The Yankees' offseason is all about their search for starting pitching, though they'll look to add bench help and a second left-handed reliever as well.
- Alex Rodriguez, 3B: $148MM through 2017
- Mark Teixeira, 1B: $115.625MM through 2016
- Derek Jeter, SS: $36MM through 2014
- A.J. Burnett, SP: $33MM through 2013
- Mariano Rivera, RP: $15MM through 2012
- Curtis Granderson, OF: $12MM through 2012
- Pedro Feliciano, RP: $4.25MM through 2012
Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)
- Russell Martin, C: $6.7MM
- Brett Gardner, OF: $3.3MM
- Phil Hughes, SP: $3.0MM
- Joba Chamberlain, RP: $1.7MM
- Boone Logan, RP: $1.6MM
- David Robertson, RP: $1.5MM
- C.C. Sabathia, SP: can opt out of four years and $92MM remaining on current deal (Type A)
- Nick Swisher, OF: $10.25MM club option with a $1MM buyout (Type A)
- Robinson Cano, 2B: $14MM club option with a $2MM buyout (Type A)
- Rafael Soriano, RP: $11MM player option or a $1.5MM buyout (Type A)
- Andruw Jones (unranked OF), Jorge Posada (unranked DH), Eric Chavez (unranked 3B), Freddy Garcia (Type B SP), Bartolo Colon (unranked SP), Luis Ayala (unranked RP), Sergio Mitre (unranked RP), Damaso Marte (unranked RP)
The success of the Yankees' offseason hinges on Brian Cashman's ability to build a strong rotation. Low-risk signings such as Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon helped the Yankees reach the postseason again in 2011, but Cashman will pursue bigger names this offseason. His starting point? A 97-win team that was among the best in baseball at scoring and preventing runs.
Before the offseason starts in earnest, Cashman himself must sign a new contract. Once the sides sign the deal — it could happen within the week — Cashman will continue addressing the Yankees' needs.
C.C. Sabathia will be a top target for the Yankees and it makes sense for them to pursue free agents C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish along with the best starters on the trade market. The Yankees are rarely outbid for a player they truly want, so their chances of retaining Sabathia seem good (Sabathia's former teammate, Cliff Lee, is the exception to prove the rule).
Retaining Sabathia will require an extended commitment in terms of years and dollars and the Yankees have some concerns about the left-hander's weight, but his numbers are tremendous. He has averaged more than 230 innings since joining the Bronx Bombers three seasons ago, with a 3.18 ERA, 8.0 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in that stretch. FanGraphs' version of wins above replacement suggests Sabathia has been baseball's fourth-best pitcher since signing his current contract. He's going to get paid and if the Yankees want him, they must be prepared to spend, even if they're wary of having too many aging stars on the team a few years from now.
Darvish is an intriguing possibility because the Yankees need starting pitching and they have the resources to outbid the 29 other clubs. The last time the Yankees invested in a Japanese pitcher it didn't work out, but Kei Igawa's failure should push the Yankees to better understand the transition across the Pacific, not to shy away from Japanese pitchers with significantly greater upside than Igawa. If the Yankees are still negotiating with Sabathia when bids for Darvish are due, they'll have to place their bid at a time of great uncertainty.
Wilson, who posted a 2.94 ERA with 8.3 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 223 1/3 regular season innings for the Rangers before struggling in the playoffs, remains an appealing free agent option. He will cost a top draft pick and may not be a proven ace at the level of Sabathia and Lee, but Wilson stands out as one of the top options available. Edwin Jackson and Hiroki Kuroda are among the free agent alternatives to Wilson, but Jackson has been inconsistent and Kuroda appears to prefer Los Angeles to other possible destinations.
Presently, the Yankees' rotation consists of Ivan Nova and A.J. Burnett. They may also count on Phil Hughes, but he will need to stay healthy and return to his 2010 form, manager Joe Girardi said. Otherwise, they'll need multiple starters this offseason, assuming they're not ready to turn starting roles over to Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos just yet. They could bring Garcia back to fill out the rotation, but another deal for Colon seems unlikely after he faded in the second half. Garcia, the Yankees' lone ranked free agent, could obtain an offer of arbitration if the Yankees are prepared to offer him a roster spot in 2012. Even if the Yankees aren't interested in bringing Garcia back, they could set up a handshake agreement and obtain the extra pick.
The Yankees could pursue John Danks, Ricky Nolasco, Wandy Rodriguez and others if they become available on the trade market. In the unlikely event that Seattle takes offers for Felix Hernandez, the Yankees will call.
If the Yankees turn to the trade market for pitching, Jesus Montero's name figures to come up constantly. Cashman has held onto Montero for this long and the powerful backstop is now ready for the Major Leagues, so a trade seems unlikely. However, the Yankees have a wealth of catching depth behind Russell Martin and could consider parting with Austin Romine or Francisco Cervelli.
Longtime backstop Jorge Posada probably won't return after 22 years and five World Series titles with the Yankees organization. Montero will collect some of Posada's plate appearances at designated hitter and Girardi will rotate established players such as Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter into the DH role when they need rest. Red Sox fans probably don't have to lose too much sleep over the possibility of David Ortiz coming back to haunt them in pinstripes.
The rest of the Yankees' lineup is essentially set for 2012, assuming they exercise Nick Swisher's option. There's no question that Robinson Cano's option will be exercised. The Yankees broke their own rules to extend Cano four offseasons ago, so they could consider another extension with the Scott Boras client. Curtis Granderson, who is also under team control through 2013, would be an extension candidate on most teams, but the Yankees will likely abide by team policy and wait until he hits the open market to start negotiating.
The rest of Cashman's offseason will consist of finding a second left-hander for the bullpen and finalizing the bench. Andruw Jones could return as a fourth outfielder and right-handed bench bat. Eric Chavez also appears to be a fit for a bench job, if he decides against retirement.
The Yankees won 97 games without a dominant rotation, so they know as well as any team that it can be done. But if Cashman's offseason goes according to plan, his top acquisitions won't be working under minor league contracts or battling for jobs in Spring Training. They'll be established pitchers who seem capable of leading the Yankees to their 17th playoff appearance in the last 18 years.