Dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, Yankees GM Brian Cashman gave off the nonchalance of a guy about to do some light errands on the weekend. Instead, tucked away in a luxury suite in Dallas this time last year, Cashman was surrounded by all his lieutenants. It was a familiar, almost annual, look for Cashman, behaving as if nothing was going on while he considered making the Yankees' world shake.
While Cashman was projecting that lack of urgency, he was trying to entice Andy Pettitte to come out of retirement and laying the groundwork for Hiroki Kuroda's signing and the Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero blockbuster.
So by the looks of things, Cashman will be in Nashville on Monday just trying to go down his punch list, as if he were a contractor ticking off tasks on another job. But from once declaring "Bubba Crosby will be our center fielder" to making last year's Pineda deal, Cashman likes to disguise himself as a man on the sidelines before suddenly striking quickly and forcefully, rumbling the Yankees' winter.
"I've been engaged," Cashman said. "I've talked to everybody on several occasions to make sure there are no opportunities that we are going to miss out on. If there is a chance to match up, you explore those options, but matching up is difficult."
He is a master of lowering expectations.
The Yankees appear willing to settle with just lining it up again and hoping they can win two more rounds in 2013 than they did in '12. Kuroda, Pettitte and Mariano Rivera are back. Nick Swisher and Russell Martin will not be.
Cashman is talking as if Swisher will be the only one he replaces from outside.
Cashman said he is content with Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, Eli Whiteside and Austin Romine behind the plate, but it wouldn't be surprising if he brought in a cheap, veteran catcher on a one-year deal.
Cashman must figure out right field. Swisher is a goner, which could leave the Yankees looking at Ichiro Suzuki in right. Ichiro, whose heart was set on returning, is talking to other teams.
Cashman expects outside help for right field and he should have some dough to spend. So far this spring, Cashman has not added any money for 2014 and its $189 million mandate.
In theory, he has already trimmed $28.75 million off last year's payroll by eliminating Rafael Soriano ($11 million), Swisher ($10.25 million) and Martin ($7.5 million). Soriano's contract -- which called for a raise to $14 million -- is found money, while Swisher and Martin will need to be replaced, but likely with cheaper alternatives.
"If you follow the math and look at how things can unfold and come off the board and stuff like that, you can see that things can fit," Cashman said. "We'll be aggressive when we want to be on the right circumstances. But it is in our best interest to stay as flexible as possible given a lot of reasons. [Money is] obviously a big one. We are still capable of a lot. People should still be leery of us and afraid of us as the stalking horse and that's good. I want them to think that."
If Cashman makes a blockbuster, he will likely have to pull what is akin to a 7-10 split in bowling. The big-time players who could be moved are Curtis Granderson and Phil Hughes. An outside, but more unlikely chance, would be a megadeal involving Robinson Cano, who is a break-the-bank free agent after next year.
Let's put Cano to the side and focus on Granderson and Hughes. The Yankees like both and there is a very good chance they won't trade them. The Yankees will point to the paucity of power in the bigs and Granderson's 43 homers as a center fielder. With Hughes, they will discuss how 26-year-old starters, especially ones who have made All-Star teams, are difficult to find. Their metric of choice when pumping up Hughes is his win totals -- 18 in '10 and 16 in '12.
Still, Granderson and Hughes are eligible for free agency after next year. With solid years, they will be big-money players on the market, which will be a speeding locomotive going head on into Hal Steinbrenner's $189 million mandate.
Even if the Yankees can afford Granderson and Hughes, they must believe they are players they can build around, because they will both be paid like it if they put together strong years. Signing both for big bucks will guarantee more roster inflexibility.
It doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility to see what the market could bring on Granderson, Hughes or both. That is why Cashman's winter surprise could come in the mode of a trade. It may not be done this week, but the groundwork could be set.
Cashman will play down any such suggestions from reporters, but it is hard to imagine he won't listen when other GMs call.
Cashman could try to relieve some of the tension on his '14 payroll by becoming younger and cheaper now.
One thing's for certain: He will keep everyone guessing as he unassumingly goes about his business. History is always the prologue.