Despite the hopes of many Yankee fans, there was no surprise huge bid for Yu Darvish from the Yankee brass. Instead, to the devastation of the Blue Jay faithful (and the cult of personality surrounding GM Alex Anthopoulos) the 25 year-old ace will be swaggering on down to Texas, assuming the Rangers can meet the demands of Darvish and agent Arn Tellem. It is likely that the Yankees knew that they would not be the favorites to land Darvish when they submitted a lower bid, but there is no doubt that they (and other teams) were waiting for the Darvish situation to resolve itself before moving on to other matters.
Now that Darvish’s negotiating rights are in the Rangers’ possession, the Yankees can proceed with their offseason plan and look to further improve the team. There are two main orders of business remaining as I see it: adding a mid-rotation starter, and considering whether they want to enter the bidding for Cuban OF Yoenis Cespedes. If the Yankees had acquired Darvish, they likely wouldn’t be pursuing either of these options (with Darvish filling the starter role), but since the Yankees were not willing to spend the resources required for Darvish, they may look elsewhere.
The main question to be answered over the remainder of the offseason is whether the Yankees will be constrained in their spending this offseason, as a consequence of their alleged goal of getting the payroll under $189 million for 2014 (the austerity plan). Alternatively, another possibility is that the Yankees simply don’t see much value in this offseason’s free agent or trade markets, and are instead waiting to make a splash in the excellent free agent class in 2012 that could include Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, Matt Cain, and several other solid rotation options (the “screw austerity” plan).
In either scenario, going after RHP Hiroki Kuroda makes a lot of sense for the Yankees. He posted a 3.56 xFIP last season for the Dodgers, and is reportedly looking for a 1-year deal. The short contract gives the Yankees a lot of flexibility to either go after a big-ticket starter next year, or else integrate one of their young pitchers into the rotation should they force the issue at the end of 2011. In either situation, it makes no long-term commitment that would interfere with the Yankees’ ability to reduce payroll to get under the magic $189 million threshold in 2014, to greatly reduce their luxury tax and revenue sharing obligations.
The main alternative to Kuroda on the free agent market would be Edwin Jackson, who has the talent to improve the Yankee rotation. However, his contract demands may not work for either plan. He is unlikely to take a deal short enough to be off the books by 2014, and almost definitely won’t take a 1-year deal to leave a spot open for a 2012 signing. He may be the best free agent option available now, but is not likely to be the best option going forward. Roy Oswalt would likely take a shorter deal than Jackson, but the potential risks due to age and injury are substantial. If he takes a 1-year deal though, he’ll be a comparable option to Kuroda (albeit with more injury risk)
John Danks has been discussed as a possible target due to his assumed affordability (since he has 1 year left on his deal and had a down year in 2011). However, given the price the Reds paid for Mat Latos (albeit, a better, younger, and cheaper option), it is understandable that the White Sox are not exactly eager to give Danks away for mid-level pieces, and are holding out for top prospects. If Chicago’s price comes down I expect the Yankees to be interested, but demands of Montero plus Banuelos or Betances are simply excessive. Matt Garza or Gio Gonzalez are other potential trade options that could fit the bill, but the price for these two is likely to be even higher than it is for Danks.
Yoenis Cespedes represents another direction that the Yankees could take this offseason. Unlike the acquisition of a pitcher, Cespedes would largely be a move for the future rather than the present, since the Yankees at present have a full outfield and their top prospect occupying the DH role. From the perspective of organizational depth, adding Cespedes could make sense because the Yankees don’t have many upper-level outfield prospects, so a replacement for Nick Swisher next year (should he walk in free agency) would be years away. Cespedes would likely be affordable enough (on a per-annum basis) to not greatly affect either the austerity plan or the “screw austerity” plan, but the Yankees will have to decide if his talent is worth the contract demands.
While a lot of the big moves for this offseason have already occurred (except for Prince Fielder, whom the Yankees are presumably not going after), for the Yankees, the hot stove is just heating up. I suspect that even if the Yankees intend to take the austerity path, they will not sit pat this offseason. They know, as do many followers, that starting pitching remains an area of concern, and likely will be addressed. Nonetheless, the moves that they do or do not make this offseason could give us some indication of the strategy that they intend to pursue over the next few years, so I will be paying close attention.
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