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Projecting the Future Path of the New York Yankees Through 2015
Elsa/Getty Images
How much longer will Robinson Cano be wearing pinstripes?

If you think the New York Yankees look different this year, just wait a while. There's going to be a ton of turnover in The Bronx over the next couple years.

We know that the 2013 season is going to Mariano Rivera's last in pinstripes, and he's likely to be followed out the door by Andy Pettitte. The list of Yankees players set to hit free agency after 2013 includes: Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain.

After 2014, Derek Jeter will be a free agent and so will Ichiro Suzuki, David Robertson and Brett Gardner.

Thus, the future of the Yankees is wide-open. There are a million different directions it could go, and I assume that not even Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman have it all planned out down to the last detail. They don't have a crystal ball. Just ideas.

I don't have a crystal ball either, but I do have some ideas of my own. In my head, the future of the Yankees over the next two years goes a little something like this...

 

Catcher

The Yankees could have made their future at catcher a simple discussion by signing Russell Martin for a couple years, but they let him bolt to the Pittsburgh Pirates and handed the job over to Francisco Cervelli.

He's not the kind of star the Yankees are used to having behind the plate—or anywhere, for that matter.

But expect the Yankees to stick with Cervelli next year, too. They didn't show a willingness to spend on a veteran this past offseason, and they're likely to take the same approach after 2013 with the club's payroll set to come down to $189 million. Cervelli may not be a star, but at least he's cheap.

Nick Laham/Getty Images
Sanchez has a career .848 OPS in the minors.

Fret not. Come 2015, there will be a new sheriff in town.

Top prospect Gary Sanchez looks like the Yankees' catcher of the future, and it's a good bet that he'll make his major league debut sometime in 2014. ESPN's Keith Law (Insider post) wrote in February that Sanchez is a candidate to start in 2015.

Since he'll be both a cheap option and a long-term option, the Yankees will gladly hand the reins over to him.

 

First Base

The Yankees don't have many positions taken care of for the long-term, but first base is one of them.

Mark Teixeira is not as young or as durable as he once was, but he's under contract through 2014 and 2015 all the same. The Yankees will be paying him over $23 million both years, and he'll be starting at first base whenever he's able.

To that end, all the Yankees can do is cross their fingers. It would also help to store Teixeira in bubble wrap in between seasons. They'll have to double-check the fine print in his contract.

 

Second Base

If Robinson Cano still had Scott Boras as his agent, he may have been good as gone this coming winter. But Boras has been replaced by Jay-Z and Roc Nation Sports because...Well, because.

Jason Miller/Getty Images
This is the face all of us made when we learned Cano had fired Boras in favor of Jay-Z.

The switch works in the Yankees' favor. According to Buster Olney and Darren Rovell of ESPN, Cano's actual representative will be Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA (Creative Artists Agency). Per MLB Trade Rumors' extension tracker, CAA has recently scored big extensions for the likes of Ryan Howard, Ryan Braun, Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Cain, Adam Jones, Andre Ethier and Buster Posey.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post has reported that Cano is looking for a 10-year contract, and Cano will surely be looking to crack the $200 million threshold as well. Given what's happened with Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees are highly unlikely to go as high as 10 years for Cano.

But if they offer Cano $200 million over eight years, an average of $25 million per year, with an option for a ninth year, they'll stand a strong chance of signing him. He'd be one of the highest-paid players in the game, not to mention the highest-paid second baseman in history. 

What more can baseball's best second baseman ask for?

 

Third Base

The hot corner is going to be Kevin Youkilis' to hold down until A-Rod returns from his latest hip surgery. If Rodriguez doesn't return this year—a possibility Brian Cashman has acknowledged—Youk will man the hot corner all season long.

But look for Rodriguez to find his way back to third base in 2014. He's only going to go away if he retires or has his contract voided, and both possibilities are more like pipe dreams.

