Before the baseball season was even over, Yankee fans, knowing that their beloved team would be missing the playoffs, already began pondering the team's off season moves. Injurious enough was the team's absence from the playoffs, but compounding matters, was watching a largely decrepit and patchwork team whose needs were not only abundant, but without acceptable answers to those needs. Now we wait with baited breath as the Yankees try to dig themselves out of the abyss they created. Notably, while the Yankees needs are significant, so is the amount of money that should be available to fill those needs, though the amount of money available is currently uncertain because of the unresolved Alex Rodriguez drama and the $189 million dollar question. Hopefully, the former matter becomes resolved soon. As to the latter matter, whether the Yankees should adhere to that number or not is more ambiguous as better explained hereafter.
Before talking about budget and other decisions, I am assuming the Yankees re-sign Robinson Cano, which is pretty a must since he is right now by far the best player on the team. While I would not expect him to live up to his contract over the duration of the contract, what player does on a long term deal? However, by the time he is in decline, in all likelihood, all the other bad contracts for older players will be off the books. One bad contract can be swallowed. Likely annual cost - $23 to $25 million.
Budgets force teams to actually make more careful decisions. Further, there is no surefire top stud available in free agency who is in his prime absent maybe Masahiro Tanaka and even he is not a surefire stud though he is well worth the risk based on all the scouting reports on him. The next closest players to being top free agents, not counting the Yankees own Robinson Cano, are Shin Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. Choo would be a great boost for the lineup and defense, and is a solid across the board player but his traditional numbers does not wow anyone and he is 31. His biggest value comes from trusting metrics. Ellsbury does everything well and his label as an injury risk is somewhat misguided since both of his major injuries were the result physical incidents, not his own body betraying him. That said his value is largely reliant on his speed and the same tends to diminish with age which is concerning since he is already 30. Beltran has a lot of pop and is a well rounded hitter but is nearing 40 and his defense is not close to what it used to be. As such, none of the above are slam dunk signings. Nonetheless, the Yankees also have a dilemma in the outfield. Come 2015, as of now, the Yankees have zero veteran outfielders under contract. Even if the Yankees were to retain Brett Gardner, they would have to pray that some combination of Tyler Austin, Mason Williams and likely a free agent will solve those needs. Yet, with Tyler Austin struggling in AA and Mason Williams struggling in High A and horrible in AA, the likelihood of any great answer from the beginning of 2015 is small. Further, the outfield free agent class in 2015 is much worse than this one. The best guys who are currently projected to be available will be Torii Hunter, who is old just like Beltran but with less pop, Colby Rasmus who is nowhere near the caliber outfielder of the top guys in this class, and Norichika Aoki, who is solid but is still a lesser version of Choo and Ellsbury plus is slightly older than them. For said, reasons, it would seem that the best outfield option for the Yankees is this year's free agent group barring a trade for a young stud, the probability of which, cannot be counted on since the Yankees' higher level prospects would need to perform light years better than 2013 for a good trade to be plausible. Meanwhile, Granderson's poor batting average, diminishing defense and age all suggest that he is not worth retaining. Accordingly, one move that eems to be needed is for the Yankees to sign Choo or Ellsbury. Likely cost - $18 to $20 million per season.
As noted above, the best free agent available is Masahiro Tanaka. Scouts have him valued at somewhere between a number one and number two starter. Some believe he might even be better than Yu Darvish. While we are all leery of International imports especially in light of Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa, this is the type of risk the Yankees have to take. Tanaka is only 25 and the possibility that he could be a top end starter on Yankees team full of question marks makes him probably the most important acquisition for the Yankees off season regardless of what the bid will ultimately be. CC Sabathia can no longer be counted on while Ivan Nova is hardly proven though he has shown skills. After those 2, the Yankees have a bunch of back of the rotation/AAA options unless Michael Pineda can re-establish himself as high end starter, something which after two years away from major league baseball, is a lot to ask. With Kuroda believed to be heading back to Japan and Pettitte retiring, the Yankees stand to lose their two most trusted starters from last year. Tanaka is must to fill one of those. Likely cost (salary wise) - $9 to $11 million per season.
Since the Yankees are losing its two top starters, they will need someone of quality in addition to Tanaka. However, no other pitcher is regarding as highly as Tanaka. The best free agent pitchers available are Matt Garza, Ulbado Jimenez and Ervin Santana. Garza is a solid pitcher who does well against the east but he has dealt with injuries in late 2012 to early 2013 and his ERA suggests middle of the rotation type. Santana had a very good year but then again he seems be good only every other year. Jimenez looked like an ace in Colorado in his second and third full seasons only to falter for more than two years. However, his second half in 2013 was like an ace. Yet, can he be counted on to replicate his success or is it more likely that he regresses back to the pitcher who hurt his team more than helped it.? Conversely, while next year's outfield class is weak, the 2015 potential starting pitcher options are much better than this year's. That class could include: Clayton Kershaw (who I doubt will go into next season without a new contract), Max Scherzer (who if traded is more likely to also receive an extension); John Lester (who is also likely to be extended); Francisco Liriano (who could be a great signing if his 2013 replicates itself); Homer Bailey (who will only be 28 and is a legit number 2 or 3 starter); James Shields (who has been pitching like an ace for a few years running); and Justin Masterson (who could be a quality option if he replicates this past season.) With all this potential talented pitching available next off season, the question becomes, should the Yankees wait for that class to sign the next blockbuster deal or not. While I would expect that many potential free agents will be extended by their teams, I would also expect that not all of them will. However, we do know that Jimenez and Garza are available right now. (I just do not like Santana.) Also, there is no certainty that Pineda makes it and if he does not and/or CC and/or Nova falter, then the Yankees might need a top starter next year anyway. Further, the Yankees could decide that if Nova or Pineda do well, to use either as trade bait for an outfielder or shortstop, for example. Considering all factors involved, unless the Yankees can currently make a trade for a young ace or top MLB ready pitching prospect (which is unlikely because of the performance of their top prospects), the Yankees would be best served by adding whoever they believe is more likely to pitch of the highest caliber - Garza or Jimenez, unless it is believed that neither can be trusted. Then a one year signing of someone like Dan Haren would be the next choice. Likely cost of Garza or Jimenez $14 to $16 million a season.
