Heavy lifting is complete, but Yanks aren't done
Including Tanaka deal, club has spent $503 million in offseason contracts
NEW YORK -- When general manager Brian Cashman clicked off his cell phone in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, having hashed out the details that fitted Masahiro Tanaka for pinstripes, the Yankees officially moved into the final stages of their very expensive winter makeover.
Tanaka's massive contract -- $155 million over seven years, plus a $20 million posting fee -- swelled the Yankees' wild offseason tab to $503 million in guaranteed expenditures. That's an eye-popping sum by any account, even if we've seen this playbook run by the Steinbrenner family before.
That came after missing the playoffs in 2008, and it's notable that the Yanks backed off spending after adding CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Nick Swisher early that winter, then found $180 million more in the couch cushions to add Mark Teixeira. But for now, New York is downplaying the suggestion of more big spending.
"I think clearly a lot of heavy lifting needed to take place this winter, and it has taken place," Cashman said. "We're always looking to improve. I don't think it's realistic to think there'll be any more heavy lifting that can take place, but I'm not going to say we're not going to try to improve ourselves. We'll just realistically do it in a much cheaper way going forward."
The Yankees had plenty of needs to fill coming off an injury-plagued 85-win campaign in 2013, and they moved swiftly to check items off. Catcher Brian McCann signed a five-year, $85 million deal before the Winter Meetings, and Jacoby Ellsbury arrived shortly afterward on a seven-year, $153 million pact.
Realizing that Robinson Cano was going to accept a larger and lengthier offer from the Mariners, the Yanks shifted their attention back to Carlos Beltran, bringing in the veteran with a three-year, $45 million deal. Along the way, there were also contracts for Hiroki Kuroda, Derek Jeter, Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson, Brendan Ryan and others.
And yet the Yankees still need answers. Their infield is pockmarked with questions at every position: Teixeira is coming off right wrist surgery, Jeter is attempting to return to shortstop on a left ankle repaired by a plate and screws, and Roberts has missed 445 games over the past four seasons due to injuries.
With Alex Rodriguez suspended, the tentative answer at third base centers upon a mix-and-match combination of Johnson, Eduardo Nunez, the rehabbing Scott Sizemore and others. The Yanks would upgrade that mix if possible, but otherwise, manager Joe Girardi will have plenty of room for creativity.
"I think the entire infield is something people will focus on," Cashman said. "What's Brian Roberts going to be? What's Derek Jeter going to be as he comes back from his injury? [What will] Mark Teixeira be coming from back from his wrist? [And] Kelly Johnson at third? And anybody else brought in to compete or fill in. Those things will have to play themselves out and answer themselves."
Stephen Drew remains on the board as a free agent, and even though Scott Boras floated the idea that Drew could be amenable to moving off shortstop and playing some second or third base, the Yankees have been cool toward Drew thus far. They remain so, even with their chances at staying under the $189 million payroll level now out the window after the Tanaka signing.
The outfield is set, as Brett Gardner, Ellsbury, Beltran, Alfonso Soriano and Ichiro Suzuki provide Girardi with options for substitutions and designated-hitter duty. The Yanks would consider dealing Ichiro, who is due $6.5 million this season and projects as a useful reserve, but there seems to be less urgency to do so if the team is prepared to blow past $189 million.
Then there is the bullpen, where managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner offered David Robertson a vote of confidence in taking over the closer's role. The Yankees believe that Robertson will succeed, which is part of the reason they have kept some distance from free agents Grant Balfour and Fernando Rodney.
"Clearly, David Robertson is the obvious odds-on favorite," Cashman said. "It's our expectation that he'll secure and keep the job. We'll see how it plays out."
The Yanks signed left-hander Matt Thornton to a two-year, $7 million deal, patching the hole left when Boone Logan signed with the Rockies. Shawn Kelley and Preston Claiborne lead the way in a setup mix that admittedly could use more help in getting the ball to the ninth inning.
Cashman suggested that any future moves the Yankees make would be of the smaller variety, which strongly hints they intend to surrender the free-agent starter market to the clubs that missed out on Tanaka. Sabathia, Kuroda, Tanaka and Ivan Nova comprise the majority of New York's rotation, setting up a spring battle between Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno to settle the No. 5 spot.
The Yanks say that they will fill the next few weeks by searching to pull the trigger on something that makes sense via free agency or the trade market, but they express a level of comfort with going to Spring Training with what they currently have.
"We've obviously tried to address, in as many ways as possible, areas of need," Cashman said. "It's a 25-man roster, and there's a lot of areas that needed improvement. I know that ownership has stepped up to allow us to secure a lot of players that should make our fans excited that 2014 is going to be rather different than 2013."