Moving A-Rod to designated hitter on a full-time basis in 2014 is a more realistic possibility, but not a likelihood because of two realities.

One is that the Yankees are going to need to keep the DH spot open in 2014 so guys like Derek Jeter, Vernon Wells, Teixeira and A-Rod himself can get some easy days there on occasion. Another is that the third-base market isn't going to feature any worth signing to replace A-Rod.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
He'd look good in pinstripes, no?

Out there on the Major League Baseball landscape, however, is one guy in particular who looks perfectly suited to be A-Rod's success at third base in the not-too-distant future: Chase Headley.

Headley could very well find himself heading to the trade block this season, but I have an easier time seeing the Yankees holding on to their best prospects and waiting for Headley to hit free agency after 2014. If they're lucky, the Padres will trade him during the 2014 season, and he'll thus be disqualified from qualifying offer consideration.

My best guess is that Adrian Beltre's five-year, $80 million contract with the Texas Rangers is going to serve as a starting point for Headley's negotiations. Headley's going to be a year younger when he hits free agency than Beltre was, so let's call it six years and $18 million per year for a total of $108 million.

What would then become of A-Rod?

With Derek Jeter and Vernon Wells set to come off the books after 2014, the Yankees' DH spot will be open. A-Rod can reside there on a full-time basis, allowing the hot corner to be all Headley's.

Oh, and about Jeter...

 

Shortstop

Andrew Marchand of ESPN NewYork pointed out in January that Derek Jeter choosing not to pick up his player option for 2014 was fairly possible. After all, he would be able to do better than a measly $9.5 million—up from $8 million thanks to Jeter's Silver Slugger in 2012—if his 2013 season was anything like his 2012 season.

Now we know that's probably not going to be the case.

Jeter's longer-than-hoped-for recovery from ankle surgery has made it clear that he's not that invincible anymore. To actually have a shot for any deal worth more than $9.5 million in 2014, he's going to have to hit like crazy when he does come back.

The odds are against that, as Jeter's ZiPS projection (see FanGraphs) calls for him to hit a mediocre .277 this year. If that ends up being the case, $9.5 million is going to look like good money.

J. Meric/Getty Images
Hardy can pick it with the best of 'em at short.

After 2014, the Yankees can either look to re-sign Jeter or to replace him with a younger, more athletic shortstop. Elvis Andrus won't be there for the taking, but J.J. Hardy will be.

Hardy could give the Yankees something they haven't had at shortstop even in the Jeter years: superb defense. Per FanGraphs, Hardy had more Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in 2012 than any other shortstop except Brendan Ryan, and he's only going to be 32 when he hits free agency.

He'll also be relatively cheap. He's working on a three-year, $22.5 million deal right now, and that's still going to be a fair rate if his bat remains as unpredictable as ever in 2014.

Let's call it another three years and $21 million for Hardy, who will give the Yankees quality production at short until they have a shortstop they've drafted and developed ready to take over (another "fingers crossed" scenario).

 

Outfield

Get a good look at Granderson in pinstripes in 2013. He won't be wearing them again after the season's over.

Granderson's departure is going to be a byproduct of Cano's new contract, as the Yankees can only afford a big million contract for one of them. He's also more expendable, as the Yankees have a pretty good center fielder under control through 2014.

Brett Gardner can handle center field in 2014, with Ichiro sticking as the Yankees' everyday right fielder alongside him. The Yankees could go with a Vernon Wells/Brennan Boesch platoon in left field, but they'll be able to afford something a little more viable seeing as how they're only going to be paying Wells $2.4 million in 2014, according to Yahoo! Sports.

One guy the Yankees could have: Rangers left fielder David Murphy, who told Anthony Andro of Fox Sports Southwest that he expects to hit free agency after 2013. His lefty pull power would make him a great fit at Yankee Stadium, and he's not going to be too expensive for the Bombers.