Obviously, getting Choo or Ellsbury and Jimenez (if applicable) would cost a pick but then again, the Yankees may recoup the pick for Granderson though it will not be an 18th. However, because of the same, the Yankees should not let losing a pick guide their thinking. Smart International moves and good solid draft strategies can yield top players while the absence of the same would mean the 18th pick could not be trusted anyway. Accordingly, the next addition that would seem a must is Almedys Diaz, from Cuba. While he will not be available until February, the Yankees are in bad need of someone to replace Jeter soon. The Yankees only possible high end shortstop prospects are either in the Dominican League or low A Ball - e.g., Tyler Wade, Abiatal Avelino, Jorge Mateo. Waiting five years for one of them to possibly become a real; prospect makes no sense when the need is almost immediate. Diaz will only be 23 and is considered a solid all around shortstop who hits for average, walks a lot and plays solid, if not great defense. Getting Diaz would be like adding a high end draft pick who is near major league ready. Likely cost - $3 to $5 million a season.
So far, that is three players -- two starters and an outfielder, all badly needed, signed for somewhere between $67 to $77 million for next year (aav). The reason I paused here is because, depending on what happens with Alex Rodriguez, these signings could put the Yankees anywhere from about $15 million over to $25 million under the $189 million budget if the Yankees wanted to adhere to the budget with the positions of third base and catcher still unaddressed. Since the above moves are already integral for the needs of the team, if over budget already, the next moves do not matter as much from a dollar standpoint. However, if under budget, then the next couple moves could matter a lot. Notably, I left these two positions last because the answers to these positions are the most flexible. Specifically, while catcher is a position of need, with Gary Sanchez likely only about 1 plus to 2 years away, the Yankees do not need a long term answer at this position. Retrospectively, the Yankees best pitching options are likely at least a couple years away and the outfield options closest to the majors are not deep enough in talent to wait for especially with Mason Williams faltering so much. Gary Sanchez, while he did not have a great year, still showed that he is a legitimate catching prospect. Further, even if that changes, the Yankees do not need a stud hitter at catcher, though it would be nice, but rather just a solid hitter. In that regard, while I like Brian McCann, his recent health history raises questions of not only durability and prolonged success, but also of his ability to stay at catcher. As such, even without the $189 million question, it would seem like he is not a good value when considering the length and annual value that is likely to be attached to his next contract. The next rung below him, though by not as much as people may think is Jarrod Saltalamacchia. His likely cost is $8 to 9 million a year which might be too much if the Yankees want to make budget and still afford a third baseman. If it is not, his strong bat and improving defense would make him a great upgrade for the Yankees. If not, then Dionner Navarro would seem to be the best option. His career numbers need to be viewed carefully when figuring him out. If you parcel out the time he was recovering from injury and take the numbers from his healthy years, it would appear that he is an above average hitter for a catcher while his defense is good. His likely cost is about $3 million a year. I would rather have Salty if affordable so the Yanks could also take him from the Red Sox, but Navarro is still a nice upgrade for the Yankees. Meanwhile, the Yankees cannot go big on third base regardless of what they want because the odds are that Alex Rodriguez will be back at some point. It is not as if he is going to walk away from the game after the suspension. He wants the money too badly to do that. Because of the same, the answer to third base should be someone who is being paid very little in annual salary. This option should come from a trade. Mark Reynolds is terrible and should never be attached to the Yankees again. His defense is terrible and he is a poor hitter with power. A better option would be a trade for someone like David Freese of the Cardinals or Mike Moustakas of the Royals. The Cardinals have no spot for Freese. He is coming off a mediocre season but his upside is solid enough to make him a good if not great answer at third. He has pop, gets on base at a decent clip and hits for average historically, though not last year. Moustakas seems to need out of KC but I believe he could still turn out to be a higher end 3b. At minimum, he will provide pop and solid defense. Either player's salary should likely be close to $3.5 million.
If the Yankees were under budget prior addressing catcher and third, they could still be so afterward. If not, then said moves and other signings would not matter as much. Regardless, on paper, no matter which of my proposed alternatives are used, the Yankees would have a much better team with the rest of the answers coming from within or cheap signings.
The Potential 2014 Roster with these Moves:
Ellsbury, cf / Gardner, cf/lf
Choo, rf/ Jeter, ss
Freese, 3b / Moustakas, 3b
Saltalamacchia, c/ Navarro c / Jeter, ss
Jeter, ss / Navarro, c / whoever is dh
What do you think of these moves? Can you come up with better moves to be made?