Thoughts at the open of free agency

What Went Wrong: Austin Romine
Prioritizing the offseason needs
The Yankees reportedly have interest in both of these players. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
The Yankees reportedly have interest in both of these players. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

As of 12:01am ET today, free agents are able to negotiate and sign with any team. That means Robinson Cano could work out a deal with say, the Tigers, and ink a contract without ever giving the Yankees a courtesy call. He’s under no obligation to do so. I don’t think Robbie and his agent would do that, but they have the option. Here are some thoughts now that the offseason is truly underway:

1. It seems obvious the Yankees re-worked Derek Jeter‘s contract basically because he’s Derek Jeter. They upped his salary because they seem more concerned with the PR impact (another attendance/ratings drop?) than the on-field impact. Various reports indicate the team wanted to avoid a repeat of their contentious negotiations from three years ago, which leads me to believe Jeter’s camp hinted at declining the player option. The team caved even though the Cap’n had zero leverage other than “I’m Derek Jeter.” Seriously, no leverage at all. Thirty-nine-year-old shortstop coming off major ankle surgery and a whole 17 games played? Sorry, no one was rushing to offer him a contract, let alone eight figures. Would be nice if the club stood their ground a little more. They were in the driver’s seat in these negotiations. They just didn’t seem to realize it.

2. One more Jeter point: the contract was reportedly brokered one-on-one with Hal Steinbrenner, meaning ownership again went over the baseball operations department’s head to finalize a deal. This is happening more and more often these days, starting with the Rafael Soriano signing and continuing with the Ichiro Suzuki signing and Alfonso Soriano trade. That’s three times in the last eleven months alone that ownership went over Brian Cashman‘s head for a fairly major deal. I get that no GM ever truly has autonomy, but it seems silly that ownership sets this new payroll mandate goal and continues to throw wrenches into the roster. If the baseball ops people could make the rest of the baseball moves this winter, that would be great.

(Marc Serota/Getty)
(Marc Serota/Getty)

3. Speaking of that new $189M payroll limit, the Yankees won’t be able to sweeten any free agent offers with incentives. Any bonuses or incentives that are triggered count against the luxury tax. So, for example, if they sign Roy Halladay to a one-year contract worth $2M with another $10M in incentives based on starts, they have to treat it is as a $12M deal for luxury tax purposes. They can’t go through all this trouble to position themselves to stay under the luxury tax only to have it blow up at the end of the season when some random player triggers a bonus based on plate appearances or a rogue MVP vote (remember Raul Ibanez getting a vote in 2012?). New York needs to stick to set salaries and not try to get cute with incentives. That makes their beloved one-year deals for over-the-hill veterans a bit tougher to sell.

4. This seems obvious but I can not emphasize it enough: the Yankees need to steer clear of bad players as much as possible this offseason. I really can’t stress that enough. I know, it sounds so obvious, and yet guys like Ichiro Suzuki, Chris Stewart, Vernon Wells, and Eduardo Nunez are on the roster right now. They’re there and they were there all season, the damage has already been done. But the club has to avoid similar players going forward. The easiest way to get good is to not have bad players. No more getting cute with old guys who might be revived thanks to the Magic of the Pinstripes™, no more “if we platoon him and get him out of the field three times a week it might work” stuff, nothing like that. Focus on adding quality players who seem like safe bets to be productive in 2014. The Yankees have met their quota of “well, I guess this could work out” moves for the decade.

5. Given what we saw last year with the all the injuries, I think the Yankees should be very aggressive signing players to minor league contracts for depth. The left side of the infield and the bullpen stand out as particular areas of need. Obviously signing these players is much easier said than done — no one wants to sign with the Yankees only to sit in Triple-A and hope Jeter’s ankle gives out again, for example — so maybe that means they have to be extra aggressive on waivers, when the player has no say in the matter. The Bombers don’t have much help immediate help coming from the farm system, especially on the position player side, so they need to build their depth another way. This past season was a very harsh reminder of the importance of having backup plans in the minors. The less midseason scrambling they have to do, the better.

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What Went Wrong: Austin Romine
Prioritizing the offseason needs
  • Bobby d

    At the start of free agency the most obvious way the yanks can improve this team is to grab Brian McCann. Remember the advantage we had all those years with Posada at catcher . Having a left hand power hitter who can handle a pitching staff is an advantage the yanks must seize if they are truly interested in making the playoffs next year!

    • Donny

      I agree with singing McCann. I get who Cano is and how impactful his bat can be, but we all saw (firsthand) the consequence of not having a quality backstop. In a perfect world, I would sign both. But if you are asking me who is more important to team needs and to Plan 189 then my answer has to be McCann.

