For purposes of this discussion, we have to operate under the assumption that all three of the Yankee standards (Jeter, Mo, Pettitte) will return–because even if the Yankees think they won’t, they risk serious fallout were they to add insult to injury by signing a SS or CL before negotiations with Jeter or Mariano conclude–or if they go out and sign (gulp…) two starting pitchers before Pettitte officially retires. The Yankees current agenda isn’t going to include filling these slots until they know that they’re truly open.
It’s already been penciled in that Posada will likely be a part-time catcher/part-time DH this coming season–which would open the door for a signing or a trade if the Yankees weren’t fully stocked in the minors (Montero, Romine, J.R. Murphy, Gary Sanchez are all solid to incredible prospects.) That means the Yankees can’t go out and try to find themselves a bargain at DH, which is typically a good spot to underpay for value (Guerrerro and Thome stick out the most in 2010, and there are any number of candidates in 2011). In fact, this will be an issue for the forseeable future, as Cashman is going to have to reserve the spot for his aging generals (Posada, A-Rod, Jeter, even Teixeira from time to time). We should also include Nick Swisher in this group, who spent 1/10 of 2010 as a DH. They could theoretically go the Brian Sabean route and pick up a catcher to share duties with Posada while Montero gets his final seasoning in the minors, but I don’t see it happening.
Due to the aforementioned DH bottleneck, while most AL teams look to pick up power on the cheap at the DH role, the Yankees will need to look to find that most elusive of creatures, the effective infield utility player who is actually worth a roster spot (to fill in around the diamond when the ancients are DHing). These are excessively difficult to find, because most players who are good enough to play every day at the majors play only one position. This makes sense, right? GMs want to be able to write out their roster and know who is playing where on a regular basis. Players aren’t really incented to learn to play multiple positions competently unless they know that they *need* to do this to garner a contract. This tends to lead to players who can cover the defensive positions, but not contribute at the plate–a breed that the Yankees have mostly avoided since the days of Tony Womack were cut short by the ascension of Robinson Cano (excepting a cameo by Jerry Hairston Jr.)
It’s also possible that the Yankees could trade one of their three starting outfielders to make space for a Carl Crawford, Jason Werth, or either of the Upton brothers (who are both on the trading block this offseason). If you open up this can of worms, there are plenty of other options as well–but in most cases, it would either lead to a serious expansion of the Yankees already sizable payroll, or a significant outlay from the minor league treasure trove Brian Cashman has built up.
Here at IIATMS, we’ll be covering each of these options and more over the coming weeks–check back soon to get in on the discussion.