Yankees already looking ahead to 2012
Core of team to return; Cashman's contract set to expire Oct. 31
Brian Cashman's eyes crackled red with fatigue and disappointment as he stood in the Yankees' clubhouse after his team's final game of 2011, fielding the winter questions he had been hoping to avoid for weeks.
When Alex Rodriguez fanned against the Tigers' Jose Valverde to end Game 5 of the American League Division Series, the calendar might as well have flipped to 2012 in the Bronx, where the countdown to a reporting date for pitchers and catchers had already started.
"You attack your areas of weaknesses over the winter, and hope your strengths remain your strengths," Cashman said. "I promise the owners will continue to put that effort forth to find a way to put us in a position to have success in October. I don't want to be talking about the failure side of it at all, but that's what we have to do."
Cashman's contract runs through Oct. 31. But with both sides eager to continue the relationship, an agreement is generally thought to be a formality, at this point. So, too, is ace left-hander CC Sabathia opting out of his deal, forfeiting the remaining four years and $92 million on his contract in search of a raise.
"Of course, it's a decision," Sabathia said. "[The opt-out clause] is there, so, we'll just see. I can't even begin to tell you what's there, right now -- or what'll happen."
Sabathia can look to the five-year, $120 million contract that the Phillies gave Cliff Lee as a base, with six years not out of the question.
The 31-year-old said he loves pitching in New York, and has made New Jersey his family's year-round home. But he also plans to be an ace for quite a while, and has noted that baseball has an important business side.
"You hope he thinks long and hard about coming back and why he likes it here so much," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He still has four years on his contract. This is a great place to play."
Starting pitching will be Cashman's focus over the winter. Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett remain under contract, but you can expect the Yankees to make a run at Rangers free agent-to-be C.J. Wilson. Having another left-hander in Yankee Stadium never hurts, and his outgoing style could play well in New York.
"I'm wearing a Texas Rangers uniform. I'm not concerning myself with any other organizations at this point," Wilson said during the AL Championship Series.
Other notable free agents are the White Sox Mark Buehrle, the Cardinals' Edwin Jackson and the Dodgers' Hiroki Kuroda. The Yankees are also known to have scouted Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish, and could dangle top prospect Jesus Montero for a starter, as they did in 2010 for Lee.
New York's lineup could return largely intact, but this offseason will likely include an official farewell to Jorge Posada, whose final Yankees at-bat may have been an eighth-inning groundout in Game 5 against Detroit.
Posada rolled back the clock and had a wonderful ALDS, but the Yankees are looking to free the DH spot as a part-time landing place for Rodriguez, who battled through one of his most disappointing campaigns in 2011, as well as an opening for Montero to break in.
Thus, it looks like one year after Andy Pettitte rode off into the sunset and reduced the Core Four to the Key Three, Posada's departure -- to retirement or another team -- will leave just a Terrific Two from the dynasty years, in Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.
"Obviously, we're going to have to sit down as an organization," Cashman said. "I'll talk to ownership and hear everything they have to say. We'll take it one step at a time."
Free agents: Eric Chavez 1B/3B, Bartolo Colon RHP, Freddy Garcia RHP, Andruw Jones OF, Sergio Mitre RHP, Jorge Posada DH/1B, CC Sabathia LHP (opt-out clause), Rafael Soriano RHP (opt-out clause).
Eligible for arbitration: Brett Gardner OF, Boone Logan LHP, Russell Martin C, David Robertson RHP.
Club options: Robinson Cano 2B, $14 million; Damaso Marte LHP, $4 million; Nick Swisher RF, $10.25 million.
A position-by-position look at where the 2011 roster stands going into 2012:
Martin is under club control for another year, and should return in '12 with a raise over his old $4 million contract. He earned rave reviews for his hard-nosed handling of the pitching staff, as well as providing some early offense that helped him score an All-Star nod. The Yankees are concerned about Francisco Cervelli's health, after he suffered what was at least his third concussion in September. A new backup catcher could be in line, as the Yankees debate what kind of player Montero will be behind the plate. Montero will also be considered strongly for a role as the DH, with Posada out of the picture. They'll also give a good look to Austin Romine, who offers a much more polished defensive game than Montero.