Since he'll be coming off his age-31 season, my guess is that Murphy will be looking for something in between what Cody Ross and Shane Victorino got this past winter. Let's call it a three-year deal worth $33 million.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Williams projects as an elite defensive center fielder and solid hitter.

Come 2015, the Yankees will be waving goodbye to Gardner and saying hello to Mason Williams. Like Gary Sanchez, Williams has a good chance to break into the majors in 2014 and put himself on track to be in the club's Opening Day lineup in 2015.

With Murphy in left and Williams in center, the Yankees will only have a hole in right field that will need filling. That could come off as an excuse to pull off a trade for Giancarlo Stanton, but the smart money is on the Rangers trading Jurickson Profar for him, like, tomorrow.

Since there won't be any good, cheap options on the free-agent market for the Yankees' right field hole, I'll go out on a limb and predict that the job will be given to another prospect: Tyler Austin. He's still new to right field, but the dude proved with a .960 OPS last year that he can hit.

That does it for the offensive side of things. As for the guys manning the bump...

 

Starting Pitching

Three-fifths of the Yankees' starting rotation is going to be gone this winter. Kuroda and Pettitte will presumably both be riding off into the sunset, and Phil Hughes will be looking to be paid more than he's worth.

The Yankees will still have CC Sabathia, however, and let's not forget Michael Pineda either. Barring any setbacks in his recovery from shoulder surgery, he's finally going to throw a regular-season pitch for the Yankees in 2013 and should be expected to be a part of the club's rotation in 2014.

You can also expect the Yankees to hold on to Ivan Nova for 2014. But don't worry, he'll just be a placeholder for lefty prospect Manny Banuelos. He's recovering from Tommy John surgery this year, but he'll be ready early on in 2014.

This leaves two spots the Yankees will have to fill over the winter. I already have them committing money to Cano and Murphy, but the Yankees will have more to spend given the fact they have about $95 million coming off the books this winter.

They'll have enough cash to go after one stud pitcher, meaning you can expect to hear them linked to the following names: Matt Garza, Josh Johnson, Tim Lincecum, Dan Haren and Roy Halladay.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
One thing the Yankees should like about Garza: He's handled the Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays well in his career.

Given the various uncertainties the others bring to the table, Garza stands out as the best option for the Yankees. He'll be looking for Anibal Sanchez money if he stays healthy down the stretch this season. If he does, the ever-increasing cost of pitchers will help him do a little better than Sanchez.

So let's call it five years and $85 million, most likely with an option for a sixth.

The Yankees will have one other rotation spot to fill after that, and the best bet is on them filling it with an older pitcher who will be willing to take a one-year deal.

Chris Capuano is going to be an intriguing option if his $8 million mutual option for 2014 isn't exercised, and I doubt it will be. The Dodgers can do better than him for their rotation.

Let's call it one year and $5 million, giving the Yankees a 2014 rotation of:

  1. CC Sabathia
  2. Matt Garza
  3. Chris Capuano
  4. Michael Pineda
  5. Ivan Nova/Manny Banuelos

Once Capuano is gone after 2014, the Yankees will have another rotation spot to fill. They'll be saving some money with Sanchez catching and Williams and Austin in their outfield, but most of that money will be going toward Headley and Hardy, so the Yankees will once again be needing a bargain buy.

How about Brandon McCarthy? He'll only be coming off his age-30 season and is a solid starter when healthy. But since his health has a spotty track record, I have a hard time seeing him being up for anything much larger than the two-year, $15.5 million contract he signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks over the winter.

Let's go two years and $17 million with an option for a third and call it even.

The Yankees' 2015 rotation would look like:

  1. CC Sabathia
  2. Matt Garza
  3. Manny Banuelos
  4. Michael Pineda
  5. Brandon McCarthy

Not a bad rotation, there. But who's going to be closing come 2015?

 

Closer

Picture a world where Rivera isn't a member of the New York Yankees anymore. Picture a world where he just vanishes—poof!—like Keyser Soze.

