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Cutting corners: Looking for places to save

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Getting below the luxury tax threshold is a goal for 2014, but it’s a goal that has to be in mind as the Yankees face this offseason. Where are they best positioned to save money going forward, and where are they going to have to spend?

Ivan Nova is a year away from salary arbitration. Phil Hughes is due one more arbitration raise, then the Yankees are going to have to decide whether to commit to him long term. CC Sabathia is already signed at big money.

For the time being, the Yankees can limit their long-term spending by giving short-term deals to Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, but that doesn’t change the fact they’re going to have to spend on starting pitchers going forward. David Phelps could help lighten the load, and there’s still a chance the Yankees could get a cheap year or two out of Michael Pineda, but it’s hard to count on Dellin Betances or Manny Banuelos at this point, and guys like Nik Turley, Brett Marshall and Jose Ramirez have yet to be tested in Triple-A.

Unless the Yankees pull off a trade for a young, cheap starter — and teams certainly aren’t looking to trade those guys — the Yankees are going to have little choice but to put significant money into their rotation.

There would be some comfort in bringing back Rafael Soriano, but the Yankees system does seem ready to fill some gaps in the bullpen. Dave Robertson still has two more years of arbitration eligibility. Joba Chamberlain’s injuries have limited his arbitration raises. There’s a chance that Cesar Cabral or Juan Cedeno will offer some cheap left-handed help. Mark Montgomery and Chase Whitley are moving quickly through the minor leagues and could be ready to contribute as early as next year.

It’s clear that Mariano Rivera will be back, but that’s a 2013 commitment that’s not going to be a drain on the 2014 payroll. And the Yankees will get a cheap look at David Aardsma next season before deciding whether he’s worth bringing back in 2014 and beyond. The Yankees have quality bullpen pieces in place, so they can take a conservative approach to relief spending this winter.

Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are under contract through 2016 and 2017 respectively, and both are unlikely to be traded without the Yankees picking up the bulk of the spending. Derek Jeter has a relatively cheap player option for 2014, but filling his role into the future is likely going to require some sort of significant pickup (even Eduardo Nunez will likely be into his arbitration years by 2015). Robinson Cano’s contract expires after this season, and keeping him — or somehow replacing him — will require big money.

Even if the Yankees fully believe in the ability of either David Adams or Corban Joseph to become an everyday big leaguer, it’s hard to envision a truly cheap infield in the Yankees future. A middle infield of Nunez and Adams/Joseph would cut costs considerably — and Angelo Gumbs could be in the mix in a few years — but are the Yankees really going to immediately transition from Jeter and Cano to a pair of young guys?

If the Yankees want to keep Curtis Granderson beyond this season, they’re going to have to spend serious money to sign a 40-homer center fielder to a multi-year contract. But the Yankees might not have to spend big to keep Granderson in their outfield.

Brett Gardner is already in place — and a little bit cheaper than expected because his injury-shortened season cost him some earning power in an arbitration year — and Gardner gives the Yankees flexibility as a guy who can be a plus defender in center or left. Two of the Yankees elite prospects are center fielders, and arguably their best minor league bat is right fielder Tyler Austin (who got to Double-A this season and could legitimately be big league ready sometime in 2014).

As the Yankees found with Andruw Jones in 2011 and Raul Ibanez in 2012, it’s possible to get fairly cheap, short-term production in the outfield corners. The Yankees could commit to similar role players for this year, or give guys like Chris Dickerson, Ronnier Mustelier and Zoilo Almonte a legitimate chance to play off the bench. Add a guy like Ichiro Suzuki or Torii Hunter on a fairly affordable two-year deal, and the Yankees could fill their current outfield while keeping themselves in position to slide some cheap, young talent into position relatively soon.

The Yankees could go cheap behind the plate, but that doesn’t mean they will or even should. With Russell Martin coming off such a bad batting average, his earning potential — even in a thin market — might be somewhat limited (compared to what it might have been otherwise). The Yankees could take advantage and bring Martin back on a relatively affordable deal. It’s still going to take multiple years and a sizeable contract, but a Martin deal isn’t going to break the bank.

Or, if the Yankees really wanted to use their money elsewhere, they could roll the dice with Austin Romine. It would be a remarkably bold strategy for a franchise like this — especially given Romine’s back problems — but it could be moderately feasible with so many solid defensive catchers already in place to back him up and provide one-dimensional insurance. Say the Yankees do give Martin a three-year deal, that would basically wipe out the window for Romine to be their everyday guy before the anticipated (if all goes well) arrival of Gary Sanchez. I don’t think the Yankees will or should go that route, but if they really wanted to spend that money elsewhere, it’s theoretically possible.

Associated Press photos