The current Yankees situation is quite a bit different than it was at this time last year. The team has a ton of soon-to-be free agents, more uncertainty about the pieces in place, and no standout upper-level prospect to dangle in trade talks. But in a lot of ways, every offseason includes some similar choices, and the Yankees decision makers haven’t changed, so we might be able to draw some expectations from the way the Yankees approached last winter.
Month-by-month, here are the Yankees key moves last winter, along with how each one ties to the decisions facing the Yankees this offseason.
The list starts with a move that was made exactly one year ago…
Last October: CC Sabathia’s contract extension
On October 31, just hours before Sabathia was sure to opt out, the Yankees agreed to extend his contract through 2016 with an option for 2017. The move kept the Yankees best pitcher under team control well into the future.
This offseason: With their best pitcher locked up, Yankees could entertain the idea extending their best hitter. Robinson Cano has a team option for next season — exercising it is the Yankees easiest decision of the winter — but does it make sense to look beyond 2013? Would Cano, and his representation, make such a move worthwhile for the Yankees?
Last November: Minor league contract with Jayson Nix
One of those moves that’s easy to overlook at the time. The Yankees wasted little time in giving Nix an invitation to big league camp — Nix would later say that the Yankees aggressive pursuit was one of the reasons he signed — and the move paid off in a big way when the Yankees lost faith in Eduardo Nunez and gave Nix their big league utility job. Nix could stick around to play the same role next year.
This offseason: In the past it was hard for Nix-type players to see a path from Triple-A to the big leagues with the Yankees, but that perception might have changed with guys like Nix, Chris Stewart, Dewayne Wise and Clay Rapada earning lengthy stints in the Bronx this year. With a thin outfield, aging players on the left side of the infield, and a recent willingness to give unproven relievers a chance, the Yankees roster doesn’t look as inpenetrable as it’s been in past seasons. That could make courting a Nix-type a little easier.
Last December: Freddy Garcia and Andruw Jones re-signed
The Garcia move technically happened in late November, but it didn’t become official until early December. The Jones move came a little before New Years Day. At the time, Garcia seemed like valuable rotation depth and Jones seemed to be a natural right-handed complement to the Yankees left-leaning outfield regulars. Of course, it’s telling that neither player landed on the postseason roster.
This offseason: Re-signing familiar faces could be a big part of the Yankees winter. Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, in particular, could be key to filling a rotation that’s currently full of holes. Mariano Rivera is also expected back, Russell Martin could be the Yankees best option at catcher, and left-handed-hitting veterans Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez could reprise their 2012 roles if the price is right. Of course, the Yankees have to wonder whether Ibanez or Chavez — or someone else, for that matter — is another Jones situation waiting to happen.
Last January: The night that defined the winter
A quiet winter got really, really loud on the night of January 13 when the Yankees agreed to trade for Michael Pineda and sign Hiroki Kuroda. It was a rotation makeover — it was supposed to be, anyway — in a span of a few hours.
This offseason: Given all the players and money coming off the books this offseason, the Yankees have little choice but to make a splash at some point. Hard to imagine a night like last year’s double dip, but the Yankees are in a position to do something. They have at least one opening in the outfield, at designated hitter and in the rotation. As Cashman showed with the Pineda trade, he’s often able to work below the radar to make moves that no one sees coming. Of course, this winter he’ll be looking for a deal that has nothing to do with April shoulder surgery.
Last February: Last-minute deals with Clay Rapada, Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez
Three guys who were with the Yankees all season were not a part of the organization a week before pitchers and catchers officially reported to spring training (Rapada signed the day before camp opened). The lesson was simple: When it comes to the fringes of the roster, the Yankees will take their time.
This offseason: The Yankees are actually well positioned to take their time finding role players this offseason. In Stewart and Francisco Cervelli, they have two options for backup catcher. In Chris Dickerson, they have a ready-made fourth or fifth outfielder. In David Adams, Corban Joseph, Melky Mesa, Zoilo Almonte and Austin Romine they have Triple-A-ready prospects who could be pushed into a big league bench role right away. In Adam Warren, Chase Whitley and Juan Cedeno, they have guys with good Triple-A numbers who could be just-in-case big league options out of camp (kind of like David Phelps was last spring).
Associated Press photos