Will GM Brian Cashman provide Manager Joe Girardi with the best free agents?
The anticipation and speculation leading up to a Major League Baseball season is unlike that of any other sport. As soon as the last out of the final game of a World Series is recorded, the calculation and dreaming for a campaign still five months away begins.
For the New York Yankees, 2014 can't get here fast enough. The sooner they can get the disappointment of 2013 in their rear-view mirror, the better.
Faced with a turnover not seen in the Bronx in close to two decades, Yankees fans have taken to analyzing the team and the open market from every possible angle.
Tossing aside a goal not set in stone of keeping the total payroll at or below $189 million, this article takes a look at the "dream" free agent pickups the Bombers could have if money was not a factor.
Tanaka would help to deepen a rotation that struggled in 2013
Of all the holes Brian Cashman needs to fill perhaps the most important is at starting pitcher.
Entering the 2013 season, the Yankees looked to have depth in their rotation. Spring training began with a battle for the fifth spot between David Phelps and Ivan Nova, with the latter initially winning the contest. The rest of the starting five seemed strong with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes.
Unfortunately, what's on paper often doesn't translate into reality. Sabathia struggled all season in posting his worst year in pinstripes, going 14-13 with a 4.78 ERA (the highest of his career). Kuroda has been the most consistent hurler for the team over the past two seasons, but even he limped to the finish of 2013 (a 5.41 ERA in August and September). Pettitte was perhaps the club's best starter, particularly down the stretch where he went 4-3 with a 2.83 ERA in the final two months. He retired at the end of the year.
Phil Hughes might be considered the biggest letdown among those in the rotation. Coming off a 16-win season in 2012 only to revert to a 4-14 record and yielding 24 home runs in 29 starts. He is a free agent and not expected to return to the Bronx.
So, where does Cashman begin?
Speculation is that the Yankees will be among a handful of teams bidding for the rights to negotiate with Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka. As Erik Boland of Newsday reports, the entire amount to land Tanaka could exceed $100 million.
Is spending that much worth it?
Tanaka is a right-handed pitcher who features a fastball in the low-to-mid nineties and an above-average splitter. Last season he went 24-0 (yes, you read that correctly) with a 1.27 ERA in 212 innings. Only time and experience will tell us how those numbers from the Japan Pacific League translate to MLB, but there is a reason he is the most talked about free agent this offseason.
If the Yankees are going to return to their free-spending ways, this would be a good place to start.
McCann's power is a great fit for the short porch in Yankee Stadium's right field.
The Yankees catchers ranked 26th in MLB in batting average, hitting just .213. Even worse, they were dead last in home runs as they hit just eight round-trippers in 497 at-bats.
It would have almost been better for manager Joe Girardi to use the DH for the catcher's spot in the lineup.
Yes, the organization has a promising future working its way up the minor league ranks behind the plate. In a couple of years Austin Romine, J.R. Murphy and Gary Sanchez will provide for a very healthy competition as the team's starting backstop.
But, what does the team do about the present?
The Yankees can ill-afford to rely on career backup Chris Stewart (.211 batting average in 109 games) in the way they did during the course of the 2013 season.
Fortunately, the free-agent market holds one of baseball's most productive catchers in Brian McCann.
As a left-handed batter (he throws right-handed), McCann has hit 20 or more home runs in each of the past six seasons, and seven of the past eight for the Atlanta Braves.
He has been an All-Star seven times and holds a career .277 batting average.
While his grittiness behind the plate has resulted in McCann not playing in more than 128 games in any of the past three seasons, his threat in any lineup is hard to ignore.
The 29-year-old would provide the Yankees with an immediate "fix" to the catcher's spot in the order, and give the up-and-coming backstops time to develop.
Look for the team to make a play for the talented McCann this offseason.
Cano will command top dollar on the free-agent market
Robinson Cano has spent nine seasons as a New York Yankee, and in that time he has developed into the premiere second baseman in MLB.
He is now a free agent.
