The Bronx Bombers Making Big Time Moves This Offseason

The New York Yankees missed the playoffs for only the 2nd time in 19 years last season. General manager Brian Cashman has made it clear that he does not plan on letting that happen again in 2014. The Yankees have been perhaps the most active team in Major League Baseball this offseason, making numerous additions in an effort to revamp their lineup and paying a great deal of money to do so. The Yanks have already reeled in top free agents in catcher Brian McCann and outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. However, the team’s front office does not seem to be stopping there and it appears that the Yanks are willing to spend big time money to restore the Bronx to the top of the MLB. 

With the signing of McCann (5 years, 85$ million), Ellsbury (7 years, 153$ million), and Beltran (3 years, 45$ million), the Yankees have a solid lineup coming together. McCann fills an immediate need for the team at catcher, a position that was dreadful for the team last year. A combination of Chris Stewart, rookie Austin Romine, and others produced a miserable .213 batting average with a .587 OPS.  McCann’s left handed swing will play well with the short fence in right field at Yankee Stadium and will give the team a huge power boost. This move made sense for both parties and was not much of a surprise to anyone. On the contrary, when the announcement was made that the team had agreed to terms with former Red Sox speedster Jacoby Ellsbury, most people were taken aback. The Yankees gave Ellsbury, who hit .298 and stole 52 bases in 2013, a monster deal which drew him away from their bitter rivals in Boston.  Ellsbury and Beltran join a crowded Yankees outfield that was hampered with injuries and inefficiency last year, providing the lineup and defense (Ellsbury) with much better options. Beltran, a 7-time all-star, has excelled in the postseason throughout his career and his switch from the National League will allow him to still hit in the lineup for Joe Girardi as the DH on days where he needs to rest his 37 year-old legs. 

While the Yankees have signed 3 huge free agents and resigned arguably their best pitcher in Hiroki Kuroda (1 year, 16$ million deal), the team has also lost two of its largest contributors from the past few years in 2nd baseman Robinson Cano and outfielder Curtis Granderson. Robinson Cano, who departed from the Bronx and followed the money to the Seattle Mariners (10 years, 240$ million deal), has been the Yankees most consistent and talented weapon for a long time. The loss of a team’s best player is not something that can be easily overcome. The superstar 2nd baseman has hit over .300 and hit for more than 25 homeruns in every season since 2009. However, Cano demanded the Yankees offer him a 10-year contract, which the front office in New York refused to do after the debacle that had come from Alex Rodriguez’s 10 year, 275$ million dollar deal back in 2007. When the Mariners offered Cano the 3rd largest contract in MLB history, he decided that the money was more important than staying in New York. The Yankees also saw OF Curtis Granderson move across town to the New York Mets, as he signed a 4 year, 60$ million dollar contract. Granderson was incredibly successful in pinstripes, benefitting from the short right field porch, hitting 115 homers and driving in 307 runs over a 4-year span. However, Granderson did not have a productive 2013; plagued by injury all season long, he only hit 7 home runs and drove in 15 runs.  The Yankees will surely miss both Granderson’s ability to drive the ball out of the park and Cano’s superstar skill next season and beyond. 

The Yanks have also added utility man Kelly Jonson (1 year, 3$ million) and resigned IF Brendan Ryan (2 years, 5$ million) to help fill the hole that Cano created when he signed with Seattle. These players will compete for the starting job at 2nd base and could play critical roles in the infield if Alex Rodriguez’s suspension is upheld later this offseason. Johnson, who plays multiple positions, “batted .235 with a .305 on-base percentage and .410 slugging percentage in 118 games for the Rays this past season, hitting 16 home runs and driving in 52 runs.”  Although his numbers are a severe drop off from Cano’s, Johnson presented an inexpensive replacement that the Yankees jumped on. Ryan spent part of the 2013 season with the Yankees, coming over in a trade with the Mariners. His offensive production has been terrible throughout his career (lifetime .237 batting average) but defensively, he is one of the best fielding shortstops in the league. He will backup Jeter, who struggled with multiple injuries in 2013, and come in as a defensive replacement in the late innings. 

