Yesterday, 13 players were given qualifying offers. Three of them were Yankees, and the other 10 now carry the added weight of draft pick compensation should the Yankees sign them this offseason. How many are worth it? That might depend on whether the Yankees are able to bring back some of their own free agents. The fact each of these players has a $14.1-million offer on the table is a pretty good indication that they’re good players. The real question is whether they fit the Yankees needs, and whether they’re worth losing a first-round draft pick.
The Yankees want to get younger, and Beltran won’t help them do that. But the Yankees also want to get better, and Beltran could help them do that. he turns 37 in April, but he also hit .282/.343/.493 the past two years — with an identical OPS+ each season — and his postseason track record is potent. He’s a switch hitter, a solid right fielder, and getting a few DH starts (with Ichiro Suzuki or Vernon Wells in right) might help him stay healthy. Age is easily the biggest knock on him, but it’s a significant one for an older team like the Yankees. I happen to think he’d be a nice fit — it helps that the other aging outfielders become free agents at the end of this season — but it’s also worth noting that Beltran’s not the best right fielder out there.
In this case, alphabetical order is convenient. The only reason Beltran’s not the market’s best right fielder is because Choo is available. He’s not a switch-hitter like Beltran, but he his a lefty, which should play well in Yankee Stadium. He’s not a typical power hitter, but he’s hit at least 20 homers three times, and again, Yankee Stadium might help him hit a few more. Mostly, Choo does a nice job getting on base, and he adds a little bit of speed and a little bit of power to make him a good all-around offensive player. Biggest concerns: Contract size (Choo could get $100 million this winter), lack of typical corner outfield power (the Yankees really do face a staggering need for power hitters), and significant struggles against lefties (hit .215/.347/.265 against them last year). He’s not a perfect player, but you’re not going to find many of those. He does a lot of things well, and if you’re looking for a younger, impact, corner outfielder, this might be the best bet.
Here’s the other right fielder on the market, and this one comes with several questions. He’s 33 years old. He’s played more than 128 games only once. He’s coming off a Biogenesis suspension. He’s not a particularly good defensive player. That said, Cruz has slugged better than .500 in four of the past five years, and just this year he hit .266/.327/.506 with 27 homers in a year when he had to sit out 50 games. The guy can hit, and he can hit for power, and the Yankees could limit his defensive problems by adding him to the regular rotation at designated hitter (and frankly, right field isn’t too hard to play at Yankee Stadium, just turn and watch all the homers go right over your head). For Cruz, the draft pick compensation could have an impact on his free agent value. He’s probably the third-best of these right field options — fourth best if you count Curtis Granderson — but at some point, he could stand out as the best bat out there. He might not be any team’s offseason priority, but that doesn’t mean he won’t become a desirable fallback plan.
A year ago, Drew turned down the Yankees and took less money to play in Boston. The reason? He wanted to stay at shortstop, and the decision resulted in a World Series ring for his finger and a $14.1 million offer on the table. Now the question is, what would the Yankees be able to offer Drew this winter? With Derek Jeter apparently expected to be the team’s starting shortstop again, would Drew take a job as a backup plan — presumably playing second or third if Jeter’s able to play short — or would that be a non-starter? He’s a left-handed hitter, which is nice bonus for a middle infielder, but worth losing a first-round pick for a guy who might become a relatively light-hitting third baseman? Most of Drew’s value comes in his ability to play short, and it’s worth noting that an offensive option like Jhonny Peralta and a defensive option like Brendan Ryan would not require draft pick compensation.
Other than Robinson Cano, Ellsbury is probably the best free agent on the market. He’s legitimately one of the top leadoff hitters in baseball, he plays a good center field, and he runs like crazy on the bases. He’s 30 years old and he hits left handed; he’s basically a better version of Brett Gardner. The question for the Yankees has to be, how much better? There’s no question that it’s a significant gap, but frankly, the Yankees already have a left-handed hitter, speed-oriented center fielder who plays good defense and can get on base at a pretty good clip. Ellsbury had a .781 OPS this year. Gardner had a .759. Again, no question Ellsbury has proven to be more productive and more consistent, but he doesn’t exactly fill a position of need for the Yankees. If the Yankees can swap Gardner for some pitching, then the situation would change considerably. For now, though, Ellsbury would be a better but also much more expensive version of something the Yankees already have.
