The State of the Yankees: Winter Meetings Edition

Brian Cashman

Before Friday, I was worried about the 2015 Yankees. I’m still worried about them and what the summer is going to be like coming off of back-to-back summers of bad baseball and two Octobers without watching the Yankees in the postseason. On a scale of a 1 to 10, I was a 10 on Friday morning before the Yankees traded for Didi Gregorius and signed Andrew Miller and now that 10 is a 7. I wish it could have fallen to a 5 or even a 4, but with question marks still in the infield and the rotation and the status of re-signing David Roberston still unknown, it’s a hard 7 right now.

Fortunately, the Yankees have a chance to fix some of those needs this week in San Diego at the Winter Meetings. Brian Cashman talked with Mike Francesa on WFAN on Friday about the trade and signing as well as the overall state of the franchise heading into the meetings with a little over two months until spring training, so I did the only thing I know how to do when Cashman speaks and that is to comment on his comments.

On trading for Didi Gregorius.

“He’s a 24-year-old, left-handed hitting, middle-of-the-diamond, defensive-first shortstop. He struggles against left-handed pitching, hits against right-handed pitching, so look forward to getting him in here and having him play a signficiant role and probably connecting with Brendan Ryan in a platoon situation as least in the outset.”

I think I said everything I could say about Didi Gregorius on Friday without him playing a game for the Yankees yet. I really, truly hope he is the answer and the long-term answer at shortstop in the post-Derek  Jeter era and I hope the Yankees aren’t going to find themselves in the same situation the Red Sox have been in for the last decade with a longer, deeper and more complex cast to keep track of than The Wire at the position.

I wish the idea the of having him platoon with Ryan weren’t true or even an option considering Ryan is about as close to an automatic out as you get to a player, who can still be on a Major League roster, but if Didi performs, that will take care of itself.

On signing Andrew Miller.

“He’s clearly a guy that used to be a high-end No. 1 pick starter that eventually has now found his niche in Major League Baseball as a very successful setup situation, and we’ve seen it up close and personal. We thought there is a lot of value for us if we could team him with our current cast we have in the bullpen with a big guy like Dellin Betances from the right side, add Miller from the left side.”

If the Yankees’ signing means David Robertson isn’t coming back then Brian Cashman has failed. The 2015 Yankees can’t rely on only Betances and Miller the way they relied on only Betances and Robertson last season, giving Shawn Kelley, Adam Warren, David Huff and just about anyone who could pass a physical in the second half to get them important outs. Outside of Tanaka (when healthy), the Yankees don’t exactly have a rotation that’s capable of giving them distance in starts and the more high-end relievers in the bullpen, the better, so they’re not asking Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia (when healthy) and Hiroki Kuroda (if re-signed) to do things they can’t do.

The best part of having Miller is that it solves the left-handed debacle the Yankees have faced since Damaso Marte in the 2009 playoffs. Average lefties like Boone Logan or Clay Rapada or Billy Traber or Matt Thornton or David Huff or Rill Hill aren’t needed or relied on when you have Miller slinging that silly slider. And because he is going to keep me from having to watch a below-average lefty try to get David Ortiz out just because he throws with his left hand despite having limited talent, I think I’m going to go ahead and buy an Andrew Miller jersey.

On if signing David Robertson is still a possibility.

“I don’t know. I think we’re going to continue to evaluate all potential opportunities that present themselves here throughout the winter. It’s taken some time to get to where I am today … I’m not going to rule anything out.”

Let me elaborate on the previous answer as to why not signing Robertson is a disaster.

David Robertson is a proven elite reliever in New York and now also a proven closer and heir to Number 42’s job. He has been an important member of the bullpen going back to 2009 and especially the ALDS that year when his bases-loaded escape in extra innings against the Twins in Game 2 potentially saved the series.

Cashman’s track record trading for and signing big-name, free-agent relievers isn’t exactly something he will go out of his way to make room for on his resume and I’m sure he would edit his own Wikipedia page if he found the information on there. In recent years, he gave us free agents Kyle Farnsworth (three years, $17 million) Matt Thornton (two years, $7 million) and traded for Boone Logan (from Atlanta with Javier Vazquez for Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn, Arodys Vizcaino and cash). Even though he wasn’t a big name, I would also like to included Cashman’s trade of Tyler Clippard for Jonathan Albaladejo. The best big-name free-agent reliever to come to the Yankees has been Rafael Soriano and Cashman can’t be credited with signing him because ownership did it against his wishes and he spoke out against the signing at the press conference to announce the Soriano deal.

The best Yankees relievers have been homegrown and I’m a big believer in building your bullpen from within and not going out and buying one. But if you have the resources to bring in Andrew Miller, who seems like a more stable and proven commodity than the others named, go for it, just don’t sacrifice bringing back your closer and a homegrown elite arm because of it.

The Yankees always seem to nickel and dime their own players when it comes to free agency, but are more than willing to open their wallet when it comes to other teams’ talent. Robertson should have been locked up before he ever became a free agent (the same way Cano should have been) and that’s Cashman and the front office’s fault for their contract negotiation policy and now they are going to have to overpay or extend themselves to a place they didn’t want to go with Robertson to bring him back, and that’s their own fault.

On adding starting pitching.

“It’s an area I would like to address if I can …We might not be able to get everything taken care of to our comfort level, but we’re certainly making the efforts to try and do so.”

