Here we go again. What seems to be a recurring theme in baseball these days, there is much speculation that more suspensions, even possibly banishments, will be handed down in the days to come as a direct result of the Biogenesis investigation, which links a number of players to performance enhancing drugs. But you knew that already and are most likely sick of hearing about it. “Talk to me when something actually happens.” I completely agree. So let’s take a step back and look at this from a baseball point of view. No not baseball as in the commissioner’s office. Baseball as in, you know, that game they play with a ball and a bat.
Of all the players linked to this investigation, none is brought up more than Alex Rodriguez. Is it because of his (former) baseball talent and what the Yankees could be losing if he’s suspended or banished from the game? Hardly. A-Rod hasn’t even stepped foot on a Major League field this season. The simple fact is that he’s one of the game’s all-time greats, has a habit of saying and doing the wrong things, and could possibly be just the second player in MLB history to be banned for life. There’s also the fact that he plays for the most media-covered team in all of sports and makes a king’s fortune. The thing is, if A-Rod gets suspended the Yankees are off the monetary hook. Something other managers aren't too thrilled about. His contract runs through 2017, in which time he is owed $86 million, on top of what’s left of his $29 million contract for 2013.
As much as no one from the organization would ever admit it, this really couldn’t come at a better time for the team. Besides the fact that the two sides tired of each other a long time ago, the Yankees are looking to get under the luxury tax in 2014 ($189 million) because it would have major implications on their ability to spend in the years to follow. Via Baseball Prospectus, the Yankees currently only have roughly $89 million in payroll obligations in 2014. If you took away A-Rod’s $26 million paycheck for next year, you’re looking at $63 million on the books. That would leave the Yankees with $126 million to play with in free agency/trades/etc. Sounds good right? It’s not as great as it sounds. That $63 million only covers the declining CC Sabathia, the terrible Vernon Wells, the serviceable Alfonso Soriano, the out-for-the-season Mark Teixeira, and a 40-year old Ichiro. So really when you look at it, the Yankees basically need to build an entire roster with $126 million. Doesn’t seem crazy when you consider Houston is operating an entire team for barely over $20 million, but these are the Yankees, not the Astros. Another looming issue is that of free agent to be Robinson Cano. He may be hitting the market at the wrong time in terms of team’s willingness to deal out enormous contracts, but he’ll still get his money. It may not be for 10 years, but he’ll certainly make around $20 million per year. With an offense that’s seriously lacking in pop, the Yankees can’t afford to let him walk. Take away $20 million, and now let’s build a team with $106 million. Derek Jeter has a player option in 2014 for $8 million, so let’s just pretend he signs on for that. With $98 million to go the Yankees still need a catcher, third baseman, 2 starting outfielders (Wells isn’t a starter), 4 starting pitchers, an entire bullpen, and a bench.
The most likely scenario is that we see a Yankees team very much like the one on the field this year. Some bargain veterans and some below average players from their farm system. But nonetheless, there will be some GOOD players available, so let’s take a look at the top free agents-to-be from the positions where the Bronx Bombers will have a need (we’ll exclude the bullpen):
*Note: Players who have any kind of option for 2014 (team or player) will not be considered, nor will any player who is speculated to be linked to the Biogenesis investigation. (All images via Yahoo! Sports)
Hiroki Kuroda – The Yankees best pitcher by far this season. He’s making $15 million in 2013, and the way he’s pitching you can bet he’s going to want more money. He’s no spring chicken at 38 years old (39 when the 2014 season starts), but my guess is he’ll be looking for at least 3 years.
Matt Garza – Probably the cream of the free agent starting pitcher crop besides Kuroda, Garza is only 29 years old, which makes him very attractive. If he finishes well with Texas, he’ll be in line for a big payday. He’s currently making $10.25 million, but there’s no reason he couldn’t command upwards of $15 million per year in a scarce market. At that price, the Yanks probably aren’t in play, especially if they bring back Kuroda.
AJ Burnett – Having a pretty good 2013 campaign regardless of the record, but we’ve been here , done that with Burnett. He’s not coming back to the Yankees, not to mention he’s making $16.5 million this year, and he’ll probably want something close to that in the future.
Ervin Santana – He’s putting together a nice season for the Royals with an ERA just over 3 and a WHIP of 1.06. He’s making $13 million this year, so chances are he’ll want a bit of a raise and the Yankees don’t have the budget.
