After a disappointing season, the Yankees have a lot of work to do. Between how old the team looks and played, the lack of major league ready higher end prospects and the paucity of options currently on the team, taken together with the intent of keeping the payroll under $189 million for 2014, the Yankees will have their work cut out for them even with some injured players returning to health (we hope.) Nevertheless, the Yankees to have the ability to put an improved product on the field next year.
One of the more confusing things for both the team and fans alike, is figuring out how much money the Yankees have to play with. While we know what the intended budget is, we do not know how much will be committed to next year for the players already in the fold, an issue which largely will be more clearly understood once the ARod issue is decided. Further, whether Derek Jeter declines his option and re-signs or just invokes his option also makes a difference since the value of his contract against the payroll under the current option is most likely much higher than if a new contract is consummated. Further, the Yankees have to decide who to make qualifying offers to and who they believe will accept those qualifiers or sign elsewhere. Considering all these variables, estimations and adjustments are assumed.
Let's first deal with ARod and Jeter. With respect to Alex Rodriguez, I think it is fair to estimate that his suspension will be upheld though not necessarily the length of the suspension. At minimum, Alex Rodriguez purchased illicit substances and interfered with the investigation of the group that sold those illicit drugs. While the extent of the same may be arguable, the likelihood is that his suspension is going to be somewhere around a 100 games a more. The reason I believe this is a good guess is that none of the other guys caught in the Biogenesis scandal interfered with the investigation and they all served at least 50 games. The 211 game suspension while reasonable to the layman considering all is an arbitrary number without any real mathematical foundation other than it ended when the 2014 season ended based on the time the punishment was instituted. Arbitrators tend to be middling in their decisions and will likely value this matter as somewhere between 1.5 to 2 baseball infractions and therefore an expected punishment be 100 to 150 games. Assuming the same, ARod's salary should count for somewhere between about $2.04 million and $10.5 million. As bonuses do not count against the cap, the same does not need to be added to the salary hit. Meanwhile, currently, Derek Jeter's salary, if the option is exercised, would likely count at about $15.125 million against the cap. The better option would be to sign Jeter to a new deal for a year or two with a service contract to follow possibly, whereby his annual contract as a player is about $10 million a year, saving the team about $5 million or so.
Adding these salaries up so far and the Yankees will have committed about $69.29 million to $77.75 million. That is for 7 players including Jeter, ARod, Texeira, Ichiro, Wells, Soriano and Sabathia. Additionally, the Yankees have some tenders to make and some arbitration eligible players who I would expect to be on the 25 man roster. Those players include: Gardner, Romine, Cervelli (maybe), Nunez (?), Z. Almonte, Nova, Phelps, Pineda, Claiborne, Robertson, Kelley, Cabral, Phelps, Betances, et al. Of these guys only Robertson and Gardner should cost anything of note, likely about $9 million combined. The rest of these guys should add up to about $11 to $16 million total. So now we have a total payroll of about $89 million and $103 million leaving the Yankees about $86 million to $100 million to spend. However, some of that goes to the rest of the 40 man roster, so let us assume the number is more like $78 million to $95 million. Either way, that is a good some of money if spent right.
The two most moves the Yankees need to go pursue is re-signing of Robinson Cano and bidding for and signing Masahiro Tanaka. The Yankees need Cano's bat badly and his solid defense as well. The Yankees badly need a high end young starter and Tanaka is best available and is considered somewhere between a #1 and #3 starter. Based on WAR, Cano should cost the Yankees about $23 million to $28 million a year. Anything higher dollar wise on an annual basis would not be reasonable and the Yankees will have to let Cano walk. However, for now I am assuming Cano stays. Looking at Yu Darvish's deal, Tanaka's contract should cost between $9 million and $12 million a year. That leaves about $36 million - $63 million left to spend. (If Cano is expect to cost too much, then I would take a chance on Alexander Guerrero though the Yankees will likely have to figure this out soon rather than later to do so.)
The Yankees still need one more starter as the rotation would now consist of CC, Tanaka, Nova and maybe Pineda, Phelps or Nuno. That is too many question marks especially with CC coming off a bad year and Pineda's return uncertain. The Yankees or better off having a battle for the 5th spot with one of the young starters going to long relief. What the Yankees do with that opening depends on exactly how much money is left and how other needs are filled. Accordingly, let's look at other needs and then get back to this.
With no starting Yankee positional player under 30 on the team, the best move the Yankees could probably make is signing Jose Abreu. Yes, as a Cuban player, there is some level of conjecture involved, yet, every scout's evaluation I have seen, has him as a better hitter than Yoenis Cespedes. As a Yankees fan, that is all I need to hear. The one problem is that Cespedes may be positionally impaired. The Yankees already have Teixeira at first provided he is healthy and the dh position is a good rest spot for other players. However, as Abreu will not cost any draft picks and is likely the best young bat available, the Yankees must sign him even if dh winds up being his position. Why would not the Yankees do everything could to get a young David Ortiz or Brett Butler in this lineup? Based on Cespedes deal, Abreu should cost about $10 million a year (which is still much cheaper than the dangerous but oft injured Jason Giambi was.)
