Yanks' departures may necessitate creativity
Club says goodbye to Rivera, Pettitte, among others; Cano negotiations key
NEW YORK -- The final week of the regular season doubled as an extended farewell for Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, as the Yankees graciously and deservedly thanked the pair of stars who served as key contributors for five World Series-winning clubs.
Now, as the Yankees begin to plot how they can make good on managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner's decree to field a championship-caliber club each season, team executives must brace for a winter that could set the course for the organization's future.
"It's going to be a new age next year, some new faces in here," Yankees right-hander David Robertson said. "I mean, we're losing Mariano and Andy Pettitte. Those are two legends here at Yankee Stadium. Nobody's going to be able to replace them. All we can do is hopefully have the guys we have fill in."
The Yankees are expected to make Joe Girardi a solid offer to return as manager, and it would not be surprising to see Girardi return for a seventh season at the helm. That's an easy call compared to the topic of next year's payroll, following a 2013 season in which it exceeded $220 million, much of it paid to players on the disabled list.
Steinbrenner, who once described himself as "finance geek," has spoken openly about his desire to reduce the payroll below $189 million for 2014. That would reset the luxury tax penalty rate and allow for bigger spending in 2015, but it presents a difficult balancing act in terms of filling the Yankees' present needs.
There is some wiggle room, as Steinbrenner has said that coming in under $189 million is a "goal" but not an absolute requirement, and not at the expense of the on-field product. With Robinson Cano expected to hunt for a free-agency deal that could top $200 million, the Yankees may need all the payroll flexibility they can get -- especially after team president Randy Levine recently said that nobody, Cano included, "is a re-sign at any cost."
Alex Rodriguez's unresolved situation with Major League Baseball could steer the course of the winter. Rodriguez's appeal of a 211-game suspension is scheduled to begin on Sept. 30, and if the ban is upheld by independent arbitrator Fredric Horowitz, the Yankees could be off the hook for paying Rodriguez's $27.5 million salary for next season.
Shortstop Derek Jeter has a $9.5 million option for next season that he intends to execute, which would give the Yankees just six players under contract for 2014: Jeter, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells.
After issuing raises to their arbitration-eligible players, the Yankees figure to have about $80 million to distribute to their 2014 payroll, with free agents like Cano, Curtis Granderson and Hiroki Kuroda deserving consideration.
The Yankees saw this season that their Minor League system was unable to present many big league-ready choices for promotion, so it would not be surprising to see general manager Brian Cashman work the phones and attempt to trade pieces in order to add depth.
As the Yankees absorb just their second darkened October in the last 19 years, change is in the air. Jeter acknowledged that this month, having watched the "Core Four" get reduced to just himself and noting the Yankees are already in a new chapter of franchise history.
"What's the future of the organization?" Jeter said. "You hope that we have a lot of young players who can come up and contribute. I don't know if it will be to the extent that we [in the "Core Four"] have, and what I mean by that is the timeframe. I don't know if you'll see that again."
Arbitration eligible: C Francisco Cervelli, CF Brett Gardner, RHP Shawn Kelley, RHP Ivan Nova, RHP Michael Pineda, RHP Robertson, C Chris Stewart.
Free agents: 2B Cano, RHP Joba Chamberlain, OF Granderson, DH Travis Hafner, LHP David Huff, RHP Phil Hughes, SS Jeter ($9.5 million player option), RHP Kuroda, LHP Boone Logan, 1B Lyle Overbay, LHP Pettitte, IF Mark Reynolds, RHP Rivera, SS Brendan Ryan, IF Kevin Youkilis, LHP Mike Zagurski.
Rotation: Girardi recently said of Sabathia, "My thought is CC will be [No.] 1, and then we'll go from there." It's unclear who would follow him. Not only is Pettitte is retiring, but Kuroda is eligible for free agency. The right-hander has given no indications regarding whether he intends to retire or return to Japan.
