It should get easier at this point, right?
With Mariano Rivera re-signed, the Yankees have a complete set of relievers. With Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, they have a full rotation. With Ichiro Suzuki and Kevin Youkilis — and their defensive in-house options at catcher — the Yankees have a regular at every position.
All that’s left is to find a designated hitter, fill the bench and find some relatively cheap options to compete for spots on the pitching staff.
That should be the easy stuff. But it might not be so simple.
Here’s what we know: The Yankees have talked to Raul Ibanez about returning to the Bronx. Here’s what he provides: Left-handed power and outfield depth should someone get hurt. Here’s the problem: Ibanez clearly needs a platoon partner and doesn’t do anything to balance the left-leaning outfield options that already exist.
Ibanez isn’t a bad fit if you count on Youkilis and/or Alex Rodriguez to regularly DH against lefties, but that won’t happen until the summer. Until then, Ibanez only solves half of the DH problem. And he solves it while providing only defensive depth that already exists. Another problem: There aren’t many better options out there. Luke Scott brings the same limitations. Delmon Young is a right-handed version. Lance Berkman might be a nice fit if he can still handle the outfield corners.
Most pressing need on the bench is a right-handed outfielder, but the best free agent options — Cody Ross and Scott Hairston — seem to be in the market for multi-year deals. Young might sign for one year, but he brings his own sort of issues. One name we’ve heard floated in trade rumors (Vernon Wells) is hardly an appealing option at this stage of his career. There are plenty of right-handed outfielders in baseball. Finding one that fits, though, might be a challenge.
Second need for the bench is a legitimate utility infielder. Eduardo Nunez is available to play shortstop, and Jayson Nix could be a fallback option, but the Yankees are going to need someone to get at-bats at third base, shortstop and occasionally second base. The infield free agent market dried up quickly. Can Kelly Johnson play short?
The pitching market has developed fairly slowly. Do we have any idea yet where guys like Kyle Lohse or Shaun Marcum might end up? Nope. And without those sort of starters finding a home, it’s hard to know who might slip into one-year-deal territory. In recent years, the Yankees have been pretty good at finding valuable pitchers who have been discarded or dismissed. They struck gold with Bartolo Colon a couple of years ago, and last year they got valuable innings out of Cody Eppley and Clay Rapada. You can bet they’ll find some similar options before spring training, but the market hasn’t given us a clear glimpse of who those options might be.
Associated Press photos