Not only is Cano a free agent, he is the top free agent of this offseason. As such, he will command top dollar.
Other than starting pitching, "Robbie" is perhaps the Yankees' top priority. In spite of being the only threat in an injury-riddled lineup, Cano managed to hit .314 with 27 HR, 107 RBI and 81 runs scored in 2013. Over his career he has averaged 22 HR and 91 RBI while hitting .309.
Why wouldn't the Yankees re-sign their superstar?
Cano reportedly has asked for a 10-year, $300 million contract, that's why.
If the $189 million was merely a nice goal to shoot for, then giving Cano an outlandish contract is not out of the question.
More than likely, no team would be willing to give him all that he is asking for. At 31 years of age, the second baseman will soon be entering the latter stages of his career, and 10 years seems a bit much.
Look for the team to make a serious effort in trying to bring Cano back to the Yankees, but if he doesn't budge on his terms, chances are he'll be wearing a different uniform in 2014.
Choo would add both power and speed to the top of the Yankees order
Shin-Soo Choo is 31, hits for average (.288 career hitter) and power (20 or more HR in three of last five seasons) and provides speed at the top of a lineup (has stolen 20 or more bases in four of last five campaigns). He's also a free agent outfielder this offseason.
A strong arm and the ability to play any of the outfield positions decently (.986 career fielding percentage) are what make Choo a high-value free agent going into 2014.
As with catcher, the Yankees have a number of developing outfielders making their way through the farm system. In the next few years, names like Mason Williams, Tyler Austin and Slade Heathcott will be roaming the outfield grass in the Bronx.
Until then, the team may look to bolster its current collection of aging stars. It is likely that Curtis Granderson will reject the team's qualifying offer and end up playing elsewhere in 2014. With Ichiro Suzuki and Alfonso Soriano coming to the end of their careers, it becomes a priority for the team to build up their outfield talent.
Derek Jeter has primarily been the Yankees' lead-off hitter for several seasons, but given the slowing that comes with age and injury, now would be a good time for the Yankees to bring in a legitimate top-of-the-order guy.
The Yankees lead-off hitters had a .339 on-base percentage in 2013. Shin-Soo Choo's OBP was .423.
Instead of waiting two or more years for the next wave of "baby bombers" to regularly patrol the outfield, the team can have an immediate impact by signing Choo. He has already shown that he can thrive in the American League by hitting .292 over seven seasons with the Cleveland Indians, and he'd give the team a boost at the top of the order.
Garza would give the Yankees superior depth in the rotation.
Matt Garza is only 29 years old and widely considered the best free agent pitcher on the market outside of Tanaka.
Other than his first season with Minnesota in 2006, Garza has never had a full-season ERA above 4.00 and has made at least 30 starts in four of the last six seasons. As David Schoenfield of ESPN writes:
The positives with Garza start with his stuff. He throws a moving two-seamer and averaged 93.0 mph on his fastball, cranking it up to 96 when he throws a four-seamer. He has a wipeout slider that opponents hit just .163 against, as well as a curveball and changeup.
So, what are the drawbacks?
Garza's WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched) has never been "elite" among top-of-the-rotation starting pitchers. For his career, it is 1.283; including 1.236 last season. Contrast that with Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees No. 2 starter who has never had a WHIP above 1.216 (his first year in MLB), and you get an idea of where Garza stands.
With Yankee Stadium's short right field porch, the right-handed hurler will need to be careful how he pitches in the Bronx. Fortunately, he's had experience as a visiting pitcher in the Yankees cathedral. Since 2008 he has a 3.68 ERA on the Yankees' mound.
In a perfect world, the Yankees would have Sabathia and Tanaka at the top of the rotation. In that scenario, Garza would be a perfect fit for either the Nos. 3 or 4 spots among the starters.
How much of that perfect world Brian Cashman can actually piece together will depend on how much the organization is willing to spend. Garza will likely look to get a contract in the $17 million-per-year range.
Would that amount be worth it for a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher?