3:14 pm Nov. 28, 2012
With the expected return of Andy Pettitte, following last week's agreement with Hiroki Kuroda, the New York Yankees have all but assured themselves of a successful execution of their offseason plan. A deal with Mariano Rivera is assumed to be next.
The idea was a pretty simple one. The 2012 New York Yankees, built on veteran performances, finished with the American League's best record. But trying to lock in that group long-term made little sense, with so many top contributors past the age of 35. Plus, the Yankees have made it a significant goal to reduce payroll from 2012's $209.7 million to below $189 million by 2014, to avoid luxury tax payments that would escalate significantly.
The easy answer called for the Yankees to bring as many of those veterans back as possible on one-year deals. That wasn't a foregone conclusion, though. Kuroda pirched well enough to earn multi-year offers from other clubs. Pettitte wasn't certain he even wanted to pitch. The same was true for Rivera.
And replacing any of them would have required the Yankees to either take on multi-year contracts, or suffer massive drops in performance between their expected 2013s and what they could get in a sparse free agent market for a single season.
But as usual, things are working out for the Yankees. Pettitte and Kuroda, paired with CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps gives the Yankees six quality starters for five spots, along with Adam Warren for Triple-A depth and the possible midseason return of Michael Pineda.
Mariano Rivera as closer, backed up by David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain, looms as a dangerous late-game trio.
All that is really left for the Yankees to do is to add an outfielder to go along with Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner, with indications that the team may go the veteran, one-year route as well and retain Ichiro Suzuki. At catcher, the team is pursuing Russell Martin, with the Pirates, of all teams, pushing him into what is almost certainly multi-year deal territory. That's less of a concern with Martin, who is 29, or for the Yankees, who don't have an obvious replacement for Martin in 2014, either.
It won't be the worst thing to have some questions answered ahead of what looms as the most challenging offseason in recent Yankee memory next winter. With $73.5 million dedicated to three players already--Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Sabathia--the Yankees will need to find a way to fill out the roster on $115.5 million, and much of that will go to another three players, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter, assuming the Yankees want to keep all three.
That means about $60 million for 19 spots, including almost an entire pitching staff. It's far from impossible, and many teams would happily sign up for such problems. But it will be a challenge.
What the Yankees did, in one set of stretegic manuevers this year, is to both maximize their flexibility for the challenge next winter, while at the same time give themselves their best possible chance to win in 2013.
It's a neat trick, and one that suggests the Yankees may be more facile at pinching pennies than anyone suspected.