Big, bold business expected from Yanks
New York's fiscal frugality of a year ago is not likely to be repeated this offseason
There seems to be a sense of normalcy to this year's free-agent market, which opened in earnest at midnight ET on Tuesday, and that normalcy emanates out of the monetized madness that could be created by a scorned New York Yankees squad.
The Yankees did little to uphold their reputation as the game's brashest, boldest spenders last winter, because their main motivation was to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold. It was an understandable stance in theory, though it wasn't particularly practical to execute in the long frame given the contractual commitments already in place and the organization's abnormally high standards for success.
In the wake of just their second season without an October entry since 1995, the Yanks are widely expected to get back into the business of boldness. We can only assume that would mean a re-up with Robinson Cano that would blow away all previous salary standards for second basemen, but a Cano contract could be but the beginning, particularly if Alex Rodriguez's season-long suspension is upheld in arbitration.
Were I discussing just about any other Major League club, I might use this space to espouse the argument for letting Cano walk. Second basemen don't age well, after all, and Cano will be no different. Even if he falls well short of the $300 million he and agent Jay-Z have reportedly sought, the back end of his deal won't be much of a deal at all for the team tied to him.
The Yankees could take a Red Sox-like approach and replace Cano with the market's shorter-term and more cost-effective solution, Omar Infante.
Heck, they could emulate the Red Sox all around, as so many have suggested, and make mid-tier free agents their primary pursuit. That's a strategy that would seem to fit the personality of general manager Brian Cashman, who has long been trying to reduce payroll while maintaining competitiveness.
But the truth is, for all the good work done by Cashman and Co. over the years, the Yanks, unlike the 2013 Red Sox, aren't in as prime a position as Boston was one year ago to follow that framework. They don't appear to have the pieces in the upper levels of their farm system to pull off an impact trade, and the quality of their current core, either because of age or recent regression, is quite a bit more questionable than what the Red Sox had in place with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury.
When you work on the fringes of free agency -- targeting shorter-term deals with players looking to rebound -- you're looking for luck. But the primary benefit of being the New York Yankees is that you have the resources to reduce the reliance on luck.
So a Yankees team in need of a quick fix will likely have to find it the way they've so often found it. When last faced with this sort of "adversity," five years ago, they spent more than $400 million on CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett and wound up winning a World Series the following season
That's called an organizational precedent, and it's one that could mean only good things for Cano's pocket.
Indeed, although fiscal conservativeness is an admirable outlook, it's not one these Yanks necessarily need to follow. And that mind-set holds true even if a $189 million payroll remains, loosely, the target.
As it stands, the Yankees, in the wake of giving a raise to a 39-year-old shortstop who played all of 17 games last summer, have a little more than $98 million committed to seven players with suspect outlooks for 2014 -- A-Rod, Teixeira, Sabathia, Alfonso Soriano, Derek Jeter, Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki. A-Rod's arbitration hearing resumes on Nov. 18, and so the Yanks could know by month's end how much of his $25 million 2014 contract they'll save should he serve a lengthy suspension.
One way or another, the Yankees have no shortage of needs, but they also have the enviable ability to target them aggressively. How many GMs would love to hit the market with a budget ranging from $80 million to $100 million? How many members of this thin free-agent class -- from Brian McCann to Carlos Beltran to Ubaldo Jimenez to Joaquin Benoit to Masahiro Tanaka -- are licking their lips at the prospect of a Bronx pursuit?
The question, really, is not so much whether the Yanks ought to re-sign Cano, for they should be able to retain their greatest offensive weapon with an offer in a $25-million-a-year range that very few other teams would dare dream of.
The question, rather, is how long Cano will let this free-agent process -- which feels, much like the Joe Girardi saga, as though it has an inevitable conclusion -- play out before signing the dotted line. Because the longer he considers his options, the more he'll adversely affect the Yankees' ability to plot out how, precisely, they'll allocate their resources in what they hope is a swift rebuild.
And A-Rod's arbitration, of course, will have its own unique effect on how the Yankees navigate an open market they could very well dominate. From that perspective, arbitrator Fredric Horowitz is about as important to the Yanks' offseason strategizing as Cashman is.
However the specifics shake out, it seems a certainty that this is going to be the kind of winter that has earned the Yankees a reputation as a team so many love to hate. Their fiscal frugality of a year ago is not likely to be repeated. If there is a tantalizing talent on the open market, you'd better believe they will have eyes on him.
In other words, the Hot Stove is back to normal.