Joe Girardi has led the Yankees to four postseasons and a World Series title in six years as manager. (Chuck Solomon/Sports Illustrated)
The Yankees missed the playoffs for just the second time in the past 19 seasons this year, but manager Joe Girardi stands to win big this fall because he has at least three teams interested in his services for 2014 and beyond. Depending upon his choice, he could become the second-highest paid manager in the game, move back closer to his roots, or take over a team that may be just a few small moves from a trip to the World Series.
The Yankees are interested in retaining the 48-year-old Girardi, who has managed them since the start of the 2008 season, and while they're done playing for the year, they retain exclusive rights to negotiating with him through the end of October — unless they grant other teams permission to speak with them. Both the Cubs and Nationals are said to have asked for such permission, but neither has received it. Nor are they expected to, at least until Girardi responds to New York's contract offer, which was made last week. Prior to making it, general manager Brian Cashman clearly stated his desire to retain Girardi, telling reporters, "We are going to give him a real good reason to stay."
According to Andy McCullough of The Star-Ledger, the Yankees' offer is said to be in the range of three years and $12-15 million. His two previous three-year deals with New York have been worth $7.8 million (2008-2010) and $9 million (2011-2013). At $4 million to $5 million per year, Girardi's average annual salary would be second among managers only to Mike Scioscia, who averages $5 million a year via his 10-year, $50 million deal with the Angels. Dusty Baker, who was fired last week, was said to be making $3.5 to $4 million a year on his most recent two-year extension.
In his six years with the Yankees, Girardi has managed them to a 564-408 record and a .580 winning percentage, the best in baseball during that span. He's taken them to the playoffs four times via three division titles (2009, 2011, 2012) and one wild-card (2010). They won the World Series in 2009 — their first championship since 2000 — and advanced to the ALCS in 2010 and 2012 before falling short this year at 85-77 amid a slew of injuries that probably should have left them with an even worse record (their run differential was 21 runs in the red).
For all of their success on Girardi's watch, New York's future looks particularly cloudy. Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte have both retired. Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira lost nearly all of their seasons to injuries. Alex Rodriguez is facing the possibility of a full year suspension for violating the game's drug policy. Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Hiroki Kuroda are among those heading into free agency. CC Sabathia is coming off the worst season of his career. Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells both look quite done but are under contract for next year.
Even with all of that, the Yankees are trying to rein in their spending below $189 million so as to reset their luxury tax rate. While that's still more money than any team this side of the Dodgers is likely to spend, the number of question marks — not only with regard to Cano, the centerpiece of the lineup, but also the rotation, the back end of the bullpen and the farm system — opens up the possibility that Girardi may want to try his hand elsewhere.
Both the Cubs and Nationals jobs have their pros and cons. Girardi was born in Peoria, Ill., raised in East Peoria and graduated from Northwestern University in Evanston. He was drafted by the Cubs and had two stints with them as a player that totaled seven years. The Chicago Tribune's Mark Gonzales reported on Monday that "the Cubs have made it clear through channels that they are willing to top whatever offer the Yankees tender, according to a source familiar with the negotiations."
The money in Chicago may be as good or better than in the Bronx, but the Cubs are in the midst of a long-term rebuilding project under president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer. While they've finally cleared the big salaries from predecessor Jim Hendry's regime, they don't appear to be particularly close to winning. The team went just 66-96 this year, its fourth straight losing season, and lost 197 games in two years under Dale Sveum, who was dismissed as manager on Sept. 30.
As for personnel: First baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro, two young players in whom the Cubs have big long-term investments, are coming off disappointing seasons. Top prospect Javier Baez, a shortstop who turns 21 in December, split his year between High-A and Double-A and isn't likely to be rushed to the majors. The same goes for Jorge Soler, a rightfielder who was limited to 55 games at High-A due to a stress fracture in his tibia and turns 22 in February. All of which is to say that it could be at least a couple of years before Girardi has anything close to a competitive team with which to do battle.
That wouldn't be a problem in Washington, where Girardi would take over for the retired Davey Johnson and inherit a team that was considered a disappointment for winning 86 games, after winning 98 and the NL East the year before. The Nationals have their flaws (their bullpen was shaky and their bench abysmal in 2013) but they also have a core that includes Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos in the lineup, and Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann in the rotation. All except Werth are under 30, and all are under club control through at least 2016 aside from Desmond, who can become a free agent after 2015.
While it doesn't match his history with the Yankees or the Cubs, Girardi has crossed paths with the Nationals before. He interviewed with then-general manager Jim Bowden and team president Stan Kasten in the fall of 2006 after being fired by the Marlins, and said he was impressed by the organization and its owners, but withdrew his name from consideration and spent 2007 as a broadcaster for the Yankees' YES Network before returning to the dugout the following year.
Broadcasting remains an option for Girardi, who has three children and may prefer to travel less, at least for the time being. With Tim McCarver retiring, Fox Sports will have a high-profile opening after the World Series. Other teams could get into the fray for his services as well. The Reds don't have an obvious successor to Baker, and the Dodgers — of whom Kasten is currently president — haven't picked up Don Mattingly's option for 2014 yet. As playoff teams this year, both may offer more competitive situations than the Yankees over the next few years.
Ultimately, it's an enviable situation for Girardi. He can continue working in the place where he's stayed the longest as a player, coach and manager, and where he knows that money will (almost never) be an object. He can go back to his roots in Illinois and get in on the ground floor of an attempt to build a winner with a well-regarded front office. Or he can go after a job where he'd get to handle two budding superstars and a strong roster that may be just a few tweaks away from fulfilling lofty expectations. Don't be surprised if he waits out the Yankees so as to address those other options directly.
This article has been updated to correct the Yankees' list of ALCS appearances under Girardi. They did not reach in 2011.