By Brad Carroll
After missing the postseason for the second straight year, and not even coming close either time, this winter should represent an offseason of change for the New York Yankees. The Bronx Bombers, in name only, have a ton of holes across the roster and could use an influx of new players to return the team back to its glory years ... or at least the ones where they made the playoffs every year.
But that won't be the case for the Yankees as we head into free agency.
The Yankees are stuck with a first baseman who is making $22.5 million to stink up the place. The Yankees are stuck with a third baseman returning from a season-long suspension who no longer has the bat to make up for all of his drama off the field. The Yankees are stuck with an outfield that has an overpriced center fielder and an old, terrible right fielder. They have a former ace pitcher who can't stay healthy or win games anymore.
These are troubling times for the Yankees and their fans.
Wave a magic wand and the Yankees would dump Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, CC Sabathia and even Jacoby Ellsbury. But there is no magic wand, or a team willing to add any of those players with talent that doesn't match their bloated contracts.
Free agency still should be interesting for the Yankees, as they always are in the mix for a big-name player or four. The Yankees need a shortstop to replace Derek Jeter; a third baseman to at least spell Rodriguez and possibly play regularly; and a starting pitcher to either be a No. 2 or for depth, depending on who is targeted.
The Yankees free agent targets in our Shopping List aren't as many in number as in the past, but it's an interesting group that could change the recent playoff-drought for the franchise. Here is our position-by-position breakdown of the team and where the Yankees need to add new talent.
The Yankees are stuck with Sabathia, but unlike year's past, he won't be expected to be the team's ace. That distinction now belongs to Japanese superstar Masahiro Tanaka. Take away his injury this past season and Tanaka likely wins or finishes in the top three of the Cy Young voting. The No. 2 spot is where things get interesting for New York.
Michael Pineda had a tremendous season last year and could easily plug into that hole and the Yankees would be set. But the thought is the Yankees are going to spend big on one of the three big free agent pitchers - Max Scherzer, Jon Lester or James Shields. Either one of those starters would automatically make the Yankees a better team, there is no doubt about that. But the Yankees don't need to spend money just to spend it.
The Yankees could go into next season with a rotation consisting of Tanaka, Pineda, Sabathia, Shane Greene and either Hirkoki Kuroda (who might retire), Ivan Nova (who will miss the first month of the season while still working back from injury), Brandon McCarthy (who is a second-tier free agent who was impressive with the Yankees at the end of last season) or one of the young starters from the farm system and still be just fine.
Is Scherzer, Lester and Shields better than everybody on that list except Tanaka? Yes. But this is one time the Yankees don't have to make a big splash in free agency and overpay for a star pitcher.
We all know, however, the Yankees are going to be in the mix for one of those three and with that, they must target Scherzer alone. Scherzer is just 30 years old, so if the Yankees can get him in for a reasonable contract in years, not dollars, they should do it. Anything more than six years has the potential for disaster later on. Most likely, Scherzer is going to get an eight-year deal, which would have him pitching until he's 38.
Scherzer went 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA and averaged more than 10 strikeouts a game last year. The Yankees would love to add that to their rotation. With Tanaka and Scherzer at the top, followed by Pineda, Sabathia and a number of other options for the fifth spot, the Yankees will have one of the best rotations in baseball. If Sabathia returns to his old self, than watch out.
Lester is likely to sign with the Chicago Cubs and Shields could be headed to the Boston Red Sox. Shields has been linked to the Yankees as well, but he will be 33 years old in late December and should be too old to waste time and money on. The Yankees already have enough old players who can't do anything on the roster.
The Yankees should target Scherzer, but if he goes elsewhere, it shouldn't be a depressing time for fans. The Yankees have a shot to win with what they have right now. Scherzer could put them over the edge, however.
The Yankees should let David Robertson go and collect the first round draft pick if he doesn't accept the one-year qualifying offer. Dellin Betances has followed Mariano Rivera's career track so far, so why not continue it by giving him the closer's job? It's almost too simple not to do. Without Robertson, the Yankees will need a replacement for the eighth inning role and that player is Andrew Miller. The former Red Sox who finished last season with the Orioles be a perfect fit. He won't cost the Yankees a draft pick, which is huge for a team trying to build a minor league system. Miller had a 2.02 ERA and 0.80 WHIP last year, averaging a league-best 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings. He's a lefty who can get outs against both lefty and righty hitters. But Miller could get the opportunity to close games next season by another team, which might be too good for him to pass up.
