A roster the Yankees can win with in 2014

If you can follow only one team -- other than your own, of course -- during the upcoming offseason, pick the New York Yankees. They will be turning over a large percentage of their roster -- some to retirement, some to free agency, some to, well, just get them off the roster. The Yankees team we see in 2014 will in many ways be unrecognizable from the teams we have seen in recent years. That Mariano Rivera won't be closing out games is just one of many changes being made.

What is a general manager to do in a case like this? Fortunately, I put on my thinking cap and I have a plan for Yankees GM and senior vice president Brian Cashman.

First, let's get a feel for exactly what the Yankees are working with.

Free agents:

  • Robinson Cano, 2B

  • Curtis Granderson, OF

  • Lyle Overbay, 1B/DH

  • Kevin Youkilis, 3B

  • Travis Hafner, DH

  • Mark Reynolds, 1B/3B

  • Brendan Ryan, SS

  • Hiroki Kuroda, RHP

  • Joba Chamberlain, RHP

  • Phil Hughes, RHP

  • David Huff, LHP

  • Mike Zagurski, LHP

  • Boone Logan, LHP

Eligible for arbitration:

  • Brett Gardner, CF

  • Chris Stewart, C

  • Francisco Cervelli, C

  • Ivan Nova, RHP

  • Michael Pineda, RHP

  • David Robertson, RHP

  • Shawn Kelley, RHP

Let’s deal with the arb-eligible players first so we know how much money we have left to spend on free agents.

Non-tender: Stewart. Cervelli is a serviceable backup and won't cost much more than the $515,350 he earned in 2013, so he should be tendered a contract.

Shawn Kelley will get a slight raise over his $935,000 salary in his second year of arbitration eligibility. He had a 4.39 ERA, but he showed a great ability to miss bats, which is always appreciated in the bullpen.

The Yankees have to tender Pineda a contract though his career with the Yankees has been a disaster since coming over from the Mariners in the Jesus Montero trade. If healthy, Pineda will compete for one of the many vacant rotation spots. If all goes according to plan, he should pitch in the majors again for the first time since 2011.

Brett Gardner obviously comes back in his third and final year of arbitration. He earned $2.85 million in 2013. The Yankees should consider signing him to a multi-year extension, but that is business to be taken care of once the rest of the roster is filled out. For now, they tender him a contract. Should his case have to be settled by an arbitrator -- it won't -- he would likely be awarded a salary in the neighborhood of $5 million. The Yankees will make him an offer competitive with that.

Nova is a shoe-in as well. His salary will get a bump from $575,600 after turning in a fantastic 2013 season in which he posted a 3.10 ERA. He lost some time between the end of April and the end of May due to a right triceps injury, but that was about the only bad thing that happened to Nova throughout the year. The Yankees need Nova behind C.C. Sabathia and he'll be easy on the wallet for at least the next couple seasons.

Robertson, the new closer, comes back. He enters his third year of arbitration coming off of a salary of $3.1 million. Like Gardner, the Yankees should eventually get serious about getting Robertson signed to a multi-year extension, but that's business that can be saved for later in the offseason.

Tendering contracts to Cervelli, Kelley, Pineda, Gardner, Nova, and Robertson should cost the Yankees something in the neighborhood of $15 million.

Now let's look at players under contract for the 2014 season:

  • Alex Rodriguez, 3B: Earning $26 million in 2014 and signed through 2017. Depending on the results of his many legal battles, he may or may not miss time in the upcoming regular season. While he clearly isn't the A-Rod of old, he hit well for a 37-year-old. What can he do at 38? Nevertheless, the Yankees will want to have a backup plan in case Rodriguez is lost to a suspension or injury.

  • Vernon Wells, OF: Nearly all of his $21 million 2014 salary will be paid for by the Angels, but he may be at best a bench bat. From the start of June through the end of the season, Wells compiled a .526 OPS and he finished with the worst overall offensive numbers of any full season in his career.

  • Mark Teixeira, 1B: Tex will earn $22.5 million through 2016. He missed most of the 2013 season with a wrist injury, but with plenty of time to recuperate, he should be able to contribute again. He won't be a 30-40 homer threat the way he was from 2009-11, but other sluggers have suffered a similar injury and have been able to resume their careers.

