This season’s Yankees Opening Day roster consisted of twenty one returning players, and was basically fully intact after their first round exit to the Tigers last season. The lone noticeable loss was of stalwart Jorge Posada, who retired in January after seventeen seasons in pinstripes.
There are no guarantee that is the case once again, as this Yankee group is the oldest in the league, and numerous players are upcoming free agents. Other than the monstrous contracts of C.C. Sabthia, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriquez, almost everybody else is on the mend this off-season or next, with some due significant raises.
To make General Manager Brian Cashman’s job even more daunting, Owner Hal Steinbrenner reaffirmed a few weeks ago that the goal remains to have the payroll lowered to $189 million by 2014. “I’ve made it clear that is very important to me, for several reasons,” Steinbrenner said. “You are talking about a 10 percent reduction in payroll. I don’t see that as an outrageous concept. I never have.”
While the concept doesn’t seem outrageous, a major problem is that the plan was centered on the notion of the killer B’s in the Yankees minor leagues, Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances, joining hulking right-hander Michael Pineda in the rotation.
The three highly regarded youngsters were believed to eventually fill out the staff behind Sabathia, while collecting pennies. But, none of them threw a single pitch in the majors this year as all their seasons finished prematurely.
The 23 year old Pineda, who was an All-Star during his rookie season in Seattle, figured to slot in behind Sabathia, and help anchor the staff for years to come, after coming over for the golden jewel of the Yankees farm-system, Jesus Montero.
But he underwent surgery in the spring to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, and he is now a major question mark. Meanwhile more bad news came for the group a few weeks ago when Cashman, confirmed that Banuelos will undergo Tommy John surgery.
The southpaw hasn’t pitched since May 18th, with what the team called a ‘bone bruise’ in his elbow, so this injury is new and devastating. Last spring the great Mo Rivera proclaimed Banuelos the best pitching prospect he has ever seen, ahead of 1991 first overall pick Brien Taylor, whom he was teammates with two decades ago in Class-A Fort Lauderdale.
Taylor went on to wreck his prized left arm in a barroom brawl, dislocating his shoulder and tearing his labrum after missing on a haymaker while trying to defend his brother. He was never the same again, and now the Yankees must hope another young promising lefty doesn’t fall down a similar road. Even though this is different it’s still a major setback, and it’s hard to imagine him helping in the Bronx until mid-late 2014, or 2015.
While his news isn’t good, things aren’t much better for Betances. Despite pitching in two games for the Bombers at the end of last season, he struggled mightily in Scranton earlier this year. He was eventually sent to Double-A Trenton because of control issues, and he finished the year in the minors with a combined 6.44 ERA.
His season too ended early, but he will pitch in the Fall League with the Scottsdale Scorpions, and hopefully get back on track. Cashman has said that the youngsters aren’t figuring into his plan for building a rotation next year, and if they do pitch it would simply be a bonus.
With that being the case, once again veterans Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda will be heavily relied on. However, the two are only getting older and due new contracts. Kuroda has been outstanding, but the workhorse who is turning 38 in February will be a hot commodity in the thin pitching market after posting 16 wins and a 3.32 ERA
After a one year hiatus Pettitte, has looked just dandy in a limited amount of starts, and he’s hinted towards coming back for a final rodeo next season. Despite turning 41 in June having him back in the fold is increasingly important with the youngsters not near ready. Despite his advancing age, he will be seeing a raise from the $2.5 million contract he signed in March.
The plan gets further complicated with All-Stars Robinson Cano, and Curtis Granderson, set to hit the market in 2014. The two have club options for 2013, but it won’t be easy locking them up, as they want to be shown the money.
Cano is said to be looking for a mega $200 million contract, and Granderson is coming off consecutive 40 home-run seasons, so he too has a lengthy price-tag. However Cano has been questioned for his work ethics and hitting in the clutch, while Granderson struck out a whopping 195 times and hit .232 this season.
The two haven’t helped their cause in the playoffs either, combining for six hits in 65 at-bats. Cano set a postseason record by going hitless in 31 straight at bats, and Granderson has whiffed 15 more times.
