Mailbag: Lowrie/Cabrera, Zobrist, Roller, Frazier

Just a few shopkeeping items before we dive into the questions:

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Here are some deals at the MLB Shop today:

Those deals last through Sunday.

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And now, onto the questions.

Ben Zobrist
(CHRIS O’MEARA/AP)

Mark L. asks: Do you see signing two of Lowrie / Drew / Cabrera to mix and match with Prado as a cost-effective alternative to big bucks Headley?

No, I cannot see that. It seems increasingly probable that some team offers Chase Headley a four-year deal. Since the Yankees are willing to give only three, they’ll have to find help elsewhere.

Would it cost them less to sign Lowrie or Cabrera? Maybe a little, but maybe not. If Headley signs elsewhere I think they allocate that money to other positions and use Refsnyder or Pirela at second with Prado at third.

JR asks: With the Rays appearing to be in rebuilding mode, What would the cost be to get Zobrist be?

I’m not sure the Rays are in complete rebuild mode. Maybe they’re not looking for win-right-now pieces, but they’re not doing some three-year project. That said, Ben Zobrist has just one year left on his contract, for a super reasonable $7.5 million (well, $7.75 really, because he gets $.25 million if traded).

It’s hard to find a reasonable value here, though. How much is one year of Zobrist worth to you? I’m guessing the Rays want something like Greg Bird and a pitcher, and I don’t think I’d go that far. Not where the Yankees stand right now.

If they’re on the brink of greatness — if they have three guys with power who you can count on in addition to the table setters, and a great pitching staff — then maybe I consider mortgaging a decent prospect for one year of a player as versatile as Zobrist. But right now? The roster is too weak right now to make a move like that.

Hmmm asks: Would it be in the Yankees best interest, for the overall future of the team, if they do not sign anyone to over a 4 or 5 year contract until they are a legitimate contender to win? I understand that those contracts can help them become a contender, but I feel like if they don’t have the young talent that will make them perennial contenders that those contracts will just prove to be a waste.

I don’t understand this mentality at all. What does young talent have to do with being perennial contenders? Look at the 1996 Yankees. They had one starting pitcher under 30, and a lineup of mostly imported veterans. That’s not to say that the 2015 Yankees have a Jeter or a Bernie, but the idea that young talent creates perennial winners is a bit off.

You can only work with the players available to you, whether that’s on the roster or available to you in trade or free agency. Cutting yourself off from that talent because of years in a reasonable range is silly. Avoiding 10-year deals? Sure, that’s something you might want to avoid in general. But 4-5 years deals are pretty standard.

nycsportzfan asks: Why did the Yanks not protect Kyle Roller?

Roller did rake last season, mostly in AAA, so it seems as though he’s knocking on the door. That said, he turns 27 before the season starts, so it’s not as though he’s some prime prospect that they just didn’t protect.

There’s a lot going on with Rule 5 protection. You have to take into account the roster implications. A few years ago Brian Cashman said something about sometimes the best way to protect a player is to not add him to the 40-man roster. Wish I could find the exact quote. His point was that because of roster crunch issues, sometimes you protect guys and later have to make some tough DFA choices.

Say you protect someone on the fringe, but have to DFA him in June for some roster crunch reason. A team might not have taken him in the Rule 5, because they didn’t see a way to keep him on the MLB roster all year. But on waivers he doesn’t have that restriction. You can stash him in the minors for a few years. So a team that wouldn’t have made a Rule 5 pick might jump in with a waiver claim.

The Yanks have plenty of needs this off-season, and they’ll need roster spots. They can’t afford to have one of those spots taken up by a 27-year-old first baseman. Also, Roller didn’t even make this enormous list of Rule 5 possibilities.