The Yankees made their big free agency splash on a catcher last year, signing Brian McCann from the Braves for $85 million over five years. McCann struggled through most of his first season in the Bronx, but did hit 23 home runs and collect 75 RBI. He should be the catcher for the next two seasons before possibly moving to first base to take over for Teixeira. Gary Sanchez might finally be ready to take over the full-time catching duties by then. If he's still with the organization, of course.
Unfortunately, the Yankees have no other alternative than to put Teixeira at first base and hope for the best. Teixeira's best, however, isn't anywhere near good enough, especially considering he'll be the highest paid player ($22.5 million) on the team next season and the year after. Teixeira has been a huge bust since signing his mega deal after the 2008 season and the Yankees are suffering because of it.
The Yankees got lucky trading for Martin Prado last season, as he became one of the few consistent hitters before being lost for the season after undergoing an appendectomy. Before that, Prado batted .316 in 37 games, with nine doubles, seven home runs and 16 RBI. Prorated over a full season, Prado would have had 39 doubles, 30 home runs and 70 RBI. Of course, expecting Prado to hit 30 home runs is unrealistic, but the Yankees found their replacement for Robinson Cano. It just came a year later. Prado is under contract for two more seasons at $11 million each.
This is the biggest spot of need for the Yankees, as the retirement of Derek Jeter leaves a huge void at a position that has been filled for the past two decades. It obviously won't be easy to replace Jeter, but it's the one spot the Yankees will either hit a home run with, and get their fans excited, or completely strike out, as in angering the fan base by signing Stephen Drew. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman loves Drew, for some perplexing reason, and odds are he will be the team's shortstop next season. But the Yankees need to come to their senses and just say no to Drew, who hit .150 in 46 games last year with New York.
There aren't many alternatives in free agency, with only Hanley Ramirez having the potential star power to make up for the loss of Jeter. Ramirez isn't a perfect fit, as he is injury prone and has some attitude concerns, but of the available players, he should be the Yankees' top target. Ramirez hit .283 last year with 13 home runs and 71 RBI, a down season for him, but numbers the Yankees would love to add.
If the Yankees were to look for a trade partner this offseason, two potential replacements for Jeter could be found with Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro. Out of the three, Castro would be the best option for the Yankees. But realistically, they wouldn't have enough to give the Cubs in return. Tulowitzki sure sounds like he wants to play for the Yankees, but again, the Rockies would ask for a ton in return, and New York doesn't have much to offer.
If it comes down to Ramirez, Drew or Jed Lowrie, another free agent, it should be a no-brainer for the Yankees. Sign Ramirez to a responsible contract and the Yankees are better next season automatically.
The Yankees will either have Rodriguez as the full-time third baseman with a backup capable of playing a lot of innings, or give money to Chase Headley to play a ton at third and first, and have A-Rod be the designated hitter more often than not. If Headley wants to be a clear-cut starter at third, he might want to look elsewhere. But if he's willing to play third, first and DH, the Yankees should bring him back. Pablo Sandoval is the top third baseman on the market, but he doesn't make much sense for the Yankees at this point. He could either go back to San Francisco or sign with the Red Sox. Headley is the only player who makes sense for the Yankees.
The Yankees have their three starting spots set, with Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Carlos Beltran. The Yankees also reportedly signed Chris Young to a one-year, $2.5 million deal Saturday, according to a few reports, a very good option as a fourth outfielder and pinch hitter. Beltran is the weak part of the rotation, but Cashman though it was wise last offseason to give him a three-year deal. It made little sense then, and it makes even less sense now. So, the Yankees aren't going to be in the market for an outfielder this offseason.
The Yankees should target: starting pitcher Max Scherzer; relief pitcher Andrew Miller; shortstop Hanley Ramirez; and third baseman Chase Headley. If the trade market heats up, checking in on shortstops Troy Tulowitzki and Starlin Castro makes a ton of sense.
Read our Yankees Pay Him or Slay Him column here