Congratulations to Ubaldo Jimenez for finally signing a contract this offseason. He is the newest member of the Baltimore Orioles, which means he will face the Yankees a handful of times during the 2014 season. Once again, the Yankees could have opened the checkbook, and ensured that a glaring weakness became a known strength, but they passed…again. It seems to be the norm rather than the exception for the Bronx Bombers since the ink dried on Masahiro Tanaka‘s 7-year, $155 million dollar contract. The team had issues prior to securing Tanaka, the team still has issues as spring training has opened, and unless everything falls their way, I can easily foresee another missed October for the New York Yankees. Let’s take a look at the top five missed opportunities for the Yankees this offseason.
5. Failing to find a suitable replacement for Robinson Cano: I’ll give the Yankees their just due by not going completely crazy and outbidding the Seattle Mariners to retain the services of Cano. It wasn’t the money so much that bothered me, but rather the years. After the Alex Rodriguez contract debacle back in 2007, the Yankees learned a painful lesson in handing over-30 players 10-year deals.
The team still had ample opportunity to find a better than what is currently on the roster option to replace Cano. If money was truly no object, then why pass on Brandon Phillips? Sure, you’re giving up Brett Gardner, but he’s going to walk at the end of the season anyway. Yes, I’ve heard the talk about Phillips’ offensive output declining, but you know what? The last time I looked, he still hit 18 bombs, drove in exactly 100, and is still one of the better defensive second basemen in the game. If the Yankees were going to go all-in for 2014, this type of deal is right in their wheelhouse. Perhaps money was of some concern, so okay, why not give Omar Infante the fourth year he desired for $40 million dollars? By the time that contract would’ve expired, he would be 36-years-old, the same age as…their current starting second baseman, Brian Roberts.
4. Failing to sign a proven closer to replace the retired Mariano Rivera: I may be on an island on this one with my fellow Yanks Go Yard staff members, but I’m not buying into the idea of David Robertson being “the guy”. He was given a quick looksie when Rivera went down back in 2012, and looked putrid. If it weren’t for Rafael Soriano coming back from the dead and locking down the 9th inning for the remainder of the season, the Yankees miss the playoffs in 2012 as well.
There were many suitable options on the table for the Yankees this offseason that wouldn’t have required long term deals or megabucks. Let’s start with Joe Nathan. He is now the current active leader in career saves. He signed with the Detroit Tigers for 2-years and $20 million. Nathan was the first option off the table. The Yankees could’ve moved on the Grant Balfour, who not only failed his Baltimore Orioles’ physical, but was ripe for the picking on an extremely cheap deal given the questions around his health (which as of right now, appear to be unfounded). Balfour ends up with another division rival in Tampa Bay for 2-years and $12 million. That is a pittance for someone of Balfour’s pedigree, and it was another missed chance for the Yankees to turn a question into a definitive answer. Finally, the inconsistent but yet still proven Fernando Rodney. While his 2-year, $14 million dollar deal with the Mariners is more than what Balfour received, Rodney proved he could slam the door in the AL East. Instead, the Yankees are putting ALL of their eggs in one basket in Robertson, and oh by the way, the 8th inning set-up man question still looms. Brian Cashman better hope that Shawn Kelley is the real deal.
3. Not having a contingency plan for the Alex Rodriguez suspension: If the Yankees were as confident as Major League Baseball and the Player’s Union that A-Rod was going to lose, and lose big, why didn’t they have a replacement in the offseason blueprints? Mark Reynolds enjoyed his partial season in pinstripes, and was serviceable enough to bring back on a guaranteed big league contract. Instead, Cashman tiptoed around Reynolds, finally offering him a minor league deal, which he declined to compete for a spot on the Milwaukee Brewers roster. Reynolds would’ve provided adequate defense, and a much-needed right-handed power bat in the lower third of the Yankees lineup. The Yankees can only hope that former first baseman Lyle Overbay beats out Reynolds in the spring, and that Reynolds lands back in their laps, but that is highly unlikely at this point.
I don’t know about you, but the idea of a Kelly Johnson/Eduardo Nunez and possibly Dean Anna platoon situation doesn’t provide me with great confidence. Stephen Drew is still on the market, is an above average fielder, and is looking for a multi-year deal with an opt-out clause after this season. Are you trying to convince me that the draft pick, and 2-years at $24 million is too much to ensure the season-long scorecard doesn’t read “E-5″? It would benefit the Yankees if Drew opted out anyway, as Jeter will retire, the free agent market at shortstop is deep in 2015, and you know who is returning from suspension. C’mon Cash, time to use a touch of common sense here.
2. Failing to secure a power arm to solidify the starting rotation beyond Tanaka: My partner in crime, co-editor Jason Evans and I went back and forth all offseason about who each of us thought would be a better fit in the Yankees rotation. Jason was a Matt Garza guy, myself, I am holding true to Ubaldo Jimenez. Either one of these guys in the back end of the rotation makes the Yankees a playoff team right now. Instead, hopes and dreams of a postseason will ride on the candidacies of Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Vidal Nuno, and Adam Warren.
While I’ve always loved Pineda, and perhaps he will surprise me and return to his 2011 rookie campaign form, why not hedge your bet and ensure that your rotation is a strength instead of a question mark? Nobody knows what the “Biggest Loser” C.C. Sabathia has left in the tank, nor does anyone know if the latter part of last season was the end of the line for Hiroki Kuroda or just a bump in the road. The only proven free agent arm remaining on the market is Ervin Santana. I’ve said this all offseason, and I like Santana–in the right ballpark with the right team, but in Yankee Stadium, he is nothing more than a glorified, overpriced Phil Hughes in waiting. No thanks.
1. Failing to find a suitable backup for Mark Teixeira at first base: This is truly where the value of Mark Reynolds would’ve been noticed the most. On days when he wasn’t covering the hot corner, he moves across the diamond to give Tex a day off and the Yankees still have a power threat in the lineup. Instead, the projected starter at third base, Kelly Johnson would most likely play first base on days Teixeira couldn’t go or needed a breather. And don’t try to sell me on Russ Canzler either. The guy has played 29 big league games and is not a viable option.
The guy who is still out there, looking for a taker, is a proven middle-of-the-order run producer, whom oh by the way, is also a switch-hitter. Yes, I’m speaking of Kendrys Morales. Again with the compensatory draft pick. To be honest, until Cashman and the boys prove they can draft anyone worth noting, Morales on a one or two-year deal makes more sense now. The team blew it with Reynolds, and I’m not believing for one second that all of a sudden Tex is going to “hit 30 home runs and drive in 100″ as he claims he will. His surgically-repaired wrist is still recovering, and his doctor has said he could feel tightness and numbness for several months. As of right now, as hard as it might be to believe, if Tex goes down, the Yankees will soon follow.
Brian Cashman and the Yankees’ brain-trust determined that going past the $189 million dollar payroll threshold was worth it to bring a winner back to the Bronx. The only problem, is that they only half-way committed to doing so. Every team has a budget, but for the players they passed on that could’ve made the difference between bringing home title #28 and sitting at home during another postseason of baseball, why take the risk and leave anything to chance? If this offseason spending spree of almost half a billion dollars crashes and burns, someone should walk the plank, and rightfully so with all of the options the Yankees let slip through their fingers.
Billy serves as the co-editor of Yanks Go Yard. You can follow him on Twitter @Billy_Brost.