Yankees: An Early Free Agency and Offseason Primer

Gary Phillips@@GPhillips2727Contributor IIAugust 28, 2014

New York Yankees' Martin Prado, center, is mobbed by teammates after his game-winning RBI single that scored Ichiro Suzuki in the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium on Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)
Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press

The New York Yankees are currently fighting for their playoff lives, but with a tough road ahead of them some have already begun to focus on what the team will look like in 2015. Rather than looking at the remainder of the 2014 schedule, many are writing up free-agent wish lists and checking the expiration dates on current contracts.

There will be changes, that is for sure. Some players will return from injury, while others will have contractual issues that need to be resolved. Some players just may not be welcomed back, as younger players and prospects are given a chance.

It is a little early, but perhaps the Yankees' offseason and 2015 roster looks a little something like as follows.

"Replacing" Derek Jeter

"Replace" is used due to a lack of a better word. Say what you want about Jeter's current ability, but one does not simply replace a player, champion and leader of Jeter's caliber.

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 25:  Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees waves to the crowd after a farewell ceremony in his honor prior to a game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on August 25, 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zur
Ed Zurga/Getty Images

With that said, the Yanks will be in the market for a new shortstop once The Captain hangs up his spikes at the end of the season. They acquired Stephen Drew from the Boston Red Sox at the non-waiver trade deadline, but it seems obvious that he is not the optimal choice to succeed Jeter. Drew is batting just .169 with six home runs and 21 RBI on the season and is hitting just .156 as a Yankee.

Granted, Drew is a better player than his 2014 numbers have shown, but he is also not the guy who should follow Jeter.

There will be several quality free-agent shortstops available in free agency, headlined by Hanley Ramirez, Asdrubal Cabrera, J.J. Hardy and Jed Lowrie. Ramirez, 30, is likely to command the most money out of any of them, but that will not deter the Yankees. Expect the team to make a run at all four of these players, with Ramirez at the top of their list.

The Return of a Disgraced Slugger

Like it or not, there is a very good chance Alex Rodriguez will be back in pinstripes in 2015. Owner Hal Steinbrenner said so, according to Mark Feinsand and Teri Thompson of the New York Daily News.

Hal Steinbrenner said Wednesday as he was checking in at the Hyatt Regency that he expects Rodriguez to return to the team after he has served his suspension.

'I have not talked to A-Rod, but we expect him back. That’s the plan.'

After two hip surgeries and a year away from the game, it seems unlikely that Rodriguez could still play the game at a high level, but considering he is owed upwards of $20 million, the Yankees are going to find out.

Martin Prado, a jack-of-all trades who can play just about any position, will give the Yankees depth at third base and versatility all over the diamond. If Rodriguez is back, Prado will play elsewhere, but at least they will have him as an insurance policy. He is signed through the 2016 season.

With these two guys manning the hot corner, it is all but certain Chase Headley will not be back in 2015. Headley, who the Yankees acquired in a pre-deadline deal with the Padres, will be a free agent this winter.

Rookie Making His Case for Second

Not much has worked for the Yankees at second base this season. Brian Roberts hit .237 in his time with the club, and as previously mentioned, Drew has been even worse. Both were and are below-average defenders, at least at second. Prado has clearly been the Yankees' best second baseman this season, but his flexibility and injuries to others have moved him around.

Again (and this won't be the last section to mention him), Prado is under contract for two more years, so he is very likely to be an option at second next year for the Yankees. However, the team is also likely to move him around in order to give other guys days off.

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 19:  Martin Prado #14 of the New York Yankees hits a two run double in the sixth inning against the Houston Astros at Yankee Stadium on August 19, 2014 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

That is where Rob Refsnyder comes in as the Yankees' regular second baseman in 2015.

The 23-year-old, who can also play right field, is hitting .322 with 36 doubles, 14 home runs and 62 RBI between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. With such outstanding numbers, Refsnyder is making a strong case to be a starter in the big leagues next season.

Earlier this year general manager Brian Cashman indicated Refsnyder would get a chance come 2015.