    • OldYanksFan

      It would be nice, but it doesn’t make sense.
      Obviously for next year, especially with the $189m cap, the Yanks will need to fill some spots from within. The Catcher position is almost the only place we might be able to fill with MAYBE a league average player.

      • Guns

        McCann makes perfect sense. It’s the $189M mandate that doesn’t make sense.

    • Dave M

      I really don’t think we need to pay for McCann who will undoubtedly be overpaid. Salty is available and may be a cheaper option for our payroll and would not cost us a draft pick. We cannot buy ourselves out of this mess so giving up 1st round picks and overpaying for McCann is not ideal.

      The improvement from Salty to McCann is marginal honestly considering you wouldn’t have to pay him for year 4 and 5 (assuming McCann will want a 5 yr deal) of another bad contract.

      • Need Pitching & Hitting

        I’d rather go with the internal options than give Salty a big, multi-year contract.
        If they aren’t going to upgrade significantly (McCann), they may as well give the kids a shot.

        • Pee Wee Herman Ruth

          How about signing a veteran catcher like Carlos Ruiz or AJ Pierzynski to a short deal (2 years or less) to complement and teach the younger backstops?

          • Need Pitching & Hitting

            Not AJ.
            Maybe Ruiz on a 1-year deal.
            McCann is the only free agent option that I’d really have much interest in.

            • Hornets686

              Dioneer Navaro… that’s all we need at C with Romine and JR

      • TheEvilUmpire

        Salty is also a year younger. He’ll also get overpaid, but not as much as McCann. It would be like getting Russell Martin back and I could live with that.

        • Need Pitching & Hitting

          Salty will likely be more expensive than Martin.
          And he’s a much, much worse defender.

        • mitch

          No interest in Salty. He’s coming off a a BABIP-inflated career year and his defense is poor. If they don’t get McCann i’d probably take a shot with Ruiz on a short deal.

          • Dave M

            Not sure if you think McCann is any better really, but aside from some of the truly terrible defensive catchers out there, there is a marginal difference in the game between a vast majority of catchers. I really don’t think Salty is that fantastic, but he’s a heck of a lot better than any of our internal options. I don’t see him getting anywhere near the 5/75 contract McCann is going to get. The key is that he won’t need a 5 yr contract — McCann may be a plus now, but add 4 yrs and we’re going to be wondering wtf we’re paying for.

            • Need Pitching & Hitting

              Better to wonder wtf you’re paying for in year 5 of 5 than in year 1 of 3, no?

              • Dave M

                To be honest, I don’t think there will be a drastic difference during years 1-3 between McCann and Salty. While McCann is definitely better, I don’t think he will contribute enough more than Salty to be worth the $5 million more a year, extra 2 years on the contract (when McCann is likely past his prime) and the 1st round pick this year.

  • VaYankeeFan

    Based on the current state of the Yankees; $189M payroll limit, limited FA to bring aboard, etc. I can see no real hope of putting a high caliber team on the field next season. In reality maybe last season was a wakeup call, with the true beginning of the end being the 2014 season. Then time to begin the rebuilding process for sure; all teams go thru this ever so often. All can talk on this blog all we want to; the “proof in the pudding” will be what management puts on the field next season and we have really no say-so whatever!

    • Coolerking101

      Agree completely, however, the Yanks had their chance to rebuild by trading Cano. Instead, they decided it was more important to sell tickets during the last 6 weeks of the season.

      • ny_yankfan7

        You’re an idiot. They were in the playoff race until well after the deadline- you don’t give up on a team with a chance to make the playoffs. The cardinals won the World Series with a horrible record in 2006 with a worse record in a worse division than last years Yankees.

        • botz

          I don’t see how Coolerking is an idiot. Did you really think the 2013 Yankees were a World Series winning team at the trade deadline? This was a deeply flawed team that was falling apart towards the end. I personally think they should have taken drastic steps to blow the team up and get some value for the few players that could bring some back.

          • The Big City of Dreams

            . I personally think they should have taken drastic steps to blow the team up and get some value for the few players that could bring some back.

            ————–

            They could have and then fans would going crazy for doing that. The Yankees don’t do things like that now can you say things have changed and they have to do things differently that’s fair to say but there was no way they were going to sell at the deadline.

        • lee

          it’s too early to say for sure, but i think the new wildcard playoff system dramatically changes the definition of “playoff race”. used to be just getting the wildcard was no different than winning the division — now it’s a totally different story. you want to have a real shot at the World Serious you have to win your division. and in that respect, the Yankees were indeed out of the race with six week to go.

