GM Brian Cashman will have numerous holes to fill this offseason
Now that a season in which the team used more players than any other year in its history is over, the New York Yankees enter the offseason with question marks at a number of positions.
Given that a self-imposed $189 million payroll cap looms as a result of the club attempting to avoid a luxury tax, activity in free-agency will be limited.
So, how will the Bombers address their problems?
The minor league system has few MLB-ready prospects and ranks in the middle of the pack with its talent.
Does GM Brian Cashman continue his trend of signing short-term contacts with veteran ballplayers past their prime, or does the organization bite the bullet and ride the shoulders of their youngsters?
Perhaps the $189 million isn't written in stone and we'll see the Yankees actively pursue upper tier free-agents?
Let's take a look at what the team is dealing with, and where it goes from here.
Austin Romine will either start or be Brian McCann's backup in 2014
Where are they now?
The Yankees' current payroll is $228,106,125 million, and is headed by Alex Rodriguez's $29 million. Others with salaries of $15 million or more include:
- Hiroki Kuroda ($15 million)
- Curtis Granderson ($15 million)
- Robinson Cano ($15 million)
- Derek Jeter ($17 million)
- CC Sabathia ($23 million)
- Mark Teixeira ($23.125 million).
Those seven players make up roughly 60 percent of the club's entire payroll.
How much is coming off the books?
The Yankees have 27 players whose contracts ended in 2013. Of those not extended through arbitration, the total amount of salary coming off the books totals over $110 million. Included in that number is $9.1 million that the club will save on Vernon Wells' salary as the Angels are responsible for $18.6 million of a total $21 million due to the outfielder in 2014.
What will the Yankees payroll be entering 2014?
With that many contracts ending, the Yankees have a number of spots open on the big league club. No doubt the team will re-sign some of those players, or at least try to, but prior to doing so the team will have a little over $100 million already tied up in existing contracts.
Depending upon the outcome of Alex Rodriguez's appeal of a suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs, another $25 million could be freed up in 2014.
Ideally from management's perspective, the Yankees will try to fill their holes while keeping additional spending below $89 million to avoid the luxury tax threshold.
If they wish to return to the playoffs, that may not be possible.
Look for the team to remain conservative with their spending, but ultimately the payroll will exceed their wishes unless A-Rod loses his appeal.
Will Robinson Cano's contract demands burst the Yankees budgetary bubble?
The Yankees have a number of players entering free agency this offseason. They include:
- Robinson Cano: Not only is re-signing him the Yankees' top priority, he is also the most coveted free agent on the market. Reportedly Cano is seeking a ten-year, $305 million contract. If he is unwilling to come down from that duration and dollar amount, look for the Bombers to let him walk.
- Curtis Granderson: The Yankees left-handed outfielder has hit 115 home runs over four seasons in the Bronx. He has also struck out 549 times in that span. It will be a tough call for the team whether or not to bring "Grandy" back. He provides valuable power in the lineup, but unfortunately he swings and misses too much. With Gardner, Soriano and Suzuki all returning in 2014, it is likely that Granderson will be playing elsewhere.
- Hiroki Kuroda: From April through the end of July, the 38-year-old hurler was the Yankees' best starting pitcher. During that time, Kuroda was 10-6 with a sparkling 2.38 ERA, and his name was being mentioned in consideration for the Cy Young Award. Unfortunately, as soon as Yankee followers started calling him the "ace" of the staff, he fell apart. From August 1 on, the right-hander went 1-7 and his ERA climbed to 3.31. In spite of his finish, Kuroda showed how valuable he can be to the team, and one can expect the Yankees to bring him back in 2014.
- Phil Hughes: Once considered a star on the fast track, Hughes' career has been a giant roller coaster culminating in this season's disappointing 4-14 record with a 5.19 ERA. It is the second time in three years that the right-hander's ERA finished above five, and given that he no longer is under contract with the team chances are good that he will not return to the Yankees.
- Joba Chamberlain: Make no mistake about it, Joba still has good stuff. His fastball regularly reaches 95 MPH and he has a knee-buckling breaking pitch. Unfortunately, he hasn't been able to translate his abilities to success on the mound. Like Phil Hughes, he was considered to be a star on the rise when he broke into the big leagues. Also like Hughes, his career as a Yankee has been inconsistent at best. After concluding 2013 with a 4.93 ERA, a change of scenery is in order for Chamberlain and the Yankees will be more than happy to oblige.
- Mark Reynolds: After the Bombers signed Mark Reynolds in the middle of August, he immediately made an impact by hitting .306 for the month. Known as a free-swinger (he has struck out at least 123 times every year of his career), Reynolds' value to the Yankees lies in his versatility. Manager Joe Girardi was able to use him at both third and first base, and even played the slugger at second base for a couple of games. The Yankees will likely try to retain Reynold's services in 2014.
