In this volatile economic climate, the Yankees employed a clever negotiating strategy to hammer out team-friendly contract extensions with Luis Severino and Aaron Hicks.
Throw a big pile of cash in their laps. Let them think about what that feels like. Then dare them to say no.
If Severino pitches to his ceiling, he’ll be worth far more than $40 million over the next four years. But a few minutes before walking into an arbitration room — where the best Severino was going to do was $5.25 million for one year — the Yankees offered him about eight times that. All he had to do was sign on the dotted line and the money was his.
No more risk, no more uncertainty. Forty million.
Then Brian Cashman used a similar strategy with Hicks, who was going to be a free agent after this season. Hicks already had agreed on a $6 million salary for this year. But the Yankees, using the nervous market of the past two offseasons to their advantage, again went to the pile-of-cash game plan and hooked their centerfielder on Monday with a seven-year, $70 million deal.
Did Hicks leave money on the table? No doubt. If he’s as elite as the Yankees keep telling us, maybe he could have gotten more than $100 million for the same period in free agency. But Hicks, who will turn 30 this year, just got himself a $4 million raise for this season and now will earn way more than he probably ever imagined when the Twins essentially gave up on their first-round draft pick in that 2015 trade for John Ryan Murphy.
Also, Hicks gets to stay with the Yankees, a team he loves to play for and presumably one that will be among the favorites to win the World Series during the entire length of his contract. Not so bad, right?
“I feel like it was a fair deal for both sides,” he said.
The Yankees aren’t complaining. Paying $10 million annually for a switch-hitting, solid-glove centerfielder who seems to get better each year and has rare plate discipline that makes him the darling of the analytics department? That’s practically couch-cushion change for Hal Steinbrenner, who already is looking ahead to the money he needs to put aside for the Yankees’ growing herd of young stars.
Convincing Severino and Hicks to bite at these pre-emptive offers was a matter of timing, and Cashman was smart enough to sense his opening.
“Ultimately, we found common ground,” he said. “Something we all could live with.”
He cited last year’s contract for Lorenzo Cain (five years, $80 million) and the recent deal for A.J. Pollock (four years, $55 million) as “data points” for the Hicks extension, but you can’t underestimate the growing anxiety among players as a factor for jumping at what may be considered “fair” money these days. Not everyone gets to hold out until he gets his number.
Manny Machado waited 3 1⁄2 months to get $300 million from the Padres, but now he’s playing for the Padres. Great weather, and Petco is a beautiful park. Beyond that, he’ll probably have to be traded to the Yankees or Red Sox halfway through that 10-year deal to win a World Series.
Bryce Harper should fare somewhat better, as Scott Boras seems likely to get him a richer deal with a contender such as the Dodgers or Phillies.
Baseball’s middle class, however, doesn’t have that luxury. They’re left with harder decisions, but still pretty good choices — and $70 million to stay on a team that is going to keep spending to keep top talent around you is a very attractive sales pitch. Hicks sees the Yankees already have a great core in place, and Cashman is working on making sure a number of them will stick around. It helps with the recruiting process, too.
“I believe this team has World Series potential,” Hicks said. “And that’s what we’re going for. If you’re playing this game, you want to win the World Series, and I believe we can win a lot here if we all stay on the field and keep pushing towards the ultimate goal. This is the team for that.”
As Cashman said, the Yankees are betting that Hicks will be one of the players to get them there. There’s no gamble for Hicks. In his mind, he’s already won.