What the Yankees have done over the last 2 weeks would be an otherworldly haul to pull from the Winter Meetings. By spending a shade over $300 million, they’ve added an elite starting catcher, an elite center fielder, a well above-average right fielder, a solid #2 starting pitcher, and an above-average utility player with pop. They also lost their previous starting second baseman and former best player, but that was something they were apparently willing to live with and it most likely had a lot of influence on the rest of this early spending spree.
Here’s the thing. This all happened before the Winter Meetings even started. What the Yankees started by signing Brian McCann 2 Saturdays ago has picked up in a big way across the rest of MLB and we enter the meetings right smack in the middle of a flurry of trade and signing activity usually reserved for this week. Once the unofficial “real” starting point of the offseason, this year’s Winter Meetings are nothing more than the continuation of a hectic 2 weeks of hot stove action with the Yankees once again leading the charge. With a bunch of balls still up in the air and a roster still very much in flux, here’s what to expect from the Yanks this week.
1) A New Second Baseman
Robinson Cano is off to join the flaming garbage heap that is the Seattle Mariners organization and he leaves a gaping hole on the infield and in the middle of the Yankee lineup behind him. That Cano’s production at the position cannot be replaced needs no more explanation. What does is what the Yankees plan to do to physically replace him. Kelly Johnson has been officially signed to a 1-year deal, but the team envisions him more as a backup there and at third base and I imagine they will use this week to lock down a better full-time option. Omar Infante is the obvious leading candidate from the free agent pool, and as an average hitter with above-average potential and an above-average fielder at second he would be a logical piece of the “replacing lost production” puzzle. If not him, I’m not sure where the Yanks would look next, but I do expect them to leave Orlando with Cano’s replacement signed.
2) The Search for Starting Pitching to Intensify
The hope is still for Masahiro Tanaka, but with his NPB team still mulling their options and the new posting rules leveling the playing field to the point that they’re almost unfair to the Yankees, he’s not the sure thing even as a potential target as he was a month ago. The Yanks re-upped Hirok for another year last week, giving them half of the 400 innings Cash is seeking this offseason. The Winter Meetings would be a perfect opportunity for him to find that second half, Tanaka or otherwise. Ubaldo Jimenez is still out there, as is Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Paul Maholm, Bronson Arroyo, Bartolo Colon, and Suk-Min Yoon. The Yankees said they had a backup plan for losing Cano. Maybe this week we’ll see if they have one for Tanaka as well.
3) The Trade Winds to Start Blowing
There’s serious overcrowding in the Yankee outfield right now, and it’s mainly in the form of speedy, low-power, lefty-hitting guys whose primary source of value is their defense. The rumor mill already started up over the weekend with respect to Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki and I have to think the Yanks are prepared to have discussions about either or both of them with whatever team shows interest this week. Gardner could obviously bring back a lot more than Ichiro, especially as part of a multi-player package, but how willing are the Yankees to actually trade him? Gardner is a better option as an everyday outfielder than Alfonso Soriano, and more speed on the basepaths and in the outfield wouldn’t be a bad thing at all for this club. I’d think harder about moving some of my top outfield prospects if I were Cash, and if I could find a team who actually wanted Ichiro I’d leave the meetings early to go drive him to the airport.
4) Another Surprise
There have already been a few big ones in the last couple weeks. No reason to think that will change this week. It wouldn’t shock me at all if the Yanks had something up their sleeve that we haven’t thought of yet. Maybe a trade for a big name starting pitcher, maybe another big money free agent signing (Choo?), maybe the resurrection of the Chase Headley possibility. If the last 2 weeks have taught us anything, it’s expect the unexpected this offseason. The Yankees have been wheeling and dealing since the last pitch was thrown in the World Series. Hard to see that changing during the week where every team’s big decision makers are in the same place.
5) The End of Vernon Wells‘ Yankee Career
I’m only slightly exaggerating when I say I want this to happen more than anything else this week. The rush of new signings has filled the 40-man roster up to the brim again and that’s without the Carlos Beltran deal becoming official. When that happens, somebody will have to go and it might as well be Wells since he’s the lowest on the Major League outfielder food chain. Regardless of what happens with the other 4 points above, I think we can all agree that we’d be happy if this one came to fruition.
Cash and the rest of the Yankee front office crew should arrive in Orlando later today, and when they do business will start to pick up again. Strap yourselves in and make sure you’re near a computer, smart phone, or something with internet access because the next big Yankee move could come at any minute.