When it comes to the offseason, the Yankees tend to be the center of attention. Since the advent of free agency in 1975, the organization has always been known to make big splashes in the market. They were never really out on a player - think Mark Teixeira in 2008. There seemed to be no shortage of cash on hand for the best players available.
This hasn’t been the case for the previous two years, however. The front office has made it abundantly clear that the organization will steer clear of expensive veterans. "You all know my opinions about payroll," said Hal Steinbrenner in January 2015. "Where you should be and where you really don't need to be to win championships." Prior to the 2016 season, the Yankees signed no major league free agents. Chase Headley was the most expensive addition the year before.
The philosophy has changed but the narrative the remains. The Yankees have been connected to nearly every major free agent this offseason. Yoenis Cespedes, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Aroldis Chapman, Rich Hill, you name him and there’s a link to New York. Some of this has been fueled by Cashman’s comments. "If you name any player, I'll probably say I've talked to them," he told reporters following the Brian McCann trade. “Now that we have more flexibility, it gives us more choices. 'Tis the season to engage and find out."
Other times the connections are made by insider speculation. Take Jim Bowden’s comments on MLB Network Radio for example:
"#Yankees are going to get either Encarnacion or Cespedes. They may get both, and that wouldn't surprise me." - @JimBowden_ESPN— MLB Network Radio (@MLBNetworkRadio) November 20, 2016
Bowden isn’t citing any particular source. He isn’t reporting exclusive behind-the-scenes details. He’s merely expressing his belief in a previously existent narrative. This is emphasized by his comment that it wouldn’t surprise him.
The Yankees have a strategic plan to get younger and field a sustainable team. It has been mentioned for the better half of the last four years. In fact, Cashman thanked fans following the 2016 campaign for supporting the organization’s vision. There’s a long-term strategy and it’s unlikely that the club will make a knee-jerk reaction and sign a big-ticket free agent like Cespedes or Encarnacion.
It’s far more likely that the Yankees will sign veterans to short-commitment deals in order to supplement the rookie position players. Think bats like Carlos Beltran, Mike Napoli, or Matt Holliday. They each fit the role of a veteran player but also figure to not require lengthy and expensive contracts.
Pitching, on the other hand, presents a different story. It seems like a foregone conclusion that the Yankees will land an elite closer like Aroldis Chapman. They’re also in the market for a starter and have been connected to the likes of Rich Hill and Jason Hammel. If the Yankees do make a splash in free agency it will probably be on the pitching side.
The narrative of the Yankees being the big spenders in free agency has already emerged. Expect it to carry on all season long. That said, there’s no reason to believe that it’s still applicable. The organization is committed to a youth movement, especially on the position player side. It would be an enormous about-face to sign a batter to a long-term and expensive deal. You can never rule the Yankees out, but recent history suggests that it’s unlikely this winter.