- Boone Logan: Logan has been one of Girardi's most-used relief pitchers over the past three seasons. His value as a left-handed "specialist" out of the pen lines up with the manager's matchup strategy in the late innings. As long as Girardi returns, Logan should expect an offer from the Yankees.
- Joe Girardi: Yes, even the Yankees' manager is a free agent this season. Girardi's tenure heading up the Yankees began with the team failing to reach the playoffs in 2008. Could it be ending with the same disappointing result? Rumors have persisted that the Yankees skipper could "abandon ship" for the opening with Chicago Cubs. GM Brian Cashman has gone on record saying the Yankees want to retain Girardi, but there has been no word of any deal in place. In spite of having guided the team to a world championship in 2009, the Yankees' expectations are to compete for the crown every season and the manager is held accountable when those goals are not met. That being said, it would be a surprise if Girardi isn't brought back to the Bronx.
- Chris Stewart: The 31-year-old perennial backup catcher was thrust into the starting role for the Yankees in 2013. The results were mixed at best as Stewart hit just .211, and in spite of being brought in mainly because of his defensive prowess, allowed 12 passed balls this year—the most of his career. His stay in pinstripes is likely over.
Replacing their Hall of Fame closer is just one of the problems the Yankees face in 2014.
The Yankees enter 2014 with holes to fill in the following areas:
- Closer: The retirement of Mariano Rivera means that whoever steps into the ninth-inning role for the Yankees has some HUGE shoes to fill. Setup man David Robertson appears to be the front-runner for the job, but if he fails early on don't be surprised to see the club give 25-year-old Dellin Betances a look.
- Starting Pitching: The failure of Phil Hughes, the retirement of Andy Pettitte, and the free agency of Hiroki Kuroda means that going into 2014 the Yankees' starting rotation is set at only two spots —CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova. David Phelps should be back to complete health and Michael Pineda may finally get his shot at starting in Yankee Stadium, but they will almost certainly compete for jobs with at least one free agent next season.
- Third Base: Much depends upon Alex Rodriguez's appeal as to whether the Yankees will need to aggressively pursue help at the hot corner. Eduardo Nunez played decently there in September and could be an option if coupled with a free agent. Should Rodriguez somehow win his appeal, he'll man third base in 2014.
- Catcher: As mentioned earlier, Chris Stewart showed he isn't the answer for the Yankees behind the plate—at least as a starting catcher. Chances are the Yankees will look to Austin Romine if they can't land someone on the free-agent market.
Brian McCann is the top free-agent catcher going into 2014
If the Yankees find that they want to improve the club via free agency, there are a number of quality players available on the market:
- Brian McCann: Should the Yankees decide that their stable of young catchers isn't ready for prime time, they'll at least make an attempt to sign Brian McCann of the Braves. Blessed with power and veteran leadership, the left-handed hitter is seemingly made for Yankee Stadium's short right-field porch.
- Jon Lester: What a steal it would be for the Yankees to sign Lester away from their bitter rivals, the Boston Red Sox. Given their desperate need for starters in 2014, the Yankees likely will make at least a token effort to land the gifted left-hander.
- Ervin Santana: Ervin Santana is coming off a season in which he posted the lowest ERA of his career (3.24). The right-handed pitcher for the Royals will command attention this offseason and the Yankees may be one of his suitors.
- Matt Garza: Garza began the season as a Chicago Cub where he had a 3.17 ERA in 11 starts. After being traded to the Texas Rangers in July, Garza's ERA was more than a full run higher at 4.38 against American League hitters. Still, he'll be worth a look in the free-agent market.
- Brian Roberts: At one time 35-year-old Brian Roberts was considered among the best of American League second basemen. Injuries have plagued him since 2010, but in 2013 he managed to play in 77 games and hit eight home runs. While his average was only .249, and he might never approach his days of hitting .290, he may come as a cheap option for the Yankees if they can't bring Robinson Cano back.
Other free agents the Yankees may give some attention to include: Yuniesky Betancourt (2B), Tim Lincecum (P), Kelly Johnson (2B), Placido Polanco (3B), Shin-Soo Choo (OF) and Ricky Nolasco(P).
Would Brian Cashman sacrifice top minor league prospects for immediate returns?
While the Yankees farm system is not loaded with top prospects, it does have a few. The question is whether GM Brian Cashman would be willing to part with them to acquire talent necessary to fill holes.
To date, "Cash" has resisted giving up the likes of outfielders Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott or catcher Gary Sanchez.
Does he change his mind if the team can sign a high profile free agent?
For instance, should the Yankees manage to land Brian McCann, would the GM be willing to let Sanchez go for some needed pitching help?
If the team re-signs Curtis Granderson or Robinson Cano, would it better serve the team to trade Williams or Heathcott and infielder David Adams to shore up a hole elsewhere on the club?
With the offseason right around the corner, those questions will soon be answered.
One thing is certain: The 2014 version of the New York Yankees will have a much different look than its predecessor.