With a $189 million budget to navigate this offseason, the Yankees front office is facing financial guidelines that they’re unaccustomed to. Assuming that Alex Rodriguez is suspended for at least a portion of 2014, the organization will at least have a considerable amount of money to spend this winter, but with a significant number of needs. If Rodriguez is suspended for the entirety of 2014, the Yankees should have around $70 million to throw around after re-signing Cano. Unfortunately, the front office has no idea of how the Rodriguez’ arbitration hearing will be decided. They must operate under the assumption that he’ll be the Yankees’ third baseman next year, and his $27.5 million salary will remain on the books.
The sooner a decision is made, the better, but a suspension may not be handed down until it’s too late. Yesterday, one of the offseason’s biggest free agents came off the board without so much as a rumor of Yankee interest. There were numerous reasons why Jose Abreu would not fit on the Yankees’ roster. He’s a first baseman with an inferior glove, and sticking him at third base or right field may negate any value that he can produce with his bat. But it would seem that the Yankees are hardly in the position to look for that perfect fit. They have so many positions of need that finding all perfect players should be impossible in such a limited market. For a team that’s taking a bold move by lowering their payroll, they need to make bold moves with players.
Abreu was a risky signing, and far from the perfect one, but he fit a need for the Yankees. His right-handed power at his age is something that rarely comes up on the free agent market anymore. Of course the Yankees would need to figure out where he would play, perhaps at DH, but then you need to rotate Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez around him. Abreu took turns at third base while scouts saw him play at the Yankees’ complex in the Dominican Republic, and he left many unimpressed. Right field in Yankee Stadium isn’t exactly impossible, and Nick Swisher managed to put up some positive range factors in front of the short porch. Positionally, the Yankees have a number of needs more important than a DH or questionable position player, but if you watched any part of 2013, the real biggest need was offense. Abreu offered that, but the Yankees simply weren’t in the condition to pull the trigger.
I’m left wondering, if the Yankees knew how long Rodriguez’ suspension was, and thus knew how much free salary space they had for 2014, if they would have taken a risk on Abreu. If the organization still plans to keep Cano and somehow Rodriguez avoids a suspension, it leaves them with just around $50 million to shore up half a team. Signing a risky player like Abreu for a quarter of that remaining budget is not smart, but if the team had over $70 million free, then gambling on Abreu is far from crazy.
Assuming he passes his physical, the slugger will head to the White Sox, and the Yankees will continue searching for home runs. The problem remains though, without knowing Rodriguez’ 2014 status, the Yankees must continue to operate conservatively on the free agent market. Once Rodriguez’ arbitration hearing is concluded, a decision could take up to 25 days to be decided, costing the Yankees valuable time while other teams are making contract offers. Players will declare free agency in early November, and by mid-November, these players and their agents will start courting other teams. The Yankees have no choice but to sit on the sidelines and wait on a decision that can drastically alter their future. Maybe it had very little effect on one unlikely free agent in Abreu, but this could become a much bigger problem in the coming weeks. The Yankees need to know the extent of Rodriguez’ suspension.