Elfi asks: Why would the Yankees sign Headley for 3B when they have a solid and capable player in Prado who could do it? Prado I’m sure can at least match Headley’s numbers. This would pave the way for Refsnyder to be the 2B and of course A-Rod at DH

It’s all about depth. If you go into the season with Prado at 3B, you’re stuck with the rookies as your first option at 2B. If they fail, then what? By creating some depth, they can react to injuries and failures. If Prado gets hurt, Pierla or Refsnyder steps in. If they fail as a depth option, that’s one thing. But to rely on them, and have no real backup option, would hurt quite a lot.

Chris R. asks: Doesn’t a run at Todd Frazier make a ton of sense? 28 year old that can play 1st & 3rd. Entering his arb years so he will start to cost Cincy some money now.

Cincinnati is in a tough spot right now, with the poor season they had combined with a number of their pitchers hitting free agency after 2015. They’re locked into a couple of huge contracts, so they could seem inflexible at this point.

That said, he’s one of their only weapons on offense. Unless they go into rebuild mode — and I’m talking trade-Votto rebuild mode — I can’t see them entertaining offers for Frazier.

That said, a Jersey-raised kid who went to Rutgers and walks up to “Fly Me to the Moon” Frazier sounds like a Yankee to me.

Lightning Round

Kenny asks: With the Yankees looking for a new shortstop, do you think Ruben Tejada is on their radar?

The Mets also need a shortstop, so that should answer the question right there.

Daniel asks: Assuming no major changes to the current rotation, who would be the opening day starter?

Have to imagine that’s CC’s job for at least one more season, if he’s healthy.

Matt asks: The Rays are reportedly listening on offers for Yunel Escobar, should the Yankees be interested?

He doesn’t seem like the Yanks kind of player. The Braves traded him for peanuts because they couldn’t stand his attitude. Plus, he’s not a very good SS, even if he can hit a little.

Dustin asks: Dave Martinez for 1B coach or hitting coach?

He’s as good a candidate as any. I have a feeling that the Yankees are more interested in Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton, though. But maybe they bring in both, given that they have two coaching openings.

email

Heyman: Yankees only willing to give Chase Headley three years

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are not willing to give third baseman Chase Headley anything longer than a three-year contract. Obviously this could all be posturing at this point. Heyman says the Giants have contacted Headley after losing Pablo Sandoval to the Red Sox earlier this week, and supposedly the Indians, Blue Jays, and Padres have shown some level of interest as well.

If the Yankees are truly only willing to go three years for Headley, then in all likelihood they’ll be playing Martin Prado at third base in 2015. Heyman says Headley rejected a three-year, $39M extension from San Diego back in the spring, so you know he’s aiming higher. Sandoval, who is a comparable player, just got five years with an option for a sixth. Headley’s probably going to get a bunch of three years offer and wind up signing with the first team to step forward and offer that fourth guaranteed year.

Playing Prado at third base is not bad in and of itself, but I see Headley at third and Prado at second as a way better plan than Prado at third and either Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder at second. The more Major League caliber players, the better. Whenever someone inevitably gets hurt, Prado can change positions to cover for the injury and then either Pirela or Refsnyder can take over at second. The Yankees can’t count on Alex Rodriguez to play third at all. At least not until he shows he can do it in camp.

The best third baseman scheduled to hit free agency next year is David Freese. The best the year after that will be 37-year-old Adrian Beltre. Headley is the best third basemen who will be available for nothing but money for the foreseeable future. If the Yankees aren’t comfortable with going more than three years for him, fine, but the only way they’ll get a better player in the next two or three years is by dipping into their farm system and making a trade.

Should the Yankees give Chase Headley more than three years?

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Chase Headley

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees both do and do not have a third baseman for next season. Yes, Alex Rodriguez, the team’s starting third baseman from 2004 through 2013-ish is under contract and has finished serving his suspension, but the Yankees are not counting on him to play the field at all.  “Nobody here expects him to play third,” said one team official flatly to Jeff Passan. A-Rod is 39 years old and he’s played 44 games over the last two years. It would be foolish to count on him playing the field.

