A few notes and links from this third day of the GM Meetings in Phoenix:
• Brian Cashman told reporters in Arizona that he met yesterday with Dave Robertson’s agent, Scott Leventhal. Earlier today, Andrew Marchand reported that Robertson is expected to look for a contract similar to the four-year, $50-million deal that Jonathan Papelbon signed three years ago. As the top closer on the market, it makes sense for Robertson to go looking for a deal that large, but I would be the surprised to see the Yankees give it to him.
• Much smaller pitching news came late this morning when the Yankees signed relatively anonymous lefty Jose De Paula to a major-league contract. Cashman confirmed today that De Paula has an option remaining — so he could be Triple-A depth — and that the Yankees believe he could be a rotation option. De Paula’s minor league splits do not suggest he’s a strong lefty specialist out of the bullpen, but I guess you never know.
• Yankees first base prospect Greg Bird made Jonathan Mayo’s list of the eight players whose prospect stock — and prospect attention — got a boost in the Arizona Fall League this year. The Fall League schedule wraps up tomorrow. Bird is a candidate for the league’s MVP award.
• Interesting story from Bob Nightengale in USA Today taking a look at the sometimes confusing job titles filling baseball front offices these days. The Braves technically don’t have a general manager, while the A’s basically have two, neither of whom is really running the show.
• Writing for the New York Times, Tyler Kepner takes a look at a new MLB website called Pitch Smart that’s trying to help young pitchers stay healthy. Pretty great idea by Major League Baseball, and as the media game ace for Team New York, Tyler’s the perfect guy to write about it.
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A pretty open-ended question from yesterday: What did Joe Girardi take from the Royals run through the playoffs and into the seventh game of the World Series?
Girardi paused for a moment, then he said this:
“Obviously their bullpen was outstanding. It was a lights-out bullpen, and I think that’s very important that you have that to be successful. Games are going to be a lot closer. Offense is not (at a high level). It’s not going to be the offenses that it’s been in the past. The game has changed for probably a couple of different reasons.”
If the rest of baseball came away with the same lesson — not only from the Royals, but also from the Giants, who had a strong bullpen of their own — then this might be a good winter to be Dave Robertson or any other free agent reliever.
The bullpen market has never been particularly safe. Relievers are notoriously inconsistent from year to year, and giving even the best of them a long-term contract comes with significant risk. Mariano Rivera was always the extreme exception, certainly not the rule. The Yankees have been burned by plenty of big-money relievers in the past, and they’re not the only ones.
But offense is down throughout the game, and Girardi can’t be the only baseball guy who came away from the World Series thinking first and foremost about the impact of a deep, shutdown bullpen. Low-scoring games mean tight situations in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, and maybe that will make teams a little more willing to take a shot on Robertson or Andrew Miller or Luke Gregerson or whatever free agent reliever grabs their attention.
Even without the Royals as reinforcement, the Yankees saw first-hand the impact of a strong bullpen this season. Relievers might be notoriously unreliable, but Yankees bullpen was arguably the most dependable part of their roster this season. And Robertson was a key part of that depth and impact.
“David was great for us,” Girardi said. “You know that you face those situations every time that people have the opportunity to become free agents. He’s been a tremendous pitcher, he has helped us be very successful here and helped us be a World Series club as well. He was great. … I think anytime you’re negotiating and things like this happen, your hope is that the players are always going to come back.”
For whatever it’s worth, Girardi said watching the Royals in the postseason left him thinking about “a couple of different things.” The first was the impact of the Kansas City bullpen. The second was this:
“It shows you how close you were to possibly being a World Series team, which even makes it hurt more,” Girardi said. “You think about, we were four games back in the wild card or whatever, so you look at maybe five games where you could have scored maybe 10 more runs – maybe two runs a game, with all the one-run games – that could have been us. That’s hard. That’s hard for me. And we need to right the ship.”
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Dave Robertson and the qualifying offer • 11.10.14
Today is the deadline for Dave Robertson to accept or reject the Yankees one-year, $15.3-million qualifying offer…
Three reasons Robertson should accept
1. This is big money for a closer. In fact, it would be the largest single-season salary ever paid to a reliever (the most Mariano Rivera ever got was $15 million per year). Not so long ago, two years at $15.3 million would have been a nice contract for him.