Fortunately for the Yankees, they have a pretty good reliever to turn the ninth inning over to when Rivera is gone: David Robertson.

Robertson didn't do so well in Mo's stead last May, as he blew a save in just his second opportunity and was on the DL shortly after. Nonetheless, we're talking about a guy who compiled a higher WAR (FanGraphs version) between 2010 and 2012 than J.J. Putz, Rafael Soriano, Jim Johnson and John Axford. 

Elsa/Getty Images
Value-wise, Robertson is one of baseball's elite relievers.

Going with Robertson is also going to be much, much cheaper than going with a free agent like Joel Hanrahan or Fernando Rodney, and that's going to be mighty important, seeing as how the Yankees will have spent so much money elsewhere.

Assuming he handles the job in 2014, Robertson is going to be going into free agency as a big-ticket closer looking for a big-ticket contract. Instead of re-signing him, the Yankees will ideally make him a qualifying offer and then collect a draft pick, just like they did with Soriano.

They'll have somebody to take Robertson's place: Mark Montgomery.

Montgomery is likely to be seen in the Yankees' bullpen this year, in which case he'll spend the 2014 season setting up for Robertson. He has the stuff to close, though, as Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com loves Montgomery's fastball/slider combination.

Once Robertson leaves as a free agent after 2014, the job will be all Montgomery's.

 

Payroll

Was there a method to all this madness, or was I just blindly throwing numbers at the wall?

A little bit of both, to be honest.

I have about as much of an idea of how the next two free-agent markets are going to develop as I do about what the weather in The Bronx is going to be like 135 days from next Sunday. When it came to projecting how much money the Yankees will have to pay prospective free-agent targets, all I could do was take educated shots in the dark.

Per MLB's CBA, I know that the minimum salary is going to be right around $500,000 both in 2014 and 2015, and that will apply to the youngest of the young guys I have the Yankees bringing along. Other young guys will be going through the salary arbitration process, however, and that's another area where the best I can do is take educated shots in the dark.

But in case you're wondering how everything adds up, here's my projections placed next to actual salaries from the Yankees' 2013 roster (from Cot's Baseball Contracts):

For the record, the amount of money the Yankees are spending on their offense, their five starting pitchers and their closer this season adds up to a little under $162 million. Take the roughly $40 million they'll be paying A-Rod and Vernon Wells out of the equation, and their payroll this season would fall pretty close to the $189 million mark they're looking to be under in 2014.

I have them spending roughly $160 million on the key areas again in 2014 with A-Rod's and Wells' salaries in the mix, and $160 million again in 2015 with A-Rod's salary in the mix. They'd thus have roughly $30 million to spend elsewhere before having to worry about the luxury-tax threshold.

And even for the Yankees, that's plenty.

 

Final Thoughts

Are my projections going to pan out down to the last detail?

Of course not. This is baseball, where things change in a hurry and a lot happens that shouldn't make sense but somehow does. My projections will be obsolete in no time at all.

But I do believe my projections offer a glimpse at the spirit of the teams the Yankees are going to have in 2014 and 2015. 

The 2014 squad is going to be a sort of bridge team. The Yankees are going to have some quality players, but they're also still going to have a few clear weaknesses here and there. These weaknesses will be there because the Yankees will have neither the money nor the young players to address them.

That's what's going to change in 2015, as the Yankees are suddenly going to have quite a few youngsters who will be ready to contribute at the major league level—and for cheap, too. 

A true youth movement is something that hasn't been seen in The Bronx for a while, but it's something that has to happen. The Yankees aren't going to be able to load up on as many stars as they want if they're serious about getting under $189 million. Going with a youth movement will hopefully result in a core of young players who the Yankees could build around for years to come.

The last time the Yankees had a core of young, homegrown players to build around was the mid-1990s. I recall things going pretty well.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. Salary and payroll figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter. 

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