So yes, the Yankees have a third baseman. But they don’t, really, so they’re out looking for one this winter. They got lucky with Yangervis Solarte for a few months this past season but probably don’t want to try that again. Brian Cashman confirmed the team has had a “brief conversation” with Chase Headley, who was so very rock solid for the Yankees after being acquired at midseason, but is a free agent with plenty of suitors. The Red Sox, Giants, and White Sox are also reportedly looking for help at the hot corner. Does bringing Headley back actually make sense though? Let’s look.

The Defense

Let’s start with Headley’s defense at third because it’ll be nice and easy. We saw him for two months this past season and he was outstanding at third base, legitimately Gold Glove caliber. He had range, first step quickness, a strong arm, the works. It was no aberration either. He’s been this good for a while and various defensive stats back it up:

Innings at 3B DRS UZR Total Zone FRAA
2010 1407.2 14 16.5 14 -0.2
2011 895.1 1 -3.8 -8 -9.0
2012 1397.0 -3 7.3 10 -6.3
2013 1235.0 5 7.0 7 -8.1
2014 1082.2 13 20.9 17 3.2

I honestly have no idea what’s going on with FRAA, the preferred defensive metric over at Baseball Prospectus. When three of the systems are pointing in one direction and the fourth is pointing in other, I’m going to throw out the fourth and stick with the other three. FRAA saying Headley has consistently been a below-average fielder throughout his career doesn’t pass the sniff test at all. Weird.

Anyway, since becoming a full-time third baseman back in 2010 — the Padres had him play a bunch of left field earlier in his career because they had Kevin Kouzmanoff at third — Headley has been solidly above-average in the field most years. He looked great at third base this year and the numbers agree. That’s good enough for me. I have no trouble accepting Headley as an asset in the field whatsoever. He’s very good.

That’s at third base. First base is a bit of a different story. (He hasn’t played left field since 2009 and I don’t think he’s going to do it again anytime soon.) The Yankees stuck him there for a few games this season and he looked inexperienced, to put it nicely. He looked inexperienced because he was inexperienced — prior to coming to New York, Headley had a grand total of three career innings at first base in his career. One inning in 2009 and two in 2012. Zero in the minors. Yet the Yankees were comfortable enough to stick him over there for 54 innings late in the season and he made the best of it. He’s a third baseman first and foremost. That part is clear.

The Up And Down (And Up Again) Offense

I’ve liked Headley for a really long time, dating back to his college days at Tennessee. He was a switch-hitter with power and patience coming up through the minors and early on in his career, and I thought he’d be a star-caliber hitter during his peak years if he ever got out of spacious Petco Park. That hasn’t happened, though Headley did have a huge year back in 2012 (145 wRC+) while playing in Petco. Here’s how his career has shaken out offensively (he became a regular at age 25):


Source: FanGraphsChase Headley

Headley progressively got better once he became a full-time player, peaked in 2012, and has progressively gotten worse since. He’s never actually been a below-average hitter though. Not as a regular. At worst he was an average hitter, once you adjust for ballpark and the offensive environment around the league and all that. There’s nothing sexy about being average, but average would be an upgrade for the Yankees, sadly.

As you know, Headley was much more productive with the Yankees after the trade than he was with the Padres before the trade this past year. He hit .229/.296/.355 (90 wRC+) with seven homers in 307 plate appearances for San Diego before hitting .262/.371/.398 (121 wRC+) with six homers in 224 plate appearances for New York. Explaining why Headley’s offense improved after the trade is a bit tricky and it isn’t all park-related.