Mark Teixeira may have struggled in the postseason, but the Yankees absolutely love that they are able to pencil in at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs from their switch-hitting, deft-fielding first baseman before the season begins -- which is quite a luxury. The Yankees could be in the market for a veteran corner infielder as a backup, with Chavez reportedly considering retirement and Posada unlikely to return.
Cano has developed into one of the best all-around second basemen in the game, and may have gained the throne as the Yankees' most lethal hitter. It will be a no-brainer for the Yankees to pick up his $14 million option for 2012, coming off a season in which he drove in a career-high 118 runs and finally moved into the vaunted No. 3 spot in the Bombers' lineup. Eduardo Nunez could return as an understudy, with Ramiro Pena also in the mix.
Jeter's strong second half dispelled any thoughts about moving the captain from shortstop. After returning from the disabled list on July 4, Jeter batted .331, including a .390 mark off left-handed pitching. He'll be back in the middle of the infield for 2012, with Nunez likely serving as his backup. The Yankees see good things ahead for Nunez, who has a lively bat and hit .265 in 112 games this year. But they have to figure out something with his defense. Nunez committed 20 errors in 2011, 14 of them as a shortstop -- and many on wild throws.
Rodriguez walked out of Yankee Stadium promising that he'd be more healthy and productive in 2012, pinning whatever happened in the postseason on himself. Locked in with A-Rod through 2017, the Yankees are in no hurry to move him from third base, where he actually played great defensively during the ALDS. Still, his health issues point to more at-bats as a DH down the road. The 2011 season marked the first year since 1997 that Rodriguez didn't compile at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs. Nunez and Pena would be in the mix to back up, as could prospect Brandon Laird, who got 21 at-bats in September and won a Minor League Gold Glove.
The Yankees could have the same starting outfield returning in 2012 for what would be their third straight year together. Curtis Granderson was a legitimate MVP candidate in center field, becoming the only player in Major League history to record at least 40 homers, 10 triples and 25 steals in a season. Gardner doesn't have corner-outfield power, but he played a Gold Glove left field and Girardi wants to re-think having him as the leadoff hitter in '12. Nick Swisher's $10.25 million option looks like an appealing choice, despite his playoff struggles, as they like his plate approach and believe he offers better defense than many give him credit for. Jones enjoyed being a Yankee, but he may try to find a role as an everyday player elsewhere. If the club wants to look elsewhere to replace Swisher, it has been suggested that the Giants' Carlos Beltran might draw interest.
Is Montero ready to assume the everyday duties as a designated hitter? The questions the Yankees have about him all seem to be on the defensive side, as he was carried on the postseason roster for his ability to crush left-handed pitching -- something that ultimately would have come in more handy if the Yankees had played the Rangers in the ALDS. Girardi could also use the DH spot occasionally as a landing spot to give A-Rod, Jeter and Teixeira a blow.
Sabathia is expected to opt out of the remaining four years and $92 million of his contract in search of a raise. After going 59-23 with a 3.18 ERA for New York the last three years, they'll probably give him one -- after all, the Yankees need an ace. One red flag, however, is the amount of weight Sabathia gained in the second half, after showing up in more svelte form this spring; that's a lot of Cap'n Crunch cereal. Hughes, Nova and Burnett are expected to return as starters, but a free-agent pickup or two could change the landscape. Girardi said he expects Hughes to be in the rotation, despite seeing his velocity jump in a late-season bullpen assignment. The manager called Burnett a "work in progress," as far as adapting to his decreased velocity -- something that worked well as he pitched the do-or-die Game 4 in Detroit. Hector Noesi, Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, David Phelps and Manny Banuelos could enter the pitching mix by Spring Training.
The bullpen should remain a strength in 2012, with Rivera returning for what might be his final season in the big leagues. If the closer has made any sort of decision, one way or the other, he isn't speaking about it. The Yankees will have David Robertson and Soriano return as setup men; though Soriano can opt out of the remaining two years and $25 million on his deal, he'll probably stay because it's unlikely he'd get a raise elsewhere. New York will surely try to find another lefty to supplement Logan in the bullpen, though it probably won't be Marte, who could get a $250,000 buyout after missing all of '11. Joba Chamberlain -- lost to Tommy John surgery in June -- is hoping to be throwing off a mound when Spring Training begins, and others like Luis Ayala and Cory Wade could be on the bubble by spring.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.