Joe Sheehan and Buster Olney recently wrote about the leverage Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter are likely to have in negotiations this offseason. They both set out several reasons and it’s hard to deny that the Yankees have no leverage now. Financially, fans have expressed their displeasure by attending less and watching little. On the baseball side, the Yankees have no effective replacement for Jeter at short and replacing Cano internally or through free agency would be impossible. If nothing changes, it looks likely that the Yankees will overpay Cano and Jeter, hurting their chances to improve the team in other areas both in the short and long term. However, there are some actions management can take to increase their leverage in time to affect these negotiations.
The first can take place immediately. Trade for either Dan Haren or Erik Bedard. Girardi would then have the option to give CC Sabathia or Phil Hughes a couple of weeks off or even move Hughes to the bullpen. Over the season, Bedard (4.49 ERA, 4.41 FIP) and Haren (4.79 ERA, 4.26) have both pitched more effectively than Hughes (4.97 ERA, 4.71 FIP). Perhaps more importantly they have pitched better than both Yankees starters in the second half. Haren has pitched particularly well. The Rangers are apparently interested so neither player will be given away, but both could help during the stretch. Making the 2013 playoffs would be the best way to increase leverage over the offseason.
The second action is to resign Huroki Kuroda. Having Kuroda again would make fans feel better about next year and would improve play. Kuroda’s brilliance is well known.
The third action is to sign Stephen Drew. The Red Sox will play Wil Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts on the left side of the infield next season so Drew will likely be looking for a new home. He’s completely average (12th in SS fWAR) and somewhat injury prone, but he’ll only be 31 next season and he’s the best short-stop on the market and probably will not receive a qualifying offer since his probably about a 10 mil/year player. Signing Drew would stabilize the left side of the infield, providing improved defense and hitting against righties. Hopefully Jeter can be convinced to move to third as Cal Ripken once did, but even if he’s the "starting" shortstop, he’s not going to play 150 games there so having Drew play short the rest of the time would make a difference.
The fourth and fifth actions are to splurge on Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka. These signing hopefully would improve the product on the field and definitely generate buzz for a team that would otherwise be fairly buzzless next season. Tanaka may not be better than Matt Garza, but signing him would be much more exciting (and risky). Abreu might be 2013 Mark Reynolds or 2009 Mark Reynolds (44 HRs, .892 OPS), but signing him would make Spring Training thrilling.
These five actions make sense regardless of whether management wishes to rebuild for a season or two or aims to win the 2014 or something in between. There are other actions that could increase leverage depending on their plan for 2014 and beyond. Those actions should be taken too. The point is that the Yankees should be active early in the offseason as they haven’t been since 2009. The only way to sign Cano and Jeter to reasonable contracts is if Cano and Jeter believe that there is a point above which they are really willing to let them leave.
The last action that would make a difference in the negotiations and to how fans perceive the 2014 season is to be straight about their short-term plans. No "we’re still committed to putting together a championship caliber club" while you avoid commitments of more than one season, let a solid catcher go without a starting caliber replacement and chose the iconic, but 39-year-old outfielder over your successful 32-year-old outfielder (although Swisher is looking like a lemon in Cleveland). If they feel they need a year or two of mediocrity or worse to develop the talent for a new championship core, then they need to say that they are making moves with an eye toward 2015 or 2016 rather than 2014. Yankee fans pay attention; we are not going to get crazy about being 4 games back in the Wild Card standings like those poor success starved fans in Kansas City.