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?

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Yankees extend qualifying offer to David Robertson, not Hiroki Kuroda

As expected, the Yankees did extend the $15.3M qualifying offer to David Robertson prior to this afternoon’s deadline. He has seven days to accept or reject the deal. Robertson is a soon-to-be 30-year-old reliever coming off four straight elite seasons. If he accepts the qualifying offer, he should find himself a new agent. This is his best (only?) shot a bit contract.

In other news, the Yankees did not extend the qualifying offer to Hiroki Kuroda, which is somewhat surprising. They made him the offer in each of the last two winters, so maybe they feel confident that if he does pitch in 2015, it will be in New York. Kuroda will turn 40 in February and he wasn’t quite as good as he was from 2012-13 this past season, so I understand the team’s reluctance to put $15.3M on the table. Still surprised me though.

Chase Headley and Brandon McCarthy were not eligible for the qualifying offer because they were traded at midseason. A total of 12 free agents received the offer this year. Here’s the list.

Update: Yankees expected to make qualifying offer to Robertson, still undecided about Kuroda

Sunday: Jon Heyman says the Yankees are still undecided about making Kuroda the qualifying offer. RAB readers said they would make him the offer, for what it’s worth (nothing!). Heyman says giving Kuroda the qualifying offer would effectively limit his options to the Yankees and retirement for next season since teams are unlikely to give up a first round pick for a soon-to-be 40-year-old starter.

Saturday: Via Jack Curry: The Yankees are expected to make David Robertson the $15.3M qualifying offer by Monday’s deadline and they are hopeful of retaining him. There’s no word on whether the team will make the offer to Hiroki Kuroda. Players will have one week from Monday to accept or reject the offer. If Robertson rejects the qualifying offer and signs elsewhere, the Yankees will get a supplemental first round pick.

Robertson, 29, went 39-for-44 in save chances with a 3.08 ERA (2.68 FIP) and a 37.1% strikeout rate in 64.1 innings this summer, his first as the team’s closer. It’s no surprise the Yankees are making the qualifying offer — it would have been way more surprising if they didn’t — and I fully expect Robertson to decline the offer and test the market. He’s a soon-to-be 30-year-old reliever coming off four straight elite seasons. This is his best and probably only chance to get a huge contract.

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.

Still plenty left for the Yankees to do in 2014

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Although they mathematically still have a chance, the Yankees are not going to the postseason this year. They’re six games back of the second wildcard spot with three teams ahead of them and only eleven games to play, so it would take a historic comeback to make the playoffs. I don’t see this team doing anything historic other than maybe getting no-hit. There will be no October baseball for a second straight year.

The Yankees do still have those eleven games to play though, and playing meaningless baseball for nearly two weeks is not something the Yankees or their fans are familiar with. There haven’t been a lot of truly meaningless games around these parts the last two decades. The focus has shifted to 2015 now and there are a few things the Yankees can do to take advantage of these final eleven games.

Shut Down Whoever Else Is Hurt
Brett Gardner just missed a few days with an abdomen strain — he’s has been awful since returning, in case you haven’t noticed — and Mark Teixeira‘s surgically repaired wrist has flared up again. There is no reason for the Yankees to push these two and have them try to play through injury. No one gets bonus points for being macho. Martin Prado and his hamstring would have fit here as well, but his recent appendectomy took care of that. I’m sure there are other players on the roster dealing with nagging injuries (Jacoby Ellsbury‘s ankle?), so any regulars with an injury that could somehow turn into something more severe shouldn’t be playing. The only exception to this should be Masahiro Tanaka, whose partially torn elbow ligament and progressing rehab is a very unique situation.

Shut Down Dellin Betances
It goes without saying that Betances has been the biggest bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season. He went from failed starting pitcher prospect to arguably the best reliever in baseball and an important part of the Yankees going forward, regardless of what happens with David Robertson‘s free agency after the season. The team is counting on Betances to be a core piece of their relief crew going forward and for good reason. He has two out pitches in his fastball and breaking ball and I’m pretty sure standing in the box against him is terrifying.

(Alex Goodlett/Getty)
(Alex Goodlett/Getty)

That said, Betances has thrown the most innings (87.2) and the most pitches (1,328) among full-time relievers this year, and most of those innings and pitches have been high-stress. The Yankees have clearly scaled back on his workload these last few weeks — “No, no. Absolutely not. Dellin has been used a lot too, so, no,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings following Sunday’s game when asked if he considered using Betances for multiple innings — and understandably so. I know he threw 120+ innings several times in the minors, but throwing 120+ innings every fifth day as a starter is much different from throwing 80+ innings as a high-leverage reliever.

Watching Betances has been literally the most enjoyable thing about the 2014 Yankees. His near-bust prospect to elite reliever story makes him easy to root for. But he’s also worked a lot this year. Betances also has a history of arm problems, both shoulder and elbow, so shutting him down now will allow him to get nice physical and mental break heading into the offseason. The Yankees have every reason to do whatever it takes to keep Betances healthy and effective both now and in the future. With the team out of the postseason, shutting him down before his workload grows even more makes sense.

Give Bryan Mitchell Another Start(s)
Mitchell’s first career start went pretty well on Friday as he limited the Orioles to two runs on six hits and two walks in five innings while being held to an 85-ish pitch count. Considering he had not pitched in a real game in two weeks — the Yankees did have him throw a 50-pitch simulated game at some point early last week to keep him stretched out and sharp — and surely had some first career start jitters to deal with, Mitchell did a fine job.

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

There is not a whole lot of evaluating that can be done by giving Mitchell another start or two; teams and scouts won’t change their opinion of him based on those short looks (barring injury), but it is an opportunity to let him get more comfortable and gain some experience. Not much, but some, and every little bit helps. The Yankees need pitching help this winter and Mitchell is likely to in the sixth/seventh starter spot heading into the next season. Giving him a few more innings to get comfortable and build confidence is a no-brainer.

Let John Ryan Murphy Start Some Games
Murphy is a good young catching prospect and, like Mitchell, the Yankees should do whatever they can to help him get comfortable and gain experience these last two weeks. Start him seven or eight times in the final eleven games, something like that. Again, 25 at-bats or so won’t (or shouldn’t) change what we think about him, but they could help send him into the offseason feeling pretty good about where he stands in the organization. That’s not nothing.

This isn’t just about Murphy, either. Brian McCann is in the first year of his five-year contract and he’s been a starting big league catcher since he was 22 years old. That’s a lot of squatting behind the plate — most of it during hot Atlanta summers — and a lot of wear and tear. The Yankees would still be able to use McCann at DH, but the goal is to get him out from behind the plate to save him physically, even just a little bit. It would also reduce the risk of a foul tip to the face mask and other incidental injuries like that. Like it or not, the Yankees are stuck with McCann, so they should do whatever they can to protect their investment now that they’re out of the postseason mix.

Start Contract Talks With Robertson & Brandon McCarthy
The five days immediately following the World Series constitute the exclusive negotiating period for free agents, though the Yankees will get an extra month to talk with their impending free agents by virtue of not playing baseball in October. Their exclusive negotiating period is really one month plus the five days, and they should take advantage by starting talks with McCarthy and Robertson (and Chase Headley?), two players they should try to retain for obvious reasons. The sooner they start serious negotiations, the better their chances of keeping them off the open market and away from a potential bidding war. There are still eleven games to be played, but the 2014-15 offseason begins now for New York.