When the New York Yankees signed Japanese pitching phenom Masahiro Tanaka to his 7-year, $155 million dollar contract last week, the team went past the “goal” of staying under the $189 million dollar threshold that would’ve reset the team’s luxury tax percentage as early as 2015. Now, with every dollar they spend on their roster, they will be paying a fifty-percent rate in luxury tax next year. General manager Brian Cashman allowed Robinson Cano to walk away, but upgraded the lineup overall with the additions of Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, the free agent departure of Cano to Seattle, and the season-long suspension of Alex Rodriguez has left two gaping holes in the infield, not to mention the retirement of the irreplaceable Mariano Rivera at the back end of the bullpen. Since the Yankees have made the decision to go over the threshold, it’s time for them to finish the job, close the deal, and make the 2014 version of the Yankees the very best it can be. Let’s take a look at some moves, both through free agency and on the trade market that can ensure the Bronx Bombers return to the elite of the American League.
1. Ubaldo Jimenez-Starting Pitcher: The addition of Jimenez, who has shown ace-type stuff at points in his career, would make the starting rotation one of the most dangerous in all of baseball. One through five, the rotation could take on any team in baseball and compete. The market has been slow to develop for the fireballer, as everyone was waiting for Tanaka to sign. Not only has he signed, but fellow free agent Matt Garza is now off the board as well, for probably less money than he had hoped (4-years, $52 million). Unlike Garza, Jimenez will cost whomever signs him a compensatory draft pick. But when have draft picks every mattered to the Yankees?
Jimenez has pitched at least 175 innings or more in seven straight seasons. He has also made at least 30 starts over that same time period. People will talk about his inconsistency, which has now been credited to mechanical issues that seemed to have been resolved during the second half of 2013. Jimenez is more like his 2010 version now, a year in which he won 19 games and struck out 214 hitters than he was during any one of his stinker seasons in Cleveland. He has a K/9 ratio of at least 8 during six of his last seven campaigns, and has only allowed 103 career home runs in 1275 2/3 innings pitched. For 3-years and $45 million, the Yankees would get a relative steal in terms of upside. Jimenez is a much safer bet to fill out the remainder of the starting rotation over candidates such as Michael Pineda, David Phelps or Vidal Nuno. Alternate Candidate: Bronson Arroyo
2. Brett Gardner to the San Diego Padres for Chase Headley: Yes, Headley had a down season in 2013, hitting only 13 home runs in 141 games, but at season’s end, he is a free agent just like the player the Yankees would be giving up, the speedy Gardner. Sure, Gardner is an excellent outfielder, but he is also only a career .268 hitter that hasn’t stolen more than 24 bases in three years. He will be hitting at the bottom of the Yankees lineup limiting his offensive output, as the addition of Ellsbury takes away his shot of hitting lead-off. Gardner’s speed and defense play well in Petco Park, and the trade would seem to be an even match for both teams. Gardner would be an energizing outfielder who could cover a ton of ground in San Diego, and the Yankees get their answer to replacing A-Rod. Alternate Candidate: Aramis Ramirez
3. Kendrys Morales-First Base/DH: Most known for breaking his leg and missing most of the next two seasons after celebrating a walk-off home run, Morales would be a solid fixture into an already lethal Yankees’ lineup. With the trade of Gardner to San Diego, Alfonso Soriano shifts back to left field, thus opening the DH spot for the switch-hitting Cuban. He is five years removed from having a .306/34/108 season in Anaheim, along with a couple of quality seasons in Seattle, and would be the perfect spot starter at first base, or even a long-term quality solution if Mark Teixeira isn’t ready for Opening Day. Morales, like Jimenez, has a draft pick attached to his signing, but again, who cares? The Yankees don’t draft well (at least not with Cashman and Co. at the helm), and adding Morales would lengthen the lineup even more. At this point in the winter, the Yankees could most likely sign him for 2-years and $20 million dollars. Alternate Candidate: Jeff Baker
4. J.R. Murphy and Ronnier Mustelier to the Philadelphia Phillies for Jonathan Papelbon and cash: I predicted a Paps to the Bronx deal shortly after the World Series ended, and I believe it’s the perfect match. I’m not sold on David Robertson no matter what Hal Steinbrenner says. The deal would be beneficial to both teams. For Philly, they receive Murphy, who could eventually replace the aging Carlos Ruiz, and Mustelier would provide valuable infield depth as early as this season. Musty for whatever reason, continues to be overlooked by the Yankees as a viable option at third base, and was left off the 40-man roster, despite almost making the big league club out of spring training last year. It also gives the Phillies two very affordable, usable pieces for the present time and in the future.