The Yankees probably won't attempt to keep Hughes. Nova is expected to be back, but the Yanks will definitely be shopping for starting pitching. On paper, they'd fill out their rotation right now with Phelps, Warren and Pineda as the leading in-house candidates. No wonder they've been scouting Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka, who has been referred to as a Yu Darvish-type talent.
Bullpen: There will be a great deal of focus on how the Yankees handle the closer's role after Rivera, but Robertson has been groomed for the job and can wriggle out of jams with the best of them. How Cashman assembles a bridge to get to the ninth inning may be a better question.
Kelley showed promise this year, and if Logan doesn't return, the Yankees like lefty Cesar Cabral. Preston Claiborne enjoyed some early success as a rookie and should be up for a big league job, and maybe Vidal Nuno will get another look. It's clear that the Yankees will need more arms to round out the bullpen.
Catcher: The Yankees went with a defense-first catching tandem this season, tabbing Cervelli and Stewart while letting Russell Martin walk as a free agent. Cervelli played just 17 games before being lost to injury and then suspension, and Stewart was overexposed as he set a new career high in games played.
Brian McCann is a free agent and offers a tempting option. It is also possible that the Yankees could try to save money here again. Stewart is eligible for arbitration, so Cervelli and Austin Romine are good guesses to be in line to handle the pitching staff, with rookie J.R. Murphy beginning the year at Triple-A and No. 1 prospect Gary Sanchez tabbed for Double-A.
First base: Teixeira is expected to return after being limited to a .151 batting average in 15 games. The histories of Jose Bautista and David Ortiz, who bounced back from similar wrist injuries, suggest that Teixeira still should be able to do damage as a powerful switch-hitter in the heart of the order.
But Teixeira has acknowledged that, as he heads into his age-34 season, the best years of his career are already behind him and he may never be able to replicate his terrific 2009 season. If Teixeira is healthy, there's little chance Overbay can return.
Second base: The safe bet is that Cano will stay in the Bronx. The haggling points will be the length of a deal that is likely to reach $20 million to $25 million per season. It's unclear how great the level of outside bidding for Cano's services will be. It would be in the interest of Cano's representatives, Jay-Z and Brodie Van Wagenen, to get teams like the Dodgers involved.
Shortstop: Even if a full offseason is able to restore the strength in Jeter's legs, the Yankees would be wise to add depth rather than roll the dice that a 40-year-old shortstop coming off two left ankle fractures can remain healthy for 162 games. Ryan is an excellent defender and showed some hitting ability in a small sample size. Other options include Nunez, who boasts great athleticism and maddening inconsistency, or the versatile Nix.
Third base: The verdict on Rodriguez's suspension will set the offseason in motion. The Yanks tried nine third basemen other than A-Rod this year and found few answers. They could try David Adams or Nunez again there. Another choice is Reynolds, who offered power at the infield corners and would consider returning as a free agent. Youkilis may try to play in 2014, but it's doubtful he'd be asked back to the Bronx.
Left field: The Yankees have a couple of high-priced veterans slotted in. Soriano should be locked in as the everyday left fielder next year, and the Cubs are paying all but $5 million of his salary. Wells started in left field more than any other Yankee in 2013, and he's under contract for one more season, with the tab being picked up by the Angels. Zoilo Almonte is a depth option.
Center field: It seems likely that the Yankees will make Granderson a qualifying offer of one year at about $14 million. After missing most of the year to injuries, would he accept that and try for a bigger score as a free agent in 2015? Then again, Granderson also knows the Yankees already bumped him out of center field in favor of Gardner. The Yankees like what Gardner offered as an option at the top of the lineup and rate him as an excellent defensive outfielder.
Right field: Ichiro will be back for the second year of a two-year deal, earning $6.5 million. Girardi said that Ichiro played well "at times" this season, and he continues to be an above-average defensive outfielder, but he went into an extended second-half slide at the plate that made the veteran's advancing years hard to ignore. Wells can also play here, but he's best suited for reserve duty.