With Abreu in tow, the Yankees with about $26 m to $53 m left to spend. Meanwhile, the Yankees still need a starting outfielder (as Ichiro needs to be relegated to the bench for the team to be better), starting pitcher, starting third baseman, a platoon/starting catcher and a backup shortstop. To me catcher is one of the easier decisions. With catchers hopefully only a couple years away, the Yankees do not need a long term solution here just an upgrade. In order to do so, my suggestion is to let the always injured and recently suspended Cervelli walk, while Murphy gets more seasoning and platoon or use Romine as a backup to either G. Soto, Saltalamacchia, D. Navarro or J. Jaso (via trade). These options all should produce at least okay offense to varying degrees and should cost the Yankees somewhere between $2 m and $5 m leaving about $21 m to $51 m left to spend. Assuming for the moment that the lower number is left to spend, for now, I will table the discussion for outfield and look at 3b. Like it or not, Alex Rodriguez in all likelihood will, barring injury, be back either at the end of the season and for the next three years. Because of the same, only minimal money should be spent on this position. That means either a low priced veteran or youth. Some options that can be likely had via a reasonable trade or free agency (cheaply) are: Jhonny Peralta (who can also back up shortstop), Jed Lowrie ("), Mike Moustakas (who I think needs out of KC), Dustin Ackley (who I believe re-discovered his stroke after demotion but may have no place in Seattle), Juan Uribe or David Freese (who is getting bumped because of Kolten Wong and Matt Carpenter). Most of these guys should cost about $2 to $5 million in salary, leaving about $16 m to $46 m left to spend, with need for an outfielder, starting pitcher and backup shortstop. As the expectation is that Jeter will be the shortstop for one more year despite his defensive shortcomings, the Yankees will need an injury replacement or minor leaguer close to promotion more than a high end expenditure. A couple of options could be: Peralta (as mentioned), Danny Espinosa (who has pop but needs to work on his plate discipline), Chris Owings (who would cost real prospects but could a high end replacement for Jeter), Tyler Pastornicky. These are cheap players barely affecting the payroll.
After all moves stated, the Yankees now have about $15 m to $45 m left to spend. If the number is more like $45 m, then the Yankees can do anything they want to fill the role of outfielder and starter. If that is the case, the Yankees would be best suited to re-sign Kuroda or sign Tim Hudson. Kuroda is still the best starter on the market but he may decide to return to Japan. Hudson has some risk but because of the same, would not likely cost a pick since he probably would not get a QO. In the outfield, the Yankees would be best served by signing Granderson unless the Cardinals do not extend an offer to Carlos Beltran, in which case the Yankees should make him their first outfield option. Their is no outfielder or free agent available who is worth losing such a high first round pick unless the Yankees believe the second half version of Ulbado Jimenez is for real. If the budget is closer to the $15 m stated, then the Yankees can fill outfield and pitching via some lesser knowns. Outfield options would include: Nate Schierholtz, Garret Jones, Alejandro De Aza, Scott Van Slyke, Joc Pederson (who would cost real prospects but would likely be worth it), et al. Pitching wise, the Yankees would then have to look at some low cost options that may or may not cost prospects, such as: Homer Bailey (who might be available because he will not sign an extension); Hector Santiago (who is a solid if not spectacular starting option); one of the Cardinals spare starters (they have 7 starters - e.g., Lance Lynn or Carlos Martinez); et al.
While the formula for who can be had has to be adjustable because of multiple variables, below is an estimation of what a solid Yankees team for 2014 could look like:
1. Brett Gardner, cf
2. Derek Jeter, ss
3. Robinson Cano, 2b
4. Mark Teixeira, 1b
5/6/7. Jose Abreu, dh
5/6/7. Curtis Granderson/Nate Schierholtz/G. Jones/Alejandro De Aza, rf
5/6/7. Alfonso Soriano, lf
8. Juan Uribe/Jhonny Peralta/Jed Lowrie, 3b
9. Jarod Saltalamacchia/Geovanny Soto/John Jaso/Dionner Navarro, c
Bench: Romine, Tyler Pastornicky/Danny Espinosa, Brendan Ryan, Ichiro, Almonte, (I would have Wells traded)
1. CC Sabathia
2/3. Hiroki Kuroda/Tim Hudson/Hector Santiago/Lance Lynn/Carlos Martinez//Homer Bailey
2/3. Masahiro Tanaka
4. Ivan Nova
While there other players that fans and myself may like for certain positions, this team is put together based on contracts on the books, financial restraints, and the desire to keep the minor league system strong and getting stronger.