The New York Yankees are going through an identity crisis, but these free agents could help them head back on the right track.
While most teams would actually have to suffer a losing record to consider their season a complete, utter disappointment, the 85-77 Yankees missed out on the postseason for the second time in 19 seasons, which is enough to send the Big Apple into a frenzied panic.
To make matters worse, Robinson Cano, Hiroki Kuroda and Curtis Granderson are all set to enter free agency after rejecting their qualifying offers. It also doesn't help that Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, part of the franchise's core that led the Bronx Bombers through their dynasty years in the late '90s, both retired.
Derek Jeter is also set to make $1 million for every base hit he notched during the 2012 season, so that's fun, too.
But even with their goal to avoid the $189 million luxury-tax threshold, the Yankees have money to spend with big contracts exiting their payroll. Outside of retaining Cano and Kuroda—which should be their top priority—here are the top free agents the Yankees should recruit.
C Brian McCann
A new catcher is certainly high on Brian Cashman's holiday wish list. When he's not needlessly protecting the game's sanctity from hooligans like Carlos Gomez, who dared to smile and display other such human emotions, Brian McCann is one of the game's finest behind the plate.
According to the New York Daily News' Mark Feinsand and Bill Madden, the Yankees are hot in pursuit of McCann, as well as another veteran slugger we'll get to next:
The Yankees are "moving fast" in an attempt to sign both Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, according to a source, hoping to make a preemptive strike with a "full-court press" to get both players secured before a major market develops for the pair of free agents.
Outside of retaining their own free agents, which of these guys should be the New York Yankees' top signing priority?
McCann is a career .254/.350/.473 hitter who has crushed at least 20 homers during each of the past six seasons. He made amends for a shaky 2012 by obtaining a .461 slugging percentage and 2.7 WAR by FanGraphs' measure.
That's still a step down from his heyday, and catchers are not known for aging well, so any team should be careful not to sign him for too many years. But if the Yankees are anxious to win now (and they're the Yankees, so of course they are), McCann is the best catcher on the market.
Yankees fans will take kindly to him, as he's the type of no-nonsense player who seemingly wouldn't laugh at the notion of a sporting team banning beards during the 21st century. The pitching staff would enjoy working with the veteran even more.
The only problem: Imagine how much money McCann will draw if Carlos Ruiz can land a three-year, $26 million contract. After watching Chris Stewart hit .211/.293/.272 in the starting spot last year, the Yankees might shut their eyes and pay McCann whatever he wants.
OF Carlos Beltran
It's weird talking about how much offensive help the Yankees need, but alas, they need offensive help.
As a team, they notched a .307 on-base percentage, which ranked 23rd in MLB. For some perspective, the New York Mets finished with a .306 OBP.
With a .359 career OBP, Carlos Beltran seems like the perfect guy to alleviate those woes. As mentioned earlier in Feinsand and Madden's report, the Yankees definitely want him.
To up the ante on signing him, The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo reported that the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles are looking to snatch Beltran before their American League East rival can:
Red Sox still engaged in Carlos Beltran talks along with Yankees and Orioles. Which team must apt to give 3 yrs could land him.— Nick Cafardo (@nickcafardo) November 19, 2013
Although oddly enough, the usually patient Beltran walked in just 6.3 percent of his plate appearances, down from his 10.4 career percentage. The once-nifty fielder is now a weak spot in the outfield during his waning years as well. Wait, this is supposed to be in support of signing Beltran?
OK, yes, Beltran's smooth line-drive swing would make a killing in Yankee Stadium, which is beckoning the former Met to return to 30-homer glory. He'd also cover much less space out in the claustrophobic right field while receiving some time as the designated hitter.
Also, he is still a premier power bat, having slugged at least .490 in each of his last three seasons.
SP Masahiro Tanaka
If there were ever a year to take a chance on an unknown pitching commodity, this is the one. Is the same Ervin Santana who was among's baseball's worst in 2012 now trustworthy after a strong 2013? Is the erratic Ubaldo Jimenez worth a massive deal after an incredibly timed second-half surge to close the season?
Masahiro Tanaka is even more of an uncertainty, as the Japanese pitcher has never tossed a pitch in MLB. But he's enticing enough that the Yankees are making him their top pitching priority. According to Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan, landing Tanaka is their top goal after keeping Cano, and "they're willing to spend more money than any team ever has bidding on a Japanese player":
Sources with knowledge of the Yankees' plans said they are "going to be bold" in bidding on the 25-year-old right-hander when the Rakuten Golden Eagles post him, likely later this month. Just how high the Yankees plan on going is unclear, but executives believe the winning bid for the rights to negotiate a contract with Tanaka will top $75 million, nearly a 50 percent premium over the posting fees for Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Tanaka posted a 1.27 ERA with the Golden Eagles last season, and his posting fee is not included in the team payroll. Now the Yankees just need to make sure Tanaka can come to the U.S. in 2014.
According to The Star-Ledger's Andy McCullough, a snag in negotiations between MLB and Japanese baseball officials for a new posting system could delay Tanaka's arrival. Feinsand, however, said a source told him otherwise:
The MLB/Japan posting process is not in danger of falling apart, per a source. Masahiro Tanaka will be posted this winter. #Yankees— Mark Feinsand (@FeinsandNYDN) November 14, 2013
There's also danger in venturing into the unknown. The fact that his strikeout rate dropped to 7.8 last season also raises some concerns that his Japanese club is wearing him out. The 25-year-old has already logged 1,315 innings pitched, way more than he would have accrued in the U.S.
But his impeccable control and ace upside makes the gambit worthwhile for a team with many questions in its rotation. Pettitte is gone, and Kuroda could leave next. The team wants Phil Hughes to leave, and CC Sabathia registered a 6.08 ERA after the All-Star break.
There's no American ace on the market this winter, so the Yankees should take a chance on Tanaka if the opportunity presents itself.