Offseason Outlook: New York Yankees

The Yankees are missing some iconic names but will try to reload their roster and (maybe) keep their payroll under the luxury tax limit.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses)

Contract Options

Free Agents

For the last two years, Yankees fans have been hearing about the team’s plan to get under the $189MM luxury tax threshold for 2014 in order to save as much as $50MM in future luxury tax and revenue-sharing payments.  Then, the Yankees missed the postseason for just the second time in the last 19 seasons and it looks like the $189MM cap idea may be a thing of the past.  Though the team overcame an injury-riddled roster to finish 85-77, the team still saw drops in attendance and TV ratings due to their relative non-contention, and those losses in revenue may offset the expected luxury tax savings.

Quite simply, it seems like the Yankees can’t afford to not be in the postseason race.  Tax or no tax, we’ll definitely see the Bombers make some moves to shore up their roster, and this could be a very busy offseason for general manager Brian Cashman.

The good payroll news is that the Yankees only have $89.025MM committed for 2014.  That total could grow by roughly $17.2MM if they tender contracts to all their seven of their arbitration eligible players, plus $9.5MM if Derek Jeter exercises his player option as expected.  That adds up to $115.725MM for 14 players, so there’s room to add a few more big salaries to the mix and still get under the magic $189MM number.

How big would those salaries be?  Try roughly $300MM worth of deals if everything breaks New York’s way and they’re able to re-sign Robinson Cano and add at least two of Brian McCann, Masahiro Tanaka and Carlos Beltran.  The last time the Yankees made a big free agent splash like that was when they added C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett in the 2008-09 offseason…and then won the World Series the next year.

The Alex Rodriguez saga will play a big role in determining the payroll logistics.  A-Rod’s appeal of his record 211-game suspension will likely result in a shorter amount of time served, though every game missed by the slugger equals more of Rodriguez’s $28MM 2014 salary that comes off the books.  Rodriguez turns 39 next year and he was limited to just 44 games (and a .771 OPS) last season due to recovery from hip surgery, so between his age and salary, it could be best for the Yankees if A-Rod did sit out 150 games or more and allow them to turn the page on their third base situation.

Having to find another full-time third baseman, however, just adds to the long list of positions requiring New York’s attention this winter.  The only positions that seem settled are left field (Alfonso Soriano), center (Brett Gardner) and first base (Teixeira), though since Teixeira turns 34 in April and played only 15 games last year due to several wrist injuries, the Yankees will definitely look to acquire first base depth.

Jeter is a near-lock to return following a miserable season that saw him play in just 17 games due to recurring problems with his left ankle and a subsequent calf injury.  It seems unlikely that his ankle will withstand a full year at short, so Jeter may spend most of his time at a less-strenuous position like first or DH.  Such a position switch would mean the Yankees will need to find another shortstop, as Eduardo Nunez provided little at the plate or in the field as Jeter’s main replacement in 2013.  New York could try to re-sign Brendan Ryan as a defense-first option, though a better move would be to sign a player like Jhonny Peralta, who could help at both short and third.

Re-signing Cano, far and away the top free agent on the market this offseason, will be the first order of business for the Yankees.  Cano is known to be looking for a 10-year, $305MM deal, and while I doubt he’ll find such a contract anywhere, his price tag will still be high enough that only the Yankees and a few other big-payroll clubs (though not the Dodgers) will be able to afford him.  ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand recently listed the Rangers, Phillies, Cubs, Tigers, Mariners, Mets and Nationals as possible candidates to sign Cano, and of that crop, Detroit and Washington stand out as the most realistic options.  That said, I tend to believe that Cano will be wearing the pinstripes come Opening Day.

There is already rumored to be mutual interest between the Yankees and Beltran, who would be a major right field upgrade over the Ichiro Suzuki/Vernon Wells platoon.  Since Beltran is very likely to receive a qualifying offer from the Cardinals, however, New York would need to give up its first round draft pick (18th overall) to sign him.  That’s a move the Bombers might be hesitant to make given their lack of minor league depth.

Re-signing Curtis Granderson would address the RF hole without costing the Yankees a draft pick.  Both Granderson and his agent Dan Martin have said that his preference is to return to the Yankees, and it has even been suggested that Granderson could accept a one-year, $14.1MM qualifying offer from the club in order to rebound from his injury-shortened 2013 season and put himself in better shape for free agency next winter.  While Granderson could indeed re-sign, I highly doubt he’ll take a qualifying offer when he’s bound to be offered multiyear deals elsewhere.  The White Sox, for instance, are rumored to have a big interest in Granderson (an Illinois native), though the signing of Jose Dariel Abreu could affect Chicago’s other free agent plans.