2. The closer role would be his for the taking. By returning to the ninth inning and proving once again that he can handle the job, Robertson would set up another lucrative offseason a year from now, when he’ll still be just 30 years old.
3. New York is familiar turf. Robertson lives in Tampa, which makes Yankees spring training easy. A multi-year contract offers stability, but seven years with the Yankees is a lot of stability as it is.
Three reasons Robertson should reject
1. He’s earned this opportunity. Until now, Robertson’s entire career has been tied to the Yankees with nothing he can do about it. Now he’s made himself a wildly valuable commodity, and he deserves to take advantage of the open market.
2. The Yankees had their chance. They signed Brett Gardner to a multi-year deal in spring training. Why not Robertson? With Dellin Betances in place, there’s a solid chance the Yankees will never commit to Robertson long-term.
3. He’s no dummy. Robertson’s been paying attention over the years. He knows how this works. He saw his friend Nick Swisher – and countless others — go through it. Turning down the qualifying offer wouldn’t rule out a return to New York. Accepting would close every other door.
Three ways Robertson’s return would impact the Yankees
1. In the short term, it would nearly complete the bullpen. The Yankees would surely remain in the market for a lefty, but otherwise, the late innings would be in safe hands. Any additional reliever – Andrew Miller, anyone? – would be a move toward overwhelming depth.
2. It would buy time for Betances. While his dominant rookie year sparked comparisons to Rivera, Betances is still without much of a track record (and expecting him to be Rivera ignores the fact Rivera’s never going to be duplicated). One more year with Robertson would buy time to find out more about his possible successor.
3. Long term, an accepted qualifying offer would leave every other door open. At some point the Yankees are surely going to try to cut payroll again, and a big one-year deal wouldn’t hurt that effort. If it takes a multi-year deal to bring him back, that’s a different story.
Three ways losing Robertson would impact the Yankees
1. Suddenly the bullpen would feel short-handed. Betances was great this year, Adam Warren and Shawn Kelley are awfully good (if occasionally inconsistent), but moving everyone up a peg takes away the bullpen’s strength — its depth — and replaces it with the need to add at least one arm.
2. There’s little comfort in the relief market, and the Yankees would be in it. Re-building bullpen depth would leave the Yankees sorting through risky possibilities (past deals with free agent relievers serve as cautionary tales). There’s comfort in Robertson. Questions elsewhere. Good as he was this year, how much is too much for Andrew Miller?
3. It could open more opportunities. If the free agent market isn’t to the Yankees liking, they could always give some of the kids a real shot. It worked out pretty well with Betances and Warren this year. What about Jose Ramirez and Jacob Lindgren next year?
Associated Press photos
Three things we’re waiting for today • 11.10.14
The offseason is still too young to expect a ton of player movement this week, but things might start to heat up a little bit with at least a few notable events. We’ll get things started with three things happening today:
1. GM Meetings begin in Phoenix
Not nearly as exciting as next month’s Winter Meetings, the GM Meetings are more about behind the scenes decisions and not so much about wheeling and dealing. That said, the groundwork for trades and signings can begin to take shape at the GM Meetings. All of the game’s general managers and quite a few player agents will be in one place, so there’s always the potential for news.
2. Rookie of the Year announcement
We already know that Dellin Betances is one of three finalists, and we logically know that he’s not going to finish any higher than second. The American League ROY is almost certainly going to White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu. The Rookie of the Year announcement kicks off the BBWAA awards week. Tomorrow is Manager of the Year — that was my vote this year — followed by Cy Young on Wednesday and MVP on Thursday. No Yankees are going to win any of these awards, but they’re still pretty interesting.
3. Deadline to accept or decline qualifying offers
Probably the most significant event of the day. Players who were given qualifying offers have until 5 p.m. to decide whether to accept or reject. For the Yankees, that means a decision from closer Dave Robertson. A one-year, $15.3-million qualifying offer would give Robertson the largest single-season salary ever for a relief pitcher, but it still seems likely he’ll decline in an effort to land a multi-year deal. No one has ever accept a qualifying offer, though that could change this season. Michael Cuddyer, in particular, seems like a strong candidate to accept.
