Yanks in 'aggressive' mode heading into Meetings
After landing McCann, Ellsbury, Beltran, Bombers will continue to 'fill the voids'
NEW YORK -- The Yankees know they have needs to fill, but they are announcing that they have money to spend and are open for business, which could create some terrific shopping opportunities when baseball's Winter Meetings kick off next week in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said that his family has had a good track record over the years of reinvesting "found money" into the ballclub, and an early $238 million spending spree to lock up catcher Brian McCann and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury helped prove the point.
The Yankees may have needed a few moments to regroup after second baseman Robinson Cano agreed to a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Mariners on Friday afternoon. But New York has been speaking all offseason about the possibility of losing Cano, compiling contingency plans to prepare for that chance.
Now, the Yankees say they are ready to strike at whatever opportunities come their way, and did just that on Friday night, coming to terms on a three-year, $45 million deal with outfielder Carlos Beltran, according to multiple reports.
"We're being aggressive," general manager Brian Cashman said. "We're trying to sign and or trade for anything that can help us improve and fill the voids that we've got, because we've got voids."
Here is a quick glance at the Yankees' situation heading into the Winter Meetings, which return this year to the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort:
Rotation: Cashman said that he needs to import 400 innings to slot behind CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova. Hiroki Kuroda's return figures to solve half of the problem. The in-house rotation candidates include David Phelps, Adam Warren and Michael Pineda. The Yankees would love to bid on Japanese standout Masahiro Tanaka, but the posting process with Nippon Professional Baseball is still up in the air. Free agent Matt Garza has been mentioned as a fallback option.
Bullpen: David Robertson is the favorite to serve as Mariano Rivera's replacement, but he is not a lock. A closer is low on the Yankees' list of priorities, but they might still get serious with one -- Grant Balfour -- perhaps. There are also holes to fill in the late innings; Cashman said that he would like to retain left-hander Boone Logan, while the Yanks expect to have Shawn Kelley and Preston Claiborne playing a role in the mix.
Second base: Manager Joe Girardi said that it is too early to fret about the hole at second base, quipping, "If it was February, I'd be concerned." The Yanks finished a one-year deal with Kelly Johnson, but he's not their ideal fit. More likely, they'll negotiate with free agent Omar Infante or talk about a trade for the Reds' Brandon Phillips. Some fans have suggested moving Alfonso Soriano back to second base, but the Yankees do not consider that to be an option.
Shortstop: At the moment, Derek Jeter is the Yankees' starting shortstop. But that brings great question marks, after he was limited to just 17 games by injuries last year. As insurance, they have re-signed defensive whiz Brendan Ryan, which is a nice support option, but Ryan doesn't offer much pop at the plate. The Yankees have talked with Scott Boras about Stephen Drew, who may be able to fit in the budget now that Cano is in Seattle.
Third base: Cashman has said that until he is told otherwise, the Yankees are operating as though Alex Rodriguez and his $25 million salary are on the books for 2014. Even if arbitrator Fredric Horowitz shreds the entire 211-game suspension, A-Rod's recent injury history suggests that the Yankees should prepare for an extended absence. Mark Reynolds seemed to be a nice fit late last season and could be among the options considered.
Who they can trade if necessary
Outfielder Ichiro Suzuki: Adding Ellsbury and Beltran to the mix figures to bump Brett Gardner to left field, with Soriano seeing more time at designated hitter. Suzuki has one year remaining on his contract at $6.5 million, and while he would be a strong fourth outfielder with added marketing value, the Yankees might entertain moving him under the right circumstances.
Outfielder Vernon Wells: Since a dash of financial wizardry has Wells actually not costing the Yankees anything against the luxury tax in 2014, it's possible he could be deleted from the roster long before Opening Day. The Yankees would be open to listening to a deal; otherwise, he'll attend Spring Training and compete for a bench job.
Gardner: The Yankees say that dealing Gardner is not on the table, but stranger things have happened. There is something appealing about having Ellsbury and Gardner in the lineup as a dynamic duo, and that's apparently what the team is planning on. You can be sure that won't stop teams from asking about Gardner, who is projected to be quite affordable next year at about $4 million and is looked at as an Ellsbury-lite type of player.
Catchers: The Yankees have pushed all of their chips in on having McCann behind the plate for most of the next half-decade, so any competition in the spring will be to serve as his backup. Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine and J.R. Murphy all figure to be in that mix, and Cervelli should have a leg up on that fight since estimates show he'll be earning close to $1 million as an arbitration-eligible player. Romine and Murphy are young and got some big league time last year, so if a team needs catching help, they'll probably be checking in.
Infielder Eduardo Nunez: "Nuney" had a good shot to show the Yankees what he could do as an everyday shortstop with Jeter's injury problems in 2013, and it's unlikely he'll have the same opportunity next season -- for a variety of reasons. The Yankees only really see him as a shortstop and are reluctant to give him much of a crack at a utility role, but his athleticism may tempt another club to gamble. As much focus as his spotty fielding has received, Nunez owns just a .692 OPS in 752 big league at-bats.
The Yankees' top 10 prospects, per MLB.com, are catcher Gary Sanchez, outfielder Mason Williams, outfielder Tyler Austin, right-hander Rafael De Paula, infielder Eric Jagielo, outfielder Zoilo Almonte, outfielder Slade Heathcott, left-hander Manny Banuelos, left-hander Ian Clarkin and right-hander Ty Hensley.
Cashman always talks about the farm system as being a collection of chips, either to be used by the Yankees for themselves or in trades to get pieces that they need. That's not uncommon around the game, but dealing some of those chips might figure more into the plans now that the Yankees have resumed their trademark of filling needs with big free-agent commitments. This also calls to mind another favorite quote of Cashman's: "Prospects are suspects until they make it."
Rule 5 Draft
The Yankees' 40-man roster is at 38 players, but they will eventually need three slots for players with whom they have agreed on contracts but not officially added: Beltran, Ellsbury and Kuroda. The Yanks did not select or lose any players in last year's Rule 5 Draft; in 2011, they took pitchers Cesar Cabral and Brad Meyers.
Big contracts they might unload
Every year, we note -- mostly as a pre-emptive strike against the email link at the bottom of this page -- that Rodriguez's contract will not, and cannot, be moved. That's never been more true than this year. Wells ($24.6 million) qualifies as a big contract, and the Yankees would certainly talk trade, but because he doesn't count against their luxury tax bill, they also could freely consider releasing him if necessary.
Soriano is earning $19 million, but only $4 million of that is charged to their bill; still, after his red-hot second half last year, there's little reason to think the Yankees are looking to deal him. At $6.5 million, Ichiro's deal qualifies as one that the Yankees would think about moving.
You might have heard that the Yankees have a goal of knocking their payroll below $189 million in 2014. It's not an absolute mandate, and club officials have been adamant that it will not come at the expense of fielding a championship-caliber club.
"The first and only directive is a championship-caliber squad," Cashman said. "After that, the goal is, if you can stay under $189 [million] when doing it, go ahead. We'll see how it all plays out."