The Yankees managed to follow up an eerily quiet offseason with a bang almost right off the bat with a big signing of free agent catcher Brian McCann. After suffering through the Chris Stewart experience for the majority of 2013, an upgrade was needed behind the plate and the Yankees were able to land the best catcher on the open market. They followed up that signing with the surprise acquisition of Jacoby Ellsbury for the outfield. Prior to signing Ellsbury, the Yankees had been linked to free agent outfielders Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Beltran extensively, but landed the former Red Sox player for seven years with an eighth year option. The quiet Yankees of 2012 were gone and it seemed like missing the playoffs was the needed jolt to wake up the Steinbrenners enough to collect pieces for a competitive team in 2014. Then things started to fall apart a little, or at least that's how it felt.
The posting system between MLB and NPB threw a major wrench in the Yankees' plans to acquire Masahiro Tanka from Japan, who was long believed to be one of New York's top targets of the offseason. The rotation needed major work and the starters on the free agent market were underwhelming. Throwing a great deal of luxury tax-free dollars at Tanaka's Japanese team to win exclusive negotiating rights seemed like the ideal plan for the Yankees until MLB and NPB came to a much different posting system outline in their new agreement. Instead of going to the highest bidder with luxury tax-free dollars, teams can bid up to the maximum of $20 million. Every team bidding the maximum will be allowed to negotiate with the posted player, virtually turning Japanese players coming to America into free agent commodities. That drives the dollars that count toward the luxury tax up and no longer helps the Yankees stay under $189 million. That is, if Tanaka is posted at all. Tanaka's Japanese team was looking at a payday that possibly exceeded the money the Texas Rangers bid on Yu Darvish a couple years ago. Now, they can receive only $20 million for their star pitcher and could decide that it isn't even worth it to post him. If that happens, the Yankees will have to look at less exciting options on the market, like Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez, instead of the big prize of Tanaka.
Posting system changes were followed by Robinson Cano agreeing to sign a ten-year deal with the Seattle Mariners after only receiving a maximum bid of seven years and $175 million from the Yankees. With the big splashes of McCann and Ellsbury, it seemed like bringing back Cano, which felt like a no brainer, was going to be the bulk of a seriously dangerous offense in 2014. It is nearly impossible to blame the Yankees for refusing to hand over a ten-year deal to a player on the wrong side of 30, but it felt like that deal with Seattle was the first sign that the wheels may not be on so tight in their plan for the offseason.
Seemingly in reaction to the Cano deal, the Yankees handed over a third year to Carlos Beltran. A crowded outfield became more crowded, but Beltran seemed almost destined for New York. The Yankees were able to replace some of the power that they lost with Cano but holes still remained very apparent in the picture for next season. What about second base? Who plays third if Alex Rodriguez misses the season, or at least a large chunk of it? Kelly Johnson and Brendan Ryan aren't really players you want starting for a team that hopes to make the playoffs. Omar Infante signed for four years with the Kansas City Royals because the Yankees were only willing to give him three. Mark Ellis will be a Cardinal, marking one more name off the already unexciting list.
So, what is the plan? The plan seemed to be clear at first: spend money to infuse the team with the talent needed to get them back to the playoffs and spare no expense. With options dwindling, the plan is less clear. The best remaining free agent is Choo, who plays a position the Yankees have no current need for. A trade could be a possibility, but the Yankees seem reluctant to trade Brett Gardner, who is probably their best major league proven trade chip. The farm took a major hit in value with a totally underwhelming season, leaving few enticing options for the trade market. Brandon Phillips' remaining contract made the Yankees shy away from sending Gardner to Cincinnati, even if it would have filled an obvious hole on the team. Now it seems that the hope has to be that a team with underperforming second basemen, or ones that have no clear spot on the team, like the Mariners with Dustin Ackley and Nick Franklin, come calling with dreams of a trade. The Yankees are the desperate ones in this scenario, which is always a dangerous place to deal from.
Options are flying off the board but time is still on the Yankees' side. They don't have to panic and make a move today, even if it would make us all breathe a little easier. Still, there needs to be a plan. Maybe they have one in mind that is unclear to all of us, but we thought that last year and the plan seemed to be a whole lot of nothing. With holes in the rotation and infield, the team is far from complete. A couple smart signings can change that but staying put could render the acquisitions they already worked so hard to make of little to no consequence in the overall big picture.
What do you hope is the Yankees' next move? Do you think they have a plan in mind of where to go from here? If so, what do you think it is?