  • OldYanksFan

    The Yankees have extended qualifying offers to three of their 13 free agents — second baseman Robinson Cano, outfielder Curtis Granderson and starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda.

    • Need Pitching & Hitting

      Is there a point to this?

      • Travis L.

        Bold letters are cool?

        • Baked McBride

          obviously racist if Grandy’s name is the only one in blackface

          • Travis L.

            That’s a joke right? Tell me that’s a joke.

  • I’m One

    Sure it makes sense to state the Yankees should stay away from bad players, but it’s clearly not that easy (/Boversimplified). To stay under the $189M celery cap, what moves can be made? Can they afford a Stephen Drew or do they need to stick with a Brendan Ryan? McCann or is it Cervelli/Romine/Murphy? Can they bring Granderson back or do they get Beltran (who I’m not convinced will be a better player for the next 2 years, but that’s just my opinion)? Nix or ??? Reynolds or ??? to fill in at 3B & 1B as necessary or ??? There are so many questions and so few ways to fill the open positions and also bring in some quality pitching (yes, they still need that too) that I’m pretty sure they’ll have a few below average players on the team. In fact, I’d prefer to go after better pitchers and save by going with the likes of Cerv/Lettuce/Murphy, Nix/Ryan/Nunez & Reynolds as opposed to a Drew or {place uyour favorite big name player here} unless A-Rod gets a full season suspension or Cano isn’t re-signed. This is, of course, provided the team truely plans to stay under $189 mil.

    • qwerty

      Precisely. It’s easy enough to simply say you should stay away from bad contracts, but when a Vernon Wells is available for a measly 14 million, what are you going to do, just sit back and pretend he’s not available? No, you snatch him up before another team swoops in gets him first!

      • I’m One

        Wells is a poor example as he’s already on the team. But going forward, what would be better, McCann and in-house pitching or in-house catching and, say, Garza or Santana? My preference, in this case, is to spend more on pitching, provided there’s a good option that you can lock up for say 3 or 4 years. Not sure what I’d do for a SS or 3B.

  • Frank

    This team/organization is a mess- this post just confirms it.

  • dasani

    My off season wish list; Hal sells the team to Jay Z

    • Kenny

      Unmusic = bad ownership

  • Nick

    I hope the Jeter contract is a sign that the 189 payroll target is kaput.

    That said-Jeter should give Hal a gift basket…

    • TheEvilUmpire

      Because he screwed him?

  • qwerty

    No help from the farm system next season? What do you call Michael Pineda and Zoilo Almonte?

    • TheEvilUmpire

      Spare parts. A completely rebuilt engine (Pineda) and a spare tire (Almonte). I’d love for them to prove me wrong.

    • Need Pitching & Hitting

      Competition for the 5th starter spot
      and injury OF backup.

    • Algernon Blackwood

      You’re really going to rely on a guy with more arrests than pitches thrown with the Yankees? Sounds like a bad idea.

  • Coolerking101

    Please, Hal negotiated directly with Jeter b/c he NEEDS a box office draw next year. He knows the chances this team contends with a 189 payroll are minimal. Anyway, if this ends up being Jeter’s last year….there’s big bucks to be made off of the Jeter farewell tour.

    • lee

      exactly! Hal did precisely what he had to do in order to avoid a PR nightmare and potential huge hit at the box office and in the media ratings. Jeter’s signing may not be all that popular with RAB readers, but i guarantee you that it’s a huge hit with the average Yankee fan. i can’t believe anyone who has ever sat in the stands or gone to a sports bar and actually talked to Yankee fans doesn’t understand how this one was a no-brainer.

      • Need Pitching & Hitting

        I’d think the average Yankee fan is a lot more concerned with how good the team is than with how much Hal decides to overpay fading stars.

        • lee

          the average fan has no opinion whatsoever on whether Jeter is overpaid or underpaid, nor even if his star is really fading. all they know is that Jeter’s “the Captain” and the face of the Yankees, he’s a perennial all-star and he’s got a boat load of WS rings.

          • Need Pitching & Hitting

            That’s not the average fan.
            That’s the casual, barely paying attention fan.

            • lee

              so you really think the average fan dislikes Jeter the way a lot of people here do? who then do you think are the most popular Yankees going in to the 2014 season? what Yankees will outsell Jeter next year when it comes to shirts and jerseys?

              you live in a totally different world than i do.

  • Adamreendo

    Do not forget Banuelos. Come April he will be 18 months from the TJ surgery…..he should make the team….either as one of the 5 Starters….or in the Pen……but ready to go into the Rotation ASAP!