If the season were to start tomorrow, the Yankees depth chart would look something like this:  
Catcher: 1) Brian McCann, 2) Fransisco Cervelli
First Base: 1) Mark Teixeira
Second Base: 1) Kelly Johnson, 2) Eduardo Nunez          
Third Base: 1) Alex Rodriguez*, 2) Brendan Ryan, 3) Eduardo Nunez, 
Shortstop: 1) Derek Jeter, 2) Brendan Ryan, 3) Eduardo Nunez
Outfield: 1) Jacoby Ellsbury, 2) Carlos Beltran, 3) Brett Gardner, 4) Alfonso Soriano, 5) Ichiro Suzuki, 6) Vernon Wells, 7) Zoilo Almonte
Starting Pitcher: 1) CC Sabathia, 2) Hiroki Kuroda, 3) Ivan Nova, 4) Michael Pineda, 5) David Phelps, 6) David Huff/ Adam Warren
Designated Hitter: 1) Alfonso Soriano, 2) Carlos Beltran, 3) Vernon Wells

Despite all the offseason activity, the Yankees clearly still have some holes to fill and it appears that the front office is committed to making the necessary moves to do so. 

So where do the Yankees go from here? With a lot of losses, trades, and acquisitions, the 2014 Yankees will look like a completely different team than that of last season.  Although they may continue to trade players until the season starts and throughout the season, it is more practical to first look at who they already have on their major league roster as well as players in their farm system to predict their best options.  Having 6 outfielders, they will not need to worry about filling spots in the outfield unless multiple players get injured.  With Beltran, Ellsbury, Gardner, Soriano, Ichiro, and Wells, the Yankees have several different options they can choose from to start the season.  The most probable option would be to have Beltran, Ellsbury, and Gardner start in the field with Soriano at DH, considering the age of Ichiro and Wells.  Despite Beltran and Soriano’s old age (for baseball), they are far superior players than Vernon Wells -- especially the Vernon Wells of last season.  Beltran and Soriano could also switch between outfield and designated hitter throughout the season to stay fresh.

With the outfield taken care of, the infield and the mound are the only areas of concern.  The Yankees will not have to worry about finding any more catchers, with McCann starting and Cervelli, Romine, and farm system prospect Gary Sanchez backing him up. Assuming Jeter and Teixeira play shortstop and first base, respectively, which they are expected to do for the 2014 season, second and third base are the two positions in question.  If he is able to appeal his over-season-long suspension, Rodriguez should be able to play third base for the season.  If he does not succeed with his appeal, it will not necessarily be a bad thing for the Yankees.  If he loses, his suspension will free up the $27.5 million of salary cap that Rodriguez would be receiving for the Yankees to use to get other players.  If Rodriguez does lose the case and the Yankees refrain from getting new infielders, Ryan will most likely play third base and Johnson will most likely play second.  Both Ryan and Eduardo Nunez can play either third or shortstop depending on what the Yankees need.  Also, farm system prospects Eric Jagielo, third base, and Gosuke Katoh, second base, could be called up for help if the utility players struggle.
The final piece of the puzzle the Yankees to figure out is pitching.  Currently, their starting rotation is Sabathia, Kuroda, Nova, Pineda, and finally Phelps, along with Huff and Warren who each had 110 innings last season like Phelps.  The latter three are the least promising pitchers, and the Yankees may look to the pitchers in their farm system for better options.  The most probable prospect is Jose Ramirez, a right-handed pitcher who pitched 73.2 innings, had a 3.67 earned runs average, 1.26 walks and hits per innings pitched, .221 batting average against, 78 strikeouts and 36 walks in 17 games, 16 of which he started in both double-A and triple-A.  Another prospect is Manny Banuelos, a left-handed pitcher who did not play in 2013 due to Tommy John surgery, but may be able to come up to the majors during the season.  If both prospects stay healthy, they can be effective additions to the Yankee pitching rotation.
Outside of their farm system, the Yankees can also fill in some needed spots through trades and acquisitions.  The two main players they are looking at are free-agent second baseman Omar Infante and Japanese right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.  The Yankees can decide to offer either or both of them a contract depending on whether they want to stay under their $189 million luxury tax payroll threshold.  With possibilities of trading Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki, the Yanks can also acquire a different second baseman or pitcher and go from there.  Also, they may be able to include top prospect Gary Sanchez, catcher, in a trade with Chicago White Sox for a pitcher, either Hector Santiago, Jose Quintana, John Danks, and possibly ace Chris Sale.  There are many different options the Yankees can assess and act on for the rest of the offseason to fill in the holes in their infield and on the mound.  Certainly, the money they saved from not resigning Cano and the money they may save if Alex Rodriguez does not appeal his suspension will give them more cushion for possible trades and purchases. It definitely will be an interesting 2014 season for the Bombers as they try to regain dominance in the MLB.



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