I think that people get too locked into the little details when thinking about the offseason. “Cashman should trade Alex Rodriguez and then move Derek Jeter to third base and then let Nick Swisher go and and then move Gardner to center field and then sign a right-handed power reliever and then find a new hitting coach and then fill out the bench…” This kind of thinking is far too tactical for Brian Cashman right now. He needs to answer the big strategic questions first.
As far as I can tell, there’s three big strategic paths that he could follow: Tweak and maintain the status quo, reload, or start a Yankee-style rebuild.
Tweak and Maintain the Status Quo
I can’t find the quote right now, but shortly after the season ended, Brian Cashman commented that there’s no reason this current group of players couldn’t contend next season. Taken quite literally – maybe swapping Nick Swisher out for another player – he’s right. The 2012 Yankees won 95 games and had their best postseason overall pitching performance in a very long time. Return the exact same roster, one year older, and you’re likely to get a fairly similar result.
Rafael Soriano and Nick Swisher would likely walk, but a ‘maintain the status quo’ move would likely bring back guys like Eric Chavez, Russell Martin, possibly Raul Ibanez, etc, and not make any radical changes. Hiroki Kuroda is probably the most difficult decision, and this scenario would probably see him resigned on a 2-year deal.
Of course, everyone will be a year older. Derek Jeter probably isn’t ever going to have another season like his 2012 season, and even Robinson Cano is due for some mean reversion. The upside is that there’s good reason to believe that Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Mariano Rivera, Mark Teixeira, and even Curtis Granderson can be better players in the future than they were in 2012.
I don’t think the problems of maintaining the status quo show up in 2013. This team is probably still the best team in the AL East heading into spring training. They have a lot of downside risk locked up in old, injury-prone players, but should still contend. The problem is that you’re kicking a very important can down the road: the eventually necessary Yankee restructuring.
Under this scenario, the Yankees are looking to set up some long term changes without doing anything crazy to their core team. They would start thinking about 2014 and 2015 under a reload. Alex Rodriguez might go under this, but I think that is unlikely. Rather, you might see the Yankees go out and trade for a Josh Willingham or Jason Kubel to replace Nick Swisher, and possibly re-sign Rafael Soriano. A slightly more aggressive reload could try and replace Russell Martin with an upgrade – Brian McCann is rumored to be available – instead of simply settling for another season of average-ish production at the position.
The biggest decision under a reload for me is what to do with Curtis Granderson. Theoretically, Granderson could be traded for someone under team control for a little bit longer. Brett Gardner is more than capable of filling his spot, and Granderson’s home run-centric contributions probably make him a bit overvalued on an open market. That said, its hard to imagine the Yankees improving in 2013 strictly through a Granderson trade. Your might hope would be to use him in a package to a contender for a young piece – someone like Elvis Andrus.
I don’t want to try and predict free agency, but you could see the Yankees freeing up money after Swisher, Soriano, and Granderson leave, and using them to bring in a big splash.
I think reloading is very attractive. The Yankees need to start setting themselves up for some kind of medium-term future. While the 2012 postseason was more about luck and bad timing than the quality of players on the roster, it does offer us a warning about the potential future of an aging Yankee team.
But if you’re really concerned about this, you could try…
A Yankee-Style Rebuild
If you accept the premise that the age of the Yankee roster is a ticking time bomb (I do), then you might want to start looking at some pretty radical changes. The time bomb that we’re talking about is that every productive player on the Yankee roster gets old really fast. Derek Jeter starts acting his age. Mark Teixeira keeps getting worse. C.C. Sabathia goes down with a much more serious injury. Mariano Rivera can’t excel anymore. Even Robinson Cano comes down from his peak. The 95 win Yankees could very quickly start to look like the 2011-2012 Red Sox.
A Yankee-style rebuild would do exactly what those Red Sox teams tried to: Free up as much money as possible as soon as possible. The Yankees would find takers for Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson. Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano would walk. An ambitious GM could even try and get rid of Mark Teixeira. You might still close ranks around the current pitching staff, but probably wouldn’t give a 2-year deal to Kuroda. I could even see a choice to move Phil Hughes, who is under control for only 2 more years.
Except for Rodriguez, each move likely yields some positive return in the form of draft picks for players coming your way.
The trick would be to try and bring in multiple long term pieces that the Yankees could play through their prime years. I’d look at trades for Chase Headley and Elvis Andrus. I think that Justin Upton is a name that could be targeted in a rebuild, although I feel he would be overvalued.
What makes this a Yankee-style rebuild? Well, if you can get enough salary off the books, you’re left with the ability to:
- Lock up Robinson Cano long term.
- Lock up a young piece that you trade for long term.
- Sign a big-name free agent.
Who is that free agent? I don’t know. It could be someone like Anibal Sanchez or Jake Peavy. But if you free up enough money, I could even see it being someone like Josh Hamilton, if the price is right. The Yankees would still be on net getting younger, but would also be upgrading using their #1 asset – money.
That’s really the key, I think: the Yankees need to put themselves in a position again to be big spenders on top quality talent. Right now, they’re saddled with so many overpaid players that they are functioning like a medium-market club. $189 million doesn’t go that far when Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez are playing like much cheaper players.
You probably can’t blow up the team (relative measure here, the Yankees can’t blow up their team like some teams can) and win as many 2013 games as option #1. But I’m willing to bet that you can put the team in a better position to win games in 2014-2017. At some point, this Yankee team is going to have to transition from a roster led by Mo/CC/Jeter/Cano/Teixeira/Arod to one led by a younger group. The longer you wait to force the issue, the harder the landing is. If Cashman does it right, a rebuild could be more like hitting a trampoline than a brick wall.
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