These are Hal Steinbrenner’s words from yesterday:
“I’ve been resolute that (getting below $189 million in 2014) is our goal. And that is our goal. But I’ve also said, including at spring training a year ago, that in order to achieve that goal, these young players have to step up and get the job done. How many World Series winning teams the last 10 years had a payroll over 189? One. You don’t have to have a $200 million payroll to do that. And I’m a big believer in that. But you’ve got to have a good mix of veterans and young talent. … If the young players, the Phelps of the world, who did step up continue to do that and some of the other guys like Banuelos, Pineda we’ve yet to see. If they get the job done, the math works.”
Counting on young players — especially young players coming back from injuries — is a big if, and it remains to be seen whether the Yankees will change their financial plans if those young players don’t get the job done and the math doesn’t work.
But let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that it is possible; that there are enough young players in place to help the Yankees limit spending without sacrificing wins and losses. Who are those players, what do they need to show this year, and what would the Yankees count on them to do next year?
Here are six names — well, actually 27 names – to consider.
Last year – You know the story. The reason the Yankees were willing to trade Jesus Montero, turned out Pineda had a bum shoulder that cost him the entire season.
This year – Not expected back until June or so, there’s still no real sense of how good he can be in the wake of that injury. Shoulder injuries are brutal and pitchers don’t always recover, but the Yankees will need to at least see him in New York to have any realistic hope of him being what they expected a year ago.
Next year – In a perfect world, Pineda would come back strong this season, make an impact in the second half and set himself up as a potential No. 2 starter in 2014. At the very least the Yankees need Pineda to come back strong enough to be a back-of-the-rotation arm capable of giving them cheap, effecitive innings.
See also: Ivan Nova renewing hopes of being a No. 3/4 starter; David Phelps further establishing himself in the big leagues; Dave Robertson setting himself up as an obvoius heir to the ninth inning.
Last year – Came into the season as one of the most hyped pitching prospects in the game, but an elbow injury sidelined him and eventually required Tommy John surgery.
This year – Out of the picture. Banuelos will be rehabbing all year, which means the Yankees won’t get a good look at him. Next winter is when they should have a better idea of how well he’s recovered.
Next year – This isn’t a shoulder surgery, it’s an elbow surgery, and pitchers come back from Tommy John with some regularity these days. The hope is that Banuelos hasn’t been halted, he’s simply been delayed. Maybe it takes a couple of Triple-A months to get him ready for 2014, but at some point, the Yankees have to hope that Banuelos is able to pitch — and pitch well — in the big leagues next season, setting himself up to be the future rotation mainstay that the team expected this time last year.
See also: Brett Marshall and Adam Warren as back-of-the-rotation options; Dellin Betances as a complete wildcard; Jose Ramirez taking a step toward at 2015 debut.
Last year – In his first full season, Montgomery established himself as the top relief prospect in the Yankees system. He’s been compared to Robertson and pitched his way to Double-A where he had 38 strikeouts in 24 innings.
This year – Even if he opens with a return to Double-A, it’s not out of the question that Montgomery could finish this season in New York. He was drafted out of college and has climbed through the system quickly, looking like a legitimate late-inning option in the not-so-distant future. If he doesn’t stumble in the upper-levels, he should be knocking on the door by September.
Next year — Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, David Aardsma and Boone Logan are each heading toward free agency. That leaves a lot of potential bullpen jobs up for grabs, and Montgomery could legitimately claim one of them. Investing big money in relievers is risky under the best circumstances.
See also: Cesar Cabral with a second chance to stick as a lefty; Chase Whitley looking to continue his rapid ascent; Tommy Kahnle taking his own massive strikeout totals into the upper levels.
Last year – Might have gotten some serious big league playing time, but a back injury cost him almost the entire year and his prospect status took a hit.
This year – No Montero. No Russell Martin. The only thing standing between Romine and the big league job are a handful of career backups. Even if the Yankees decide he needs another month of Triple-A seasoning, Romine has to see this as an opportunity to stake his claim.
Next year — If Romine can prove himself as a capable big league catcher, the Yankees could save considerable money at the position for the next two or three years while hoping Gary Sanchez develops into a star. No position has an in-house solution in place quite like catcher, but Romine’s going to have to earn it and keep it.
See also: Melky Mesa making enough contact to be a toolsy fourth outfielder; Russ Canzler hitting for enough power to be a potent platoon option; Ronnier Mustelier as a legitimate diamond in the rough.
Last year — Defensive shortcomings were finally too much and the Yankees sent him to Triple-A to focus on the shortstop position and regain some consistency.
This year — One of two things has to happen: Either Nunez shows enough defensive flexibility to legitimately settle in as an offensive utility infielder, or he makes enough strides at shortstop to renew faith that he might have upside as a potential everyday player. Anything short of that and his best role might be as trade bait.
Next year — Depends on Jeter. Depends on his health, his production and whether he accepts that player option for 2014. If things go sour — one way or the other — and the Yankees legitimately need a shortstop for 2014, Nunez might very well be their best (and certainly their cheapest) option. If not, it’s the same situation only a year later.
See also: David Adams and/or Corban Joseph emerging as potential infield regulars; Zoilo Almonte as a switch-hitter with pop (or at least the left side of an outfield platoon); Brett Gardner staying healthy enough to takeover in center field beyond this year.
Last year – Finally healthy, Heathcott reemerged as one of the Yankees elite prospects, then went to the Arizona Fall League and further solidified that status.
This year — Damon Oppenheimer has suggested Heathcott could play his way to New York this season, but that seems overly optimistic. What the Yankees need is for Heathcott to stay healthy, continue to progress in Double-A and put himself in position for a mid-2014 major league debut (with a chance to impress and surprise as early as next spring training).
Next year — Of the Yankees top four prospects — the ones who clearly stand out from the pack — Heathcott is probably the closest to the big leagues and has the best chance of playing a big league role in 2014. If it’s not out of spring training, it certainly could be sometime during the season and well into the future.
See also: Tyler Austin eyeing 2014 and proving last year wasn’t a fluke; Mason Williams and Gary Sanchez taking success into the upper levels; Jose Campos staying healthy and living up to potential
Associated Press photo of Mustelier