1. What does this mean for $189 million?
Goal not a mandate. That’s what we’ve heard over and over again, and that certainly seems to be the way it’s playing out. The Yankees are being aggressive. With Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann, they’ve signed the two most expensive free agent deals of the offseason. They also still need a second baseman (though Kelly Johnson helps there), probably a third baseman, and they’re well aware that they still need significant help in the rotation. It’s unavoidable that they’re going to spend more, and it may be that their only hope of staying below the luxury tax threshold is having Alex Rodriguez suspended for the whole season.
2. What does this mean for Brett Gardner?
The Yankees are certainly making it seem as if they’re planning to keep Gardner and play him in left field. And with Gardner likely to make roughly $4 million in his final arbitration-eligible season, the Yankees certainly don’t have to trade him. He’s kind of a poor-man’s Ellsbury, and there’s almost certainly $4-million worth of value in what he does defensively and offensively (not to mention the fact he gives the Yankees a legitimate backup in center field, something they were lacking). But even so, Gardner could still become expendable in the right deal, and teams in search of center field help could come calling. Gardner doesn’t have to go, but it’s much easier to trade him today than it was yesterday.
3. What does this mean for Robinson Cano?
Hard to think the Yankees are bluffing at this point. They’ve made an offer to Cano, and they’re beginning to put themselves in a position of strength by proving they’re willing to spend elsewhere. Cano is the best player on the free agent market, the Yankees know he can play in New York, and they know he plays a position they can’t easily fill from within. He’s a terrific fit, but spending has limits, and the Yankees can’t afford to wait around. If Cano wants to come back, he certainly can, but holding out for more than $200 million might mean holding out for a team other than the Yankees.
4. What does this mean for Carlos Beltran?
Hard to believe it means anything good for him, unless what it means is that the Royals really have offered a big three-year deal, and it was that deal that forced the Yankees to move on to the long-term risk of the Ellsbury signing. If the Yankees are going to keep Gardner in left field, and if they’re going to rotate the DH spot among several players, that means Alfonso Soriano has to play a lot of right field by default. And that doesn’t leave much of a spot for Beltran or Shin-Soo Choo or Curtis Granderson. Then again … If the Yankees decide they aren’t going to sign Cano, they could sign Beltran — or some other outfielder — to help make up for the lost offense, and then shop Gardner in search of either a starting pitcher or an infielder. Seems like a possibility, but the way the team is constructed right now, right field isn’t a position of significant need.
5. What does this mean for Ichiro Suzuki?
It’s been pretty clear for a while that the Yankees were looking for an outfield upgrade. Instead of signing one to play right field — as was expected — they signed one to play center. As long as there’s no permanent designated hitter in place, the Yankees could still use Ichiro to serve as a fourth outfielder, maybe even getting regular starts in right field against right handers, leaving Soriano to DH on those days. Ichiro has much more experience in right than Soriano does, and Ichiro brings a speed element to the bench.
6. What does this mean for Vernon Wells?
The Yankees are basically getting Wells for free this season, so they could dump him pretty easily if he doesn’t produce (or if they simply need the 40-man spot). One thing Wells does have going for him is that he bats right handed, and right now the Yankees are putting together a left-leaning lineup. Even Zoilo Almonte, who is a switch hitter, is much better from the left side. Maybe Wells could scratch out a role as a platoon player against lefties. That seems to be his best shot at sticking around at this point.
7. What does this mean for Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams?
These are two of the Yankees top position prospects, and they’re both leadoff-type center fielders who bat left handed. Of course, the Yankees just signed a seven-year deal with a leadoff-type center fielder who bats left handed. If either Heathcott or Williams looked like a sure thing at this point, the Ellsbury deal might not have happened (or at least, it might have become a little less likely). But prospects are suspects, and that’s certainly true with these two. Heathcott and Williams might now have to hit enough to prove they’re worth a spot in one of the corners. Unless something goes wrong, the center field job won’t be available for a while.
8. What does this mean for the rotation?
Have to assume it means basically nothing. Surely the Yankees aren’t blowing their entire budget this early in the process, only to cry poor when it comes time to actually find some starting pitchers to provide those 400 innings Brian Cashman has talked about. One potential rotation impact might come from Gardner. Even if the Yankees haven’t said outloud that they want to trade Gardner, the Ellsbury signing should at least open the possibility of using Gardner to trade for a starting pitcher.
9. What does this mean for Jacoby Ellsbury?
It better mean that he’s buying the drinks and the dinner next time he’s out with his buddies. It also means the Yankees have put their faith — and their future — into the idea that he can stay healthy and be one of the game’s elite leadoff hitters for several years to come. Every long-term deal is a risk, and that’s especially true for a guy who’s main tool is his speed and who’s already spent some time on the disabled list. The Yankees, though, are in it now. They’re committed to Ellsbury, and it’s up to him to perform. Could certainly go down as a horrible contract, but that’s true of every major free agent signing.
10. What does this mean for Hal Steinbrenner?
Two months ago he was being called cheap. Now there are plenty who think he’s overpaid. I suppose it’s possible to be both — spending freely and spending wisely are different things — but early offseason deals with McCann and Ellsbury really do feel like moves The Boss might have made. It’s hard to say Steinbrenner is digging through the bargain bin this winter. He’s giving out big contracts. Now he needs them to actually work out.
Associated Press photos