Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Yankees Need A Year Without A-Rod To Re-Boot

Whether you support, condemn, or are indifferent about Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees would be better off without the controversial slugger and the millions he is owed for 2014. Because of the Steinbrenner's initiative to get the 2014 salary below the new $189MM luxury tax max, the Yankees won't have a lot of wiggle room to construct next year's squad with or without A-Rod.

With Derek Jeter's recent one-year, $12MM deal, the Yankees have about $80MM (You have to include approximately $11MM for insurance and other associated costs - costs) to fill out the remainder of the roster for next season. That's not much money to bolster the starting pitching, get an upgrade at catcher, get a starting outfielder, and strengthen the bench. Imagine how much easier it will be to accomplish that feat if A-Rod's luxury tax impact was reduced to $2.5MM from its current $27.5MM.

Below are the seven Yankees under contract with their current adjusted salaries based on the amount used to calculate the luxury tax. Even though Vernon Wells is owed approximately $2.4MM by the Yankees, nothing goes towards the luxury tax since the Angels are picking up over $18MM of his 2014 salary. Which should also make it easier to move the one-time All-Star somewhere else. 

The luxury tax impact of the seven signed players is $97.71MM.
Derek Jeter $12.81MM
Alex Rodriguez $27.5MM
Mark Teixeira $22.5MM
Alfonso Soriano $4MM
Vernon Wells $0
Ichiro Suzuki $6.5MM
CC Sabathia $24.4MM
I'll now construct the rest of the team with the assumption that A-Rod will not be part of the 2014 squad. That means that I have about $107.5MM to work with.

The other elephant in the room besides A-Rod is Robinson Cano, the topper in this year's free agent class. The front office is reportedly interested in free agent second baseman Omar Infante as a possible substitute should they lose their best player and it's also been reported that they have initially "kicked the tires" on Reds' second baseman Brandon Phillips. (When a rumor spread about two weeks ago that Phillips might be on the trading block, I knew it was just a matter of time before we would all hear the Yankees might be interested.)

The Yankees have to do their due diligence in case they do lose Cano to another team, but they are also trying to send out a little scare to the Dominican native that they might go elsewhere if the free agent's asking price is too high.

10 years and $300MM is what Cano is supposed to want; he won't get it from the Yankees or any other team. 7 years? That's a possibility, but it's still unlikely to be at $30MM annually.  That being said, it is not likely that another team signs Cano, so I'll go with the notion that his 2014 paychecks will add up to $27.5MM and will be paid for by the bank of Steinbrenner.

Just like that, I am back to the $80MM figure and seven players on the 25 man roster. Time to add some players, so I'll hand out new one year deals to the following players (Amounts are guesstimated):

Brett Gardner $3.5MM (arb eligible - made $2.85MM in 2013)
Ivan Nova $625K (pre-arb eligible - made $575.6K in 2013)
David Robertson $5MM (arb eligible - made $3.1MM in 2013)
Shawn Kelley $2MM (arb eligible - made $935K in 2013)

That leaves about $68.875MM in the company's vaults. With A-Rod out of the picture, I sign Mark Reynolds to a one-year, $5MM (2nd year option for $7.5MM with a $2MM buyout) to play third base and to back up Mark Teixeira at first base. $63.875 left in payroll and I haven't addressed the starting rotation or catcher spot yet. (The Yankees are also considering the possibility of bringing back Eric Chavez, who spent last season with the Diamondbacks.)

Austin Romine looked good in the second half of the season and will hopefully be fully recovered from the concussion he suffered in September.  He's my backup catcher and will make the league minimum of $500K. That's a $10K increase from 2013 as laid out in the collective bargaining agreement and 13 players on the 25-man roster.

As for the starting catcher position, I’m cutting ties with Francisco Cervelli. Youngsters John Murphy, Gary Sanchez, etc. aren't ready for the big leagues yet, so the Yankees need a veteran catcher. There are three primary free agent catchers that will garner the most attention. Atlanta's Brian McCann, Chicago White Sox' A.J. Pierzynski, and the Boston Red Sox Jarrod Saltalamacchia. None of the three are necessarily the answer to the Yankees' needs.

