The New York Yankees landed one of the better free agents in the pond Friday. The problem is he does not make them much better.
According to the YES Network's Jack Curry, they caught reliever Andrew Miller with a four-year, $36 million contract to likely be their setup man in front of Dellin Betances, who will be a closer for the first time in his career. Miller’s signing probably takes the Yankees out of the game for their former closer, David Robertson, since he is looking for a similar contract.
While Miller is a coveted, valuable addition, this move has to be the first big move the Yankees make in an attempt to climb their way back to the top of the American League East. As it stands, Miller is not enough.
This is a signing that pays off more in the postseason than the regular season. Yankees aren't that much better over 162 with Miller.— Ronit Shah (@Rontrarian) December 5, 2014
Miller can be a piece to a seriously dominant bullpen, but that is only if the Yankees can find a third piece equally as effective as Miller and Betances. Without re-signing Robertson to return as their closer, a bullpen in the design of the Kansas City Royals does not exist. And dedicating more financial flexibility to re-signing Robertson would not make a whole lot of sense.
The Yankees figured out their shortstop situation earlier on Friday when they announced a trade for Didi Gregorius, but he is not much with the bat. Again, this move, even with Miller in the mix now, does not put the Yankees at the top of their division.
The Boston Red Sox have already signed Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez and are expected to land a pitcher via free agency or through a trade. The Toronto Blue Jays have added Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson and Michael Saunders.
The Baltimore Orioles, while losing Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, won the division last season by 12 games over the Yankees and are in the market to get better aside from having Manny Machado and Matt Wieters healthy to start 2015.
Clearly the teams around the Yankees are improving, but by adding a non-hitting shortstop and a reliever who basically only fills the spot vacated by Robertson, the Bronx Bombers are running in quick sand.
“Toronto and Boston have made some big moves,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told Ari Kramer of Newsday on Friday. “The winter's a long winter, so even if I felt one thing today, doesn't mean it's the same thing tomorrow. I think we legitimately have to walk through and consider all avenues.”
The success of the Royals last season maybe has the Yankees thinking that a dominant back end of the bullpen can carry them to a division title. The difference is the Royals had a superb defense and a rotation that was top five in the league. The Yankees had neither of those things.
Going into this postseason, Cashman had marching orders to spend moderately to improve the team, but the way the rest of the division has shifted, those orders have to change. Last year the Yankees spent $471 million on new contracts and missed the playoffs for a second consecutive autumn. The spending obviously won’t reach that bar, but it has to come.
The Yankees do not have the assets to trade to improve their rotation or overall defense, although Gregorius helps at shortstop. That means it is time for Cashman to go shopping, aggressively and with the checkbook wide open.
Might as well say it: Signing Andrew Miller for less than expected should keep the Max Scherzer-to-the-Yankees speculation going.— Zachary D. Rymer (@zachrymer) December 5, 2014
“There are certain things that could impact us and we can change our course of action for something we weren't necessarily pursuing earlier,” Cashman said Friday, according to Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com. “I'm not trying to chase you guys into some big story, I just think we are open to evaluating the market as it evolves and how our efforts evolve as well.”
Those efforts are going to have to evolve into signing Max Scherzer, the best pitcher on the open market. Unfortunately, attempting that goes against the Yankees’ early-offseason hopes to not add a huge-money deal to their payroll.
And unfortunately, talks for Scherzer could jump off at around $200 million, and the Yankees have already been burned by a long-term, big-money contract for an ace when they redid CC Sabathia’s deal in 2011.
Still, that is the road the Yankees are going to have to travel. The rest of their division is making major moves, and doing nothing to counter them puts them at risk of being left in the dust.
Acquiring Andrew Miller is a good signing, especially for an average annual value of $9 million. Gregorius improves the infield defense. Cashman has started his offseason, no doubt.
But this cannot be anywhere near the end. The Yankees need a bigger move, and Scherzer seems the likeliest one.
Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent the previous three seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News, and four years before that as the Brewers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.