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Let’s talk about something other than Alex Rodriguez for at least a little bit. Here are a few notes and links that have nothing to do with the Yankees third baseman.
• Building on a previous report from the Daily News, Jon Heyman reports that the Yankees are focusing on Brandon McCarthy, Jason Hammel and other mid-rotation starters to add some pitching depth. Heyman echoes the belief that the Yankees have no plans of pursuing any of the market’s top three starting pitchers. Heyman also notes that Chris Capuano is a possibility for a return. I actually think that’s a decent idea. Not a bad option as a bullpen lefty with the potential to start if necessary. Pitched well in a fifth starter role this year.
• ESPN’s Dan Szymborski writes that Dave Robertson is one of several players who should seriously consider accepting a qualifying offer this winter. The reasoning follows a familiar sentiment: teams value closers, but they’re rarely willing to pay huge amounts of money to sign them. A contract comparable to $15.3 million, plus a lost draft pick? Might not be many teams willing to do that. Szymborski notes that Jonathan Papelbon went unclaimed this season and that Koji Uehara recently signed for $9 million per year. Szymborski picks out five others who should at least consider accepting the qualifying offer.
• In the wake of Alfonso Soriano’s retirement, David Schoenfield takes a look at the way Soriano’s career should be remembered. “It has been one of the more fascinating careers of the past 15 years as he has been a player with enormous strengths and obvious flaws,” Schoenfield writes, eventually concluding that: “The guy had a good career. He was that rare power-speed combo and, for a few years there, one of the most exciting players in the game. When’s the next time we’re going to see a 40/40 player?”
• Ken Rosenthal reports that the Rockies are willing to listen to trade offers for either Troy Tulowitzki or Carlos Gonzalez. Can’t dismiss that sort of information — two really good players, one of whom is perhaps the best shortstop in the game — but it’s also hard to make too much of it. The Rockies aren’t exactly in a have-to-trade-them situation, and the asking price would surely be astronomical despite the health concerns with each player.
• The Rays announced their eight managerial candidates, and Raul Ibanez is one of them. Ibanez is also seen a potential candidate to be the Yankees hitting coach. Says a lot about him that he just played this year and is already being considered for jobs like this.
• Speaking at yesterday’s Lou Gehrig Sports Awards Benefit, Don Mattingly had some advice for whoever becomes the Yankees next starting shortstop: “I don’t think you can try to live up to (Derek Jeter),” Mattingly said. “I think you just have to be yourself. I think the fans will appreciate that. If you’re a guy that plays the game right and gets after it, I think the fans will accept him over time.” Mattingly was on the other side of the situation watching Tino Martinez taking over for Mattingly himself in 1996.
• Another Jeter connection: The latest offering from The Players’ Tribune is actually a really nice and quick read from Brendan Shanahan, who wrote a letter to his younger self providing draft day advice. It’s a good piece. Not a baseball piece, but a good piece. On a personal note, I will forever think of Shanahan as a member of the St. Louis Blues. That’s just the way that goes.
• And now one that has absolutely nothing to do with baseball, but I’ve become obsessed with this version of Ben Howard’s End of the Affair performed on Later… with Jools Holand. Just a brilliant combination of all the things Howard does so well. Opens as a creative bit of singer/songwriter and explodes into an anguished man screaming into his guitar. Need a palate cleanser after all of this A-Rod business? This will do the job.
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My first few years out of college, I covered one particular Phillies prospect who bounced back and forth from Triple-A to the big leagues. His numbers weren’t bad, and he eventually stuck around long enough to earn a couple million bucks as a major-league reliever. What I remember most about him, is that the winter after his first call-up — when he got into a handful of games with the Phillies, kind of an extended cup of coffee — he went home to lay flooring with his father.
He’d been to The Show, but he still needed the extra cash.
I sometimes tell that story when people ask whether I dislike writing about people who make so much money. My answer is always, no. Very few who go into professional baseball ever make very much money at all, and even the ones who get to the big leagues are hardly set for life. It takes a lot of success and sacrifice to cash in on baseball’s free agency, so when a guy like Dave Robertson is offered more than $15 million for one year of work, I genuinely feel happy for him.
And I hope he feels happy about it, too.
