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A look at two qualifying offer candidates on the Yankees

Didi Gregorius and Dellin Betances could plausibly have short offseasons.

New York Yankees v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

For the first time since 2012, the Yankees will win the AL East. The progress leading to this accomplishment has been steady; players have developed within the organization and made their way to the Bronx year after year, and talent with untapped potential was brought over from other clubs. The Yankees are now one of the deepest organizations in all of baseball and don’t show any signs of slowing down.

Since the start of the organization’s turnaround, as they shifted their focus from older veterans to stud prospects, almost no core players have hit free agency. However, this offseason, Dellin Betances and Didi Gregorius will become free agents, and the Yankees’ front office will need to make decisions on both. After an injury-riddled season, questions will be posed about both players. What does a shortstop who recently returned from Tommy John surgery and is under performing receive? How much can a reliever who didn’t throw a pitch until mid-September fetch?

Complicating matters is the qualifying offer, because if given this choice, Gregorius and Betances’ offseasons could potentially be short. The qualifying offer strictly benefits clubs, and it could benefit the Yankees here in a couple ways. If the Yankees are willing to tender qualifying offers to both players and they accept, the Yankees get to roster good players with no long-term commitment. If they walk, the Yankees receive draft compensation.

In the case of Betances, the roughly $18-million qualifying offer might seem like an overpay to most, what with Aroldis Chapman making $17.2 million, Kenley Jansen $18.8 million, and Wade Davis $18.0 million. Even though Betances has as much ability as any reliever, he’s coming off an injury, and has never closed like that trio of players. The closest comp to Betances entering free agency might be fellow Yankee Zack Britton. Britton’s $13-million annual salary marks the highest for any reliever that is not a closer. Considering the two are the same age and have similarly strong track records, the Yankees could make the assessment that Betances is worth around $13 million as well on a medium-term deal.

Should the Yankees offer Betances something around Britton’s deal, Betances could be tempted to take the extra annual bump from the qualifying offer, and bet on himself that he could make more next offseason, when he wouldn’t have the qualifying offer attached to him.

Now, let’s look at Didi, as well as other shortstops around the game:

Comparing shortstops and their salaries

Player Plate Appearances wRC+ WAR AAV (million)
Player Plate Appearances wRC+ WAR AAV (million)
Xander Bogaerts 1849 122 14.2 20.0
Didi Gregorius 1443 111 10.1 11.7
Jean Segura 1771 106 9.1 14.0
Statistics since beginning of 2017 FanGraphs

Looking the market for shortstops provides some clarity, as Xander Bogaerts recently signed a contract extension that begins next season at a $20-million dollar average annual salary. Gregorius is a little older than Bogaerts and a little worse, and Gregorius’ production this season does create some worry, as he’s been worth about one win above replacement in a sample size of over 300 plate appearances. However, the Yankees would have no excuse at balking at $18 million dollars for Gregorius if he returns to producing 4-WAR seasons, as Gregorius did the last two years.

Whether or not other teams should be interested in both Gregorius and Betances is unquestioned. After Anthony Rendon, Gregorius is one of the more productive offensive pieces in the upcoming free agent class, and he brings top defensive value up the middle. Betances will also be one of the top relievers along with Will Smith and possibly Aroldis Chapman should the Yankees closer opt out of his contract.

Both players will deservedly be looking for multi-year contracts, but the market hasn’t been very generous to players the last couple of seasons, and the agencies representing Gregorius and Betances will have to consider that. The qualifying offer could represent a chance for each to prove their worth after injury. On the other hand, should either player accept the offer, opposing teams could reason next offseason that Betances and Gregorius are now one year older, and even less attractive on a long-term deal. Such is the harsh nature of today’s free agent climate.

Overall, most fans would probably love to see Betances and Gregorius back in pinstripes and the Yankees have a way they can make that happen rather quickly. The qualifying offer could allow for a short offseason of these two players, and if rejected, they could still enter conversations with the Yankees right after. The benefits for the team are clear, and the players have to decide which path they deem most beneficial to them. If the Yankees ultimately have designs on locking them up for multiple seasons, in that case, they shouldn’t get any complains from the fan base.