Free agency can be a blessing and a curse. It can be much needed escape, or the troublesome loss. It can be regrettable, forgettable and occasionally memorable only with hindsight and second guessing.
This year, the Yankees lost a dozen big leaguers the day after the World Series ended. They lost another when Rafael Soriano opted out of his contract, another when Casey McGehee refused an outright assignment, and a handful more when minor league free agents hit the market. Their first attempt to retain some free agents — with qualifying offers — was rejected.
Free agents come and go each year, and although some are enticed back (the Yankees are hoping for Hiroki Kuroda among others) and some can’t leave fast enough (thanks for nothing, Pedro Feliciano), each free agent group looks a little different a year later. Here are some of the more noteable free agents who walked away from the Yankees last winter. How many would you want back, and which ones might be a cautionary tale for this winter?
C/DH Jorge Posada
The biggest name among the Yankees free agents last winter, Posada entered free agency knowing the Yankees had no spot for him on their 2012 roster. The only question was whether Posada would retire or come back with another team. He chose retirement, and the Yankees moved on with Russell Martin behind the plate and a rotating cast of veterans at designated hitter.
Want him back? I’m sure Posada is missed, but that’s not the same as wanting him back. He had a borderline Hall of Fame career — worth at least discussion if not induction — but the Yankees had little choice but to look elsewhere, and Posada was hardly heard from during his first year of retirement.
Others like him: The Yankees temporarily lost Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones to free agency last winter, but they wound up bringing both back with split results (Chavez was terrific, Jones was awful).
Comparable this year: If Andy Pettitte retires again, that would be comparable in terms of iconic significance, but in terms of a roster spot and current production, Posada is more like Raul Ibanez (on the bright side) or Jones (on the bad side). Either way it’s an aging player who the Yankees have to determine whether they have a spot for next season.
RHP Luis Ayala
The big surprise of the 2011 bullpen, Ayala made good on a minor league contract, won the last spot in the pen and cashed in with a two-year deal with the Orioles. In Baltimore, Ayala did it again, with numbers remarkably similar to 2011 (slightly higher ERA, but a lower walk rate and a nearly identical WHIP).
Want him back? Sure, but Ayala wasn’t really missed. His role was basically filled by David Phelps and the two-headed specialist of Clay Rapada and Cody Eppley.
Others like him: Guys like Raul Valdes, Sergio Mitre and Scott Proctor were much easier to let go last winter. Bartolo Colon also left with some success (and a steroid suspension).
Comparable this year: Rafael Soriano is too good to be an Ayala comparison. A guy like Derek Lowe might fit, if only because he was a marginal player for the Yankees, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could sign a relatively cheap contract elsewhere and have a good season in 2013.
RHP Andrew Brackman
The Yankees had seen enough of the former first-round pick, and they let him go after another walk-heavy minor league season. Brackman’s 2010 success in Double-A had been enough to revive his prospect status, but his 6.00 Triple-A ERA in 2011 was enough to send him packing. The Reds picked him up and witnessed further collapse. Brackman had a 6.71 minor league ERA this season, with most of his time spent in Class A.
Want him back? Not at all. Brackman’s a good guy who seemed to work hard, but the go-big gamble of that 2007 draft pick never worked out and Brackman’s prospect status has completely disappeared.
Others like him: Last winter was the year the Yankees finally cut ties with Kei Igawa. It also saw them release former Phillies first-rounder Greg Golson, reclamation project Mark Prior and there-and-back-again prospect Jeff Marquez. None has done anything to make the Yankees want them back.
Comparable this year: If the Yankees were to cut ties with Dellin Betances (which won’t happen) that would be comparable, though more extreme. It’s not often than a former elite prospect is so unceremoniously dismissed, especially not the winter after making his big league debut.
LHP Jose Quintana
A name that many people didn’t recognize when he hit the transactions list, Quintana became last winter’s most regrettable loss. The Yankees let him go after two minor league seasons in the States (he’d been originally signed and released by the Mets). His 2011 numbers were terrific, but they came all the way down in High-A. The White Sox grabbed him, and Quintana wound up pitched to a 3.76 ERA while making 25 big league starts. He faded significantly in the second half, but even so, there’s some promise in that left arm.
Want him back? Absolutely. Especially after the disappointing years from Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, Quintana would be a nice piece of the system right now.
Others like him: When he hit the market, Quintana was just another name in a group of minor league free agents that included Doug Bernier, Steve Garrison, Wilkins Arias and Josh Schmidt. Every once in a while, one of these guys has a breakthrough, and that’s what happened when Quintana got a legitimate chance.
Comparable this year: A Class-A player who could become a viable big league starter next season? That’s a tough bit of speculation. I suppose Abe Almonte might have been a remote candidate, but the Yankees already re-signed him. Minor league free agents Kevin Russo and Mike O’Connor could be big league role players next year, but it’s hard to predict a Quintana-like impact from either of them. Instead, Chris Dickerson stands out as a guy the Yankees might regret losing if they decide to cut ties and free his 40-man spot this winter.
Associated Press photo