New York Yankees: 6 Moves the Yankees Must Make to Be Contenders in 2013
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
The New York Yankees, as constructed, are going to get worse before they get better. The Bombers have a $28-million-per-year third basemen in Alex Rodriguez who hasn't hit above .276 in any of the past three seasons and a 38-year-old shortstop in Derek Jeter—along with several other home run hitters—who seem to fade in October. The one bright spot on the roster, second basemen Robinson Cano, needs to be signed to a long-term contract by next offseason.
Despite putting together the best record in the American League in 2012, the Yankees were beaten by a Detroit Tigers team that was built to win in October. Justin Verlander aside, the Tigers had a balanced lineup between power bats and players with high on-base percentages that allowed Detroit to scrape across just enough runs to win each game of the series.
The Yankees' home run-hitting lineup has the ability to win games in the regular season. The Yanks had 245 homers in 2012, which was 31 more than the next best total. However, their style of play is not sustainable against elite pitching in the playoffs. For the Bombers to get back to being a successful October baseball team, they need to assemble a younger, more balanced lineup to score runs without smashing the ball over the fence.
Let's take a look at six moves that the Yankees must make this offseason to become a realistic World Series contender in 2013.
Do Not Overpay for Nick Swisher
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Nick Swisher is going to be a heavily sought-after free agent on the open market. While he's not going to get Jayson Werth money, Swisher could be in line to receive a five-year deal worth around $85 million. The Yankees will not pay an average of $17 million a year to a guy who is hitting .169 for his career in the postseason.
With that, how will Brian Cashman explain a deal of that magnitude in four years when he is still paying A-Rod, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia in excess of $20 million a year each? The Yankees have more money than any other team in baseball, but their pockets are not limitless. With the expensive, long-term contracts currently on the roster, Cashman can not afford to miss on another lengthy deal.
In short, no Yankees fan would like to see a 36-year-old Swisher roaming the outfield in five years while making $17 million. The Bombers must hold their ground on Swisher and be prepared to lose him in free agency.
Do Not Re-Sign Ichiro
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Ichiro Suzuki was an incredible addition to the Yankees roster this season. Ichiro hit .322 in 67 games in pinstripes while playing a stellar outfield. However, Ichiro will be 39 years old next season, and he will more than likely continue his decline.
While the Yankees could likely take Ichiro back at a reasonable price, the Bombers need to get younger in the outfield. With an aging roster, the Bombers need to find younger players with more upside to fill the void that will be left by Nick Swisher.
Keeping a 39-year-old in right field will not do anything to benefit the Yankees' future. There are younger, more athletic options out on the free agent market such as Angel Pagan and Michael Bourn. Even B.J. Upton could be a viable option.
The Yankees need to get younger and more athletic. While Ichiro played well in the Bronx last season, Father Time is going to catch up with him sooner rather than later. He's going to lose another step, his bat speed will continue to slow down, and the Yankees will be stuck with another decrepit underachiever on the roster next season.
Getting a young, athletic player on the free-agent market will enable the Bombers to stay competitive next season.
Trade Phil Hughes
Leon Halip/Getty Images
Phil Hughes has value on the open market. As a guy who won 16 games last season and pitched nearly 200 innings in baseball's most competitive division, there will certainly be a team willing to give the Yankees something valuable for Hughes.
If the Bombers can convince Andy Pettitte to return as well as re-sign Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees could have a starting rotation of Sabathia, Pettitte, Kuroda, Ivan Nova and David Phelps to start next season. With that, Michael Pineda should eventually work his way into the No. 5 spot after he returns from shoulder surgery. The Yankees could even explore signing a guy like Jake Peavy on the cheap to man the back end of the rotation if they are uncomfortable with Phelps taking the mound every fifth day.
Regardless, the Bombers can afford to trade Hughes, and they should do so while he still has value on the trade market. Brian Cashman could ship Hughes to Arizona for Justin Upton, which would give the Yankees one of the fastest, most athletic outfields in the American League next season.
Hughes is a valuable luxury that the Yankees must use to help create a more balanced offense next season. He can net the Yanks something of worth on the open market, which could help the Bombers stay in contention for 2013.
Build a Cheap Bullpen
After Mariano Rivera was lost for the season, Rafael Soriano stepped into the closer role with relative ease. Soriano had 42 saves in 2012 and helped the Yankees put forth one of the American League's best bullpens, even without Rivera available.
However, Soriano is most likely going to opt out of his contract this offseason and seek a long-term deal. Although he would still be a good fit in New York, the Bombers do not need to spend upwards of $15 million per year on a guy that's most likely going to be their seventh-inning pitcher in 2013. With Rivera returning and Robertson emerging as a formidable setup guy, the Yankees can afford to seek cheaper options to fill Soriano's shoes.
The Yanks could take a chance on a guy like Ryan Madson or go after Carlos Villanueva, Brandon League or any number of relievers on the free agent market that will come significantly cheaper than Soriano. This will enable the Yanks to have a solid bullpen but still allow the team to reallocate its money to greater areas of need.
Search for a New Catcher
Mike McGinnis/Getty Images
Notice that the title of the slide is, "Search for a New Catcher," not that the Bombers must replace Russell Martin. Martin was a disaster at the plate for most of 2012, but he finished the season with 21 homers. He plays above-average defense behind the plate and has built up chemistry with the Yankees' pitching staff.
That said, Martin hit .211 last season, and that average dropped to .143 in the playoffs. As a team that defines itself on postseason success, the Yankees need a catcher that will deliver at the plate in October. With that, there could be catchers on the free-agent market that are worth replacing Martin with.
The Yankees could kick the tires on A.J. Pierzynski, Mike Napoli or even Brian McCann (if the Braves decline his option). The Yankees' top priority this offseason should not be the catcher position, but Brian Cashman should keep an eye out for an affordable upgrade behind the plate.
Keep a Deep Bench
Al Bello/Getty Images
The Yankees got production from some unlikely sources this season. Raul Ibanez was the Bombers' hero in the playoffs, but Andruw Jones, Eric Chavez, Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez and even Dewayne Wise were all useful weapons at times this year for the Yankees. Without these unsung heroes, the Yankees would have had a hard time filling in for the injured Brett Gardner and Alex Rodriguez.
With an aging, injury-prone roster, it's important that the Yankees have a deep bench once again in 2013. Although Chavez is on the verge of retirement, Nunez should only improve, and the Bombers should be able to re-sign Ibanez at a reasonable price. Jones needs to be replaced, but he is not a big loss in the grand scheme of things.
The Yankees survived several injuries this season because of their bench, and it's important that Brian Cashman keeps that trend going in 2013 if the Yankees want to stay competitive.