The Biggest Decisions the New York Yankees Have to Make This Offseason
As the Yankees move into their "transition" phase this offseason, it is apparent that a wide range of decisions must be made prior to Opening Day.
GM Brian Cashman will need to stay on top of changes at virtually every level of the organization.
He has already dealt with re-signing manager Joe Girardi, securing him through 2017. By doing so, the Yankees can direct their attention to putting a quality product on the field.
This article will take a look at the five most pressing items in getting a competitive lineup in place for the 2014 season.
1. Robinson Cano
Robinson Cano has arguably been the Yankees' best player over the past four seasons. In that time he has hit .312 with 117 home runs (an average of 29 per season) and has driven in 100 or more RBI three times (including 107 in 2013).
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com
Cano is now a free agent and reportedly looking for a 10-year, $300 million deal. Even though the soon-to-be 32-year-old has been one of baseball's premier players, it will be difficult to find any team willing to part with that much for that long.
While losing Cano would leave a hole in the Yankees lineup (and on the field for that matter), the team needs to weigh his performance value versus the hit the team's budget would take in re-signing him.
Getting this issue resolved will allow the team to find a clearer direction with regard to other remaining free-agency decisions.
Look for negotiations to increase in intensity over the short term, as this is the team's top offseason priority.
2. Third Base
The last time Alex Rodriguez had a truly productive season for the Yankees was in 2010. That year, he hit 30 home runs and drove in 125. Since then, two hip surgeries and an assortment of ailments have basically limited him to part-time playing status.
In 44 games last year, A-Rod hit .244, his lowest average since 1995, when he was an up-and-coming 19-year-old.
In spite of that, his contract remains an anchor around the New York Yankees' neck.
Like with Cano, what happens this offseason with A-Rod will directly impact how the Yankees proceed in filling out their 2014 lineup.
If Rodriguez's 211-game suspension for use of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) is upheld, how much of the $25 million due him in 2014 would the Yankees be responsible for?
If the team can be relieved of some or all of it, perhaps they could become more aggressive in free agency.
Either way, the team needs to address who will be manning the hot corner in 2014. Clearly Rodriguez no longer can be counted upon full-time.
Will it be Eduardo Nunez, the not-so-sure-handed player who occupied that position over the final weeks of the season?
Do they re-sign all-or-nothing hitter Mark Reynolds, who provides flexibility in being able to play either corner position in the field?
Or do the Bombers go after the likes of Chase Headley or Jhonny Peralta?
Stay tuned, Yankees fans: The next couple of months will go a long way in determining who takes the field at third base on Opening Day 2014.
The New York Yankees catcher spot in the lineup was a black hole in 2013. Collectively, Yankee backstops ranked 26th in MLB in hitting with a .213 average. They hit eight home runs (worst in MLB for catchers) and drove in 43 runs (also worst).
Last season career backup Chris Stewart was thrust into the starting role early in the year and hit just .211 while being charged with 12 passed balls, ranking him next-to-last in MLB for that category.
Both Stewart and Francisco Cervelli — who was the team's starting catcher until injury and suspension ended his year — are arbitration eligible in 2014 and it remains to be seen if either will wear pinstripes again.
Stewart's performance likely means he won't be returning. If he does return, it would have to be as a veteran backup. The team can't afford to have automatic outs in its lineup.
For Cervelli, the question is how much he damaged his standing within the organization. He wields a decent bat, and when last season opened he showed marked improvement behind the plate.
Do the Yankees bring him back as the veteran presence to mentor Austin Romine and JR Murphy?
2014 may be Romine's opportunity to see significant playing time. When called up last season, he struggled at the plate during his first two months, hitting just .145 in May and June. In July he seemed to hit his stride and batted .333 in August. His season was cut short as he suffered a concussion and played in his last game on September 11th.
When called upon, Romine displayed a strong arm and ability to handle the pitching staff. Unfortunately, his playing time was sporadic and made it difficult to develop any consistency.