Obviously we aren’t dealing with the biggest of samples, and I’m sure there’s a psychological component we can’t account for. Headley went from being The Man in the lineup in a terrible hitter’s park to being just another guy on a team with a good home park for hitters. Let’s look at his plate discipline and batted ball numbers to see what’s going on there:

PA GB% FB% LD% HR/FB% O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Contact%
’10 674 46.1% 36.0% 17.9% 6.4% 27.6% 61.1% 44.0% 80.0%
’11 439 45.8% 32.3% 21.9% 4.3% 25.2% 62.5% 42.4% 79.9%
’12 699 48.5% 32.1% 19.5% 21.4% 25.7% 67.2% 44.5% 74.7%
’13 600 46.1% 31.3% 22.6% 10.9% 28.1% 67.2% 45.9% 74.3%
’14 – SD 307 39.3% 34.0% 26.7% 10.0% 27.6% 61.9% 44.0% 78.3%
’14 – NY 224 42.6% 29.1% 28.4% 14.6% 23.6% 61.6% 40.9% 82.4%

Plate discipline and batted ball stats are among the quickest to stabilize in baseball — they usually settle in around the 200-250 plate appearance mark, which Headley cleared in pinstripes. His HR/FB% increased after the trade and that makes perfect sense given Yankee Stadium. For whatever reason he swung at fewer pitches with the Yankees, both inside and outside the zone, and he made more contact when he did swing. Improved selectivity? The Yankees and former hitting coach Kevin Long do preach patience, after all. It’s not just about drawing walks, it’s also about swinging at better pitches.

Anyway, Headley’s offensive performance ticked up after the trade and that’s why we’re talking about the Yankees possibly re-signing him. If he came over and didn’t hit a lick, I don’t think anyone would want him back regardless of his defense. The real Headley is probably somewhere between the 90 wRC+ he put up with the Padres and the 121 wRC+ he put up with the Yankees in 2014. (For what it’s worth, Steamer projects a 112 wRC+ in 2015.) Considering the Yankees have gotten an 87 wRC+ out of their third baseman the last two years, I find it hard to think Headley won’t be an upgrade going forward. On both sides of the ball too. At the plate and in the field.

Durability Concerns

Headley has been on the disabled three times in his career and two involved fluke injuries. He missed six weeks after breaking his pinky sliding into a base in 2011, then he missed four weeks after breaking his thumb sliding into a base in 2013. Maybe he needs to spend more time on sliding drills in Spring Training or something. The third DL stint was for a calf strain this past season. He returned after the minimum 15 days.

That stuff really isn’t much of a concern. None of them are chronic injuries or anything. Headley’s back is a bit a concern even though it’s never sidelined him for more than a week, nevermind sent him to the DL. He missed a few days at the very start of Spring Training in 2012 with lower back stiffness, then missed one game with the same problem that May. More lower back stiffness sidelined him for seven days in August 2013. This past June, Headley missed four games and received an epidural to deal with a herniated disc.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Back injuries never really get better, they just get more manageable. They affect everything too. Hitting, fielding, running, walking, sitting in the dugout … I’m not kidding when I say everything. The epidural seemed to do the trick and Headley was both healthy — he did miss a few games after taking that Jake McGee fastball to the chin, another fluke injury — and very productive after the epidural. In fact, Cashman cited Headley’s improved “hit velo” after the procedure as a reason for making the trade.

Headley will turn 31 next May, so he’s not old but he’s not a spring chicken either. Any sort of back problem is a red flag, especially when it’s slowly progressed from stiffness to a herniated disc that required an epidural. Is that enough of a reason to not sign Headley at all? Maybe, if the medicals don’t check out well. The Yankees did have him around for a few weeks, so they do know something about his injury history firsthand, which can only help them make a better decision. I don’t know how much of a red flag the back is, but I do know it’s not something that can be ignored.

Contract Estimates

I am absolutely terrible at estimating free agent contracts. Especially ones for everyday players. I’ll hit on the occasional bench player or reliever from time to time, often enough to keep me guessing, but I’m really bad at it overall. So let’s look at some other kinda sorta informed Headley contract estimations from around the web:

  • FanGraphs Crowdsourcing: Four years at $14M per season ($56M total).
  • Keith Law (subs. req’d): Three or four years at $13M to $14M per season.
  • Jim Bowden (subs. req’d): Three years at $9M per season ($27M total).

