Those who insist the New York Yankees need a complete overhaul after a 95-win season and advancement to the ALCS deserve a trip in time to 1966, when the Yanks finished tenth in a ten-team league, and 1967, when they finished ninth. However, continual improvement is key to not repeating history, and an element of that improvement is astute free agent signings.
Far be it for me to tell Brian Cashman how to do his job, but were I in his shoes, I’d use the following criteria to evaluate free agents:
- Role: The player does not need to be a superstar, but his numbers must either fit an identified need or significantly upgrade a position.
- Youth: The ideal signing would be a first-time unrestricted free agent in his mid to late twenties. This is a limited and expensive market, so signing older players will most likely occur.
- Health: Injuries have plagued the Yankees. The last thing they need is a high-priced free agent who spends most of his contract on the disabled list. Let’s avoid another Carl Pavano.
- Postseason: The roster is full of players with big regular season numbers who disappear after game 162. Cashman should consider a free agent's postseason record or lack thereof during evaluations, but not accept or reject someone based exclusively on his postseason performance.
- Personality: The Billy Martin/Reggie Jackson days of locker room acrimony are long gone. New arrivals must work and play well with others.
- Price: The Yankees aim to reduce their payroll to $189 million by 2014 to avoid the MLB luxury tax and be eligible for revenue sharing. They’ll be looking for maximum value per dollar. This policy means fewer, if any, long-term contract offers this year and may result in the loss of veteran players such as Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, and Rafael Soriano.
The Yankees should combine free agent signings, prospect promotions, and trades to meet the following goals as they shape their roster for 2013:
- Re-sign or replace departing veterans. In addition to Swisher, Martin, and Soriano, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Hiroki Kuroda, Freddy Garcia, Ichiro Suzuki, Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez, Derek Lowe, and Pedro Feliciano are free agents. David Aardsma, Robinson Cano, and Curtis Granderson are also on the MLBPA free agent list but have agreed to return for their option year in 2013.
- Diversify the offense. All year we heard how the Yankees lived and died by the home run, could not hit with runners in scoring position and could not manufacture runs. They also had players in inappropriate batting order positions. For example, Curtis Granderson had nice power numbers (43 HR / 106 RBI) but was disappointing as a No. 2 hitter because of his high strikeout count, career-low .232 batting average and .319 on-base percentage. The Yanks need a no. 2 hitter with a higher on-base percentage to set the table for the middle of the lineup.
Based on who returns, the Yankees may have to consider the following goals as well:
- Obtain a left-handed starter. Andy Pettitte pitched well when he was healthy, but depending on him to return beyond 2013 is impractical. He may not even return next year. Why not seek a lefty who could pitch long relief while Andy completes his career?
- Prepare for a post-Rivera bullpen. Mariano Rivera will attempt a comeback, but its success is by no means certain. Whether Mo returns in 2013 or not, now is the time to establish a clear line of succession both for his closer role and, should David Robertson be Rivera's heir apparent, for the setup role as well.
- Provide more options for the left side of the infield. Derek Jeter is far from over the hill offensively, but his defensive range is not what it was, and his ALCS ankle injury may further inhibit him. Alex Rodriguez's status as an everyday player may not be finalized until spring training. The Yanks may need players to platoon at these positions so Jeter and A-Rod can take more frequent days off or DH duty.
- Complete the outfield. The Yanks will need a starting right fielder if they lose Swisher, Suzuki, Jones and Ibanez to free agency.
- Find a starting catcher. If the Yankees lose Martin, many argue for signing a free agent catcher like A.J. Pierzynski to a short-term contract, since top prospect Gary Sanchez is not supposed to be ready before 2014. But the Yankee 40-man roster includes four catchers with MLB experience: Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine, Chris Stewart, and Eli Whiteside. An economy-minded team should at least let these four compete for the starting position before looking elsewhere.
The players on the following slides do not help the Yankees meet these goals. It's not a case of their being good or bad as much as not being compatible with how the team has operated throughout the Torre and Girardi eras.