The Yankees receive a closer in Papelbon, who is more than familiar with the AL East, and would probably love a chance to pitch for a competitive team again. Sure, he’s got a big price tag attached to him, as he is scheduled to make $26 million over the next two seasons, along with a third year vesting option based on games finished, but this is where the Phillies would kick in a little bit of cash, just to get him out of town. Paps isn’t as electric as he once was, but he did have 29 saves for a team that won only 73 games a season ago. He also posted an ERA of 2.92, which was up almost half a run per game from 2012. What the Yankees would have to love about getting the fiery closer, is his postseason experience. Much like Beltran, Papelbon handles business in October, with 7 career saves and posting an ERA of exactly 1.00. The Yankees have a plethora of catching prospects, and don’t care about Mustelier, so why not pull the trigger and everybody wins? Plus, I have to believe the added bonus of getting a fired up and motivated Papelbon, who would relish every single opportunity he could get to come out of the bullpen in Fenway Park and slam the door on his old mates as a member of the “Evil Empire.” Alternate Candidate: Fernando Rodney
5. Stephen Drew-Shortstop: According to conflicting reports over the past few days, the Yankees are either “really” interested in signing Drew (Jon Heyman) or they have no interest whatsoever (Rosenthal and Olney). Only time will tell, but if the Yankees are smart, he would be in pinstripes before the week ends. Defensively, he’s a solid infielder, and actually showed some nice pop in his bat at times last year with the Red Sox. With Jeter manning shortstop, the team would slide Drew over to second base, and give him plenty of time at shortstop as well on days that Jeter is either given a day off or is DHing. With the aforementioned Headley deal, Drew could solidify the infield, bringing another quality bat to the lower third of the lineup, and would slide over to shortstop full time when Jeter retires.
An infield of Headley, Jeter, Drew, and Teixeira would be much more productive than what the current version. This would allow the team to shift Kelly Johnson back to the super-utility role he is best suited for, and they can waive Brian Roberts when he gets hurt (and he will). Aside from the Yankees’ interest, the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Mets, Twins, and A’s have all expressed the desire to possibly sign Drew. For 3-years and $36 million, I think he becomes a Yankee. Alternate Candidate: Brandon Phillips
As Tanaka signed, pushing the team over the spending threshold, the old saying “In for a penny, in for a pound” came to my mind. It doesn’t matter if the Yankees are a nickel over the $189 million ceiling, or $50 million over, the luxury tax rate for 2015 will be the same. If Brian Cashman wants to keep his job, and in the process take the Yankees back to the role of contender instead of third-place finisher, he will make the moves necessary to make this a complete roster. Infield, outfield, starting pitching and bullpen. There are still holes, and the talent to fill these holes are still on the market and can be acquired. If the Steinbrenner brothers truly want to prove to the fans that they are indeed their father’s sons, they will do whatever must be done to complete the mission, and to close the deal on this 2013-14 offseason. I will leave you with this quote from the late Yankees’ owner, George Steinbrenner himself:
Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing…Breathing first, winning next.
Billy serves as the co-editor of Yanks Go Yard. You can follow him on Twitter @Billy_Brost.