What roles will the Yankees focus on during the Winter Meetings?


Now that the New York Yankees have come to terms with Andy Pettitte and it looks as though they are close to signing Mariano Rivera for the 2013 season, the New York Yankees are ready to attack the rest of their roster during next week’s winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn. Brian Cashman has several holes to fill and now has a better understanding how much money he has left to dole out. The Yankees are in need of a full-time catcher, a right fielder, bench help and possibly an upgrade in the bullpen.

I would guess the first order of business would be to try and nail down Russell Martin for the full-time catcher’s position. The Yankees are probably kicking themselves for not making the three-year offer they proposed to Martin last offseason just a little sweeter than the rumored three-year, $20 million contract he balked on. The latest on Martin has him looking for a four-year deal worth $9-10 million per season. WOW! This guy hit .212 in 2012.

Russell Martin’s strong finish has obviously been enough to keep his stock up with as many as four teams clamoring for his services. (Image: Noah K. Murray/THE STAR-LEDGER via US PRESSWIRE)

Apparently this is a fine time to be a catcher. Martin finds himself among just three solid full-time options with several teams looking to fill the role, a few of which have plenty of money. In addition to the Yankees, the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners and the Pittsburgh Pirates are all seriously interested in Martin’s services.

Cashman’s biggest hurdle of course is the looming mandate from Yankees’ ownership to lower payroll enough that they stay under the competitive balance threshold for the 2014 season. I have written extensively about what this means and how they may be able to accomplish it. In each deal that Cashman makes this offseason, he’ll have an eye toward how it affects his dealings next winter.

Martin will pose the toughest challenge because he is looking for a three or four year contract and the value could be anywhere from $32 – $40 million depending on the source. The years are not as much of an issue as the average annual value is. The Yankees do not have a catcher ready to take over in 2013 and it remains to be seen if Austin Romine will be ready for a starting role in 2014. By the time 2015 rolls around the Yankees could be ready to begin the Gary Sanchez era and if not it will begin in 2016 assuming his development continues on the current trajectory.

The other options for the Yankees behind the plate are Mike Napoli and A.J. Pierzynski. Napoli does not fit the ideal catcher the Yankees are looking for because he isn’t considered a very good defensive backstop and is not used to a full season on his knees, plus he is looking for similar numbers in his deal. Pierzynski could be had for two-years, but he won’t come cheap either after completing his best offensive season at the age of 36.

In the end Cashman may have to add bow to Martin’s wishes and maneuver the rest of the roster moves in 2014 knowing he’s got a catcher who can provide stability behind the plate and an average bat with occasional glimpses of power.

The right field situation could be handled easily if the Yankees can come to terms with Ichiro Suzuki. It has been said that the Yankees and Suzuki have mutual interest in his return after playing 67 games with the Bombers following a trade from Seattle. As with Pettitte, Rivera and recently signed Hiroki Kuroda, Suzuki is open to a one-year contract which allows the Yankees to bide their time in dealing with filling one or possibly two outfield spots in 2014 (it is uncertain at this point what the Yankees will do with Curtis Granderson who will be in the final year of his contract in 2013).

Ichiro Suzuki

showed he had something left in the tank during his 67 game trist with the Bombers. He’d like to come back and the Yankees would like to have him it seems. Could he be signed during the Winter Meetings? (Image: Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE)

One other name that has come up recently as an outfield solution in the Bronx is Shane Victorino. He is coming off a poor season in time split with the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers. He was in line for a hefty multiyear deal prior to his 2012 production. But a .255 batting average and a .704 OPS will drop a player’s value in a hurry. Victorino is much younger than Ichiro and fits much of the same profile as the type of player. He’s got above-average speed and runs the bases well but with a little more pop than Ichiro. He typically hit for a decent average besides blips in 2010 and now 2012, and he plays well in the field. He has mostly played center field, but it is assumed that he would move to a corner position (if the Yankees want to use Brett Gardner in center) for the right team. The question with Victorino is that despite his age (he’s 31), is he in a downward trajectory which is makes his longer contract demands and larger salary unpalatable when compared to a one-year investment with Ichiro?

The idea of Justin Upton has been batted around on our site on a couple occasions and each time the thought was that the Arizona Diamondbacks would want a large haul for the younger Upton and the Yankees do not have the matching parts required to get a deal done. The allure of Upton is his age (he doesn’t turn 26 until August 2013) which makes his cost relative to age (he’ll earn $38.5 million over the next three years) easier to swallow. No matter his age the average annual value of the remainder of his contract puts a large dent in the 2014 payroll dilemma.

In all likelihood the Yankees will work things out with Suzuki with the hopes that they can find another one-year deal next season to bridge the gap for when Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott or even Zoilo Almonte come of age in 2015.

After the catcher and right field (or outfield) slot is filled the Yankees will focus on their bench. If the Bombers sign Ichiro and Martin they will probably have to go with a bat that will be used when Yankees manager is not giving half-days to Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira or even Ichiro as the DH. Enter Raul Ibanez. Yes, the average age of the Yankees is going to continue climbing, but can we blame the Yankees for pursuing a player who wants to return, will do so for one year with little investment (though he’d likely get a raise from the $1.1 million he earned in this season) and who still can hit with authority? Ibanez proved his worth numerous times and showed he can do it off the bench which is critical since he would not get a ton of at-bats as the DH.

Another choice for the bench slot would be Scott Hairston, who could formulate Ibanez’s partial platoon partner and cover spot starts in the outfield to spell the corners. Hairston hit 20 home runs this season with the New York Mets in 398 plate appearances. Turning 33 in May, Hairston is a cheap source for pop (.202 ISO for career) and not a massive detriment in the field. But, the Mets and others are interested in his services as well and Hairston is just two years removed from an embarrassing season with 2010 San Diego Padres (.210/.295/.346 in 336 plate appearances).

In the infield the Yankees will have to decide by tomorrow if they will tender a contract to Jayson Nix to take on one of the utility infield roles alongside Eduardo Nunez. If they decide to pass on Nix, they could pursue a guy like Jeff Keppinger who can play a variety of infield spots and wields a stronger bat than Nix. Of course, Keppinger would probably cost more money and he may find a job elsewhere which would provide him more guaranteed time on the field. The Yankees tossed around the idea of having Stephen Drew play a utility role, but he, like Keppinger may be able to find a more stable presence in another uniform.

Lastly, looking at the bullpen, the Yankees could look to sign Joakim Soria who is coming off Tommy John surgery and could be ready to return to the mound in May. The Yankees currently have David Robertson to set up Rivera as well as Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan to work the six and/or seventh innings. Soria would be an instant improvement to the bullpen, but his cost could be a factor. Soria is an intriguing option for the Yankees as 2013 would most likely be Rivera’s last hurrah no matter the circumstances. Soria will turn 29 in May, so he’s a good option to take over the closer role in 2014 and beyond, if the Yankees are not comfortable handing it over to Robertson. That said, the Yankees may bypass Soria and settle on using David Phelps in relief since he performed well in the role this season and use Ivan Nova in the fifth starter slot. If Nova fails the Yankees could move Phelps in the slot and possibly bring up Mark Montgomery, or they may have Michael Pineda back by May or June and could use him in the fifth spot, keeping Phelps in the pen.

In all the Yankees will have plenty of spots to work on over the course of the week long meetings. They do not have to have all of them settled at the end of the sessions, but Cashman and his advisers will certainly investigate each fully. For once, the money is an issue especially for deals that stretch into 2014 or beyond, making this a very delicate offseason for Cashman. It will be interesting to see how the Yankees fare to say the least.

*Statistics provided by FanGraphs*