As 2014 approaches, so does February, and the date for pitchers and catchers to report to spring training and begin the path to another exciting baseball season. The Winters Meetings are behind us, and the teams are starting to fill the remaining holes on their teams with what’s left in the free agency and trade markets.
The New York Yankees for the most part, look ready to face their divisional rivals in the AL East after a disappointing 2013 campaign that saw them finish up with an 85-77 record and a third-place finish within the division as well as a fourth-place finish in the American League Wild Card that came down to the final game of the season plus a tiebreaker. But are they really ready, or is this just an illusion?
A team that spends $283 million in free agents may be considered ready. That is a large sum of money, but for the Yankees, that’s what it takes to fill in their need at catcher with Brian McCann, and two outfield spots with Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran. There are many more holes to fill, such as starting pitching, help in the bullpen, a second baseman, and a third baseman.
As things stand right now, acquiring a starting pitcher (or two) should be the Yankees’ current priority. Another arm in the bullpen won’t hurt, and someone with vast experience at the left hot corner in the event of Alex Rodriguez’s suspension being upheld should top the Yankees to-do-list as of this moment.
One thing to remember is that the Yankees are trying to stay under the $189-million luxury tax threshold after being forced to pay a record-setting $28 million dollars for their $237-million payroll in 2013. Only New York and the Los Angeles Dodgers were punished last season. The Boston Red Sox came about $200K short of having to pay the tax.
After losing long-time Yankee star Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners, who signed the second baseman to a 10-year, $240-million deal, the Yankees went out and tried to sign the next best available second baseman on the market in Omar Infante, but he ended up signing with the Kansas City Royals for four years and $30.25 million after rejecting a three-year, $24-million offer from the Bombers. Although the fourth year was a deal-breaker, New York wasn’t ready to guarantee the soon-to-be 32-year-old the extra year.
Instead, the Yankees turned to a cheaper and less risky option by signing veteran Brian Roberts to a 1-year, $2-million contract plus incentives. Roberts, 36, had spent his entire 13-year career with the Baltimore Orioles, but battled through multiple injuries since 2010. He figures to share second base duties with Kelly Johnson and possibly Brendan Ryan, who is most likely to serve as insurance at shortstop for Derek Jeter, who turns 40 next June.
The Yankees also added left-handed reliever Matt Thornton earlier in the week on a 2-year, $7-million deal. Thornton, 37, replaces lefty specialist Boone Logan, who landed a 3-year, $16.5-million deal with the Colorado Rockies last week. That leaves the Yankees with one more hole in the bullpen, either a closer, or a set-up man, depending on what the plan for David Robertson winds up being.
Following recent additions (see Brian Roberts and Matt Thornton), the Yankees payroll for 2014 stands at $177.7 million, per ESPN. To that figure, $11-$12 million are added by Major League Baseball in team’s benefits, sending that number to $188.7 million, or just under the $189-million threshold.
With that said, let’s begin to sort things out for the Yankees for next season:
To that $188.7 million total, Alex Rodriguez’s $25-million salary has been included. Now, as things currently stand, A-Rod figures to have his suspension upheld, or slightly reduced. One or the other, the Yankees most likely won’t be forced to pay A-Rod his full salary, which will include a $6-million bonus for passing Willie Mays on the all-time home run list. So let’s just say A-Rod’s suspension is upheld by independent arbitrator Fredric Horowitz, giving the Yankees $25 million extra to spend.
Options for the Yankees to replace Alex Rodriguez include free agents Michael Young, Mark Reynolds (with whom they’ve reportedly had conversations with), as well as Brandon Inge. Bringing back Kevin Youkilis on a 1-year, incentive-laden deal is an option, but seems like a long shot.
The most realistic option here is Mark Reynolds. The 30-year-old spent some of last season with the Yankees, accumulating a 236/.300/.455 slash line in 36 games, hitting six homers, and driving in 19. The right-handed third baseman is known for his ability (more of a disability) to strike out an enormous amount of times every year, but yet manages to provide teams with power and is capable of producing lots of runs. A one-or-two-year deal should make it for him.
The Yankees’ rotation for 2014 figures to be their only real weakness (barring any surprises – which we should never rule out). Keystones to the rotation right now are C.C. Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ivan Nova. Besides those three men, the Yankees rotation faces multiple incognitos. With Masahiro Tanaka’s situation in limbo, looking more and more like the Rakuten Eagles are not planning on posting him, the Yankees seem ready to move on without him.
According to ESPN, the Yankees are not interested in any of the top-three free agent starting pitchers waiting on a Tanaka’s resolution (Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Matt Garza). And they shouldn’t. With their payroll at $163.7 million ($188.7 million actual payroll minus A-Rod’s $25-million salary), and with their arbitration-eligible players yet to be given a contract, their only hope seems to be filling the rotation with pitchers from within the organization, such as Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Adam Warren, and why not, Vidal Nuno?
Another option is signing low-risk, low-cost pitchers still out there like they did in 2010 with Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. This year’s possibilities include Johan Santana, Jason Hammel, Paul Maholm, or even Jeff Karstens. Sign one or two of these (or others still out there), make them fight for a spot during Spring Training, and you might have your rotation set out of the blue. Don’t forget the four organizational options mentioned above, as well.
Reliever with closer experience
After losing Mariano Rivera to retirement, the Yankees’ bullpen suffered a huge and possibly impactful change. With most relievers with closer experience off the board, the message seems to be clear. David Robertson will close out games for the Yankees next season. But who’s going to set him up? This is where the Yankees will have to use some money and take a risk.
Fernando Rodney is still out there, and so is Chris Perez. Experienced closers such as Andrew Bailey and Kevin Gregg are cheaper options, but not as reliable. Give Fernando Rodney a contract; tell him he will set games up for Robertson, and although he might not be as happy, incentives for games finished should make him happy enough. You’re telling him that if anything happens to/with Robertson, he’ll take over.
As of right now, a third baseman, one or two starting pitchers and a reliever should make the Yankees strong enough to be seen as the favorites to win the AL Eastern division next year, though that’s hard to predict when the current World Series Champions are in the same division.
Let the Yankees finish slightly under the $189-million luxury tax threshold, or watch them spend like crazy for the last two months of the offseason. I’d rather take the first one.