MLB WINTER MEETINGS
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is holed up in his suite at the Hilton Anatole like a trappist monk.
He is not meeting face-to-face with other GMs or sharing his thoughts with player agents. The reason is he arrived at these annual meetings from what he considers a position of great strength.
After all, his club won 97 games last season and came within two runs in Game 5 of the American League Division Series of going to the American League Championship Series for a third straight season. It also is a club that was one of the best, if the not best, offensive clubs in baseball and the entire group of starters are signed, sealed and ready to go.
Sure there are questions behind CC Sabathia in the pitching rotation. But they have five starters returning and Hector Noesi heads up a group of six young pitchers who are 24 years old or younger who could contribute to the Yankees’ rotation next season. With Rafael Soriano’s decision not to opt out of his contract the Yankees are assured of having the nucleus of what was baseball’s best bullpen back next season. Of course, a second lefty reliever to go along with Boone Logan would be nice.
The bench will need some work because Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez are free agents (though the Yankees would love to have both back). The backup catcher spot would seem to come down to a battle between Francisco Cervelli and rookie defensive whiz Austin Romine. Jesus Montero seems to be the favorite to become the team’s everyday designated hitter, replacing veteran Jorge Posada, who will be allowed to sign with another club if he does not retire. Eduardo Nunez seems to be a lock to return as the team’s primary infield backup.
So there are not a lot of needs Cashman has as the meetings kicked off today. He is likely looking at possibly acquiring another veteran pitcher to add to the starting staff. However, Cashman does not seem too eager to spend the $14 million a season it would take to sign 31-year-old lefty C.J. Wilson of the Rangers, who heads the list of potential free-agent starters.
The Yankees have also been very quiet about lesser free agents such as Mark Buerhle, Edwin Jackson, Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda. They even have not tipped their hand as of they intend to pay a potential posting fee of $75 million or so to gain the rights to sign 25-year-old Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish, even with his ridiculous career-low 1.44 ERA this season.
Because they do not need offense they are not a major player for top-line free agents such as Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Carlos Beltran or Jose Reyes.
It is as if Cinderella tossed off the glass slipper after it fit and said no thanks to the prince (with apologies to Mr. Fielder of the Brewers for the pun). The Yankees have always seemed to be major players at the winter meetings but they are taking a back seat this time.
They are not alone. The Boston Red Sox will be perilously close to the $178 million payroll mark that would kick in the luxury tax after they spend the money they will need to bring back free-agent DH David Ortiz. After letting closer Jonathan Papelbon walk as a free agent and their desire to let go veterans like J.D. Drew they are staring at a more than a few major holes in their starting rotation, their bullpen, in right field and on their bench.
But they can’t spend the money to fill all those holes without incurring the luxury tax and they traded away most of their best minor-league prospects in the past few seasons to acquire Victor Martinez and Adrian Gonzalez.
The Bosox are also dealing with a new GM and manager who have their own particular likes and dislikes and ways of running things.
So it is not a great winter to be a free agent when some of the so-called “big market” teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Dodgers and White Sox can’t afford the lavish contracts those free agents are seeking.
That means it will be a buyers’ market this offseason and Cashman, well aware of that, is looking to delay any decisions he makes until the middle-tier free agents have to drop their demands enough that they become bargains.
When other GMs approach Cashman offering pitchers in trade such as Jair Jurrgens of the Braves, Matt Garza of the Cubs and John Danks of the White Sox, they are asking for in return prospects like Montero, Nunez and pitchers like Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos. Cashman would prefer to sign a free-agent pitcher and lose a draft pick rather than have to trade his best prospects.
In the case of Danks, the veteran left-hander could become a free agent after this season. So why deal for Danks, give up Montero and Banuelos and then have Danks walk as a free agent after one year? That doesn’t seem to make much sense to Cashman and it would be a hard sell to the fans in the Bronx no matter how much Danks would help the 2012 rotation.
So Cashman remains hidden away in his suite quietly waiting and waiting and waiting for the right time to dip his toe in the market. If you are expecting the Yankees to be part of a blockbuster deal involving three teams and 10 players you just may as well get it out of your head right now. It is just not going to be one of those winters for the Yankees.
It will be much quieter. I sure hope Cashman has Angry Birds on his I-Phone to keep himself busy.