The offseason is officially here, as the Yankees won their final game of the season on Sunday 5-1 over Houston in 14 innings. They finished a very turbulent season 85-77, which is actually pretty remarkable considering the lineup they were running out the first half of the season and their 77-85 phythagorean record. The special ceremonies for Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte gave fans something great to remember from the season.
Now that the season is over, the Yankees face as many offseason questions as they have in any offseason in recent memory. Here are my top 5 offseason issues facing the Yankees:
1. Alex Rodriguez’s Appeal
Alex Rodriguez’s arbitration hearing began yesterday, and the result will shape the entire offseason for the Yankees. The Yankees need a result as quickly as possible so that they know how much free money they have free under the $189 million luxury tax. If the hearing drags on into free agency it could completely handcuff the Yankees.The Yankees badly need arbitrator Fred Horowitz to uphold the 211-game suspension. If it is upheld, the Yankees would have an extra $27.5 million to play with under the $189 million luxury tax, which would be huge. If they have to budget $33.5 million for him ($6 million more for passing Willie Mays on the all-time home run list) that would pretty much kill any chance the Yankees have of being competitive next year if they stick to the $189 million plan.
2. Joe Girardi’s Future
The Cubs fired manager Dale Sveum today, setting up the possibility of Joe Girardi returning home to manage the Cubs. Girardi did say that his ties to Chicago are not as strong anymore and that it will be a family decision. Girardi emerged as the biggest winner from the Yankees season, as he got everything he possibly could have out of the Yankees and kept them from crashing and burning. Girardi has all the leverage over the Yankees, as there is no obvious potential replacement, and Girardi has established himself as one of the better managers in MLB.
3. Derek Jeter’s Future
With Derek Jeter coming off a lost season he will most likely accept his $9 million player option. That is a really big issue for the Yankees because they cannot go into next season counting on Jeter as their starting shortstop again. A player, who already had limited range, is supposed to come back at age 40 with a really bad ankle and play competent shortstop? Even if Jeter did stay healthy he would be a liability out there. The problem is there is really no other role for him other than part-time shortstop. His bat probably is not strong enough for regular DH at-bats, and the outfield is no longer an option. Will Brian Cashman have the guts to tell Jeter that he is a part-time player? He should do that, and go out and sign Stephen Drew, Johnny Peralta or retain Brendan Ryan.
4. Starting Pitching Question Marks
Right now the only pitchers the Yankees have penciled in for their 2014 starting rotation are CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova. Sabathia will be coming off his worst season as a professional, and Nova still has to prove he can be consistent over a full season. With the rest of the rotation unsettled, you would at least like to be able to count on those two, but you really do not know yet. The Yankees will likely offer Hiroki Kuroda a qualifying offer even after his brutal end to the season, but what he wants to do is still unknown. The best free agent starting pitchers on the market are Matt Garza, Ricky Nolasco and Japan pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. It is not a strong group, and who knows how much money the Yankees will be able to spend on a free agent starting pitcher. They will be counting on guys like Michael Pineda, David Phelps and Adam Warren to step up as back end starters.
5. Unsettled Outfield
Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano are the only locks for outfield spots on the Yankees next year. The Yankees will likely offer Curtis Granderson a qualifying offer, but his market is unknown following an injury plagued season. Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki are two black holes. With Wells not counting against the luxury tax at all, the Yankees should just release him and give his spot to a younger player or a veteran who can actually play. Giving Ichiro $6 million next season was the worst move that the Yankees made last winter and it hinders them from signing another outfielder. With an egregious 71 wRC+ and .639 OPS last season, Ichiro is simply just done as a hitter. His fielding also greatly slipped towards the end of the year. The Yankees’ best hope is that he is honest with himself and retires, but that seems unlikely. However, they absolutely cannot go into 2014 with Ichiro starting in right field again.