Different goals in free-agent market
Overhaul not in order, Yankees looking to tweak roster
NEW YORK -- One year ago, right around this time, the Yankees officially shed more than $80 million in payroll, losing the expired contracts of Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano and Kyle Farnsworth to free agency. That allowed them to head to the Winter Meetings flush with cash (even by their standards), freeing up enough payroll to sign CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira.
Those moves turned out all right.
Now, the Yankees will again set their sights on free agency, this time with an entirely different set of goals in mind. This offseason, once the free-agency signing period begins at 12:01 a.m. ET on Friday, New York will not be looking to overhaul its roster. Instead, the defending World Series champions are looking to tweak.
"Last year, we had very specific needs," general manager Brian Cashman said this month. "This year, we're going to approach things a lot differently."
Before attacking the free-agent market, the Yankees must first decide what they want to do with their own free agents. Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon are both on the market, and New York is likely to keep only one of them. Moreover, Pettitte has an expired contract, and how the club approaches its rotation will depend upon whether or not he returns.
As it stands, the team's most pressing needs are an everyday left fielder and a middle-of-the-rotation starter. Should the Yankees re-sign either Damon or Matsui, who have both indicated that they want to return to New York, they would do so with the intention of using either player mostly as a designated hitter. That would free them up to pursue either Matt Holliday or Jason Bay, two of this winter's most coveted free agents.
Though the Yankees have been more fiscally conscious in recent years, actually reducing payroll last season despite their splashy winter, they remain one of the few teams capable of signing Holliday or Bay to a long-term deal.
They also must use caution when discussing Matsui and Damon. The Yankees have already revealed that they will not sign Matsui except with the intention of using him exclusively as a DH. And Scott Boras, Damon's agent, has made it clear that he is seeking a multiyear deal for Damon, annually comparable to the contract that pays Derek Jeter more than $21 million every year. The Yankees may balk at such aggression.
Other than that, though, the Yankees have few needs. They are set in the infield, with Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada all signed at least through next season. They are content to proceed with Nick Swisher in right field and Melky Cabrera in center. And the top of their rotation is set with Sabathia and Burnett.
If the Yankees are to make a signing at a position other than left field, it will likely be for a starting pitcher. New York could pursue John Lackey, the top starter on the market, thus creating arguably the best top three in baseball. Or the Yanks could go the cost-conscious route, relying on the arms they have and pursuing someone cheaper, such as Randy Wolf, Joel Pineiro or Jarrod Washburn.
Much of that will depend upon Pettitte, who has yet to decide if he wants to return to the Yankees or retire. It is extremely unlikely that Pettitte will sign somewhere other than New York, and the Yankees have reason to desire a return for one of their most consistent pitchers.
Once they have an answer, they can then also go about the business of deciding what to do with Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, two starters by trade who have found success in the bullpen.
All that's clear right now is that the Yankees, as usual, will do something this winter. Coy in their pursuit of Teixeira last year, the Yankees made their biggest splash when few saw it coming. Whether they have something similar in mind with Holliday, Bay or Lackey this offseason remains to be seen. But it's a good bet that, at the very least, New York will sniff around all three.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.