Yanks upgrading at second base a possibility
Club has in-house candidates for position in Ackley and Refsnyder
While baseball kept rolling across borough lines through October, the Yankees' decision-makers huddled in the hushed hallways of Yankee Stadium, recovering from a campaign that saw the club return to the postseason for the first time in three years only to exit after nine innings against the Astros in the American League Wild Card Game.
There were periods when the Yankees resembled a club that would do damage in the postseason, but the roster that limped to the finish line did not provide much encouragement toward the standing goal of a 28th World Series championship.
Overseeing a roster that produced 87 victories and the top AL Wild Card spot, general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi must improve upon that performance and wrestle control of the division away from the Blue Jays, who steamrolled their way to 93 wins after an in-season retooling.
Free agents/options: Left-hander Chris Capuano, infielder Stephen Drew and outfielder Chris Young officially became free agents at the end of the World Series. Of that group, the Yankees are most likely to pursue Young, who mashed lefties to a .972 OPS but will command a raise over the $2.5 million he earned this past year. Infielder Brendan Ryan has a mutual option for 2016 that will pay him $2 million if the Yankees pick it up, and $1 million if he exercises it.
Needs: The Yankees must decide how to proceed at second base, viewing Dustin Ackley and Rob Refsnyder as their current options while keeping the door open for upgrades. The Yanks were vulnerable to left-handed pitching late in the season and would benefit from adding versatility to their roster. Adding depth to the rotation could offset their lingering injury concerns. They will also look to tweak the bullpen.
Potential targets: There is little cash coming off the books -- next year is more significant, when Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and possibly CC Sabathia see their deals expire -- but the Yanks will be involved with a list of free-agent second basemen that includes Daniel Murphy, Ben Zobrist and Howie Kendrick. Early indications are that they won't wander into the nine-figure neighborhood of this free-agent market, though since they're the Yankees, it seems we can never completely rule out the likes of Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, David Price, Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann and company. If nothing else, the movers and shakers behind the Hot Stove always love connecting the Yankees to the biggest fish.
On a more cost-effective front, right-hander Jeff Samardzija has already been linked to the Yankees as a possible free-agent option, though he is expected to garner a qualifying offer from the White Sox. The Yanks showed interest in the Padres' Craig Kimbrel and the Reds' Aroldis Chapman this past July and could be intrigued if those relievers are on the move, building upon the late-inning tandem they have in Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances.
Trade assets: If the Yankees want to make a significant splash, they might seriously consider dealing Brett Gardner (or, if they could find a taker, Beltran) to open up flexibility on a roster where most of the starting spots are already locked in. They could trade a starting pitcher -- Michael Pineda or Ivan Nova, perhaps. Catcher Gary Sanchez is tearing up the Arizona Fall League but is blocked by Brian McCann. Cashman said he received many calls on prospects Luis Severino, Greg Bird, Aaron Judge and Jorge Mateo this past year, but was unwilling to part with them. Back in July, the Athletics asked the Yankees for Adam Warren and Refsnyder in exchange for Zobrist, a proposal that was spiked.
Financial situation: The Yankees already have more than $180 million committed to 10 players for next season -- Sabathia ($25M), Teixeira ($23.125M), Masahiro Tanaka ($22M), Jacoby Ellsbury ($21.142M), Alex Rodriguez ($21M), McCann ($17M), Beltran ($15M), Gardner ($13.5M), Chase Headley ($13M) and Miller ($9M), plus raises on the horizon in arbitration. They fielded a $217 million payroll in 2015, and while it's technically possible to increase that in '16, it seems unlikely. Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has often said that the Yankees shouldn't need a $200 million payroll to win the World Series.
Bottom line: Generally speaking, the Yankees are locked in until 2017, when some of the more significant commitments begin coming off the books. Expect Cashman to pursue a second baseman, some bench and bullpen pieces while taking the opportunity to make the roster younger if possible. The resulting squad may closely resemble the 2015 squad, leaving Girardi's staff to bank on the veteran players to repeat their performances while looking for younger players to continue making steps in their development.