Chris Stewart handled the majority of the work behind the plate last year though MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes considers him to be a non-tender candidate, despite Stewart’s modest $1MM in projected arbitration earnings for next season.  The Yankees have Stewart, Austin Romine, J.R. Murphy and the returning Francisco Cervelli in the mix, so it’s no surprise that there has been speculation that the Bombers could make a play for McCann.  With McCann behind the plate and serving as a bridge to 20-year-old prospect Gary Sanchez, the Yankees could use their other catchers as trade bait.  If not McCann, other veterans like A.J. Pierzynski or Dioner Navarro could be options.  The Yankees have enough catching depth that they could focus their resources elsewhere and stand pat at catcher, in the hopes that Cervelli can keep up the hot bat he swung in his very brief 2013 campaign or that Murphy (a second round pick in 2009) can make the leap after a solid season at Double- and Triple-A.

The Yankees bullpen is entering a new era in the wake of Mariano Rivera’s retirement.  David Robertson is the internal favorite to become the new closer, though the Yankees could check in on an elite closer like Joe Nathan or more experienced stoppers like Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour or Edward Mujica. Robertson will be a free agent himself next winter, however, so the Bombers will have to act now if they want to give their “closer of the future” an actual chance at the job.

The Yankees will definitely look to strengthen a bullpen that posted middling numbers last season.  The bullpen is one area where the club would look to save payroll space by getting some low-cost arms.  Boone Logan’s elbow surgery isn’t expected to cause him to miss any Spring Training time, but it could drop his free agent price enough that New York could re-sign him at a relative bargain.

Maybe the club’s biggest area of concern is the starting rotation.  Sabathia is coming off the worst season of his 13-year career, Andy Pettitte has retired and Hiroki Kuroda could retire or return to pitch in Japan.  One bright spot is Ivan Nova, who enjoyed his best season and is only now entering his arb-eligible years.  The Yankees are counting on Nova to continue his development and become a rotation stalwart in 2014, while also hoping that Sabathia’s return to his regular offseason training routine will get him back in form.

Kuroda seems likely to sign a one-year contract in the $16MM range, as MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently noted in his Free Agent Profile of the Japanese righty.  The Yankees obviously want him back after such a solid season and I’d argue that they probably have the inside track.  Kuroda could be interested in signing with a contender on the West Coast to be closer to his family in California, though it’s hard to see teams like the Dodgers or A’s give up their first round draft pick to sign a pitcher who will be 39 next season.

The Yankees are expected to be major players for Tanaka, and since his posting fee wouldn’t count against the luxury tax, he’d be a relatively low-cost signing that would also help to revive fan interest.  While several other teams are also interested in Tanaka, the Yankees’ extra financial resources give them an edge in a posting bid scenario.

Beyond Sabathia and Nova, the Yankees will have a lot of uncertainty in the rotation if Kuroda and/or Tanaka aren’t signed.  The team would much rather have the likes of Adam Warren or David Phelps as depth options than being penciled in as the third and fourth starters.  Phil Hughes won’t be re-signed and Michael Pineda‘s status is still up in the air, though the Yankees hope he’s at least healthy enough to compete for a job next spring.  Yankee Stadium’s hitter-friendly dimensions can make it tricky to attract free agent starters, so the Bombers could target available pitchers who are adept at keeping the ball on the ground.

The Yankees have traditionally been able to augment their bench with productive veterans who are willing to take reduced roles in search of a World Series ring.  This task could be harder this winter since the Yankees are no longer surefire contenders, though there could be regular at-bats to be had at the DH spot for a bench player who gets hot, depending on how much Jeter plays at shortstop.  The Bombers will look to add more productive depth players than last winter, as Wells, Travis Hafner and Lyle Overbay didn’t contribute much.

One big offseason matter has already been settled, as Joe Girardi signed a new four-year contract to remain as the team’s manager.  The Cubs and Nationals were the most notable potential suitors for Girardi’s services but the Yankees moved quickly to re-sign their skipper weeks before he was free to negotiate elsewhere.

The $189MM payroll crunch wouldn’t be nearly as big an issue for the Yankees if their top three highest-earning players (Rodriguez, Teixeira and Sabathia) weren’t all such big question marks for 2014.  Since there is too much money at stake on and off the field for the Bombers to have a true rebuilding year, the departures of Rivera and Pettitte don’t exactly signal a fresh start for the franchise given the number of familiar veterans still on the roster.  While some additions will be made, the Yankees’ success in 2014 will depend on how much their aging and banged-up core still has in the tank.


blog comments powered by Disqus