Bowden has been weirdly excellent at predicting free agent contracts the last few offseasons, so I figured it was worth it to include him here. I think he’s a bit off with Headley though. A three or four-year deal at $14M or so per season seems much more likely than a deal that only pays him $9M per year.

A four-year contract worth $46M is right in line with the contracts signed by Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson the last two winters, for reference. I think Headley has similar value as those two, though the shape of his production is different. He’s some offense and a lot of defense. Swisher and Granderson were a lot of offense and some defense. Maybe that means he won’t get four years and $56M since offense pays a lot more than defense, even nowadays.

In Conclusion

In a nutshell, Headley offers one positive (his defense) and two negatives (declining offense and bad back). His offense did improve after joining the Yankees for whatever reason and that wasn’t completely unexpected. And, again, Headley has never been a below-average hitter since becoming a regular. Even at his worst, he’s been league average. A league average hitter with above-average defense is a very good player and a big upgrade for the Yankees. It basically comes down to how comfortable the team is with the health of his back.

The Yankees have a clear need at third base in the short-term. Their top third base prospects are Eric Jagielo and Miguel Andujar, who figure to open next season with Double-A Trenton and High-A Tampa, respectively. There are also some questions about whether Jagielo will stick at the hot corner long-term. Point is, the Yankees need a third baseman in 2015 as well as 2016 and probably 2017 as well. Counting on prospects who are several years away is no way to operate. Wait until they’re knocking on the door before worrying where they fit.

Unlike Pablo Sandoval, who seems destined for a five or six-year contract at $16M+ per season, Headley figures to come on a shorter contract that is more payroll friendly. He fills an obvious positional need and will greatly improve the team’s awful infield defense while improving the offense to a lesser extent. Considering Sandoval and Headley are the only no doubt third basemen on the free agent market both this year and next — the best free agent third basemen next winter will be David Freese, Aramis Ramirez, and Juan Uribe, assuming Adrian Beltre’s option vests — it makes sense for the Yankees to push their chips into the middle of the table and plug a potentially long-standing hole this winter.

Cashman Speaks: Robertson, Kuroda, Headley, Young, Injuries, Coaches

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The GM Meetings started in Phoenix yesterday and among the items on this year’s agenda are reviews of the new home plate collision rule and the pace of game rule changes being tested in the Arizona Fall League. The league will also conduct their annual umpire evaluations. There’s a lot of official business that goes on at the GM Meetings and they aren’t as hot stove-y as the Winter Meetings in December.

That said, when you have all 30 GMs plus a bunch of agents in one place, talks do happen and the ground work for a lot of deals is laid. In fact, the three-team trade that brought Curtis Granderson to New York five years ago was first broached at the GM Meetings. Brian Cashman arrived in Phoenix yesterday and spoke to reporters about a bunch of topics, some of them actually interesting. Here’s a recap, courtesy of Wally Matthews, Ken Davidoff, Mark, Feinsand, Barry Bloom, and Brendan Kuty.