Should the team decide that monies should be directed to more pressing needs, Romine should get his first shot at starting for the Yankees on a regular basis.
If the Yankees don't feel that they have an answer in-house for starting catcher, look for the team to pursue free-agent Brian McCann. That would indicate the team's willingness to open their wallets as McCann will be the most sought catcher on the market. As a power-hitting left-handed batter (he has hit 20 or more home runs in six consecutive seasons), he would appear to be custom made for Yankee Stadium's short right field porch and represent an opportunity too good to pass up.
Will it be Cervelli and Romine behind the plate in 2014? Perhaps it is McCann and Romine? Maybe the team will give Chris Stewart another season?
How do you replace the greatest player in the history of his position? How can you possibly ask someone to fill those large shoes?
The Yankees are forced to answer those questions in 2014.
Mariano Rivera completed the greatest career any relief pitcher has ever had in 2013, and he did it in style by posting 44 saves with a 2.11 ERA. Not bad for a 43-year-old.
It would only make sense that the man who has been holding down the eighth innings for Rivera would step into the closer role for 2014.
David Robertson has been the Bombers' setup man since 2011, and he has had an occasional "taste" of the closer role when Rivera has either been unavailable or injured (as he was in 2012).
The results have been mixed.
The table below shows Robertson's ERA and WHIP when pitching in the eighth or ninth innings (since 2011).
Statistics courtesy of MLB.com.
The sample size for the ninth inning is small (a little over 25 innings pitched), but nonetheless shows a distinct difference in performance.
Regardless, the 28-year-old has earned the right to take the mound as the Yankees' closer in 2014. He owns a deceptive low-to-mid-90s fastball and a decent curveball.
No one will ever duplicate what Rivera was able to accomplish, so Yankees fans will need to refrain from holding Robertson to the standards set over the past 17 seasons.
For the first time in nearly two decades, the team will need to have a Plan B for ninth-inning save situations. If Robertson should prove to be better suited as a setup man, who do the Yankees call upon to close out games?
Dellin Betances has shown promise as a reliever, but would he be ready to jump into a closing situation? Last season was his first as a relief pitcher in the organization.
Is it worth re-signing either Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain as insurance, or at the very least for depth?
Left-handed specialist Boone Logan is also a free agent. He has been used frequently over the past two seasons by Joe Girardi. In 2012, he led the league in appearances with 80, and he has appeared in 205 games since 2011. As a 29-year-old, Logan is in his peak years and may be worth bringing back.
Next to starting pitching, the Yankees' relief corps has the most questions to be answered this offseason.
5. Starting Pitching
Entering 2013, the Yankees looked to have a solid rotation featuring CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes and David Phelps.
Sabathia had his worst season in a Yankees uniform, going 14-13 and posting a 4.78 ERA (the highest of his career).
Through July, Kuroda had assumed the role of "ace" only to stumble miserably over the final two months (1-7 with a 5.41 ERA).
Pettite became the team's best pitcher down the stretch but retired at the end of the season.
Hughes battled inconsistency all year and eventually succumbed to the inevitable in posting a 6.46 ERA in August and a 9.56 ERA in September. He is a free agent and isn't expected back.
Phelps didn't live up to expectations either, suffering soreness in his elbow that sidelined him for most of July and all of August.
In short, the starting rotation was a train wreck.
Going forward, the team has decisions to make in rebuilding what once was considered a strength. The only spots in the rotation already assured are those of Sabathia and Ivan Nova.
Kuroda is a free agent and would be worth re-signing at the right price. Until those final two months, he had pitched like a Cy Young contender.
Michael Pineda may finally be ready to step up to a starting spot in the Bronx. His spring will determine his final destination for next season.
Phelps should be back and healthy, but will he improve enough to secure a starting role?
Will the team make serious offers to free agents like Ervin Santana, Matt Garza or Tim Lincecum?
Will Adam Warren be given a look as a starter (1-0, 2.25 ERA in two starts) or remain in the bullpen?
It is clear that of all the question marks the Yankees have this offseason, starting pitching has the most to be addressed.