However they aren’t the only ones struggling and looking for a new contract, as upcoming free agent Nick Swisher is once again invisible. After collecting just four hits in 26 at-bats he was finally benched in Game 3, and his poor play offensively and defensively has definitely cost him a sizeable amount of money in the offseason.
Despite being useless again in the playoffs, the 31 year did have another solid season posting 24 homers, and 92 RBIs. He has also quietly been one of the more consistent outfielder’s in baseball, as he is one of just four right-fielders since 2009 to have hit at least .250 with 100 homers; Joining only Jose Batista, Jay Bruce, and Nelson Cruz.
But in the summer it was reported that he was seeking Jayson Werth money (7 years, $126 million). Even though that idea is now completely laughable, there’s no question that he has been a key cog in the Yankees lineup. He will still command around 4 years and $60 million, making it nearly impossible for Cashman to bring him back while signing both Cano and Granderson long-term. His days in pinstripes appear to be numbered.
The lineup may look even more different with catcher Russell Martin set to join Swisher in free agency. The 29 year old declined a three-year $21 million deal in the spring, and his slow start made it look like he made a big mistake.
But despite hitting under .200 for the majority of the season, he has played great behind the plate, and picked up his hitting down the stretch. He finished with a.211, average, and a career high 21 longballs. His numbers are also bit deceiving, as many of his out were hard hit balls, and his .311 on-base percentage was slightly higher than Ichiro’s, who hit .283. So he does get on base, and have pretty solid numbers for a catcher.
It’s not easy to find a catcher who can handle a pitching staff and hit for power, which is why the Canadian born Martin might be a goner. In his favor fellow backstops Yadier Molina (5 years $75 million), and Miguel Montero (5 year $60 million), received hefty paydays recently.
While some current Yankees in their prime are seeking long-term deals, a slew of veterans are just trying to hang on, as the contracts of former All-Stars Ichiro Suzuki, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez, Andruw Jones, Freddy Garcia, and Derek Lowe are all set to expire.
Ibanez has been clutch all season long, and he has already cemented his legacy in Yankee lore. He’s done exactly what Cashman expected from him and more, after he bypassed Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui for the same job. The fan favorite will gladly be welcomed back, especially after being paid a measly $1.1 million. But he is 40, and hasn’t announced his future plans.
The same can be said for future the Hall-of Famer Ichiro, who has also become a beloved figure in his short time in the Bronx. The 38 year old was invigorated by the bright lights and winning atmosphere, hitting .325 in 66 games for the Bombers. Despite being brought in to fill the void of Brett Gardner, he may be back next season. With Swisher set to leave, the Yankees need another outfielder, and Suzuki has shown that he has plenty left in his tank.
The two may also be reunited with Chavez, who has given the Yankees a lot more than they expected from him after signing him to a minor league contract before last season. The 34-year old is no longer an everyday player, but he put together his best season since 2007 after re-signing for just $900,000. He should also be welcomed back if he wants to continue playing.
This may not be the case for the rest of them, as Jones, Garcia, and Lowe will probably move on. The 39-year old Lowe is the lone member of the group on the playoff roster, with both Jones, and Garcia falling out of favor in the second half.
Despite the fact things seem hectic enough for Cashman, things could get even more difficult, as closer Rafael Soriano might opt-out of his current deal. The 32 year old is set to make $14 million in the last year of his three year pact, but after doing a phenomenal job filling in for the injured Rivera, he may look for a multi-year deal elsewhere, especially with the legend set to reclaim his job.
Speaking of Rivera, he too is a free agent, and like his core four buddy Pettitte, he will need to iron out what will likely be his final major league contract. Unlike Pettitte, he will be seeing a pay-cut from the $15 million he made this season after pitching in just nine games.
While some things will change by next April, one thing that will remain familiar is the trio of Derek Jeter, Rivera, and Pettitte gearing up for another season in the Bronx, nineteen years after first hitting the scene in 1995.
However the Yankees are currently on the verge of getting swept into the offseason, and it could be a long winter for Cashman. There are many decisions that lie ahead, and amid the teams recent struggles fans and media alike are starting to call for massive changes next season.
They may not get the overhaul that they want, but the team next season will definitely look slightly different, it’s just a matter of how Cashman constructs it.