Joe Girardi staying as Yankees manager and getting unprecedented job security
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Less than a week after they made him an offer to become the game's second-highest paid manager amid overtures from at least two other teams, the Yankees have their answer from Joe Girardi. The 48-year-old manager will return to the Bronx via a four-year deal that guarantees him $16 million plus postseason-based bonuses, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
The fourth year is significant, in that it gives Girardi job security unprecedented for a Yankees manager. Predecessor Joe Torre spent 12 years at the helm via a series of two- and three-year deals; his last two were for $16 million (2002-2004) and $19.2 million (2005-2007). While Girardi's two previous contracts ($7.8 million for 2008-2010 and $9 million for 2011-2013) and this one aren't as lucrative as the since-retired Torre's, the new deal's $4 million average salary is second only to Angels manager Mike Scioscia's $5 million per year.
(Thanks to Jeff Euston of Cot's Contracts for salary info.)
In his six years on the job, Girardi has piloted New York to a major league-best .580 winning percentage via a 564-480 record, though the two times they've missed the playoffs since 1994 have both been on his watch. The first came in his inaugural season (2008) and the second was this year, when they finished 85-77 despite being outscored and having to confront a slew of injuries. The Yankees have three division titles (2009, 2011, 2012) and one wild-card appearance (2010) on his watch. They won the World Series in 2009 -- their first championship since 2000, and their first pennant since 2003 -- and advanced to the ALCS in 2010 and '12.
Going forward, Girardi will be managing a much different team than the one he's handled, which is likely why he sought -- and deserved -- more job security. Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, two pitchers whom Girardi caught during his 1996-1999 stint with the team in addition to managing them, both retired at season's end. Derek Jeter, another former teammate, could be entering the final year of his career; he's coming off an injury-wrecked season in which he played in just 17 games. Mark Teixeira was limited to only 15 himself due to injuries. Alex Rodriguez is facing what could be a full year's suspension for violating the game's drug policy, and his multifaceted legal battle could spell the end of his time in the Bronx even if he beats the rap.
Elsewhere, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Hiroki Kuroda are all heading into free agency; if Cano leaves, New York will lack an offensive centerpiece. Outfielders Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells are clearly finished as productive regulars but are still under contract for next year, and ace CC Sabathia is coming off his worst season in the majors. Up against all of that, and with question marks surrounding the rotation, bullpen, lineup and farm system, the Yankees are trying to cut payroll from $228 million to $189 million so as to reset their luxury tax rate.
Girardi chose to sign up for that potential rollercoaster ride — which also includes the expiration of general manager Brian Cashman's contract after next season — rather than move closer to his Peoria, Ill., roots with the Cubs. While officially barred from negotiating with him, Chicago had let it be known publicly that it was willing to beat any offer made by New York. Girardi also bypassed an opportunity to take over the Nationals, a team that has a much younger and stronger nucleus that includes Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. His ties to the Yankees organization appear to have compelled him to stay despite the uncertainty. As he said on Wednesday:
“It was something that I definitely thought about – what would the Yankees look like in 2014 and beyond? I don’t think you can expect to necessarily have everything you want every year. There’s things you have to go through as a club. To me, I want to be part of this. I want to be part of us getting back on top. That’s important to me.”
Like any manager, Girardi has his strengths and weaknesses. Though often derided by the local media for his heavy reliance on a thick binder full of statistical breakdowns, he has shown that there's far more to his style than cold calculation. He has earned a reputation as a players' manager, guided the team through an endless series of distractions and shown both a feisty side when standing up for his team and a compassionate one when shepherding Rivera and Pettitte into the sunset. His lineups are generally well-constructed with high on-base percentage guys at the top and less bunting than the average team, though this year's replacement-level scrubs made it much tougher to adhere to those basic tenets. He's shown a facility for melding a bullpen out of lesser-known commodities, though having Rivera as the ninth-inning safety net admittedly reduced the number of decisions he had to make. This year, he got far more mileage than most would have, considering its negative run differential and four regulars with sub-.300 OBPs. As a result, New York's wild-card chances stayed alive until the final week of the season .
What's clear is that neither managing partner Hal Steinbrenner nor Cashman blamed Girardi for the Yankees' absence from the playoffs. Said Steinbrenner on Tuesday, "I made it clear to him that I do want him back. We think -- my family thinks -- he did a great job this season given everything that happened.” So Girardi has job security, but like any Yankees manager, he'll be under the microscope and expected to produce results. Still, it will be awhile before a picture of his 2014 team emerges, with Cano's pending free agency the biggest issue but hardly the only one that needs to be addressed before the level of expectations can be set.