NEW YORK -- Joe Girardi should go ahead and play the field, maybe secure a couple of offers, and take his competing bids back to his employer. Just about everyone in every profession makes the best business deal he or she can, and those same terms of engagement should apply to the manager of a big league team.
Even when that team is the world famous New York Yankees, a franchise with a long history of being the dumper rather than the dumped.
But unless his hometown Chicago Cubs or the Washington Nationals make him a life-changing offer the Yankees can't or won't approach -- and there's almost no chance of that happening -- Girardi would be a fool to walk away from the best job in the sport, especially at a time when his bosses are forever taking sane, even-tempered surveys of his work.
Consider what an in-his-prime George Steinbrenner would be thinking of Girardi right about now. Joe Torre made five trips to the World Series in his first six years in the Bronx, prevailing in four of them. Torre's successor has made one trip to the World Series (a winning one) in his first six years in the Bronx, and is about to officially miss the postseason for the second time.
Devastating injuries or no devastating injuries, there's no way the Boss would be offering Girardi anything but a ride in the kind of white limo that once whisked away the fired Bucky Dent from the scene of his greatest conquest, Fenway Park.
But all of baseball knows by now that Hal Steinbrenner isn't George Steinbrenner. The bad news for Yankee fans: Hal doesn't like to spend quite like his old man. The good news for Yankee managers: Hal doesn't make impetuous decisions for the sake of making impetuous decisions.
The son likes Girardi, and believes in him, and believes that the team's failure to reach the postseason for only the second time since the 1994 players' strike -- again, both on Girardi's watch -- would've been prevented if one or two highly-compensated stars remained upright.
Below Hal, Randy Levine likes Girardi a lot more than the team president ever liked Torre. Below Levine, Brian Cashman hand-picked Girardi as Torre's replacement and told ESPNNewYork.com as far back as early June that he wants his pending free agent to return for 2014 and beyond.
"We picked the right guy in Joe Girardi," Cashman said then. "It's an almost impossible task to replace Joe Torre; just look at what happened in Los Angeles when they had to replace Phil Jackson. It's hard to replace iconic, Hall of Fame people, but Joe Girardi came in and did it without being Joe Torre, media darling, and that's a huge feather in his cap."
There was more from Cashman that night on Girardi, who was a bigger landslide winner over Don Mattingly in the 2007 race to replace Torre than was reported at the time.
"Look at Joe Torre's roster, his starting rotation, his bullpen, his lineup," the GM said then. "Joe Girardi hasn't had close to that kind of talent."
So yes, with Mattingly leading the Los Angeles Dodgers into the postseason, Cashman remains heavily invested in Joe Girardi, success story. When this painful season mercifully ends, the GM will extend to his guy a rich, multiyear deal and hope for the best.
Girardi is on record saying that he loves his job and that his family loves living in the Westchester 'burbs. Though he lacks the Brooklyn-born Torre's charisma and local knowledge, Girardi no longer has a problem with the market's decibel level. He looks and feels at home in a place where New Yorkers still stop him to talk about the triple he hit for Torre in the 1996 World Series far more than they stop him to talk about the title he won as manager in 2009.
But then again, Girardi grew up in Peoria a Cubs fan who would be drafted by the Cubs. But then again, Girardi could be seduced by the ready-made contender in Washington, a team stocked with all the young, high-powered talent the Yankees only wished they had.
If both franchises come calling -- the Cubs and Nationals -- Girardi should hear what they have to say, create a little leverage for himself, and then squeeze an extra season and/or an extra half million or so out of the Yanks and re-sign on the dotted line.
Sure, with Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte retiring, with Derek Jeter closing hard on his own expiration date and with Alex Rodriguez facing a likely season-long suspension, the core of the team needs to be rebuilt. The Yankees are a mismatched collection of mediocrities, a truth hammered home again Tuesday night when the Tampa Bay Rays scored three runs on Hiroki Kuroda's first 11 pitches and cruised to a 7-0 victory framed by one pressing question: Would the fans' Mariano bobbleheads ever arrive at the Stadium? (They were finally made available in the third inning).
Girardi knows these beaten down, watered-down Yanks pretty much stink; he just can't say it for public consumption. He knows that CC Sabathia isn't going to get five years younger by watching more videotape of hitters, and that Robinson Cano might leave as a free agent, and that Hal Steinbrenner has talked and talked of getting payroll under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold.
But Girardi also knows that the Yanks will have tens upon tens of millions coming off their books with which they can recruit, and that the whole payroll thing is set up for Hal to play the hero by flying over that self-imposed $189 million hurdle to land a big name with big game. Girardi also knows that the Boston Red Sox were 69-93 last year and facing an alleged period of grim rebuilding before returning this year to dominate the AL East.
Could the Yankees pull off something similar in 2014? Tuesday night, as he confronted his cruel reality, Girardi was in no mood to envision a ticker-tape parade in his near future.
"It's not a good feeling," he said. "It hurts."
He'll get over it soon enough. A large circle of people, including his employers, will take time this offseason to remind Girardi he did all he could with a depleted lineup and the A-Rod drama looming over the franchise like a toxic cloud. Girardi will snap out of his funk and realize all over again that he's got a managing job to die for, the one in baseball you never willingly give away.
Girardi will also realize that he's made it through the tough part, surviving some early turbulence in 2008, escaping Torre's shadow in 2009, and finding his New York, New York niche ever since.
What's next? Though leaving now doesn't make much sense, not with Girardi supporters manning every level of Yankee management, the manager hasn't slammed the door on chatter he might do just that. If Girardi's keeping his options open publicly for the sake of cutting the best deal in the Bronx, he should have at it.
But if Girardi is truly fixing to leave for a greener infield, or for better short-term odds of winning it all, he'll be making a much bigger mistake than, say, summoning Joba Chamberlain out of the seventh-inning pen.