They turned Chris Stewart into Brian McCann, Curtis Granderson into Jacoby Ellsbury, Vernon Wells into Carlos Beltran, Boone Logan into Matt Thornton, and a 41 year old Andy Pettitte into a 25 year old Masahiro Tanaka. For the most part, I'd call that a successful offseason, but this overlooks some obvious loses. Going from Robinson Cano to Brian Roberts is one of the biggest downgrades a team could possibly make, and losing Mariano Rivera without a replacement back-end bullpen piece will take a major toll on the relievers. The bullpen and the infield look far from finished, but despite this, word from Brian Cashman is that the team is done with the majority of their spending.
“I think clearly a lot of heavy lifting needed to take place this winter, and it has taken place,” Cashman said. “I think we’re always looking to improve. I don’t think it’s realistic to think that there will be more heavy lifting that can take place. But I also don’t want to say that we’re not going to try to improve ourselves. We’re just going to have to realistically do it in a much cheaper way going forward.”
There's an argument to be made that we shouldn't believe Cashman, after all, the Yankee front office has been saying all season that they were trying to keep the payroll at $189 million. When it came time to deal with impact players, we saw how quickly the budget disappeared. The most frequent argument I've seen against keeping their wallets closed is that, if they were to break the $189 million luxury tax threshold, they might as well do so monumentally. If spending an extra $20 million is the difference between the Yankees being a favorite and the favorite, there's little point to start pinching pennies now.
Cashman has already addressed the weaknesses of the infield. There's an inexperienced third base with a highly volatile career, and then aging and injury prone players at first base, second base, and shortstop. Stephen Drew only has experience at shortstop, but most believe that he has the versatility to move around in the infield. His left-handed bat fits the Yankees very well, and as a free agent that hasn't seen much attention, he could be a quality signing. Yet the words about slowing down spending speak otherwise.
Lets take the Steinbrenners on their word, that revenue sharing is holding them back, and they don't want to go too far over the luxury tax in order to avoid helping other teams. There are other avenues to explore besides the MLB free agent market, and the front office has already hinted at it twice.
At the end of December, we learned that the Yankees are planning on spending between $12 million to $15 million on the upcoming 2014 international amateur market in July. The international free agent market is an area the Yankees have largely abandoned of late, something that E.J., Dom, Joe, and Stacey talked about in the latest IIATMS Podcast. Obviously restrictions have since held the team back even further, but the Yankees missed out on perfect opportunities to land Cuban players like Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig.
In the beginning of December, a report by Jesse Sanchez shed some light on the current Cuban free agent market.
"There are some very good players out right now and more are coming," Torres said. "Let's put it this way: I can predict that a few of the Cuban players that sign between now and Spring Training are going to contribute in the big leagues in the 2014 season and their contribution is going to be significant."
These are the words of an agent looking to sell teams on his players, but the report does indicate that there could be a rush on these Cuban players before Spring Training. Now that Tanaka has signed, agents everywhere are looking for teams with extra cash to burn, and the market now holds RHP Odrisamer Despaigne (26), RHP Antonio Romero (23), RHP Raciel Iglesias (23), LHP Misael Siverio (24), SS Erisbel Arruebarruena (23), C Yenier Bello (28), OF Rusney Castillo (25), and OF Dayron Varona (25). Perhaps the most talked about name is Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz, who is ineligible to sign until February 19th.
I wrote a little bit about Diaz in January of 2013, when he tried to sign with a false birthday that said he was a year older than he actually was. At that point, scouts loved both Diaz' glove and arm, and considered his bat to be major league ready. In what turned out to be his age 21 season in Cuba, the shortstop hit .315/.404/.500 with 12 home runs and 11 stolen bases in 313 plate appearances. This also included more walks than strikeouts.
Since Cuba, Diaz has played with the Tomateros de Culiacan in the Mexican Pacific League. According to the report by Jesse Sanchez, he's received interest from a list of teams that includes the Yankees.
There isn't enough video for me to come to my own conclusions on Diaz. In the small sample of YouTube footage, he seems to have a relatively simple set up and stride, good bat speed, but a long swing. He hit for a substantial amount of power in his final year in Cuba, and that came without many strikeouts, so it's possible that his eye is good enough to avoid whiffing on MLB breaking balls with that swing.
Considering the reports from other scouts, Diaz could be major league ready upon signing. Obviously his agent had very nice things to say about him, but if the Yankees see him as someone ready to hit major league pitching, the shortstop makes a ton of sense for the club. He'll be relatively cheap in comparison to a free agent like Stephen Drew, the Yankees need youthful middle infielders, and he won't cost the team a draft pick or prospects. This is a market that is still unrestricted and arguably undervalued.