As of now,there are five players with guaranteed contracts for the 2014 season (potentially four if Jeter opts out/retires, but for the purpose of this article, we’ll assume he exercises his $8M option + at least $1.5M bonuses). The Jeter situation could be very tricky for the Yankees, as illustrated in an excellent article over at The Captain’s Blog. So, the five commitments for 2014 and their CBT payroll hit: Alex Rodriguez ($27.5M), CC Sabathia ($24.4M), Mark Teixeira ($22.5M), Derek Jeter ($15.5M), and Ichiro ($6.5M). There are arbitration cases (notably Brett Gardner and David Robertson) and player benefit costs, but there still will be plenty of room to fit Robinson Cano into the payroll.
But, what if someone like the Dodgers blow him away and meets his 10 year, $200M demand? Sure, he may get $20M AAV, but do the Yankees want to sign him through his age-40 season? I doubt it. Not only do second baseman age poorly, but the Yankees have been burned on these type of deals time and time again (Jason Giambi, Rodriguez, potentially Teixeira).
The most viable free agent replacement at the position would be Aaron Hill, who is a year older than Cano (32 in 2014) but would be much cheaper. He’s had a few good years (2007: .291/.333/.459, 2009: .286/.330/.499 and 36 home runs), but broke out in 2012: .302/.360/.522 (26 home runs, 131 wRC+). He’s a good defender per UZR, and even if his offense reverts to ’07 or ’09 levels (~110 wRC+), he’ll be an attractive alternative. Again, second baseman are risky propositions, but Hill won’t nearly command the outlay that Cano will.
The other big name second baseman in free agency will be Chase Utley. The problem with him will be age (35 in 2014) and health. He’s already struggled to stay on the field the past three years, and may even be in the process of moving to third base, anyway. After Hill and Utley, there’s nothing else attractive in free agency.
David Adams and Corban Joseph are the most realistic internal options. If one of the two win the job, how is Cano’s bat replaced? Assuming no major trades are made prior to that offseason, the Yankees’ offense would be extremely old and not nearly as threatening without Cano.
Don’t forget that Curtis Granderson is also a free agent, so really there are two big offensive voids to fill. However, if Cano is gone, the odds of Granderson returning increase dramatically. But, is he even worth it? He’ll be 33, and has become an all or nothing hitter. Other noteworthy names available, assuming no extensions, will be Shin-Soo Choo (31), Jacoby Ellsbury (30), Mike Morse (32), and Hunter Pence (31). Choo and Pence are the best hitters of the bunch, while Ellsbury and Morse come with health concerns.
Oh, did I mention that the only starters under control after Sabathia will be Michael Pineda, and Ivan Nova? Yea, there are a lot of holes to fill. While Cano may be the focal point of 2014, the Yankees are poised to fall back competitively.
Photo by Keith Allison [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
2014 Free Agent List: MLB Trade Rumors