COMMENTARY | The New York Yankees, despite having already spent $283 million this offseason on three productive offensive players, were still looking to add more bats as the Winter Meetings came to an end Thursday.
This push is not just about filling lineup holes; it also communicates the Yankees' concern of fielding a weak pitching staff.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said earlier in the week to a group of reporters that he wants the Yankees to be back among the "top two or three teams" in terms of offensive production in 2014, noted here by Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com. They may have no choice in the matter, if Cashman can't figure out a way to bring in solid pitching both for the rotation and the bullpen.
The Yankees' 2014 rotation currently includes CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova. Sabathia is coming off the worst season of his career and could be in decline. Nova just turned in a successful 2013 effort, but there is no certainty he can replicate it. Kuroda was the Yankees' workhorse through most of 2013, but slumped down the stretch.
The starting pitching market lacks front-line starters and with the uncertainty of Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka's availability, the Yankees may feel that they are forced to create a dominant offensive squad in the hopes of scoring 5-6 runs per game to offset potential pitching woes. Even if Tanaka is posted, and the Yankees are able to sign him, they may still have the same sentiment toward their starting five. The last spot in the rotation, if the Yankees fill one via free agency, would be settled by a competition between David Phelps, Adam Warren and Michael Pineda as of now.
The bullpen is even more suspect as it stands today. David Robertson is the lone reliever with closing experience with the departure of Mariano Rivera. Robertson is joined by Shawn Kelley, Preston Claiborne and David Huff as returning members of the relief core. The starter(s) left out of the rotation mix could fill a swing role from the bullpen. Chatter has the Yankees looking at lefty Cesar Cabral and Dellin Betances as candidates to fill roles as well.
Rumors surrounding the Yankees' interests in relievers have been tepid. There are several very good late-inning options on the market, such as Grant Balfour and Joaquin Benoit, but those players are linked to other clubs and could be close to signing.
The free-agent acquisitions of Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and the agreement to terms with Carlos Beltran have set the table, but the recent and somewhat unexpected loss of Robinson Cano dented the anticipated lineup.
The Yankees' offense as currently constituted has a distinctly more potent feel than last season, even with the absence of Cano and the potential opening at third base should Alex Rodriguez's performance-enhancing drug suspension be upheld. If Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira come back and closely resemble their 2012 performances, it will be better than what the Yankees received at the positions last season.
Brett Gardner is likely to stay with the club despite overtures from other teams for his services. A full season with Alfonso Soriano as the DH, sprinkled with minimal time in the outfield ought to provide more than what the Yankees could muster in the power department from that slot up to Soriano's triumphant 2013 return to the Bronx.
McCann is an obvious improvement in offensive production from the catcher's slot over the pathetic combination of Chris Stewart and Austin Romine. Ellsbury and Beltran complete the outfield alignment with Gardner, creating one of the better trios in the game. Last season saw multiple outfield combinations matched with Gardner mostly using Vernon Wells, Ichiro Suzuki and a limited Curtis Granderson, none of which was roundly successful.
The Yankees' hunt for a second baseman has them eying free agent Omar Infante, but he is looking for a four-year deal and $10 million per season, which the team might balk on. The Yankees reportedly have a standing three-year, $24 million offer on the table for Infante.
The Cincinnati Reds offered a deal involving Brandon Phillips for Gardner, but the Yankees reportedly turned it down, according to a tweet from Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. The Yankees could turn to an under-productive Eduardo Nunez, or recently signed Kelly Johnson, but he is regarded as a utility player.
At third base, in anticipation of a Rodriguez suspension, the team has been connected to Mark Reynolds, who had a brief stint with the club in 2013. Reynolds has great power, but also strikes out once in every three plate appearances. Michael Young is another name still available, but his bat continues to decline as he enters his late-30s, as have his defensive abilities. The Yankees may just sit tight until they know exactly what is happening with Rodriguez. They could also simply use Nunez or Johnson at third.
The best names still on the board from an offensive perspective are Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz and Stephen Drew. Choo and Cruz are both outfielders, so unless the Yankees reverse course on Gardner's availability, they seem out. Drew, a shortstop his entire career, is somewhat enticing because of the doubts with Jeter. The Yankees have been in touch but it is unknown if he would be asked to play third for a season. None of these options seems like a fit at the present time.
Lastly, the Yankees may be looking to complement Soriano's bat with a left-handed DH, and former Yank Raul Ibanez is on the team's radar. The Yankees allowed Ibanez to leave last winter and the 41-year-old pounded 29 home runs in 496 plate appearances, much more than they received from oft-injured DH Travis Hafner.
So, there are some viable options to look to that could further upgrade the Yankees' offense. I'd guess the Yankees will continue to try and land the best alternative at each slot in an effort to post a potent lineup daily, knowing they could come up short in the arms race.
If Cashman cannot land quality pitchers before the end of the winter and the Yankees are forced to use what they currently have on the roster, they better hope whatever offense he's created clicks or they could find themselves missing the playoffs for the second straight season.Chris Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Besides his work as a New York Yankees contributor for Yahoo Sports, Chris created and maintains his own blog site, The Baseball Stance, which provides commentary about all of Major League Baseball. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
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