  • CC Sabathia, SP: Sabathia will earn $23 million in the third year of his five-year deal. In 2013, he had what was easily his worst season as a professional. He still has ace potential, however, and the Yankees are counting on a bounce-back season from the lefty.

  • Alfonso Soriano, OF: The Cubs will pay $14 million of Soriano’s $19 million salary in his final year before free agency. Soriano was a godsend to the Yankees, who needed both a right-handed bat and power before making a deal with the Cubs. As a Yankee, Soriano posted a .256/.325/.525 slash line.

  • Ichiro Suzuki, OF: Ichiro gets $6.5 million in the final year of his contract. He'll be 40 years old when the season starts and is clearly in decline after posting a .639 OPS in 2013. He still provides value with his speed and defense, at least.

  • Derek Jeter, SS: Jeter will likely use his $8 million player option. He lost a lot of the 2013 season to various injuries. The hope is that a full offseason will give Jeter time to get as close to 100 percent as possible.

The above seven players will earn a combined salary of $94 million. Combined with our six arbitration-eligibles, we're already at about $110 million. Their goal payroll stands at $189 million, according to Hal Steinbrenner. So where does that leave us? The Yankees need:

  • A starting catcher

  • A second baseman

  • A left fielder and/or designated hitter

  • Three starting pitchers

  • A bullpen

Let's address each need, starting at second base. The Yankees absolutely have to keep Cano. With many of the familiar faces of the franchise on their way out (Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and soon, Jeter), the Yankees need a player who has been around and is well-received by the fans. (In other words, not A-Rod.) Cano will be pursued heavily but the Yankees can and should outbid them all. Frankly, based purely on projected performance, any long-term contract the Yankees give Cano will end up badly, but they will be overwhelming winners from a business standpoint.

Cano reportedly asked for a 10-year, $300 million contract from the Yankees. It's a negotiating tactic. Realistically, Cano winds up with something like an eight-year, $185 million deal. We won’t get into cute contract structuring and just use an average annual value of $23 million. With Cano in tow, we're at $133 million.

Now we can move onto a starting catcher. Brian McCann will be the head of an interesting free agent class, joined by Jarrod Saltalamacchia, A.J. Pierzynski, and Carlos Ruiz. On Wednesday, Andrew Marchand suggested the Yankees should pursue McCann and that makes sense, especially when he brings up the Russell Martin example. The Yankees weren't willing to pay Martin, so he left for the Pittsburgh Pirates with whom he had a career year, helping lead them to the playoffs for the first time since 1992. Meanwhile, the Yankees had the fifth-worst production from the catching position in the majors.

MLB Trade Rumors predicts a five-year, $80 million deal, which seems realistic given the market. I think he gets less given that catcher is one of the more competitive positions in free agency. I'm partial to five years, $70 million. We'll use the $14 million average annual value. Now we're at $147 million.

In left field, the Yankees can still try to bring Granderson back by making a qualifying offer, which is about $13.8 million. Granderson will be 33 when the regular season starts and his injuries were of the "freak" variety. He was hit by a pitch twice: once in spring training, fracturing his right forearm and once in May, fracturing the fifth metacarpal in his left hand.

Granderson can reject the QO, electing free agency, or he can accept it, giving the Yankees another outfielder on a one-year deal. This would move Soriano to DH. Despite the fact that Granderson was injured and ineffective in 2013, Granderson has a good chance at making more money on a multi-year deal, so he would likely reject the Yankees' QO. For the purposes of this exercise, let's assume Granderson rejects.

We still need to sign three starters, round out the bullpen, and pay the bench and bullpen with $42 million remaining.

Let's move on to the rotation. We will assume that Hiroki Kuroda is out of the picture. (Ken Rosenthal tweeted that it seems likely he will return to Japan if he doesn't stay with the Yankees.)

