New York Yankees offseason: $50M and 5 moves

Gregory Shamus

A wild $50 million appeared! How should the Yankees spend it in five moves?

The scene: Brian Cashman, Joe Girardi, Hal Steinbrenner, and Randy Levine are sitting around a fire in the mountains

Hal: Okay Brian, you better have a damn good reason for bringing us out here. You know I can't stand evenings that don't involve backrubs, multiple episodes of Mad Men, and a jacuz sesh.

Cashman: #1- Never, ever shorten words like that ever again. It makes you sound like even more of a damn imbecile. This is why we didn't invite Hank.

/cut to Hank sitting in pajamas in his cage at the bottom of Epcot, where he stuffs Zebra Cakes into his mouth and cackles at Magilla Gorilla reruns/

Girardi: Aw, Bry, don't be so harsh on Hally and Hanky. You're going to make Randyyy despondent and start suggesting terrifying ideas.

Levine: Y'know, signing Grant Balfour wouldn't be-

Cashman: Shut up.

Levine: Wait, wait, hear me out: just two opt-out clauses and-

Cashman: Leave.

/Levine trudges off to smoke what he likes to call "luxury box cigars"/

Cashman: Anyway, this is why we're huddled around on this mountaintop: Before he announced his retirement, Mo let us know about a ceremony that would allow us to conjure an extra $50 million for 2014 since Hal's being so goddamn cheap about the team.

Voice of Mo rings out across the mountaintop: DO NOT TAKE THE LORD'S NAME IN VAIN

Girardi: Moey?!

Cashman: Dammit, Mo. I love you, but your ethereal voice ringing around wherever I go scares the bejeesus out of me. Anyway, we had to make some sacrifices for this to happen.

Cashman: Well anyway, boiling this sacrament in the name of the fallen Baby Jesus Montero should give us the money. Do we have all the ingredients?

Girardi:
Shame he could never figure out how to call a good game...

Cashman: Quiet. What do we have?

Hal: Elbow of Cervelli, ankle of Jeter, eyebrow of Bird, wrist of Tex, neck girth of Zagurski, shoulder of Pineda... these were all so costly to acquire, but we were punting 2013 anyway so YOLO!

Cashman: /blank stare/ Pretending that never happened... Anyway, yes, it was a costly sacrifice to acquire them all, especially since we had to play the whole season with Chris Stewart as our starting catcher.

Girardi: /sighs dreamily/

Cashman: Do we have the final ingredients?

Hal: I found the relic from the distant past: a "Joba Rules" #62 shirsey worn by Joba himself.

Cashman: Gross. Well that should about do it. Now to stir the concoction with a broken bat from the sacred cutter.

/cauldron explodes, $50 million bill appears with Andy Pettitte's face on it, and a message of "Y'all don't spend it all in one place, ya hear?"/

Cashman: Beautiful.

Hal: Let's spend it on luxury box upgrades. We'll need segues and the latest brands of 3-D TVs...

Cashman: No.

Girardi: Contract extension for Stewie.

Levine: /reappears/ Michael Young.

Hank: HOSTESS

Cashman: I hate you all.

***

In all seriousness, say the Yankees were to stumble across $50 million extra for 2014. How should they spend it, if they could only use it on five players?

1) Sign Robinson Cano to an eight-year, $216 million contract. ($27M AAV)


Although already taxing on this theoretical $50 million surplus, the Yankees cannot afford to let Cano go. He is the heart of their offense and the leader of the new era of Yankee baseball, especially once Jeter hangs up the spikes. Even the Mets realized that rebuilds need to occur around a central player, and they locked theirs up with David Wright's extension. From a purely marketing standpoint, the Yankees need someone to sell their tickets. More importantly, if the Yankees want any hope of contention at all in 2014 and the next few years, they need their best hitter back in his prime. It's going to take a while before any of the young hitters in minors are ready to ascend to the big club (if they can even successfully do that), and it would likely take a couple years after that for them to become essential lineup additions. Sources around the game feel that Cano's deal will end up around the lower $200 million range, so this contract meets that estimate.