"I've been pretty consistent and reluctant to bring him up," Cashman said, according to Bryan Hoch of MLB.com. "I'd rather him play the whole year out and prepare potentially to take a shot at the roster next year."

Broken Down Beltran in Need of Insurance

When the Yankees signed Carlos Beltran to a three-year, $45 million contract, the only real concern was giving the 37-year-old the third year. Beltran showed no signs of slowing down after hitting .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBI with St. Louis in 2013, so it was only the end of the contract people were worrying about.

Now, less than a full season into the deal, Beltran has already shown clear signs of a rapid decline. His defense has lagged, his swing is not the same, and he has battled numerous injuries this year. The Bombers need to hope the last of those problems are the main cause for Beltran's stagnant play this season, as they will rely on him again in 2015.

Of course, he has already become a concern, meaning the team will have to have other options in the outfield next year, primarily in right.

As should be expected at this point, Prado could be one of those options.

The free-agent market will not exactly be littered with top-tier outfielders. The Yankees could make a run at Torii Hunter or Michael Cuddyer, but they might be a bit too old for the Yankees' liking.

Injured Rotation Could Still Be Hurting

Heading into the season the Yankees starting rotation was made up of CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda. Only Kuroda has avoided a trip to the disabled list.

Sabathia believes he will be back by spring training after recovering from a cleanup procedure on his right knee. The timetable on Nova's return is still unknown, but he will begin throwing by September, according to Jorge Castillo of NJ.com.

Nova, 27, said the plan is for him to resume throwing by the beginning of September, if not the end of August.

'I’m still two months away,' said Nova, who posted a 8.27 earned-run average in four starts this season. “I still have a ways to go.'

As for when he will return to the mound for the Yankees, Nova explained a timetable has not been set.

'We haven’t even thought about that,' Nova said. 'We’re just taking it one day at a time.'

Whatever their hopes and plans may be, the two still pose as question marks for the Yankees. Pineda, while healthy at the moment, will always be a question mark. Rumors of Hiroki Kuroda retiring and/or going back to Japan have come up in recent years, so his absence in 2015 remains a possibility as well.

Tanaka is another concern for 2015, as the Yankees remain hopeful he can avoid Tommy John surgery and even pitch again in 2014 following a partial tear to his right ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). If he elects to have the surgery, his 2015 season would effectively be over.

Shane Greene's performance as a fill-in starter should earn him a chance to be a permanent member of the rotation come the spring. Also, after putting up a 5-3 record and a 2.47 ERA in nine starts, the Yankees should jump at any chance to retain Brandon McCarthy. 

Still, even with an abundance of arms, the rotation will still be a concern due to health. Of the available free-agent starting pitchers, Jon Lester, Max Scherzer and James Shields will lead the way. Per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the Yankees are more than likely to be in on Lester, the former ace of the rival Boston Red Sox.

The Cubs and rival Yankees, among others, look like much more likely (than a return to Boston) landing spots for Lester at this time, in fact. The Yankees have admired Lester's guts and clutch pitching for years (and especially that career 0.43 World Series ERA) and would surely make a play for the former Red Sox ace.

Possible Repeat of Wetteland and Rivera

Back in 1996 the Yankees got dominant years out of closer John Wetteland and setup man Mariano Rivera. Despite leading the league with 43 saves for a championship team, New York allowed Wetteland to leave as a free agent.

The rest is history.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

This year David Robertson has been brilliant in his succession of Rivera, but the closer is approaching free agency. Meanwhile, Dellin Betances has emerged as one of the best relievers in baseball, making him Rivera in the 1996 scenario described above.

In all likelihood, the Yankees will make Robertson a one-year qualifying offer. Should he accept, he will be the closer again in 2015. If not, the Yankees will promote the electric Betances and obtain draft-pick compensation from whoever Robertson signs with.

For the Yankees, it's a win-win situation.

All stats were obtained via Baseball-Reference.com and are accurate as of the end of play on August 26, 2014.

Question or comments? Feel free to follow me on Twitter @GPhillips2727 to talk New York Yankees and Major League Baseball.


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