Ricky Nolasco posted great results in 2013, finishing with a 3.70 ERA. He was incredible for the Dodgers until he wore down at the end of the season. In his first 12 starts in his new uniform, he compiled a 2.07 ERA. His career has been one of disappointment as his high ERA finishes have almost always been higher than what defense-independent metrics estimated. He is wrapping up a three-year, $26.5 million deal signed when he was with the Marlins. He is certainly in line for a raise, but he isn't likely to strike it as rich as Edwin Jackson, who signed a four-year, $52 million deal with the Cubs in December last year. MLB Trade Rumors predicts a three-year, $36 million contract, which seems realistic. His $12 million AAV brings us to $159 million.

Paul Maholm is an underrated starter. He finished the season with a 4.41 ERA for the Braves, but he suffered a sprained left wrist and later, inflammation in his left elbow. Through the end of June, he had a 3.69 ERA. In the nine starts he made in the final three months, he had a 6.00 ERA. He had been good for an ERA in the mid-3.00s in the previous two seasons. That's quite reliable if you ask me. MLBTR projects a one-year, $7 million deal. It's not much, but I think $5 million is more realistic. We're at $164 million.

To round out the rotation, the Yankees should make a bid for Japanese pitching star Masahiro Tanaka. The New York Post is reporting that the Yankees "have seen him a lot" and that the organization is making him a priority in their offseason pursuits. Tanaka turns 25 on Nov. 1 and is coming off of his third straight season with a sub-2.00 ERA in the Japan Pacific League, numbers comparable to those posted by Yu Darvish several years ago.

The Post suggests the Yankees would have to pay as much as $60 million just for the posting price to negotiate with Tanaka, but that doesn’t count towards their payroll. The Post also estimates a potential contract with Tanaka to be in the five-year, $60 million range. With Pettitte and Rivera having already left, re-signing Cano and getting Tanaka are two moves that would reinvigorate interest in the organization as they transition into a new era of Yankees baseball. Let's add the $12 million AAV to our ledger.

At $176 million, we have $13 million to play with, but that doesn’t mean we want to spend it all on our final spot. We still have to pay our pre-arb bullpen arms and unmentioned bench players. So let's do that first. All salaries are estimates. They will likely differ by tens of thousands of dollars, ultimately irrelevant.

The bullpen, beyond Robertson, can consist of Kelley, Preston Claiborne ($515,000), Adam Warren ($515,000), Cesar Cabral ($500,000), Vidal Nuno ($500,000), with David Phelps ($525,000) as a swingman. That's $2.555 million for our youth-infused bullpen. I'm a big fan of cheap, young bullpens.

There are many directions in which the Yankees can go to round out their bench. They were happy with Brendan Ryan's performance after grabbing him from the Seattle Mariners. He earned $3.25 million last year but he posted an aggregate .528 OPS, including .563 with the Yankees. If he would take a significant pay cut, say to around $1 million, it would be worth it for the Yankees to bring him back as a good glove to spot Jeter.

They could bring Mark Reynolds back and he could serve as insurance for A-Rod at third base and Teixiera at first base. His lackluster finish to the 2013 season would be a selling point for the Yankees to ask him to take a pay cut from the $6 million he earned -- perhaps $4 million. Zoilo Almonte ($500,000) rounds out the bench. We have already factored in salaries for Cervelli and Wells, so our bench only costs an additional $5.5 million.

Their furnished starting lineup now looks like this (9):

C: Brian McCann

1B: Mark Teixeira

2B: Robinson Cano

SS: Derek Jeter

3B: Alex Rodriguez

LF: Alfonso Soriano

CF: Brett Gardner

RF: Ichiro Suzuki

DH: Mark Reynolds

The starting rotation (5):

CC Sabathia

Ivan Nova

Ricky Nolasco

Paul Maholm

Masahiro Tanaka

The bullpen (7):

David Robertson (closer)

Shawn Kelley

Preston Claiborne

Adam Warren

Cesar Cabral

Vidal Nuno

David Phelps

The bench (4):

C: Francisco Cervelli

IF: Brendan Ryan

OF: Vernon Wells

OF: Zoilo Almonte

There you have it, a full roster capable of competing in 2014 under their $189 cap with room to spare. An improved starting rotation will do this team wonders and may even make them favorites in the AL East.

Bill Baer is a regular contributor to the SweetSpot blog. He writes about the Phillies at Crashburn Alley.