For Robertson, a qualifying offer could be seen as a bad thing. If he wants to explore free agency – remember, up to this point, he’s been tied to the team that drafted him with no way out – then draft pick compensation will be an unfortunate bit of baggage dragging down his open-market value. That’s not entirely fair.
But Robertson really is a success story, and yesterday’s qualifying offer is tangible proof of that success.
Coming up through the Yankees system, Robertson was never the organization’s standout pitching prospect. He wasn’t even their top relief prospect in Triple-A when he was sharing a minor league clubhouse with Mark Melancon, who was marginally more highly touted. Joba Chamberlain certainly received more hype than Robertson, Andrew Brackman got more money out of the draft, and even a mostly forgotten guy named J.B. Cox for a while seemed to have a similar future.
Robertson had to earn his keep. Then he had to earn his way up. Now he’s earned a qualifying offer. It would be the largest single-season salary ever paid to a reliever, and that’s pretty incredible. If the game is generating money like this, then I certainly hope a bunch of it goes to the players who earned it the way Robertson did.
Whether Robertson wants to accept to decline is entirely up to him. That’s a business decision that happens within the rules and guidelines of his particular business. He’ll have to gauge the market, which is basically what the Yankees had to do before making the offer in the first place. Robertson is 29 years old with a young family, and I’m sure he’d love the stability of a multi-year deal. If he’s upset with the Yankees for not negotiating such a deal before this point, I wouldn’t blame him one bit. If he likes the idea of a big one-year contract with the chance to earn another big contract next year, I wouldn’t blame him for that either.
Ultimately, what happened yesterday is that a guy who never cracked a Yankees Top 10 prospects list was offered a huge amount of money to come back and be their closer again. Will it drag down his value on the open market? It certainly could. But considering all the players who never make it, and all the times that Robertson might have faded into middle-inning anonymity, it’s hard for me to look at yesterday’s offer as anything but a sign of just how good Robertson’s been and just how much he’s earned.
Associated Press photos
The Yankees have announced that they extended a qualifying offer to Dave Robertson. As expected, he’s the only Yankees player to receive such an offer. Robertson has one week to decide whether to accept or reject.
Associated Press photo
Until now, the Yankees most significant offseason decisions have involved the front office (re-signing Brian Cashman) and the coaching staff (firing Kevin Long and Mick Kelleher), but today we’ll get some clarity about the Yankees first major roster decision of the winter.
Today is the deadline to make a qualifying offer, which means we’ll know for certain in a few hours whether the Yankees are going to offer Dave Robertson a rich-but-brief contract to come back as the team’s closer. A qualifying offer is set at one year and a little more than $15 million.
Heavy expectation is – and pretty much always has been – that the Yankees will make a qualifying offer to Robertson, who will have a week to accept or reject. Robertson’s decision is the far more intriguing half of this situation. If he accepts the qualifying offer, he’ll be the first player to ever do so.
“We’ve had a long period of time where we had Mariano Rivera obviously for an extended period of time. It was just remarkable,” Brian Cashman said earlier this offseason. “We’re not used to wondering who can or who can’t (close), or having to deal with that. The question going into this year clearly was whether Robertson could graduate from the eighth inning to the ninth inning. He graduated with honors. He mastered that and he is a bona fide closer without question. Professional, and we’re proud that we’ve produced (him).”
Without Robertson, the Yankees could certainly hand the closer role to Dellin Betances, but seeing the Royals and Giants in the postseason seemed to reinforce the idea that a good bullpen is a deep bullpen. And putting Robertson in the ninth inning, leaving Betances to serve as a multi-inning setup man, and having Adam Warren and Shawn Kelley in the mix as well would make the Yankees bullpen pretty deep. It was a strength this season, and it could be a strength again.
“(Closer) is obviously a tough role,” Cashman said. “And if you’ve never done it, I’d answer that question the same way I answered it maybe to David’s anguish last year, all winter, where I would not assume that anybody could do that. It’s just not that type of role that you could guarantee someone can easily transition to. I think we’ve proven we’re not afraid to try or transition things of that nature. I think Joe (Girardi) has been very good with bullpen setups. It’s not something in terms of giving opportunities or finding the right roles over time, personnel is not an issue for us, typically out of the pen. But the ninth inning is different. It’s always going to be different, and that’s more difficult and a higher challenge.”
