NEW YORK -- As the Yankees' high command reports to the office for the first time in 2013, they'll do so knowing that they have entered the home stretch for assembling a competitive roster.
Under general manager Brian Cashman's direction, the Yankees' roster has tilted toward older players this winter. Barring a major trade, the months of January and February will be important for the club to identify and pursue complementary talent.
"I think patience is a virtue, and it's something we've learned can be used effectively," Cashman said recently. "It's a harder road to walk, but sometimes it's not the worst road to walk. Sometimes you've got to wait for the right time and the right place to strike."
Other than signing Kevin Youkilis to a one-year, $12 million contract, the Yankees have spent most of the offseason retaining their own veterans; pitchers Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera all secured new agreements, as did outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. Of that group, Youkilis (34 by Opening Day) is the youngest.
This anti-youth movement is one result of the team's more constrictive budget, with the objective of getting under a $189 million salary threshold in 2014 now well-known. Cashman has noted that he does not have unlimited funds to flash around the marketplace, but the Yankees are hoping that they can find an edge by shopping creatively.
The Yankees have increased the reach of their old-school scouting staff as well as high-tech statistical analysis over the last several seasons, and those advances have helped procure talent late in the Hot Stove game. They're not afraid of chasing older players, some with injury histories, because they can represent good value.
"I think we've improved our pro scouting network, and I think we've improved our evaluation of statistical data streams," Cashman said. "It puts us in a position to make informed decisions and much more comfortable knowing what is really available, and what you can expect from those players if you sign them and what you'd be comfortable paying them."
Last season, for example, the Yankees were occupied for much of February seeking useful pieces. They came away with Raul Ibanez, who helped the club as an outfielder and designated hitter before making his mark in postseason lore, as well as pitchers Clay Rapada and David Aardsma.
In a similar vein, the Yankees didn't bring infielder Eric Chavez and outfielder Andruw Jones aboard until February 2011. They proved to be helpful, with Jones replacing Marcus Thames, a low-cost addition who had paid dividends as a lefty-mashing bat in '10.
The Yankees were enticed to keep both Chavez and Jones for 2012, and Chavez excelled as a fill-in when Alex Rodriguez went down to injury in July. But Jones was unable to repeat his success in a second season of duty, and slowed by a wrist injury in August, he became an afterthought by playoff time.
That's the risk of rolling the dice on players that others see as flawed, and certainly there have been late winter misses; Randy Winn and Nick Johnson were busts for the 2010 roster, and in '11, the Yankees extended a deal to overworked reliever Pedro Feliciano, who didn't give them a single inning due to injury. Freddy Garcia was valuable to the '11 club; not so much in '12.
"I don't think we see things that others don't," Cashman said. "A lot of people have access to the same types of information and are organized the same way. I think we're in position to make better and informed decisions. We have a circumstance where we have a city that's a wonderful place to play, with huge fan support, with great players that we can surround ourselves with."
Cashman said that he knows some players have shunned other offers for the opportunity to play in New York. Youkilis wasn't enticed by the Indians, and Matt Diaz, who inked a Minor League deal last month and will hope to be New York's answer for a right-handed outfield bat, said that it was his childhood dream to play for the Yankees.
"It's worked to our advantage," Cashman said. "A lot of teams see similar stuff that we see. We've been able to benefit because we are the Yankees and this an exceptional place to play."
That isn't to say that the Yankees can rely solely on bright lights to attract a winning team. Coming off a disappointing exit in the American League Championship Series, the Bombers must convince the fan base that this roster is better than the one that was swept by the Tigers in October.
To that, Cashman would say to grade the roster as incomplete thus far. The Yankees believe in their ability to add meaningful pieces in January and February.
"I think that it's too early to say that we've gotten better or not," Cashman said. "Last year's team won 95 games and had a ton of injuries. We're still putting a team together for 2013, so it's not in a position to do a comparison yet, whatever the 2013 team will look like compared to the 2012 team. It's too early in the process to have those types of discussions."