As the last full week of business before the Christmas and New Year’s holidays unfold, New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has been working the phones, making a handful of signings, and is involved in at least one impact trade that could return the Yankees to championship form. As more of the high profile players continue to sign with teams, now is the time that the not-so-sexy moves are being made. Most of the headline grabbing players are gone, and the ones that remain, really have no value to the Bombers other than some starting pitching targets.
As fans know, the outfield has been taken care of and can be checked off of the must do list. The return of both Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira have taken care of both shortstop and first base. Cashman even signed insurance for Jeter, just in case his aging legs can’t hold up to another season in the middle infield, re-signing Brendan Ryan to a multi-year deal. Another glaring weakness for the Yankees last season was behind the plate, and that is where Cash made his first big splash of the winter with the free agent signing of catcher Brian McCann. Check backstop issues off the list. The Yankees signed Kelly Johnson to a 1-year deal to serve time at both second base and third. Call him a super utility infielder with pop. Johnson was a nice pick up for Cashman.
One of the “under the radar” moves for the Yankees came when they re-signed starter Hiroki Kuroda for a last run at a World Series title. Cashman stated he needed 400 innings from two starters, and has solved exactly 50 percent of that equation. Go ahead and give a little checkmark for that move. The team is awaiting the decision of whether or not Masahiro Tanaka is going to be posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles, and if he is, expect the Yankees to go over the $189 million dollar threshold to obtain his services. For whatever reason, if Tanaka slips through the Yankees’ fingers, the team must decided between the lesser of three evils in Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, and Ervin Santana.
The loss of Mariano Rivera left a gaping hole that will never be fully refilled. The Yankees obviously have their doubts about David Robertson stepping up and filling his shoes, and reports have surfaced that it is a matter of when, not if Jonathan Papelbon dons the pinstripes as the new closer. If that deal falls through, there are other options to consider. Perhaps Brian Cashman jumped the gun a little quickly in signing Matt Thornton to replace the departed Boone Logan, as other viable lefty specialists whose numbers aren’t trending downward were still available and affordable. So other than a closer, the bullpen is pretty solid with young, controllable power arms, regardless of what the national media may think.
Holes remain at both second base and third base. The real question is this: Is there really a hole if Alex Rodriguez beats his suspension rap? I’m sure the Yankees would take A-Rod at .280, 20 bombs, and 75 RBI. There isn’t much on the free agent market to suggest otherwise. The Bombers plan on using Kelly Johnson at third a little bit, and with the signing of free agent Brian Roberts, it allows Joe Girardi to be a little more flexible with his infield. The Yankees continue to check-in on Mark Reynolds, and there is a very good chance he returns to the Bronx, but there has also been a mention of a Jeff Baker sighting…ugh.
The team’s needs today aren’t nearly as ugly as they were a week ago. While the tandem of Johnson/Roberts isn’t ideal, that doesn’t mean that the Yankees still aren’t exploring other options such as Howie Kendrick of the Angels, Dan Uggla of the Braves, and they might even consider revisiting the Brandon Phillips deal with the Reds. The bullpen in my opinion, is one solid piece away, and I am a big fan of a pending Papelbon-to-the-Bronx deal.
As for the starting pitching, if Tanaka isn’t the guy, Cashman will have to decide whether or not he will stick with Brett Gardner as a piece of next year’s roster, or if the right offer for a starting pitcher comes up that he will part with the speedy outfielder. If Cashman does indeed hold onto Gardner no matter, what, I like Jimenez over Garza and Santana for a myriad of reasons. The first is that he’s healthy, having pitched close to 200 innings every season of his career. He’s also a strikeout machine, posting high K/9 ratio’s every year. Garza is Carl Pavano waiting to happen, along with his almost 4 ERA. As much as I’ve always thought Ervin Santana had potential, he’s not lived up to it long enough or consistently enough to believe a round in the Bronx would bring out his best. His up and down seasons are too big of a risk to hand out a multi-year deal. I also like the idea of bringing in a project like Tommy Hanson, and seeing if Larry Rothschild can fix whatever is wrong that has derailed a once-promising career and has left Hunter looking for work after only one season with the Angels.
Before the winter is over, there is no doubt the Yankees will have plugged their necessary holes with a mix of low cost free agents (other than possibly Tanaka or Jimenez), made a trade or two, and mix in the baby Bombers who show enough promise to contribute in one form or another.