By acquiring Curtis Granderson from the Tigers, the Yankees have essentially replaced Johnny Damon. Granderson might end up playing center field, but as it concerns the team as currently constituted, Granderson slides into the outfield and into the two-hole in the batting order. In other words, if Damon ends up with another team, the Yankees have already replaced him. That’s comforting in a way, but it also means that the Yankees aren’t nearly finished assembling their 2010 team.
While it’s unlikely that Granderson replicates Damon’s 2009 numbers, it’s also unlikely that Damon would do so either. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that Granderson and Damon could put up similar numbers in 2010, provided a bounce back year for Granderson and a slight decline from Damon. In replacing Damon with Granderson, however, the Yankees have traded a $13 million salary for a $5.5 million one. Those savings could go to further upgrade the team.
Next on the ledger is Andy Pettitte. He entered the Winter Meetings as the Yanks’ top priority, but the Granderson trade changed that. He’s still high on the list — now that Granderson’s all but a Yankee — Pettitte is probably back on top. For the sake of argument, let’s assume Pettitte signs a one-year, $12 million contract. If the Yankees aren’t counting salaries for Kei Igawa, Andrew Brackman, and Juan Miranda against their budget, that puts the Yankees at around $182 million for 12 players. That leaves them a bit of room to finish compiling the roster.
On the first day of the meetings, Brian Cashman said that his priorities were “pitching, pitching, pitching — and left field.” If we assume left field is taken care of, at least temporarily, we can assume that the next couple of moves will involve pitching. Pettitte will be the first. What the Yankees do after that is anyone’s guess. They could pick up a reliever to solidify the bullpen, or they could pick up a starter, moving Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes to the bullpen until they need someone in the rotation. Either way, the Yanks have options.
At this point, I wouldn’t count on them signing a big name free agent like Matt Holliday or John Lackey. The $182 million payroll might leave them some wiggle room, but they still have to pay their arbitration-eligible guys — Melky Cabrera, Sergio Mitre (if they tender him a contract), and Chad Gaudin — and then fill the roster with ~$500K guys. Those contracts do add up. They could be at $190 million at the end of that, which makes the picture a bit tougher to envision. After all, $10 million does not buy a top-flight player these days.
We could see them go for a high risk starter — i.e., Rich Harden, Erik Bedard, Justin Duchscherer, or Ben Sheets. They might be able to fit one of them in for around $10 million, which would work well. The risk would still exist, but because the Yankees would have Chamberlain or Hughes as the backup plan, they’d mitigate some of it. But even with another starter, and ergo another bullpen arm, in tow, the Yankees would still have a hole to fill.
If Curtis Granderson replaces Johnny Damon, then who replaces Hideki Matsui? Ideally, Damon replaces Matsui. He can put up comparable numbers, and can still play the field if necessary. But then there comes the issue of salary. Even if the Yankees get Damon at $20 million over two years, that’s another $10 million on the payroll, which, after Pettitte and arbitration raises, would put the Yankees right at $200 million. That means only small wiggle room to acquire a starter or reliever.
In the end, I’m not sure the Yankees will stick with their $200 million payroll projection. They say it now, and maybe that gives them some leverage in negotiations, but if the Yankees find themselves in a position where improving the team means going over that target mark, I don’t think they’ll hold back. They’re already deep into this, too deep to cut back when they might need one more move to put them over the top.
What it ultimately comes down to is having $30 million to add a DH/LF and two pitchers, plus fill out the rest of their roster. Unless the Yankees can find another bargain on the market, it doesn’t seem likely they can accomplish that. Even if they don’t sign John Lackey or trade for Roy Halladay, it appears they’ll have to break that $200 million mark. I just hope they don’t let that number get in the way of making further improvements to the team.