Turns 30 years old in January, coming off a terrific season in Cleveland, and just three years ago he was considered one of the very best young pitchers in baseball. What’s not to like? In short, what’s not to like are the 2011 and 2012 seasons when Jimenez had 30 losses and a 5.03 ERA. Pitching is always a bit risky, and the risk with Jimenez is right there on the back of his baseball card. That said, his upside is in the numbers as well. How about a 1.82 second-half ERA this season? How about 194 strikeouts, which was only the third-highest total of his career? How about the fact a four-year deal would only take him into his mid-30s? There isn’t a ton of starting pitching on the market this winter, and the Jimenez upside is higher than most. For a Yankees team that badly needs pitching — especially if Hiroki Kuroda doesn’t come back, and Masahiro Tanaka lands elsewhere — this might be a necessary sort of risk.
A left-handed-hitting catcher who’s had at least 20 homers in six straight seasons? Let the Yankees drooling begin. McCann doesn’t turn 30 until February, but already he’s caught nearly 9,000 innings in the big leagues. If Joe Girardi wants veteran experience behind the plate, he should have little problem with McCann. He’s not an elite defensive player, but his bat makes up for it, and he would most certainly fill the Yankees need for some additional power. The downside is directly connected to his upside: McCann is a catcher who’s caught nearly 9,000 innings. That’s a lot of wear and tear, and even for a fairly young guy, there has to be some level of durability concern. Maybe not for this year, but perhaps in the future when first base is still filled by Mark Teixeira, DH might belong to Alex Rodriguez, and the Yankees minor league catching depth might be begging for a big league opportunity. It’s also worth noting that A.J. Pierzynski and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are also out there as offensive catching upgrades. McCann is a special player, and the contract would likely be far more of a concern than the lost draft pick.
Switch hitter whose power numbers actually slipped this year. It’s a bit of a surprise that the Mariners gave him a qualifying offer, but that might not be the thing that keeps the Yankees from showing much interest. The Yankees do have a hole at designated hitter, but they also might need that hole to give veteran hitters a rest now and then. They might not be in a position to hand that job to someone as defensively limited as Morales. The fact he would cost a draft pick is just another reason to stay away.
Unless the Yankees believe Napoli can become a regular catcher again, he seems to fall in the Morales category as a potent bat that might not have a spot in the Yankees lineup. Yes, he could fill the DH opening — and he could be an awfully potent DH at that — but can the Yankees afford to have a regular DH who’s only defensive option is first base? That’s a hard thing to pull off with this roster, and it’s surely not a best-case scenario given durability questions with Jeter and Rodriguez. Napoli’s a really nice hitter, but his defensive limitations — more so than his draft pick compensation — might keep the Yankees from going after him.
When MLB Trade Rumors picked its Top 50 free agents and guessed a destination for each one, Santana ranked sixth — sixth! — and MLBTR projected the Yankees as the team that would sign him. Two things that stand out: Is Santana really that good, and is he really a strong Yankees target? Well, he turns 31 this winter, and despite some down years, he’s had a sub-4.00 ERA in four of the past six seasons. Most recently, he had a 3.24 ERA with the Royals this year, and that low ERA came with a 1.14 WHIP. He’s been pretty good, and while he’s certainly not a can’t-miss ace, those simply can’t be found on the free agent market these days. The Yankees need starting pitching, and beyond Tanaka and Kuroda, the best free agent options seem to be Santana, Jimenez, Matt Garza and A.J. Burnett. Garza requires no draft pick compensation, which might help his case, but the reality is that there’s not a worry-free starting option out there. Santana on a multi-year with a lost draft pick? It might come to that.
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