Hard to know whether we should believe him, but during last week’s conference call to discuss the Masahiro Tanaka signing, Brian Cashman downplayed the possibility of the Yankees making another impact signing this offseason.
“I’m not going to say we’re not going to try to improve ourselves,” he said. “We’ll just realistically do it in a much cheaper way going forward.”
There will still be plenty of if-the-price-is-right speculation out there — Stephen Drew, additional options at third base, any and all pitchers — but it’s clear the Yankees have done the bulk of their offseason work. With Tanaka under contract, and Alex Rodriguez suspended for the season, we have a fairly complete picture of the group that will report to Tampa for spring training in a few weeks. There may be a few tweaks here and there, and maybe another addition or two, but this is basically what the Yankees have at the moment. This is the 25-man roster — or some version of it — as it is today.
Plenty of time to debate the exact order. Frankly, there are any number of ways to line them up, but this seems to the group of regulars the Yankees are planning to use. There may be some platooning — there almost certainly will be at third base — but this is basically the starting nine as it appears today. And it might still look exactly like this.
Lingering questions: The most pressing question is how well will Jeter and Teixeira bounce back from seasons lost to injury? Can Jeter still play shortstop? Can Teixeira still hit home runs? Also, there’s reason to wonder how often Roberts can be in the lineup, and how well Johnson can play a position he’s rarely played in the past.
Work to do in spring training: Getting Jeter physically prepared, getting Soriano used to right field, and giving Johnson plenty of grounders at third base. Oh, and Joe Girardi needs to figure out in what order these guys are actually going to hit.
Worth the investment? Infield is still the lineup’s greatest weakness, and Stephen Drew is still available. No real indication that the Yankees are in the mix for him, but he does seem to be their best chance to make a serious lineup upgrade.
Wild card: Is there any chance a trade offer presents itself that takes Gardner out of this mix? Seems like that might be the most significant transaction that could happen between now and spring training to alter the look of the regular lineup.
It really seems that Ryan is the only player locked into a bench spot. For now we have to assume that Ichiro is also a heavy, heavy favorite to break camp with the big league team, but it’s worth at least acknowledging the possibility that the Yankees might trade Ichiro in search of either a bullpen arm or a C-level prospect. The other two spots on the bench seem to be legitimate competitions, and they might include more candidates than the ones listed here.
Lingering questions: The biggest question is who’s going to fill the right-handed half of the third-base platoon. Girardi has left no doubt that Nunez is a serious candidate, and the Yankees have already signed Sizemore to a minor league deal with a chance to compete. Ronnier Mustelier, Russ Canzler and Yangervis Solarte are also part of this conversation (and maybe Dean Anna as well, though he’s left-handed). The Yankees also have to choose between Cervelli and Romine — and maybe J.R. Murphy — for the backup catcher job.
Work to do in spring training: The Yankees might have to mix-and-match a lot in the infield, so Ryan and whoever’s going to split time at third base will need to spend at least a little bit of time at other positions. Might also be worth giving Kelly Johnson some time in the outfield. And one easily overlooked need: The Yankees have to find someone who can back up at first base from time to time.
Worth the investment? The Yankees will remain on the lookout for infielders, especially guys who might be able to help at third base. One name that still stands out is right-handed hitter Jeff Baker, whose played all four corners, plus second base, and has a history of crushing lefties.
Wild card: The possibility of trading Ichiro is one wild card, but the greater wild card might be Jeter’s ability to play shortstop. If he can’t do it, Ryan will become an everyday player, Jeter will (in theory) move to some other position, and the makeup of the bench could change considerably.
Kind of like the lineup, we can debate which pitcher deserves which label within the rotation, but I still tend to think Sabathia will be given the Opening Day nod because of his history and because the Yankees won’t want to increase the already immense pressure on Tanaka. Might even drop him into the No. 4 spot behind Nova. There’s a ton of potential with a lot of uncertainty in this rotation, but it’s much deeper than it was 48 hours ago.
Lingering questions: Can Sabathia transition and bounce back? How many innings should Kuroda pitch? Will Nova find some consistency? What exactly is Tanaka going to do against Major League hitters? And, of course, there’s this lingering question…
Work to do in spring training: Who’s the fifth starter? The best-case scenario is probably Pineda, because winning the job would seem to be an indication that his shoulder is healthy and his arm is strong. If it’s not him, though, the Yankees have a handful of options beyond Phelps. Adam Warren is still in the mix, as is Vidal Nuno. It’s also worth keeping Manny Banuelos in the back of your mind.
Worth the investment? There are still a bunch of solid pitchers out there, some of whom have quite a bit of upside, especially in the short term. There’s a good chance Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana could be terrific in 2014, but are they worth a significant amount of money and years? Is it worth adding a guy like Paul Maholm (or perhaps more likely, Johan Santana) to the fifth starter mix?
Wild card: In a rotation full of wild cards, it’s hard to pick just one. Tanaka is obviously the one that stands out, but Pineda also has some high-end potential, and Banuelos could be in this conversation by mid-summer.
For this list, I’m reasonably confident the top three guys will break camp in the big league bullpen. Rest of the list? I’m honestly not sure. Frankly, I doubt we have a complete list of bullpen candidates just yet. The list of guys who might make the team is exceptionally long — didn’t even mention the group of experienced guys like David Herndon who are coming to camp on minor league deals — but the list of guys locked into jobs is incredibly short.
Lingering questions: Grant Balfour is off the market, but would the Yankees spend money on a guy like Fernando Rodney to bring some additional experience and depth to the late innings? That’s got to be the biggest bullpen question facing these next three weeks or so. It’s fair to wonder whether the Yankees will carry a second lefty, and which young starters might make good relievers, but for the next three weeks the bigger question is whether the Yankees are going to add another impact arm to the mix.
Work to do in spring training: It’s basically impossible to get Robertson adjusted to the ninth inning during spring training. Pitching the ninth in the middle of March is nothing like pitching the ninth in the middle of August, so that’s not really on the to-do list. The work to do in spring training is all about sorting through the candidates to find the pieces that work (and the pieces that fit). It’s not particularly unusual for spring training, just has a lot more options than usual.
Worth the investment? Obviously this question centers on a guy like Rodney, but what about Ryan Madson? Or Andrew Bailey? Or Joel Hanrahan? There are some pretty good relievers out there who might be — or might not be — still pretty good after serious injuries.
Wild card: It’s a bullpen. They’re all wild cards. In this situation, though, the wild card might be a series of minor league starters who might play up as short-inning relievers. Jose Ramirez has always stood out ever since his strong showing in big league camp last spring, but what about a guy like Phelps or Warren? Could one of them become a little more potent in a one-inning situation?
Associated Press photos