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Just a few quick notes and some leftovers from today’s Brian Cashman conference call:
• Anything Kevin Long could have or should have done differently with this offense? “I think he tried everything in his power,” Cashman said. “By his own assessment, I know when I talked to Kevin today he told me, he was like, ‘Cash, I wouldn’t do anything different, because I tried everything.’ I think Kevin can sleep at night knowing he tried every tool in the toolbox. I know that he publicly stated late in the year that he did everything and tried everything. It wasn’t sufficient, but the effort was sufficient. The results just weren’t.”
• On whether Mick Kelleher was to blame for the Yankees defensive problems in the first half: “That was more personnel-related,” Cashman said. “When we lost players like Cano, for instance, who was an exceptional defender, to free agency; or when we lost Alex to a suspension, for instance. We had Derek Jeter coming back, as well as Mark Teixeira, from injury. Those players possessed a certain amount of ability, and I think Mick addressed that to the best of his abilities. As we were able to acquire better defenders as the season went on and they presented themselves, we obviously improved our team defense. I would not hold Mick Kelleher responsible for any defensive deficiencies. That was personnel related.”
• Interesting comment about the decision to get rid of Kelleher: “There are some individuals, I think, as we move forward, (who) will bring more for the global perspective of the coaching staff.”
• The latest on Alex Rodriguez’s offseason workouts: “Matt Krause, our strength coach, just visited with him yesterday in Miami to continue the process that I talked to you all about in Boston at Fenway Park at the end of the season,” Cashman said. “That we’re going to be reconnecting with Alex, all of our staff. Alex reached out and said, ‘Hey, let’s start proactively doing that.’ That’s what Alex is about. He’s proactive and trying to put himself in the best position to be successful and hit the ground running when he gets reactivated.”
• On whether the Yankees want to bring back Dave Robertson or let Dellin Betances transition into the closer role: “What happens as we move forward with (Robertson) and the qualifying offer is yet to be determined,” Cashman said. “But we thank David, and we’re proud of what he’s done here and how he’s handled himself here. The final decision that has to be made here first and foremost is yet to be made. Because of that I don’t think it’s really fair to speculate on alternatives in house. It’s obviously a tough role, and if you’ve never done it, I’d answer that question the same way I answered it maybe to David’s anguish last year, all winter, where I would not assume that anybody could do that. It’s just not that type of role that you could guarantee someone can easily transition to.”
• Any other coaching changes coming? “These are the moves we’re making,” Cashman said. “And any other moves that we choose to make or want to pursue, obviously we’ll reveal them. If we choose to make any other changes we’ll let you know, otherwise everything is status quo until then.”
Associated Press photo
Yesterday the Associated Press reported that this year’s qualifying offer will be set at $15.3 million, a raise of nearly $1 million from last season. For the Yankees, that number is most interesting for free agent closer Dave Robertson, who’s ready to test the market for the first time and might have to seriously consider becoming the first player to ever accept such an offer.
First things first, the Yankees have not definitively said they’re going to extend a qualifying offer to Robertson, it just seems to be a strong possibility if only because it would be a chance to retain their closer on a short-term deal, keep their immediate bullpen depth intact, and buy some time for other young arms to develop while waiting for Dellin Betances to eventually take over the ninth inning. A qualifying offer would nearly triple Robertson’s 2014 salary and would make him a very, very well-paid relief pitcher, which is why he would have to consider accepting it. Then again, MLB Trade Rumors on Tuesday guessed that Robertson could earn something in the neighborhood of four years, $52 million on the open market, which is why he would have to consider rejecting.
Bottom line: Robertson is going to get paid this winter. The only questions are by which team and for how long? For our purposes, the questions get even more specific: Should the Yankees bring him back and on what kind of contract?
Here’s a quick look at what the Yankees already have in place for next year’s bullpen:
Proven late-inning arms
Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, Shawn Kelley
Betances is still two years from arbitration, Warren is one year from arbitration, and Kelley has a year of arbitration left. That puts three pretty good relievers under team control for next season. That late-inning depth was one of the bullpen’s great strengths this season, giving the Yankees plenty of alternatives when Robertson and Kelley dealt with injuries, when Warren went cold for a few weeks, and when go-to relievers were inevitably shut down because of workload concerns. Might be a stretch to call either one of them “proven,” but the Yankees also have Esmil Rogers and Preston Claiborne under team control. Rogers seems like a prime non-tender candidate, but Claiborne is in place as additional bullpen depth.