  • On possibly re-signing David Robertson: “I would have no clue what his market value’s going to be. Certainly they would have an idea. They turned down the qualifying offer based on a lot of parameters, I’m sure, some of which have been discussions they’ve already had in the window that they’ve had the chance to have discussions. So it’s hard to tell. It’s hard to tell … We have not had any level of conversation about expectations of a multi-year deal. For whatever reason, they never presented anything to us, nor did we to them.”
  • On Robertson, the pitcher: “The one thing we do have a feel for is how good of a player he is, how good of a person he is, how great of a competitor he is. In the New York environment, he’s not afraid. He checks every box off. He came in behind Mariano Rivera. (It was a) seamless transition. That’s certainly no easy task. All those things obviously went into our level of comfort, despite being a reliever, of offering (the qualifying offer). Great deal of respect and obviously we’ll engage him now in the marketplace.”
  • On next year’s closer: “Right now, we don’t have to name a closer for 2015 yet. Let’s wait and see how the negotiations take with David before I start trying to worry about who that is going to have to be. We’ll have somebody closing games out in 2015. We hope whoever it is is the best candidate possible. We have some people you can give that opportunity to if we’re forced to internally, but let’s wait and see where the conversations take with David first and go from there.”
  • On Hiroki Kuroda‘s future: “I’ve talked to his agent. Kuroda’s process is he takes the early portion of the winter to relax and get his mind clear, and then at some point, kicks in about making a decision about playing — playing in the states, playing in Japan. I think he’s probably still going through that mental cleansing process. But I’d be surprised if he doesn’t play. Let him make a decision first and foremost. We’ll see what kind of money we have and all those things. But I think anybody looking for a starter should have an interest in Hiroki Kuroda.”
  • On possibly re-signing Chase Headley: “We’ve had a brief conversation. Chase is on our radar, but I think he’ll be on a lot of radars just like Robertson, just like (Brandon) McCarthy. These guys have all put themselves in a position to have successful conversations this winter. We’ll be a part of the process, whether we’re the ones they re-up with or not, I can’t predict. We’re certainly looking forward to continuing the dialogue.”
  • On re-signing Chris Young: “(Analysts) Steve Martone and Mike Fishman pushed for me to sign Chris. They felt, from an analytical standpoint, his year wasn’t as bad as it played out, that there was a potential bounce-back situation with it. We signed him up on what we think is a fair-market value, fourth-outfielder type contract. We wanted a right-handed bat with power, which doesn’t exist much in the game anymore, it seems like. He fit that category. Our coaches are comfortable with him, he played well in the small sample that we had him in September, so he certainly earned the right to come back, and I’m glad that we both were able to find common ground.”
  • On Stephen Drew and the shortstop market: “I don’t think this past season reflects what (Drew’s) true ability is. Stephen is someone that we’ll have a conversation with. Scott Boras has been in touch, we’ll stay in touch and see where it takes us … I think it’s a limited market, and I say limited in terms of availability or acquisition cost. To me, I would describe the shortstop market as limited. It’s a limited market. We’re going to talk with the available free agents, and we’ll talk as well, trade with other teams.”
  • On the outfield: “I think right now, we’re kind of settled in the outfield unless something surprising happens in the case of a trade, which I wouldn’t anticipate. So I think we’re currently pretty well set with our outfield. Obviously we have a desire to get younger as a team.”
  • On Masahiro Tanaka‘s health: “Tanaka’s a question mark. Typically, the problems occur in the throwing program, when they get back on the mound in the rehab process. If you can get through that, and the rehab games, he should be okay. Obviously, he got through two Major League starts. So that gives us hope. But there’s no guarantee.”
  • On Carlos Beltran‘s elbow: “I have no concern about Beltran’s health, (though) we probably should have had him have the surgery early on. Unfortunately, the health issue came up and we chose the route that let him fight through it and have him fight through it. In hindsight, we probably should have let him have the surgery early on. But he’s a tough guy.”
  • On CC Sabathia: “Sabathia’s supposed to be fine. He had a knee cleanup. It’s just really, can he ever regain pitching at the front end of the rotation versus what we saw in the last year and a half? But he’ll be healthy.”
  • On the coaching staff: Cashman said they are still in the process of interviewing candidates for both the hitting coach and first base coach jobs. They have not made anyone an offer for either position yet. It’s been one month and one day since Kevin Long and Mick Kelleher were fired.

Free Agent Updates: Lester, Scherzer, Sandoval, Shields, Robertson, Headley, McCarthy

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

The Yankees officially extended the $15.3M qualifying offer to David Robertson yesterday but declined to make the offer to Hiroki Kuroda. If Robertson signs elsewhere, the Yankees will receive a supplemental first round pick as compensation. Hopefully that pick will be able to pitch high-leverage innings in 2015. Anyway, here are some various free agent updates and rumors, courtesy of George King, Mark Feinsand, Jon Heyman, and Brendan Kuty.

