Big moves done, Yanks switch focus
Revamped club eager to see if spending pays off in '09
NEW YORK -- The checkbooks can be safely moved across the street now, their winter workload complete. The last items the Yankees will need to pluck from the old Stadium will be their bats and gloves.
With the Super Bowl grandstands spilling onto Tampa's Dale Mabry Highway late Sunday evening, unofficially handing off to baseball season, the Yankees can plan on reporting to that same strip of pavement for the beginning of their own journey.
The expectations are high, as they should be with the levels of stakes involved. After all, if baseball crowned a Hot Stove champion, the Yankees almost certainly would have won that prize.
Having doled out a combined $441 million to secure five free agents -- CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira, plus returning players Andy Pettitte and Damaso Marte -- Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said last week that the heavy lifting is complete.
"We're always keeping our eyes and ears open, but I wouldn't expect anything further at this stage, or anything significant," Cashman said. "The [Steinbrenner] family has allowed us to do so much this winter, and we're hopeful that all this stuff plays out well for us in the summer."
With payroll inching closer to last year's $209 million mark, the Yankees came to terms last week with Pettitte on an incentive-laden one-year contract. As one of the final cogs in assembling the machine that manager Joe Girardi will lead to battle, the deal proved to be an exercise in compromise.
The Yankees said all along that they wanted Pettitte to be the last addition to their rotation, a type of presence who could help younger players adjust to New York, as well as Sabathia and Burnett -- players who still may have bumps here and there as they feel out the process. But they were not going to break the bank to make it happen.
Pettitte likewise wanted the Yankees, saying so numerous times as the season drew to a close, but negotiations grew -- as Cashman said, "more complicated." Pettitte earned $16 million in each of the last two seasons and, on the advice of agents Randy and Alan Hendricks, was reluctant to accept such a large pay cut.
Wielding a leverage crop of Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves and Ian Kennedy among those who would have competed for the fifth rotation spot, the Yankees instead found common ground with Pettitte. He agreed to a base $5.5 million salary, with incentives that could push the deal's value to $12 million.
"I guess it does take a shot at your pride a little bit," Pettitte said last week. "But when you put all that aside, I wanted to play for the New York Yankees. That was the bottom line. I wanted to be there and play in that new stadium."
The dreaded injury crops for February and March will eventually hit the baseball world, and can always change the landscape somewhat. But as of now, the Yankees' rotation projects to be comprised of Sabathia, Burnett, Chien-Ming Wang, Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain.
Cashman said the club has no intention of shuffling Chamberlain off to the bullpen, despite a looming innings issue, since Pettitte's addition adds depth and the ability to skip starts when necessary. As the 23-year-old right-hander said, "It's just nice to know what I'm going to do the entire year."
That doesn't necessarily mean there won't be changes, as the Yankees ready for the business of playing baseball -- and answering about details of Joe Torre's to-be-released book in their spare time.
Most prominently, the Christmas investment of an eight-year, $180 million contract to Teixeira displaced Nick Swisher, who was projected to be the Yankees' Opening Day first baseman when he was acquired from the White Sox in November.
The Yankees do not think highly of Swisher as a center fielder, leaving him out of the spring competition that will take place between Brett Gardner and Melky Cabrera.
With Johnny Damon entrenched as the Opening Day left fielder and Hideki Matsui due back from knee surgery as the designated hitter, Swisher is set to compete with Xavier Nady to start in right field -- that is, if both are still wearing pinstriped uniforms by the time April rolls around.
Not so secretly, the Yankees called around to gauge interest in Swisher and Nady last month, finding that there were takers for both players.
But with no great rush to trade either, Cashman appears set with the idea of heading to Tampa with both on the roster, ready to be moved as a chip if the market suddenly increases or if the Yankees' needs change.
Nady avoided arbitration with a one-year, $6.55 million contract and will be a free agent after this season; as a Scott Boras client, he will almost certainly test the waters. By comparison, Swisher is under contract for three more years at $22.05 million, including a $1 million buyout for his 2012 option.
It is notable that Swisher adds some versatility with his ability to play the corner outfield spots and first base. If the Yankees were to deal one of the outfielders -- the Braves, Giants, Nationals and Reds all sniffed around -- it is believed that they would prefer to trade Nady, but in large part because of his contract status.
That decision, one that may or may not ever come to fruition, appears to be the only remaining point of business in what certainly proved to be yet another busy Yankees winter.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.