McCann and Saltalamacchia will be looking for long term deals, while the soon-to-be 37-year old Pierzynski would be more of a stop gap measure. McCann is by far the best hitter of the trio. He has 20 or more home runs for six straight seasons and averaged 21 over the last eight years. McCann has an .823 lifetime OPS, but was under .700 two years ago and a tad under .800 this past season. 

He had surgery in October, 2012 for a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder that impacted the 2012 season and didn't return until early May this year. Having made $12MM last year, McCann will most certainly looking for a 3-5-year deal that averages out to that amount or higher. The Yankees shouldn't commit to that.

Saltalamacchia had a career best .804 OPS in 2013 for the World Champion Red Sox, but prior to that was a below average hitter with some power (25 HR in '12). He's a decent game caller, but base runners go wild on him - opponents stole 89 bases in 110 tries when Salty was catching last season. His bat is too unreliable to give him multiple years.

The Yankees reportedly have concerns about Pierzynski's overall defense and a player who has thrown out 25% of runners for his career isn't going to get better as he approaches 40-years of age. Pierzynski's timing was perfect in 2012 when he had one of the best offensive seasons of his career (tops in HR, OPS, and RBI), but nonetheless he had to settle for a one-year deal. His OPS nosedived more than 100 points in his first season with Texas this past season, most of it due to a precipitous drop in slugging pct.

I would also avoid another free agent, Carlos Ruiz. The Phillies catcher had the best year of his career offensively in 2012, but then was suspended 25 games to start the 2013 season for amphetamine use. He'll be 35 when the season starts and will be looking for an increase over the $5MM he made in '13.

So if the Yankees don't go with one of the main three, where do they turn? The Yankees should look short term/stop gap and they can look at someone who formerly donned the Pinstripes, Dioner Navarro. The Venezuela native will turn 30 shortly before Spring Training and is coming off one of the best offensive seasons of his career (13 HR, .300/.365.492 split). The free agent made $1.75MM last year with the Cubs, and could be had for $2.5MM - $3M annually. Navarro is average at throwing out base runners, but at that price, go for it. He'll come a lot cheaper than Pierzynski, though I'll keep the veteran on the back burner as "Plan B".

With the $3MM I am generously giving to Navarro that leaves $60.375MM as I turn my attention to the starting rotation.

Where does the rest of the starting rotation come from? A lot will depend on whether or not Hiroki Kuroda decides to return. He made $15MM last year and was the ace of the staff, save for the month of September when he ran out of gas. Kuroda already turned down the Yankees qualifying offer of $14.1MM and general manager Brian Cashman has stated he has had no indication whether Kuroda wants to play in the Major Leagues in 2014.

With the qualifier turned down, Kuroda will be looking for more than the $15MM he earned last season. The Yankees are reportedly willing to give a minimal increase, so I'll sign Kuroda for $16.5MM for 2014. (I would rather let him walk at that price, but I see the Yankees getting that type of deal done.)

All right, that leaves $43.875MM in the coffers and two rotation spots yet to fill. There have been several reports that the Yankees are going to go all out to get Japanese native Masahiro Tanaka. First, MLB and the Japanese Baseball League have to work out some things with the posting system. According to Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan, MLB is trying to lower the amount of money sent to Japan. As you would expect, the new strategy has been met with much resistance.

Whenever an agreement is reached, the bid on Tanaka is supposed to be higher than that of current star Yu Darvish and former Red Sox World Series champion Daisuke Matsuzaka. The good news is that whatever system they came up with, the posting bid will NOT count against the luxury tax. So let's say the Yankees win the bid to negotiate a contract with the 25-year old. Darvish's deal with Texas paid him $5.5MM in 2012, $9.5MM in 2013, $10MM for the next three years and $11MM in the final year of the six year deal.

