-year deal to. He will become a free agent for the first time after the 2014 season, and assuming he transitions smoothly into his new role, he's going to get paid the way that a top reliever in baseball should be paid, especially if he hits the open market. Here's Robertson's total line for the last three seasons:
205 games, 193.2 IP, 11.99 K/9, 3.35 BB/9, 1.91 ERA, 5.9 WAR
You can't ask for much better than that. In fact, very few are comparable over this time period. Per fWAR, there are only two relievers in all of Major League Baseball that have been more valuable than Robertson since 2011 – Craig Kimbrel in Atlanta, and Greg Holland in Kansas City. Both of those guys are already closers and Kimbrel is widely regarded as the best in the league at the position. Neither has reached free agency yet, but you can bet they'll be paid if and when they do.
As for the rest of the league, Robertson is about as good as you can hope for which is why, again, he is going to get paid assuming he continues his recent success with the transition to the ninth inning. Based on the current market, other top closers have gotten somewhere between $10 and $15 million per year. Jonathan Papelbon, who hit free agency after 2011, signed a four-year, $50 million contract with the Phillies, good for an AAV of $12.5 million. Another example is Francisco Rodriguez, who was regarded as one of the game's top closers when he signed his three-year, $37 million deal with the Mets before 2009 (AAV of $12.3 million).
On the high end of things, the man that Robertson is replacing made $15 million per year on his most recent multi-year contract (a three-year deal). You also have former Yankee Rafael Soriano, who signed a two-year deal with the Washington Nationals after the 2012 seasons at an AAV of $14 million.
Based on all of this, the closers market has been fairly consistent when it comes to contracts. On the other hand, D-Rob has been as good as or better than everyone mentioned above that has signed multi-year deals to close for their respective teams. Robertson doesn't have the "proven closer" trademark that the others have, but if he comes out and does the job for the Yankees in 2014 any doubts should fade.
I understand the Yankees don't like to negotiate with players before their current contracts are up, but if there's any chance the Yankees could extend David Robertson before he hits free agency, I think it's something they have to consider, especially if he can be had at a reasonable price. I don't know if he'd be willing to do it, but it's worth making an offer. If he hits the market, well then a lot of teams are going to be interested.
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