Long relief options
David Phelps, Chase Whitley, Shane Greene, Bryan Mitchell
Before he was hurt late in the year, Phelps really seemed to be emerging as a solid back-of-the-rotation option for next season. His overall numbers weren’t great, but at his best, Phelps was a perfectly good starting pitcher and seems to be an obvious swingman candidate to work as either a starter or reliever next season. Same could be said for Whitley, who had fairly drastic ups and downs, possibly attributable to his increased workload in his first season as a starting pitcher. Again, when he was good, Whitley threw strikes and got outs with a good changeup/slider combination. Depending on rotation depth, the Yankees could also consider putting either Greene or Mitchell into the bullpen if necessary. Such a move worked well with Warren this season, but the Yankees may be better served with Greene in the big league rotation and Mitchell in the Triple-A rotation to open the season.
David Huff, Jacob Lindgren, Tyler Webb, James Pazos
One thing to keep in mind about that list of four left-handed relief options is that there’s a solid chance none of them will be on the 40-man roster in spring training. Huff is a non-tender candidate while Lindren, Webb and Pazos have such little professional experience that none needs to be protected from the Rule 5 draft this offseason. Left-handed relief is kind of an odd spot for the Yankees right now because they don’t have a reliable option in place — they traded away Matt Thornton — but their minor league system could be ready and able to fill the hole immediately. They could also jump into the market for a guy like Andrew Miller.
Minor league depth
Jose Ramirez, Dan Burawa, Mark Montgomery, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow
Ramirez might be a more reliable option by now, but he was hurt again — it was a lat issue this time — and the latest injury held him to just 22.1 innings this season. That said, he’s expected to be healthy for spring training, which makes him an obvious bit of bullpen depth. Burawa, Montgomery and Pinder are each strong 40-man candidates this offseason, and Rumbelow pitched his way to Triple-A in just his first full season of pro ball. “Has toughness and poise,” Mark Newman said. The Yankees have some bullpen depth in place, but it would be hard to count on this group for a can’t-miss reliever this season. Someone might emerge, there’s just some uncertainty here. Ramirez has the injury history, Burawa and Montgomery have been inconsistent, Pinder has just 13 games of Triple-A experience, and Rumbelow was in college two years ago.
Without signing a free agent or making a trade, the Yankees could pretty easily roll out an Opening Day bullpen of Betances, Kelley, Warren, Lindgren, Phelps, Whitley and Huff (just to pick a group that might make some sense), and that might not be the worst bunch of relievers in the world. The Yankees would have a big-time arm for the ninth inning, two pretty good setup men, an experienced long reliever in Phelps and a high-potential young lefty in Lindgren.
Adding another arm like Robertson, though, would greatly increase the bullpen depth, and that’s largely what the Robertson decision is about.
Based on what he showed this year, Betances is a capable closer in waiting. But adding a one-inning guy like Robertson would free Betances to put out fires in the seventh inning before building a bridge through the eighth. It would free Kelley and Warren to hover as late-inning alternatives and high-end options as early as the sixth inning. It might even free Warren to become a rotation option again (same with Phelps), and it might minimize the need to immediately put a guy like Lindgren into high leverage situations in his first big league season.
It’s often seen as foolish to give too much money to a reliever because relievers are unpredictable, but that unpredictability is the same reason it’s worthwhile to stockpile a bunch of bullpen arms. With so many young, cheap options already in place, the Yankees could pay Robertson for a few years and still keep their overall bullpen payroll relatively low. That said, this is a team looking to get younger and cheaper, and the emergence of Betances and Warren might give the Yankees a chance to immediately do both of those things in the bullpen.
If it were up to me, I’d bring Robertson back, keep him in the ninth inning, and build a young bullpen around him. But it’s not my roster, not my money, and it’s certainly not my decision. Both the Yankees and Robertson could be facing a tough choice come time for qualifying offers to go on the table.
Associated Press photos