Pondering D-Rob's New Contract

David_Robertson_Firefighter One way or another, David Robertson is going to cash in this offseason.  He can accept the qualifying offer the Yankees made him yesterday and become the single-season highest-paid relief pitcher in baseball history, or he can decline and eventually sign a multi-year deal with any team.  As the top reliever available in this year's free agent class, even the draft pick compensation won't be enough to keep all of MLB away from him entirely.

The smart money is on the Yankees retaining him, but for how much money is a question worth asking.  D-Rob is an interesting case as he hits the free agent market for the first time in his career, unlike any top reliever that's been available the past few offseasons.  His unique body of work, homegrown Yankee status, and attached draft pick compensation make the range of contract possibilities a wide one.

As an example of that range, compare the 2 early projections for D-Rob issued by major baseball sites.  The FanGraphs contract crowdsourcing exercise has him pegged for a 3-year/$30 million deal while the MLBTR free agent profile post on D-Rob projected 4 years and $52 mil.  My personal guess was 3/$39 mil and that's admittedly nothing more than a guess.

Now consider D-Rob's position as a free agent.  29 years old, turning 30 about a week after Opening Day 2015, with a long history of success but only 1 year of closing.  Saves equal dollars and D-Rob hasn't racked up a lot of them working behind Mo for every year of his career before 2014.  What he has done is consistently be among the top relievers in key statistical categories, both standard and sabermetric, and show the ability to pitch well in a variety of different roles (middle innings, late innings, multiple innings, fireman, setup man, closer, etc.).  There hasn't been anybody like D-Rob in the last few years of free agency - a dominant late-inning reliever in his prime without much closing experience - and because of that it makes finding a comparable contract difficult.

The closest case to D-Rob's might actually be that of Craig Kimbrel.  Like Robertson, Kimbrel was coming off an extended stretch of well above-average production as a high-strikeout, high-leverage righty reliever when he signed a 4-year/$42 million deal with the Braves before the start of the 2014 season.  The big difference is that Kimbrel is not only one of the best relievers in baseball, he's THE best reliever in baseball.  And he signed his deal as a 25-year-old to buy out his arbitration years after 3 seasons as Atlanta's closer.  D-Rob has already played through his arbitration years and has only the 1 year of closing stats to fall back on, so even this comparison is far from accurate.

If the best relief pitcher/closer in baseball is worth $10.5 mil per year, how can anybody expect D-Rob to get 12 or 13 mil?  This is where his homegrown Yankee status could start to factor in.  They're the team that gave Mo 15 and they're the team who groomed D-Rob to be Mo's replacement.  If other teams are willing to give him a 3-year deal, they could be the team willing to give him the 4th.  They could pad a 3-year deal with more money to incentivize him to re-sign.  They could add a mutual 4th year option.  They could surprise everyone and pass on D-Rob if the bidding gets up into the 4-5 year/$50-60 million range.  Or they could be the club that choose to take the bidding that high.

There are a lot of different ways that Robertson's new contract could go.  He could become the new measuring stick for the next few years of big reliever contracts.  It's been a while since we've had one and even longer since a pitcher with D-Rob's profile hit the open market.  If he does, he stands to win in every potential scenario and stands to win even bigger by having the Yankees be heavily involved in whatever plays out.