    • I’m One

      An issue with Banuelos may be innings. He hasn’t pitched anywhere near a full season yet and the team may want to limit his innings in ’14 because of that. I’d suspect he starts the season in AAA and perhaps gets called up if he excels or is needed due to ineffectiveness or injury on the MLB team.

      • Mike HC

        Just seems to me anecdotally that all this super careful inning management of these minor league guys, 3-4 inning starts etc … doesn’t work all that well. It doesn’t prevent them from getting hurt, or re injured, and it doesn’t help their development either.

  • Batsman

    Regarding #4….

    Ichiro’s BA and OBP were .322/.340 for the Yankees. Is it not reasonable to assume that Ichiro was “revived” from being with the Mariners to the Yankees to warrant at a re-signing? Mike Axisa even made this comment on his April 8th post: ” The good news is that some other players in the lineup — specifically Cano, Ichiro, and Gardner — will improve going forward to help balance things out.” Now Axisa is calling him a bad player? LOL.

    Second, Wells was acquired because Granderson went down. I know the Yankees tried to acquire him months before, but it was for right handed depth purposes. On his March 24th post (at least) Axisa writes: “If the Yankees give up a fringy prospect and the Halos eat enough salary to make him a ~$2M per year player, it would be not horrible but still pretty bad.” Guess what? There’s more: “The Yankees are getting a bunch of intangible qualities in Wells, who has long been regarded as a strong clubhouse presence….To their credit, the Yankees have had a lot of success getting unexpected production from declining players in recent years. They squeeze water out of washed up veteran rocks better than anyone.” (March 26th post)

    As for Stewert, he was the team’s backup catcher before Cervelli went down.

    Finally, as for Nunez…he was Jeter’s backup and hopeful stop-gap regular until the Captain returned.

    Seriously, is Mike Axisa suffering from some kind of dementia or is he really not that good of a writer?

    Now Axisa is saying “This seems obvious but I can not emphasize it enough: the Yankees need to steer clear of bad players as much as possible this offseason. I really can’t stress that enough. I know, it sounds so obvious, and yet guys like Ichiro Suzuki, Chris Stewart, Vernon Wells, and Eduardo Nunez are on the roster right now.”

    COME ON!!! (LOL)

    • qwerty

      No, Wells was not acquired due to Granderson’s injury at all.

  • Eselquetodolosabe

    Not sure about McCaan. Read some of his defensive metrics – specifically throwing out baserunners – and was not impressed. Might be explainable/correctable, but should be assessed.

  • Need Pitching & Hitting

    Is it not reasonable to assume that Ichiro was “revived” from being with the Mariners to the Yankees to warrant at a re-signing?

    No. It’s not reasonable. Certainly not for a 2-year deal.
    That’s taking a few week long hot streak in September and ignoring him being bad for more than a year and a half before that. Making judgements on a player based on a short hot streak is extremely unreasonable.

    on his April 8th post: ” The good news is that some other players in the lineup — specifically Cano, Ichiro, and Gardner — will improve going forward to help balance things out.
    Even bad players can improve. A player can go from absolutely awful (which Ichiro was very early in the season) to just plain bad. Going into April 8th, Ichiro was batting 111/190/111. Even very bad players can improve on that.

    Wells was acquired because Granderson went down, and because the Yankees never got around to finding a viable backup OF before the injury occurred.

    • Need Pitching & Hitting

      meant as reply to Batsman

    • qwerty

      Ichiro’s more obvious stats before he left the Mariners are well documented, but in fairness to the Ichiro signing, if you look at his batting metrics dating back several years, there is nothing to suggest why he’s doing as badly as he has. Ichiro has also not lost any bat, or leg speed, and plays in almost every game every season without injury, which is all incredible. The only real explanation for why he did as badly as he did in Seattle was because he was not mentally into it. Fans can’t go spouting in depth stats one moment and then conveniently forget them when it suits their argument. If Ichiro’s metrics had suggested a rapid decline which coincided with his weak BA during the last year and a half in seattle then criticism would be well deserved, but that is simply not the case here.

      • Need Pitching & Hitting

        “Ichiro has also not lost any bat, or leg speed”

        Based on what, exactly?

        Wouldn’t his uptick in Out of Zone swing % be indicative of somebody who’s lost some bad speed (or maybe just reaction time) and is starting his swing earlier to make up for it? Or his sudden drop in effectiveness against fastballs? Wouldn’t swinging at more pitches located out of the zone cause a lower AVG, weaker contact overall, and an overall lower BABIP?
        Wouldn’t his consistently higher IFB% be indicative of maybe being late on pitches more often?
        Wouldn’t the overall performance drop coming at an advanced age be cause for concern and skepticism?
        You can’t seriously say there weren’t major warning signs with Ichiro and ignore them all because he had a 3 week hot streak in September.

