The MLB winter meetings are scheduled to kick off in Orlando, Fla., from Dec. 9-12. For the New York Yankees, they will be an opportunity to continue their march back to relevance.
In spite of those acquisitions, the Bombers still have a number of holes to fill. The team needs to determine who ultimately will be manning second base and who will fill out their rotation (currently only CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova are locks). In addition, the bullpen requires defined roles and depth.
Let's take a look at what Yankees general manager Brian Cashman may pursue while in Orlando.
Robinson Cano has manned second base for the better part of the last nine seasons in the Bronx. During that time, he has grown into a perennial All-Star and is the premier free agent of the offseason.
Recent reports have the Yankees and Cano several million dollars apart at the negotiation table, and the second baseman is supposedly entertaining an offer of up to 10 years and $240 million from the Seattle Mariners.
Should the team decide not to budge in negotiations, who will occupy second base in 2014?
Already the team has signed Kelly Johnson, a left-handed utility player with power whose primary position has been second base. However, the former Tampa Bay Ray is coming off back-to-back seasons where he posted .225 and .235 batting averages respectively. He makes for nice depth, but probably isn't the full-time answer for the Yankees.
So who else could the team try to land if Cano heads for "greener" pastures?
One solution is free agent Omar Infante. At 31, he still has some good years ahead of him, and while he won't provide the power that Cano (or Johnson) would, he hit .318 with Detroit last season. The salary he'd command (he made $4 million in 2013) certainly would allow the Yankees to allocate more money toward other priorities while giving them a solid everyday second baseman.
As the signings of McCann and Ellsbury indicate, the Yankees aren't going to rest on their laurels waiting for Cano to decide where he wants to play.
UPDATE: It is now being reported that Robinson Cano has agreed to a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Mariners.
Look for Cashman to make a play for Infante during the upcoming meetings.
Perhaps the most pressing need for the Yankees is starting pitching.
It remains to be seen if Michael Pineda will make a step forward in 2014 and realize the potential the team saw when trading for him.
David Phelps battled arm and performance issues in 2013 while starting only 12 games. He'll need to improve upon the 4.98 ERA that he posted last season if he wishes to secure a starting spot.
Adam Warren showed potential as a starter but remains unproven. He made only two starts for the team in 2013, and his value may best be utilized out of the bullpen.
So who do the Yankees turn to in filling out their rotation?
Among the rumors swirling around is one that the Bombers are interested in Brett Anderson of the Oakland A's. The left-handed hurler struggled with a foot injury in 2013 and made only five starts, going 1-4 with a 6.04 ERA. At 25, the southpaw still has tremendous potential and will be in demand at the meetings.
Lefties are always a good fit in Yankee Stadium, so expect Cashman to offer some of the team's excess depth at the catching and outfield positions for Anderson. The winter meetings will provide the perfect setting to swing a deal.
Still on the free-agent market is pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, who won 27 games over the previous two years for the Yankees while holding a 3.31 ERA. He will be 39 years old in 2014 and close to retirement, but Andy McCullough of The Star-Ledger reports that Cashman believes Kuroda wants to rejoin the team.
Other possible free agents that the Yankees' GM could actively pursue are 31-year-old Ervin Santana and 30-year-old Matt Garza.
Santana was 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA for the Kansas City Royals last year, while Garza went 10-6 with a 3.82 ERA in a season split between the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers. The fact that Garza's ERA was 4.38 with the Rangers may make him the less desirable of the two, as it indicates a significant drop in performance when he moved to the American League (he had a 3.17 ERA with the Cubs).
One wild card among available starting pitchers is Japanese hurler Masahiro Tanaka. He could be the one pitcher in highest demand this offseason. With the new posting rules set to go into effect, a number of teams (if not all of them) will be in the hunt for Tanaka. Of course, that is dependent upon the right-handed ace being posted, and the latest reports are that the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles might not do that after all.
If Tanaka does get posted, the Yankees will be among the most aggressive in landing the star. It could make for excitement during the winter meetings.
The retirement of Mariano Rivera has left big shoes to fill for whoever assumes the closer role in the Bronx. The obvious heir apparent is David Robertson, who has been a stellar setup to Rivera for the last four seasons. Rivera himself is quoted by Christian Red of the New York Daily News as saying about Robertson:
I mean, that will be my guy, I believe he can do the job. The transition is mentally — you have to be ready mentally.
Yet Cashman seems less confident in Robertson's ability to assume the ninth-inning role in 2014.
In all likelihood, Robertson will be given the opportunity to prove himself as the closer, but the Yankees may use the winter meetings to acquire a "safety net" should he fail.
Free agent Grant Balfour may be the one to fill that need for closer depth. Rumored along with Javier Lopez to be among the relievers that the Yankees have an interest in, Balfour had 38 saves with a 2.59 ERA over 65 appearances with the Athletics in 2013. He struck out 72 in a little over 62 innings of work, so he certainly has experience successfully closing out games.
As one of the most sought-after relievers this offseason, Balfour will be looking for a significant increase in his 2013 salary of $4.5 million. Given the willingness the Yankees have already shown in spending money on free agents, it would not be surprising to see Cashman make a strong play for Balfour during the winter meetings—especially since both Joe Nathan and Javier Lopez have already signed elsewhere. The window of opportunity is closing.
Given the loss of Robinson Cano to the Mariners coupled with the anticipated suspension of Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees could have as much as $50 million more to "play" with in pursuing free agents and trade possibilities during the winter meetings.
In this offseason of major overhaul for the team, it could be just what Brian Cashman needs to build a playoff contender.
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