Yankees 2014 outfield presents intriguing possibilities and options
The New York Yankees are on a mission to cut payroll by the end of 2013. With the newest Collective Bargaining Agreement in Major League Baseball, New York finally has enough incentive to place a salary cap on itself and it is publicly known the team will try to field a team under a $189 million dollar payroll by the end of 2013 to avoid stiff taxes.
While much can be speculated about the infield over the next two years (Derek Jeter‘s contract expiring, Alex Rodriguez could move to DH, Russell Martin will likely be elsewhere and Robinson Cano is a Free Agent), it’s the outfield which presents more intriguing possibilities and options.
Really, only Cano has intrigue but the Yankees would be insane not to sign him long-term. Cano plays a premium position with elite defense, he’s in his prime and the best bat in the lineup. in two years, it’s entirely possible he could be the only player expected to bat .300 in the lineup.
Assuming the All-Star second baseman is signed long-term, it basically guarantees either Nick Swisher or Curtis Granderson will not be here in two years. Swisher is a Free Agent after this season and Granderson after next.
Adding to the possibilities, Brett Gardner, who was supposed to be the starting left fielder in 2012, but has missed most of the year due to injury, will also be up for Free Agency after the 2013 season.
In total, the Yankees have the following players capable of playing outfield on the roster right now:
For a moment, let’s forget the Yankees have depth in the minor leagues at outfield. Guys like: Melky Mesa, Ravel Santana, Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott and Exicardo Cayones are all top 20 Yankees’ prospects, but it’s unclear when any will be MLB ready and if they would be starting caliber by the 2014 season. Let’s assume, at best, one of them is a platoon by then. That leaves us with Free Agency and the current roster options for the 2013 year.
It’s unlikely New York pursues a Josh Hamilton type in Free Agency since it is trying to cut payroll, and there are not too many can’t miss outfielders who will hit the open market over the next year.
All of the aforementioned player’s contracts are up by the end of next season so it will truly be a guessing game. Realistically, Gardner and Granderson are guaranteed starting jobs on the Yankees’ roster next season and both will be in walk years. It would seem Ibanez and Jones will not be on the team due to Ibanez’s age and Jones’ comically bad season, including against lefties who he was primarily hired to play against.
Dickerson will be in the mix in some form without hitting free agency yet, but as a lefty hitter it’s unlikely he will be a fourth outfielder with at least two lefties already in the outfield. He may still be on the team as a defensive replacement type and he is coming off a career year hitting .316 with some power in AAA for New York. He has also played admirably in a small sample size for the big league club.
If the Yankees were wise, they would cut bait with Ichiro, who may be playing himself into an inflated deal for a 38 year old slap hitter due to his recent hot streak.
Really it comes down to the Granderson and Swisher situations. The only player who may be able to replace a bat like Swisher’s in 2013 and would be more affordable would be someone like Cody Ross. Basically, the Yankees would be swapping a fan favorite and clubhouse personality for an unknown with a superior playoff resume and right-handed bat. Swisher’s October performance could go a long way along with how he feels about his next contract.
Logically, the Yankees would be wise to sign the switch-hitter for a 3-4 year extension rather than possibly twice that length for Granderson, who no longer does anything except hit for power. While Granderson’s 40 HR bat serves plenty of value, he brings it with declining speed and 190 strikeouts and counting this year, two trends the Yankees would like to reverse about the offense. Granderson is not the type of player to sign into his mid 30’s and he plays a position unkind to aging.
The Yankees would be wise to resign Swisher and Cano, let Granderson walk, ride it out with Gardner and Dickerson and part ways with Ibanez, Jones and Ichiro. They can then sign a stop-gap in 2014, resign Gardner (assuming he stays healthy) and have that spot open for a rookie to eventually fill in for 2015 and beyond. With those players off the books along with the current contracts of Hiroki Kuroda, Martin Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Derek Lowe, Rafael Soriano, and many others, the Yankees are in excellent shape to dip below the desired maximum payroll.
Replacing Granderson’s power can be done at other future positions of need (third base and catcher) or with a more balanced offense (higher on base percentages and better speed). Either way, the solution for 2014 is likely to be a short-term solution in left field with Gardner in center, Swisher in right and just enough time to bridge the gap to a deep farm system.