        • qwerty

          People within baseball have said that Ichiro is just as fast going from home to first as when he was younger. Ditto for his bat speed. I would really need to dig to find actual proof of this if it exists, but this is what I continue to hear. His OOZ swing % has increased greatly from his first few years playing here, HOWEVER, a 5+% increase from when he won the batting title in 2009 is hardly significant, and a 1.9% increase from 2010 when he batted .315 is barely worth mentioning. One could make the argument that Ichiro was being pitched around during the last few years when he had no protection and so chased more pitches, or perhaps he felt more responsibility to do more with runners on base knowing there was a AAAA player hitting behind him.

          • Hardy

            One could make that argument. However, “he declines in his late 30s like 99% of all players” might just be a more plausable explanation than “he suddenly got bored in Seattle”.
            Plus his decline in standard batting metrics is accompanied by a drod in advanced metrics:
            – His BB% from 2005-2008 were 6.5%, 6.5%, 6.7%, 6.8%, but from 2009-2012 were just 4.7%, 6.1%, 5.4%, 4.0%.
            – His Spd score from 2005-2008 were 7.4, 7.5, 6.5, 7.0, but from 2009-2012 were just 5.2, 5.4, 6.0, 6.9.

            • qwerty

              I just took a look at Ichiro’s more advanced statistics and he does appear to be having trouble with the fastball the last 3 seasons, so maybe I’m wrong about his bat speed and this may very well be the reason for his decreasing BA.

  • cheddar

    Now that Jeter has re-signed, I think management should, confidentially, tell him that this will be his last year as a Yankee player. I don’t begrudge any player (or person, for that matter) for trying to earn as much money as possible at his job, but the increase he took above the option has left a bad taste in my mouth.

    I have no doubt that however he performs this year, he will believe he is entitled to another sizable contract, probably at least $10M. Taking into account any PR issues, I think this is a road that we don’t want to go down again. Letting him know privately that we’re not going to sign him for 2015 will give him the option to publicly announce his retirement, effective at the end of this season, and to take his bows around the league. Or, he can try to hook on with the Astros as DH in 2015.

  • Mike HC

    I’m hoping the 189 plan is going to go out the window, making thought #1 a moot point.

  • Steve In Alabama

    As you have pointed out, the Jeter deal was done between Hal and Derek and bypassed Baseball Operations. Perhaps it’s time for Cashman to face up to the fact that he is the GM in name only and submit his resignation FOR THE GOOD OF THE TEAM.

    • sas

      I wish you would resign as a Yankee fan.

  • sas

    This blog is going downhill and starting to enter Steve Lombardi crazy land. No wonder a lot of people have left. So far Mike and his posters don’t think the Yankees can compete with a 189 mil payroll and wanted the team to stick it to Jeter. Which would of caused a meltdown in the actual fan base and media. Mike, that just shows a disconnect from reality on your part.

    • Need Pitching & Hitting

      How would paying Jeter $9.5M be sticking it to Jeter? That’s more than fair. You really think the fanbase would have melted down if Jeter only got paid $9.5M this year? The $189M plan is what could cause the meltdown, not Jeter’s oversized share of that.
      Show me a team plan, given the Yankees current contractual commitments and in-house options, that is likely to result in a playoff team.
      Sure it’s possible. It’s just not nearly the most likely scenario.
      Most likely it’s enough for them to stay somewhat in the race most of the year.

      That’s reality.

      • bobby d

        Here is a lineup we all could be extremely excited about: if we can sign McCann,Beltran, Reynolds,Ryan: Gardner CF, Jeter dh, Cano 2B, Beltran CF, Soriano LF, Texiera 1B McCann C, Reynollds 3B, Ryan SS. When Jeter plays SS make Beltran the DH and I chirp or Almonte the RF. This lineup is as good if not better than the Red Sox lineup and would put tremendous pressure on any pitcher! Of course we still need to address the starting staff but this lineup competes for a playoff spot!

        • dkidd

          i’d love to get mccann and beltran, but the only way that line-up makes it out of the al east is if pineda/banuelos/nova/phelps magically hit their ceilings

          i love my team, but the yankees are old and full of roster holes

        • Hardy

          Cano, McCann & Beltran will cost about $50M – about what the Yankees can spend if A-Rod is suspended for 100 games. The line-up is good, but has still holes at 3B, SS and DH.
          Plus your pitching staff is Sabathia, Nova, ?, ?, ? combined with a Robertson + ???? bullpen.

  • Nathan

    Halladay? But why?