  • The Yankees “have no plans to pursue” big name free agents Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, James Shields, and Pablo Sandoval this winter. There’s been talk the  team would stay away from the top of the free agent market, but this could always be posturing. The Yankees don’t have much to gain by saying they’ll pursue these guys. It only creates more leverage for the players.
  • David Robertson said things are “quiet on the front” when asked if he and the Yankees have had any talks about a new contract. At least six teams already have interest in the right-hander, which is not surprising. Big market contenders like the Tigers, Dodgers, and Nationals all need help in the late innings.
  • The Yankees are focused on re-signing Chase Headley and have already started contract negotiations. That doesn’t mean they’re close to a deal, of course. Headley has said he’s open to returning to New York as long as he isn’t a part-time player. The presence of Alex Rodriguez may complicate things.
  • In addition to Headley, the Yankees also want to re-sign Brandon McCarthy and they plan to “aggressively” engage him in contract talks. There’s no word if the two sides are currently discussing a deal. McCarthy is arguably the fourth best free agent starter behind Lester, Scherzer, and Shields, so he’ll be a popular target this winter.
  • David Huff‘s agent Jim McDowell has spoken to the Yankees about next season and said the “feedback was really positive.” Huff is not a free agent; he’s arbitration-eligible for the first time and is projected to earn only $700k next year. He’s still a non-tender candidate despite the affordable projected salary.

Joe’s obligatory off-season wish list

Let’s cut to the chase: The Yankees need help this off-season. Even after doling out four large contracts last year, they need even more help. With free agents officially allowed to sign with any club, the off-season has begun. What better way to kick it off than with a RAB wish list.

Here we go, in priority order.

Priority #1: Shortstop

For the third straight off-season, shortstop is a position of need for the Yankees. For the past two off-seasons the presence of Derek Jeter has prevented the Yankees from addressing that need in any real way. They now have the opportunity to improve the position. They need it, too: they tied Detroit for lowest OPS at SS in the AL, by 74 points. Jeter’s poor defense is also an easy fix.

MLB Trade Rumors predicts that the Yankees will sign Hanley Ramirez.

In a way, it’s tough to see. Ramirez, 31 in December, will command a six- or seven-year deal, probably comparable to the one the Yankees gave Jacoby Ellsbury last off-season. Will they pony up again, for a player who missed nearly half of 2013 and about 20 percent of 2014 with injuries?

Last off-season the Yanks spent big on two position players entering their age-30 seasons. It’s tough to see them going down that path again.

They could trade for Troy Tulowitzki, but he’s signed to a six-year, $118 million deal. The Rockies won’t just give him away, either. He, too, has missed plenty of time due to injury in the last three years. So while his remaining contract is more palatable than what Ramirez will command, the cost in players will make acquiring him less desirable.

To improve production at shortstop, they don’t need too much. There’s no direction to go but up — unless they plan to install Brendan Ryan as the everyday SS. The challenge is finding a player who can provide that kind of upgrade at a reasonable cost in dollars or players.

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

Free agent choice: Stephen Drew. Yes, he was bad in pinstripes. Yes, he might be better with an actual spring training. He can play defense and has hit well in the past. He’ll also get nothing more than a make-good contract, again, so he’s a potential bargain. He’s certainly a better bet than Jed Lowrie and Asdrubal Cabrera, who will both get bigger contracts and are both not very good on defense.

Trade choice: Didi Gregorius. Not many teams have spare shortstops, but the Diamondbacks do have a number of youngsters. It seems they have the most interest in trading Gregorius, which is sensible given his service time and mediocre bat. But again, that bat is considerably better than what the Yankees produced at SS in 2014, and plays seemingly average defense, there could be a match.

Priority #2: Starting pitching

(Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
(Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)

The following starting pitchers on the 40-man roster, with MLB experience, will be back with the Yankees next year: CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka, Chase Whitley, Shane Greene, Bryan Mitchell, David Phelps. There is also Ivan Nova, but he might not be back until the All-Star break following Tommy John surgery.

