Here’s the idea of this list: Taking into consideration short-term production, long-term impact and likely contract demands, which of the Yankees soon-to-be free agents would the team most want to re-sign this winter?
This is not a ranking of the best players or the most affordable players, just the players the Yankees most want to have back. If they could re-sign just one of their free agents, who would it be? If they could sign two? What if they had to – for some reason –re-sign eight of them, which would you choose?
Here’s my list.
1. Robinson Cano
This one is obvious. I suppose you could argue that he’s going to cost too much, but he’s been the Yankees best player the past four years, and now he’ll be the best player on the free agent market. Cano’s representatives reportedly opened early negotiations asking for 10 years and more than $300 million, and while that total seems outrageously high, Cano will certainly have suitors. Just a question of how much he can get, and whether the Yankees are willing to stay in the bidding while trying to trim payroll.
2. Hiroki Kuroda
Even with a rough month of September, he’s been the Yankees most consistent starter the past two years. He also turns 39 in February and had a 6.56 ERA in his last eight starts. Kuroda has said he’s not sure what he wants to do next season. There’s not guarantee he’ll want to stay in the Major Leagues, much less in New York. He’s been very good for the Yankees, though, and another one-year deal could go a long way toward patching up the short-handed rotation. Keeping him on an Andy Pettitte-style pitch limit might help him maintain his effectiveness late in the year.
3. Curtis Granderson
After a season mostly lost to injury, Granderson’s free agent stock might have taken a hit. He didn’t have a chance to deliver a third straight* 40-homer season, and there seems to be at least a chance that he would take a one-year deal in hopes of reestablishing himself and getting a larger multi-year deal next winter. Even if he doesn’t, it’s worth noting that the Yankees offense needs to add some of the home runs it lost this season, and Granderson would surely do that. He’s well suited to Yankee Stadium. At the very least, the Yankees will likely make him a qualifying offer of roughly $14 million.
4. Brendan Ryan
The only concerns about the top three on this list would be contract demands. The concern with Ryan at No. 4 would be production. When Derek Jeter landed on the disabled list for the fourth time this season, the Yankees traded for Ryan to provide a steady glove at shortstop. He did exactly that. Ryan’s not much of a hitter, but he’s a great defender if the Yankees are in the market for largely one-dimensional insurance should Jeter be unable to play the position again next year. Hard to imagine Ryan would break the bank, but he could provide some stability at a position that’s become very uncertain.
5. Boone Logan
The Yankees top left-handed reliever the past four years, Logan turned out to be the most valuable piece brought over in the 2009 trade for Javier Vazquez. The late discovery of a bone spur in his left elbow forced offseason surgery and could hurt Logan’s value on the market. Given the Yankees significant turnover in the bullpen, it wouldn’t hurt to have Logan back as an experienced lefty.
6. Mark Reynolds
Signed late in the year to provide some right-handed power, Reynolds saw time at both infield corners, even a little second base. He hit some home runs and played better-than-expected defense, but that was only after he played so poorly through most of the season that he was released by Cleveland. The raw power is a huge plus, and the Yankees uncertainty at third base means there could be a regular role for Reynolds next season. He could certainly be seen as a bit of buy-low security at third base, but he would come with the real chance of being a bust.
7. Lyle Overbay
Here’s the problem with breaking back Overbay: Where’s he going to play. Signed at the end of spring training as a late replacement for injured Mark Teixeira, Overbay largely exceeded expectation by becoming a valued source of offense against right-handed pitching. But with Teixeira expected back next season, Overbay no longer has a clear role. The only reason to bring him back would be as first base insurance and as a regular designated hitter against right-handers. There could be value there, though he would have to try right field again in order to bring much defensive flexibility. He’s a bad fit, but so are the remaining guys on this list.
8. Phil Hughes
Now we’ve clearly entered the territory of players who the Yankees probably don’t want back under any reasonable circumstance (actually, we probably entered that territory at No. 7). Once considered the team’s top prospect, Hughes up-and-down Yankees career ended on a sour note with a rough year that got him knocked out of the rotation. As a fly ball pitcher, he’s never been well-suited for Yankee Stadium and seems likely to end up elsewhere. But given the other choices on this list, Hughes would at least give the Yankees another rotation possibility or maybe a late-inning reliever. There’s still potential, but most likely, it’s time for someone else to take the risk.
9. Kevin Youkilis
Hard to imagine the Yankees going this route again, but if Rodriguez is suspended and other third base options slip away, I suppose there might be something to be said for trying to buy low on Youkilis and giving him another shot (at a much, much cheaper contract). Brought to New York as a short-term third-base replacement this season, Youkilis wound up injured himself. He needed back surgery after playing just 28 games. Hard to know whether he’d be healthy, much less productive next season.
10. Joba Chamberlain
He’s not last on the list only because he still brings a little bit of what-if factor. After his meteoric ascent in 2007, Chamberlain was touted as either a future ace or a future closer. Instead, he’s been neither, and this season he became little more than a mopup reliever at times. Change of scenery seems inevitable. It’s hard to imagine either side being particularly interested in a reunion, but if Chamberlain did come back, there would still be plenty of talk about how good he might be if things started to click like they did years ago.
11. Travis Hafner
The Yankees never played him in the field, and used him almost exclusively in a platoon role against right-handed pitchers, yet Hafner still wound up on the disabled list, missing most of the second half. As you can tell by his position on this list, it’s very hard to imagine a return for Hafner. The DH spot needs some flexibility, and Overbay would seem to be a better solution if the Yankees wanted a left-handed platoon option. Hafner looked good for a month – and he seemed to be well-liked – but he’s too limited and unreliable for a team that’s already bogged down by limitations and uncertainty.
* In the Granderson paragraph, I initially wrote fourth straight 40-homer season. I meant third straight. Goofed that one. My apologies. If Granderson had reached 40 homers this year, he would have been going for this fourth straight next season. Obviously, the injuries took away any chance to do that. My bad.
Associated Press photos