With the Winter Meetings kicking off Monday in Washington, D.C., in what areas can we expect GM Brian Cashman to center his concentration?
First, the methodology
Cashman does not typically use the Winter Meetings to make all his deals for the offseason. He tends to lay groundwork with free agents and their representatives as well as interact with GMs concerning players available on the trade market. Often, Cashman makes minor deals during the Winter Meetings and strikes any major trades or signings after the information collection process. But I would not be surprised if Cashman moved a bit quicker this offseason since he had plenty of time to collect data while he waited for the completion of the CBA.
Speaking of the CBA, the Yankees will be conscious of the new competitive balance tax (luxury tax) threshold for 2017 ($195 million) and beyond. The Yankees have longed to get under the threshold, but it does not seem to be something that is feasible until next season, when Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia's contracts ($46 million combined in 2017) come off the books. While the Yanks will likely be over the threshold in 2017, I would not expect them to make moves that might hinder their ability to be below the limit in 2018 and beyond.
Eyeing an elite closer
Since the day he was traded, the Yankees have not been bashful about their desire to reunite with left-handed flamer thrower Aroldis Chapman. Likewise, Chapman has intimated on several occasions that he would love a return to the Yankees. If they move quickly on a player during the Winter Meetings, I would bet it is Chapman.
I do not see the Yankees getting invested in Kenley Jansen because they will need to forfeit their first round pick to sign him for a deal that will be similar to Chapman's. If Chapman decided to sign elsewhere, the Yankees might switch their attention to Mark Melancon, but I could also see the team changing gears completely and sticking with Dellin Betances as their closer at a remarkably less expensive price.
Fill holes in rotation
The starting staff has one premium pitcher in Masahiro Tanaka, two experienced hurlers in Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia and then two wide-open spots. The Yankees have a handful of pitchers who could fight for those last two spots during spring training -- Luis Cessa, Dietrich Enns, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino, and Adam Warren among them -- but the club might not be willing to have two mostly inexperienced arms at the back-end of their rotation.
If I had to guess, the Yankees will try to nab a controllable pitcher for one of the spots and then allow the pitchers mentioned above to fight for the final role. The remainder might fit in the bullpen or as depth in Triple-A.
The only free agent on the market that I see the Yankees making a splurge on would be Rich Hill. The left-hander is by far the best pitcher on the free agent market, but he will be playing 2017 at 37 years old. Hill might be in line for a three-year contract, which brings about immense risk for someone who pitched just 110 1/3 innings last season and was on the periphery of professional baseball pitching in an independent league just two years ago.
Salary to unload?
The last area Cashman might address during the Winter Meetings surrounds his team's payroll. Cashman would love to drop some salary, especially if they sign Chapman and Beltran (their combined annual salary could land in the $35-38 million area).
The Yankees have significant outfield depth that would allow them to trade the perpetually rumored-to-be-moved Brett Gardner. Gardner is owed $24 million over the next two seasons and has a $12.5 million team option ($2 million buyout) for 2019. The Yankees could use Gardner in a package for a starter, or simply continue to stockpile assets for the farm system.
There is a chance the Yankees try to trade Chase Headley as a cost-saving move, but the issue here is that New York does not have a viable option to fill the role. The Yankees would have to fill the slot from the outside unless they take a chance by shifting Starlin Castro to third and having Rob Refsnyder or Ronald Torreyes play second base full-time. Personally, I do not like either option and see this as a long-shot move unless it is combined with a trade that brings back a true third baseman.
Last season, the Yankees were quiet on the free agent market throughout the entire offseason. I expect that to be different this year, and Cashman might even pull off a signing or two at the Winter Meetings.
At the least, Cashman and company will have their feelers out in various directions as the organization continues to transition its roster with an eye toward remaining competitive while getting younger across the board.