That’s not exactly a group you can rely on. Of those eight, five spent significant time on the DL in 2014. Whitley is not someone you want starting in anything other than an emergency situation. Mitchell has what, one start? Greene might be good as a fifth starter, but the Yanks need guys ahead of him.

It seems pretty clear, then, that the Yankees need to upgrade at starting pitcher. They might want to do so in a major way, too.

Step One: Re-sign McCarthy. Whatever went on between McCarthy and Larry Rothschild worked. McCarthy enjoyed his time in NY and thinks the two sides are a great fit. Get this done, and get another solid starter in the rotation.

Step Two: Sign Jon Lester. MLBTR predicts the Yankees sign Scherzer, and that’s a possibility. But Lester has AL East experience, is a lefty, and doesn’t come with a draft pick price tag. Competition for his services will be high, but the Yankees should be right at the top of the pack.

Priority #3: Another infielder

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

Relying on Alex Rodriguez to play even 81 games at third base is a mistake. They could start him there and put Martin Prado at second base, moving Prado to 3B and calling up Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela to play 2B when A-Rod gets hurt. But it might be best to plan on A-Rod playing no third base and deepening the infield corps.

We learned recently that the Yankees have begun negotiations with Chase Headley, and that makes plenty of sense. With him manning the hot corner, and Prado at 2B, the Yankees have strengthened the infield considerably without even addressing shortstop. A modest upgrade there, and some improvement from Teixeira, will go a long way to improving the team’s most glaring 2014 weakness.

What about Refsnyder? Prado is versatile, and has covered third base and the corner outfield positions in the past. Should the Yankees face an injury there, he can slide over and make room for Refsnyder. The idea isn’t to block him — he needs a chance to prove himself — but instead to create a strong starting corps and let Refsnyder act as depth.

Priority #4: Bullpen

(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The Royals proved what Yankees fans have known forever: a lockdown bullpen can carry an otherwise unremarkable team. Yet rarely will a team go through a season with three lockdown guys not getting hurt or overworked. The Royals got lucky. The Yankees need options.

Step One: Re-sign David Robertson, whether to the qualifying offer or a multi-year deal. He’s proven his mettle in New York, and the Yankees could use a closer like him.

Step Two: Sign Andrew Miller. Going into the season with a bullpen consisting of Robertson, Miller, Dellin Betances, Jacob Lindgren, Adam Warren, and Shawn Kelley will provide them with a deep core, allowing them to test guys like Jose Ramirez and maybe even Manny Banuelos.

Even after a busy off-season in 2013, the Yankees need even more in order to avoid missing the postseason for a third consecutive season. If they insist on keeping payroll even with 2014, then they have no shot. If they open the purse strings and expand payroll to near-Dodgers levels, then they could very well surpass their AL East foes.

This isn’t the only plan, but it’s one that helps address the Yankees needs without getting into the $300 million range. The Drew idea won’t be popular, but if it means not signing Hanley to a huge deal and having enough money to sign a top tier starting pitcher, isn’t that worthwhile?

A-Rod reinstated, ten Yankees become free agents

Now that the World Series is over, Alex Rodriguez has officially been reinstated off the restricted list by MLB and the Yankees. He was originally suspended 211 games for his ties to Biogenesis, but it was reduced to 162 games during an appeal. A-Rod would not have been eligible to play in the postseason had the Yankees qualified. He now counts against the team’s 40-man roster.

In other news, a total of 121 players became free agents at 9am ET this morning. Here’s the full list. Ten of those 121 players are Yankees: Chris Capuano, Stephen Drew, Chase Headley, Rich Hill, Derek Jeter, Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, David Robertson, Ichiro Suzuki, and Chris Young. No surprises there at all. Martin Prado, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Slade Heathcott all have to be activated off the 60-day DL if they haven’t been already. So, after all of that, the Yankees have 35 players on their 40-man roster.