I'll say the Yankees create a similar deal that will pay Tanaka $7.5MM in 2014, $10.5 in 2015, etc. We really don't care about the (likely) three years to follow that.  That's four pitchers in the rotation and $36.375MM with one starter still needed.

The Yankees could go with Michael Pineda for the final spot, with competition from David Phelps and Adam Warren.  Manny Banuelos could provide competition at some point, though it's not likely he'll be guns blazing in Spring Training after having gone through Tommy John surgery in October, 2012. I am going to assume that it's all systems go with Pineda and give him $550,000 to lower what's left to $35.825.

Should the Yankees not bring back Kuroda and/or lose out on Tanaka, they are rumored to be interested in free agent Ubaldo Jimenez, who had a 1.82 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 84 second half innings in 2013.

Before I go anything further, since there's no luxury tax impact, I am going to get rid of Vernon Wells while I can. His tank keeps getting lower and lower to the point that the needle is just about completely on "E".

Okay back the bullpen, which currently has Robertson and Kelley, Phelps, Warren, and lefty Cesar Cabral gives the team five decent to very good pitchers. The combined salary for the latter trio is $1.525MM

What to do with Eduardo Nunez? The average bat, great speed, can't-keep-his-helmet-on, stone-handed fielder suddenly looked like an All-Star when he manned third base for 13 games in September. He had his best month at the plate with an .808 OPS and committed two errors in 120 innings. However, he still was under .700 for total season OPS. He turns 27 in the middle of next season, but he should be wearing a different uniform at the time.

So who does back up the infield? Brendan Ryan, that's who. Until you see a guy every day you just can't appreciate how well they can or cannot play. In Ryan's case, his fielding was even better than advertised when the Yankees picked him up last season. He has tremendous range, great footwork, and a hell of an arm. The drawback, of course, is that he cannot hit. I mean he really can't hit. His lifetime .619 OPS looks like a mistake, but in this case, you think it would be lower. But the Yankees don't need him to hit; they need him to get every baseball to his left or right or right at him and throw a runner out. A two year deal at $2.5MM per year should do it. (He made over $3MM in 2013, but that ain't happening while I am GM....)

I'm down to $40.59MM and need two outfielders. MLB.com's Bryan Hoch reported earlier today that the Yankees have their radar aimed squarely on Carlos Beltran. The 36-year old has been a post-season phenomenon and hasn't been too bad during the regular season either. Beltran made $13MM each of the last two seasons. If the Yankees land him, it will take (IMHO) $15MM per year for two guaranteed years. The biggest question will be if Beltran wants to return to the city that he had his ups and downs across town?

The Yankees also have an interest in Shin-Soo Choo, but different sources have his agent, Scott Boras, seeking to top Hunter Pence's 5-year, $90MM deal or Jayson Werth's 7-year, $126MM contract. The latter is absurd, as was Werth's deal, so I wouldn't count on seeing Choo in a Yankees uniform.

Therefore, Carlos Beltran, I give you this check for $15MM and lower my checkbook balance to $25.5M. We got our starting infield - Teixeira, Cano, Jeter, Reynolds; our starting outfield - Soriano, Gardner, Beltran; a veteran catcher, five starting pitchers, five relievers, and a bench of Ryan, Ichiro, and Romine.

I'm going to add Zoilo Almonte to the outfield mix at the Major League minimum, and that leaves three spots open. D-Rob is a great reliever, an even better person, but I don't have the faith in his durability to make him the closer. His arm doesn't respond well to back to back outings, so I am going after another free agent to close. The closer I have in mind is Joe Nathan, who turned down the Texas Rangers option to become a free agent. I highly prefer him over another free agent, Fernando Rodney, despite the latter's success the last two years.

Nathan made $7MM annually the last two seasons with Texas. I am going to hand him a 2-year, $20MM deal, possibly containing an optional third year/buyout.  Plan 'B' would be to try to reacquire Rafael Soriano from the Washington Nationals.

I've got about $17MM to fill the last two spots on the team - another guy for the bullpen and another player for the bench.

There you have it. In my fantasy baseball payroll I even get to go home with extra money.

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