2) Sign Masahiro Tanaka to a six-year, $64 million contract. ($10.67M AAV, $37.67M used)


From the lineup to the rotation, the Yankees badly need a bump up there with so many question marks heading into 2014. Is 2013 CC Sabathia the real CC from now on? Can Ivan Nova actually harness his potential for more than a month? Will Michael Pineda throw a pitch? Signing Tanaka will not instantly fix the rotation's problems, but it would definitely give more cause for optimism. Tanaka has been called a younger version of Hiroki Kuroda and has pitched to an amazing 1.44 ERA in 611 1/3 innings of NPB ball since the start of 2011. Although his strikeouts went down a little from 8.8 K/9 in 2012 to 7.8  K/9 in 2013, his WHIP was a minuscule 0.943, and that mark has not exceeded 1.05 since he was a 21-year-old in 2010. Tanaka just turned 25 on November 1st. If you're going to invest in a Japanese pitcher, it would be a good idea to invest in him. Given Yu Darvish's American League mastery since coming over in 2012, Tanaka's contract will likely cost more than Darvish's six-year, $56 million deal. Assuming the Yankees win the posting fee, this deal should be good enough for Tanaka, giving him a good $1.33M annually over Darvish (even though Darvish is most likely the better pitcher.

3) Sign Dioner Navarro to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. ($2.5M AAV, $40.17M used)


The Yankees need a primary catcher for 2014, and the combination of Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, Austin Romine, and J.R. Murphy isn't going to cut it. I've already written about Navarro, who had a terrific comeback year with the Cubs at Wrigley Field. He hit .300/.365/.492 with 13 homers and a 132 OPS+ in 89 games. The best part about Navarro is that they could still use him as their main catcher while a younger player like Romine or Murphy apprentices for him and gets into a fair amount of games himself, like Welington Castillo did last year in tandem with Navarro. If he turns out to be the dud that he was with the Rays and Dodgers from 2009-11, then the Yankees can just cut him and seek another option. In this shoddy market for catchers, attempting a bargain-priced deal might be a better idea than possibly overpaying for a Brian McCann or a Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

4) Sign Mark Reynolds to a one-year, $6 million contract ($6M AAV, $46.17M used)


Reynolds did a fine job for the Yankees over the final month and a half of the season, playing a little third base while Alex Rodriguez was hurt and spending most of his time taking over for the fatigued Lyle Overbay at first base. With Mark Teixeira coming back, it couldn't hurt to get an insurance policy, and Reynolds is exactly that. A-Rod could very well be suspended for most of 2014 too, and even though Reynolds is a horrible enough defender to make him a borderline negative value player at third, there's not much out there on the free agent market. The Yankees will just have to cross their fingers and hope Reynolds can fake it at third until A-Rod comes back while occasionally hitting some dingers.

5) Sign Joe Smith to a one-year, $3.83 million contract ($3.83M AAV, $50M used)

The last move will go toward signing the former Indians reliever Joe Smith, who Jason profiled a little while back. Why is Joe Smith relevant and not a completely anonymous guy? Here's Jason:

The side-arming righty has a career 2.97 ERA, 3.71 FIP, and 57.2 GB%, putting up the 18th lowest ERA (2.42) and 25th highest ground ball rate (54.8%) in the majors since 2011. While his peripherals aren't the greatest (7.39 K/9, 3.76 BB/9), he only has a 24.3% fly ball rate and hasn't had a home run rate hit 1.0 since 2009. Along with that, his ground ball tendencies will more than make him suitable for Yankee Stadium.

Smith is an unknown guy, but he could certainly help the bullpen in wake of Mariano Rivera's departure. So what do you think? What five moves for $50 million would you make to improve the team?

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