With the Yankees losing to the Rays last night, as well as the Indians defeating the White Sox (though only one of these needed to happen), the Yankees were officially eliminated from postseason contention. Six back of the second Wild Card with only four remaining, New York will have to finish their remaining games and shut it down for 2013. At the same time, though, it was pretty impressive for this group of players to stick around in the race for this long, all things considered. That said, there is a lot of fat (not literally speaking) on this team, and there is a lot of trimming to be done heading into 2014.
Phil Hughes: Let's start with last night's starter, Phil Hughes. He failed to pitch through five innings (he went two) and that was the theme for him in what was his most important year in his career. With 2013 being his free agent year, Phil sure picked the wrong time to pitch fewer than five innings 14 times in 29 starts this year. Although the 2014 rotation outlook is pretty foggy at the moment, I think it's safe to say he won't be back next year, especially considering how he was used down the stretch. Outside of a couple of league-average seasons in 2010 and 2012, to go along with a strong run in the bullpen in 2009, the Phi Hughes Era was full of injuries and inconsistencies. It was nice knowing you.
Joba Chamberlain: Like Hughes, Joba's contract year has been a complete disaster. Going into the season, Chamberlain was considered to be the team's third-best reliever. As we sit here in late-September, though, he's not even close to being the team's third-best reliever. Joba currently sports a 4.97 ERA and 5.59 FIP, which isn't expected to get much better with only four games remaining. Like the starting rotation, the bullpen picture in 2014 is a little cloudy, but I fully expect Chamberlain to be gone once the year mercifully ends.
Chris Stewart: Stewart was brought in last season to be the backup catcher. He was supposed to do the same in 2013, but, thanks to Francisco Cervelli breaking his hand in April, Stewart took over regular catching duties, and it has been nothing short of a nightmare. So far he's hitting .207/.291/.269 (.269 slugging percentage!!!), with a 56 wRC+ that seemingly drops by the hour. After reading a recent post from Joel Sherman, there's a fair chance Stewart won't be back next year! He's arbitration-eligible for the first time, and with three catchers in Austin Romine, Cervelli, and J.R. Murphy who are all cheaper and better options behind the plate, we could be seeing the final days of Chris Stewart in a Yankee uniform. Fingers crossed.
Ichiro Suzuki: It turns out signing 39-year-old Ichiro to a two-year contract and hoping he'd go back to being 29-year-old Ichiro was a terrible idea. Who knew? Apparently not the Steinbrenners. Ichiro, although he did do a nice job when he was acquired last summer, has been terrible in 2013. At .262/.298/.344, 72 wRC+, in nearly 550 plate appearances, the team is on the hook for one more year at $6.5 million. Because times are (voluntarily) tight with the wallet, I fully expect the team to bring back Ichiro as hopefully no more than a fourth outfielder, though I'm not going to keep my hopes too high on the latter.
Vernon Wells: After hitting .222/.258/.409, 86 OPS+, in the previous two seasons and nearly 800 plate appearances with the Angels, it would have been no shock if Wells continued to be awful. Sure enough, that happened. In fact, he managed to be worse than those previous two seasons in 2011-2012, hitting .239/.286/.357, 76 OPS+, in nearly 450 PA's this year. Thankfully, the Yankees and Angels were able to work on an agreement where Wells' salary will have no impact on Plan 189 next season, so I guess that's a plus. That said, he'll surely be back next year in some capacity off the bench, perhaps in a platoon role. I'm praying to God that it's not a right field platoon with Ichiro, but we'll see.
Eduardo Nunez: With Derek Jeter out and the other backup shortstop options being not very good, Eduardo Nunez had a golden opportunity to prove he could be the regular shortstop with the Captain on the shelf. Unfortunately, injuries and Eduardo Nunez happened. For the first four months of the season, Nunez struggled at the plate for two of them and was sidelined with a rib cage injury for another two. He has since gotten hot at the plate (for his standards), hitting .290/.336/.413 since August 2. If you want a rosier picture, since the beginning of September, Eduardo is hitting .296/.333/.463 while making some nice plays at third base in recent days with Brendan Ryan manning short on a regular basis. However, this is all probably just a mirage. There's a reason he's a career -2.1 bWAR and fWAR player; he's brutal on defense and nothing special with the bat, either. He has speed, yes, but he has just a career .314 OBP, so it doesn't matter all that much. Nunez is still pre-arbitration-eligible, so he'll probably be back next year. I'm just hoping the front office doesn't believe this cute little three-week stretch is enough to warrant him regular shortstop (or third base, depending on Alex Rodriguez's pending suspension) duties in 2014. If in fact he is back next year, it would be nice if he were used as depth; they could send him to Triple-A to start the year and work on his game and call him up when needed.
Jayson Nix: Ah, Jayson Nix. John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman's favorite Baseball Player. You know, he does something every game! Unfortunately, that "something" normally includes making outs at the plate at a regular rate. Jayson, though he did an okay job as a utility man in 2012, was really bad this year, hitting .236/.308/.311, 70 wRC+, as the team's primary shortstop after Jeter and Nunez went down. He did get sucked into the 2013 injury black hole after breaking his hand on an R.A. Dickey pitch a month ago. He's still pre-arbitration eligible, so perhaps he'll be back as hopefully no more than a utility man just like he was in 2012. In my little dream world I live in, the Yankees would lose Nix, re-sign Ryan to play Nix's role, then sign someone like Stephen Drew to be the regular shortstop, and finally have Derek Jeter slide to DH. Unfortunately, this probably won't happen and I'll be sad.
That's seven players right there, and I could keep going (looking at you, Travis Hafner and Kevin Youkilis), but I'll stop right there. Now, of course some of these guys will inevitably be back next year, but reducing their roles from starters to bench players alone would be an improvement. The Yankees have a lot of work to do this winter if they even want to get close to being elite like they were in recent seasons, and it starts by trimming some of the fat left from the 2013 club.