The Yankees skid and run of pathetic hitting has left fans worried and frustrated. It's easy to panic. However this team is still pretty good and will likely improve as players on the disabled list return. Unfortunately for next season the team is likely to be worse, maybe even much worse. Between free agency, aging and the austerity budget goal, winning even 85 games might be a struggle. 2015 does not look much better. It is time for ownership to consider this the last stand and not worry about fielding a championship caliber team next season. They should add salary, even absorbing 2014 salary, to win now, even if it means letting Robinson Cano wear Dodger blue next season.
Let's start how things are now. The team is 40-33, 3.5 back of the division and 1 back of the wild card. But they have scored one less run than they have given up. Several teams are as close to them in the standings as they are to the Red Sox. To make the playoffs they definitely need to upgrade, even beyond the help they’ll receive from Granderson, Jeter and the rest.
Their success thus far is primarily due to their pitching staff, with great to solid seasons from Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Phelps, Rivera, Robertson and most of the pen. The likelihood of repeating this success next season is small. Rivera is retiring. Kuroda is a free agent and 38 years old. Pettitte is also a free agent and 41 years old. Hughes, Logan and Chamberlain are also free agents. Sabathia will be back, but he’s 32 years old and showing signs of decline. Nuno and Warren have had success and Pineda will return from injury so there is some hope. The pitching is likely to be strong, just not able to carry such a heavy load next season.
Unfortunately the offense looks like it will be even worse next season. Here are the already signed players and their opening day ages (step away from easily thrown or smashed objects before continuing): Cervelli 27, Gardner 30, Wells 35, Ichiro 40, Teixeira 34, and Rodriguez 38. The only one who is performing at a high level and healthy is Gardner, but they’ll make over 60 million in 2014. Jeter, who will be 39 on opening day holds a 10 million dollar option with a 3 million dollar buy-out. With the possible exception of J. R. Murphy, it does not look like anyone in Triple A is ready to start in the majors so no cheap upgrades.
Without cheap upgrades they’ll improve through free agency or not improve. Unfortunately they have their own free agents to worry about and the free agent class is pretty weak. Granderson was one of their better hitters already and Cano is obviously their best hitter. Cano is the best player hitting free agency and frankly after Jacoby Ellsbury it’s not even very close. It’s impossible for the Yankees to make up for Cano’s loss in other areas. So just to be as bad offensively as now requires paying Cano. To improve would require finding a corner outfield bat and to be actually good would probably require perfect health and two additional free agent signings. Unless ownership is willing to increase salary (currently around 230 million) or at least hold it the same, the scenarios all look bleak.
Since 2014 (and really 2015 as well) look so poor, the Yankees must consider the unthinkable and let Cano walk. Cano and Jay Z certainly know he is irreplaceable and hence expect a massive payday. The Dodgers have a big hole at second base as well; they will make a competitive offer. But even if Cano’s contract demands were not astronomical, the Yankees should pass given their situation. Cano’s best remaining years are likely to be in 2014 and 2015, when the Yankees are least likely to make the playoffs anyway. Instead when the team is ready to trend upward again with a new younger core, Cano will be another overpaid declining player on the roster.
Usually this would not matter so much, after all teams expect that with long-term contracts. But right now, the team seems to be making financial decisions that limit the current team because they are avoiding other future commitments to leave room for Cano. Unfortunately, this is the season that they have a chance to win it all, especially important given its Rivera’s and maybe Pettitte’s last seasons. They need to consider trading for players with significant contract commitments in 2014, even if those commitments are expensive and risky. It’s worth the risk to win now.