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Decisions and alternatives will define the Yankees winter

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The best move is the one you don’t make. We’ve all heard that theory, and we’ve often heard it as wishful thinking with the benefit of hindsight. It’s easy to look back at the 2007 Alex Rodriguez signing, or the 2008 A.J. Burnett signing, or last year’s Jesus Montero trade and say that the Yankees would have been better off had they not made those moves. It’s harder to definitively say those things about a decision that hasn’t played itself out just yet.

This morning, Barry used the “one you don’t make” theory to evaluate five non-moves from this winter. In his opinion, the Yankees were much better off not signing those free agents, and in each case, he’s absolutely right. Maybe. Or maybe no.

Not committing to one option means committing to another. The success or failure of the non-moves Barry selected — plus one more of my own choosing — will depend on the success or failure of the alternatives.

The decision: Hamilton is absolutely elite, but only when he’s on the field. Five years, $125 million for a guy with health issues might be another Alex Rodriguez situation waiting to happen. Signing him would have been risky even without the upcoming financial restrictions. 
The alternative: I suppose it’s a three-headed alternative because signing Hamilton almost certainly would have required a series of dominoes to fall. Without Hamilton, the Yankees signed Ichiro Suzuki, kept Curtis Granderson and gave themselves at least an outside chance of re-signing Robinson Cano next winter.
The judgment: If Hamilton breaks down in the middle of his current contract, everything else will be moot. An injured Hamilton will make it obvious that the Yankees did the right thing in staying away. If Hamilton stays healthy and productive, then the decision to let him go will hinge entirely on how well the Yankees are able to build a roster within their financial limits. They’re still going to spend a lot of money, and if not on Hamilton, then who?

The decision: At two years, $17 million, Martin priced himself out of the Yankees plans. Pierzynski never got much attention from the Yankees, who seemed uncertain about his defense and unwilling to commit much money at the catching position.
The alternative: Primarily it’s one of the defensive options — Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, maybe Austin Romine — who’s going to fill the position, but it’s also worth noting that the Yankees have a budget every year, not only in 2014. Rather than spending money behind the plate, the Yankees put money into re-signing two starting pitchers, re-signing a right fielder and finding a one-year replacement for Alex Rodriguez.
The judgment: I would contend that, if Romine takes control of the position and plays reasonably well — not necessarily great, but at least capable — then it was the right decision to stay away from the veterans. At some point, the Yankees have to start trusting younger players, and this would be a good opportunity to do so. But if the Yankees get nothing out of the catching position this year, and Romine isn’t up to the job for the next two years or so, then it will be hard to defend. 

The decision: First Soriano opted out, then he turned down a qualifying offer. When that was done, the Yankees were ready to move on.
The alternative: The Yankees believed all along that Mariano Rivera was going to come back. They also knew that Dave Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and David Aardsma were already under contract. Soriano was outstanding last season, but this was about putting payroll toward positions of legitimate need.
The judgment: For the most part, people seem to be on board with the decision to let Soriano walk. In some way, the Yankees offered him a contract twice before he decided to move on. The default here seems to be that letting Soriano go was the right call, but that opinion could change quickly if Rivera struggles or gets hurt again, or if the bridge to Rivera falls apart. 

The decision: Swisher takes walks and hits for power, which means — despite his well documented postseason struggles — he fits the Yankees mold. Letting him walk away was all about payroll priorities and choosing to spend money elsewhere.
The alternative: We don’t exactly have the full picture just yet. We know Ichiro is going to get the bulk of the right field playing time, but the Yankees are still shopping for a right-handed hitter to help out in the corners and play regularly against left-handers. And, of course, letting Swisher walk away has saved some payroll for 2014 and beyond. We also don’t know yet how that money will be spent.
The judgment: Kind of a smaller version of Hamilton. As we’ve already seen this offseason, replacing Swisher’s production — steady switch-hitter who’s been productive — isn’t easy to do. Swisher might be a notch below elite, but he’s still awfully good. He he thrives in Cleveland and the Yankees have trouble putting together a winning roster, then the decision to let Swisher go — and the financial reasons for doing so — will be seen as a massive mistake.

The decision: I’m including Haren — and, by extension, any other risk/reward starting pitcher who might have added some rotation depth — because starting pitching was the Yankees clear priority this winter, and the Yankees chose to invest in a 38 year old and a 40 year old. The decision to not sign Haren or Scott Baker or Joe Blanton or Brandon McCarthy (not to mention guys like Zach Greinke, Anibal Sanchez and Edwin Jackson) was as significant as any other non-move this winter.
The alternative: The Yankees stuck with what they knew and left their options open for the future. By re-signing Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, the Yankees are banking on a pair of veterans being able to stay healthy and productive well past their prime. There’s still a chance the Yankees could find someone else to compete for the back of the rotation, but for now the Yankees seem content to go with the same guys they leaned on last year and hope other alternatives emerge for 2014 and beyond.
The judgment: The Yankees chose to make one-year deals, and for the most part, this decision will be judged strictly on the performance of Kuroda and Pettitte. But it’s worth considering whether it might have made sense to commit to someone beyond the 2013 season. As it is, Kuroda, Pettitte and Phil Hughes are each heading for free agency after this season, leaving the Yankees with significant long-term questions in their rotation.

Associated Press photos