The free agent market opened to everyone today. The Yankees re-signed no one during their exclusive negotiating window, but that’s not unusual. There are always very few deals worked out in that early time frame, and the Red Sox two-year agreement with David Ortiz stands out as an exception, not the norm.
Now the Yankees are left to shuffle through a market that seems thin. Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton are the standouts, but both come with obvious concerns about health and ability to perform in New York. For the Yankees most glaring needs, this market offers solutions, but it offers nothing in the way of absolute perfection.
Greinke is the clear standout of the bunch, but if the Yankees aren’t sold on his ability to handle the pressure of the Bronx, then the options get thin quickly. Keith Law’s ranking of the winter’s top 50 free agents lists Hiroki Kuroda as the second-best starting pitcher available. The other starters in his top 10 overall:
Kyle Lohse — More reliable than dominant through most of his career, but coming off two very good seasons. At 34 years old, can he really maintain that performance?
Dan Haren — There’s a reason the Angels declined his option for next season. A bad back and a down year have created real concerns about whether the 32-year-old is still a No. 2 starter.
Edwin Jackson — Always tantalizing, occasionally terrific, consistently falling short of hopes and expectations.
Anibal Sanchez — Turns 29 before Opening Day, and he’s been a pretty good starter for the past three years. Seems to have moved beyond past shoulder problems.
You could dig beyond that group to find guys like Ryan Dempster, Brandon McCarthy and Jeremy Guthrie. All are legitimate mid-rotation options, some with potential to be No. 2-types, but there are risks associated with every one. In some cases, the risk would multiply substantially with a multi-year deal. What makes those options particularly uncertain for the Yankees is that there’s little guarantee any of them would be better than Kuroda or Andy Pettitte, each of whom could be locked up on one-year deals to eliminate long-term risk. It’s not a bad group, but there are more A.J. Burnetts than CC Sabathias.
With Nick Swisher hitting the open market and unlikely to return, the Yankees need a right fielder. Chris Dickerson seemed to take some steps forward this year, but it’s hard to imagine the Yankees handing him an everyday job next season. And the market does have some legitimate outfield options, but here are two of the best available, each of whom looks awfully familiar.
B.J. Upton — He hit .246/.298/.454 this season, which suggests he’s little more than a younger version of Curtis Granderson, who hit .232/.319/.492. Across the board, Granderson has a better career average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage than Upton. There’s significant value in a center fielder with that kind of power, but the Yankees have to recognize that they already have this kind of player.
Michael Bourn — This was Bourn’s slash line this season: .274/.348/.391. This is Brett Gardner’s career slash line: .266/.355/.368. Bourn’s numbers are a little bit better, and he’s more proven, but for a pair of left-handed, 29-year-old center fielders, there’s not a ton of difference. Maybe Gardner’s injuries and relative inexperience raise red flags, but like with Upton, there has to be some acknowledgment that it’s a player very similar to what the Yankees already have.
Obvoiusly the market doesn’t stop with those two. Hamilton is a superstar with massive injury concerns. Melky Cabrera is a complete wild card coming off an All-Star season and a steroid suspension. Torii Hunter is still productive, but also into his late 30s. Ichiro Suzuki was trending quickly the wrong direction before two good months in pinstripes. The Yankees can most certainly fill their right field hole on the free agent market, but if you’re looking for a worry-free, superstar fit, this might not be the place.
Through much of the season, there weren’t many Yankees less popular with the fanbase than Russell Martin. His batting average was shockingly low, and even as he drew some walks and hit some home runs, Martin became a symbol of things gone wrong. The Yankees loved his defense and ability to work with pitchers, but those offensive numbers were hard to overlook.
Two things have changed recently: Martin performed much better down the stretch, and the free agent market came into clear focus. With Austin Romine coming off a limited season, the Yankees in-house options are between a prospect with a bad back and a pair of career backups. The free agent market offers Martin and these two…
Mike Napoli — A powerful bat who might be little more than a first baseman pretending to be a catcher.
A.J. Pierzynski — A proven catcher coming off a career year offensively. He’s also about to turn 36, prompting questions about his ability to keep catching long-term and his ability to repeat this year’s show of power at the plate.
The market’s most reliable all-around catcher just might be Martin. Obviously he comes with some concerns, but that’s true of everyone on this market.
There’s always a hunt for perfection around here, but teams are locking up their elite players, and free agents hit the open market for a reason. Even when a perfect all-around player does become available, there are no guarantees that such production will continue indefinitely (see Teixiera, Mark).
This free agent market is thin, but it offers enough pieces that the Yankees can fill their needs without trading away elite prospects. You just have to know going in that there won’t be a major signing that comes with no concerns about productivity.
Associated Press photos