It’s an area I would like you to address as well. With Shane Greene traded for Didi Gregorius and if Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia are healthy for Opening Day then the rotation currently looks like this:

1. Masahiro Tanaka
2. Michael Pineda
3. CC Sabathia
4. David Phelps

That’s not a typo. The 5 spot isn’t filled in because it’s unknown. The Yankees have 80 percent of a rotation and the most reliable of the four health-wise is Phelps, who I hope isn’t in the Opening Day rotation and then it’s Pineda, who made just 13 starts last year, which were his only 13 starts in three years on the Yankees. Brandon McCarthy should have been locked up prior to hitting free agency (this is a common theme), but he wasn’t.

I could understand Cashman saying “We might not be able to get everything taken care of to our comfort level” if there weren’t any free-agent starting pitchers on the market this year. I mean actually zero free agents available. But Jon Lester is there and so is Max Scherzer and to a lesser degree, so is James Shields. All it will take to get one of those three is money. No players, no prospects, just money. If I’m watching spot starts being made in May and the Yankees trying to see if any of their Triple-A starts can get through four innings in the majors in June, I will remember Cashman saying on Dec. 5 that he was making an effort to address the team’s starting pitching.

On the possibility of signing Chase Headley.

“We’ve stayed in touch with Headley’s representatives and we continue to have dialogue. Thankfully we have the flexibility because of Prado and Refsnyder and Pirela, who can’t take a shot at second, we can move Prado over to third, so were protected, but we have stayed engaged no doubt about it.”

On if he would be comfortable starting with A-Rod, Prado and the two rookies at second base.

“As long as the kids stepped and did what we projected them to do. You have these future projections on players if they’re going to hit that ceiling, we need them hit it in the short term. They have to develop at the big league level just like we’re looking for Didi to do, but wed’ be comfortable to do that if that’s the best route to go, yes.”

I put these two Cashman quotes together because they go hand in hand. If we’re looking an Opening Day infield of Mark Teixeira, Martin Prado, Didi Gregorius and Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira, rookie, Didi Gregorius and Martin Prado, I’m not exactly going to feel “comfortable” like Cashman suggests. I would probably feel as comfortable as sleeping on the hardwood floor of an apartment with no pillow and a sheet as a blanket. I would prefer Mark Teixeira, Martin Prado, Didi Gregorius and Chase Headley as the Opening Day infield. It’s not exactly Ritz Carlton deluxe suite “comfortable” but it’s certainly Marriott king bed “comfortable”.

On how he feels about Mark Teixeira.

“I feel good. We had good meetings with him, his operating surgeon and our medical staff at the end of the year. He’s working his tail off up in Fairfield County where he lives and I think you’re going to see a closer version to what we were used to seeing prior to that injury he sustained with the wrist.”

The last time someone asked me how I felt about Mark Teixeira and I used the word “good” in my answer was probably before the start of the 2011 season and the last time Teixeira had played was when he tore his hamstring against the Rangers in the ALCS and no one was that upset because he had been 0-for-14 in the series. Cashman just said, “I feel good” about Mark Teixeira coming off a .216/.313/.398 season (all career worsts) in which he missed games due to a hamstring injury, wrist problems, a rib cage issue, a knee problem, a lat injury, tired legs from standing on the bases (that’s not made up), light-headedness and also from hurting his pinky finger. When Cashman said, “I think you’re going to see a closer version to what we were used to seeing prior to that injury he sustained with the wrist,” I’m not sure if he meant we’re going to see 2009 Teixeira or 2012 Teixeira. I’m guessing we’re going to see 2012 Teixeira since 2009 Teixeira is never coming back.

On Masahiro Tanaka.

“Tanaka left as a healthy player, so we’ll see him when he returns from Japan and hope that he remains healthy and can be obviously what he was in the fist half of the year for us.”

There are three options with what will happen with Tanaka’s elbow:

1. Nothing and he continues to pitch the way he did before the tear was discovered.

2. His elbow completely tears and he needs Tommy John and misses a calendar year.

3. He has lingering and nagging issues with it and is on and off the disabled list.

I have to believe in No. 1 because if I don’t then the summer of 2015 is likely going to go the same way that 2013 and 2014 did. The Yankees don’t seem to be as worried about the possibility of Tanaka going down for a year any time hr throws a pitch, since they have the ability to sign a front-end starter, so I can only follow their lead and believe in the health of Tanaka’s right elbow.

On CC Sabathia.

“In CC’s case, he’s here rehabbing with Stevie just finishing off his rehabilitation program from the surgery so we expect unless there’s some sort of ? that he’ll be ready to hit the ground running 100 percent when spring training starts.”

I have no expectations for Sabathia. When there were rumors last year that his injury and surgery could be career ending, all of plans for how an older, slimmer CC could reinvent himself on the mound were erased. Now I look at him as a bonus if he can give the Yankees anything. I don’t mean “anything” as in his 5.28 ERA from last year or his 4.78 from 2013. I mean give me “anything” as in better than 2013, but worse than 2012 (3.38), but closer to that 2012 number. Just don’t give me the guy that can’t get through six innings or blows a three-plus run lead when he does. I don’t want to see that guy ever again.

On if he expects to be active at the Winter Meetings.

“I’ve been trying to be active all winter and today we obviously were able to get two things pushed across. We’re going to continue to be active, i just don’t know. It’s just hard to predict whether you’ll have anything to show for your efforts.”

I want to be surprised between now and Christmas. I want one of those “The Yankees are a closer to a (insert number)-year deal with (insert big-name free agent)” tweets or for those words to show up on the ticker on ESPN the way we got a few last offseason and seemingly have every year forever. Actually, I don’t want one of those. I need one of those. And then I can start to feel good about the 2015 Yankees.