Tim Lincecum – Is he in the top 5 of free agent starting pitchers? Definitely not, but adding him here is fun nonetheless. Once one of the games most dynamic, dominant arms, Big Time Timmy Jim just doesn’t seem to have it anymore. He’s making a whopping $22 million this year, but you can bet your bottom dollar he’s not going to make close to that in 2014. Could be a decent flyer for the Yankees if the price is right, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Michael Young – One of the hottest topics of the 2013 trade deadline, Young ended up staying in Philadelphia. His current .279 average, 8 home runs and 34 RBI’s are nothing fantastic, but looking at what else is available makes him more attractive. An interesting note is that when the Phillies were supposedly shopping Young at the deadline, he informed them that he would accept a trade to the Yankees (he has a no-trade clause). He makes $16 million this year, and it’s hard to see the Yankees giving him that much, however if they could get him a little cheaper they would have to jump on it.
Kevin Youkilis – The Youkilis-Yankees experiment didn’t go so well in 2013, with Youkilis never being able to stay on the field and eventually losing basically the entire season due to a back injury. The Yankees are paying him $12 million this year, and it’s certainly possible that Youk could give them a serious discount to return in 2014.
Mark Reynolds – The free agent third baseman with arguably the most pop, Reynolds makes up for his abysmal average with some four-baggers. He currently has 15 home runs, so there’s no reason he couldn’t put out 25 and collect 100 RBI’s in 2013. He’s only making $6 million this year, and the Yankees would be smart to make a move.
Brian McCann – The Braves backstop is the best of the available catchers and will have just turned 30 when the 2014 season begins. In a season where he was limited by injuries, McCann has already raked 15 home runs and 42 RBI’s. The Yankees are really missing the pop that Jorge Posada and even Russell Martin to an extent once provided, and McCann could certainly help in that department. He’s making $12 million this year and will certainly command more on an open market. The Yankees have a solid catcher in their minor league system (Gary Sanchez), but if there is any doubt about his progression, McCann could be in play.
A.J. Pierzynski – Playing on a 1-year deal with the Rangers, Pierzynski has certainly proved serviceable as he’s already roped 12 home runs and is hitting a respectable .279. He’s making $7.5 million in 2013, and will probably want similar money next year.
Carlos Ruiz – Chooch will be 35 when the 2014 season starts, and probably coming off a below average year. 2012 seems to have been his peak, where he put up 16 HR, 68 RBI and a .325 average. He’s making $5 million in 2013, but could see a slight raise due to a not so great market.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia – Salty is having a typical offensive year for a catcher, hitting .264 with 9 HR’s and 41 RBI. The Red Sox are only paying him $4.5 million this year, and someone could certainly up that offer. I’d expect the Sox to hang on to him.
Curtis Granderson – It’s hard to see the Yankees resigning Granderson after he missed most of 2013. He’s been a solid outfield bat when healthy, but he currently makes $15 million and will probably want somewhere close to that. With all the money already tied up in guys like Sabathia, Teixeira and possibly Cano, they simply can’t afford many more $15 million dollar men.
Jacoby Ellsbury – Besides Granderson, he’s at the top of the free agent outfield market. Currently hitting .301 for the Red Sox, he’s also swiped 39 bases, which leads the majors. The concern is Ellsbury’s sudden loss of power. After hitting 32 home runs in 2011, he sunk to 4 in a shortened 2012 campaign and currently has only 5 in 2013. The short porch at Yankee Stadium could certainly help those numbers for the lefty, but it’s hard to figure why the Yankees would pay such a premium when Brett Gardner and Ichiro are the same type of player.
Brett Gardner – He’s having a good season for the Yankees this year and has been one of the few players to stay healthy when the rest of the team couldn’t. He’s a leadoff hitter in every sense of the word, and the Yanks will most likely bring him back next year.
Hunter Pence – Currently in his second season with Giants, Pence’s continues to be a solid option in the outfield. He’s already roped 14 HR's and 51 RBI's this year. He’s making $13.8 million in 2013 and someone will pay him close to that next year.
Shin-Soo Choo – Choo is playing on a 1-year contract in Cincinnati where he’s making $7.38 million. Cincy may opt to bring him back, but they will most likely face some competition on the open market.
After looking at the cream of the crop free agents, it’s easy to see why there won’t be any big free agent splash by the Yankees this winter. Most of these players will either command too much money on the open market, or simply don’t fill a need they have. The bottom line is, A-Rod or no A-Rod, expect a very similar feel to the New York Yankees in 2014.
Eric Cooper is a baseball junkie. Other interests include his wife and newborn son, along with being a ruthless fantasy commissioner. He prefers sports talk radio to television and spends most free time looking up random stats. You can follow him @ericbss77