Monday, February 9, 2015

Yankees head toward spring training, offseason plan intact

The New York Yankees had a plan for this offseason and despite some eye-candy on the free-agent market they have stuck to it. In recent winters, the Yankees tended to offer lip service about creating a new methodology for handling roster decisions and took a detour. As spring training is set to begin in the coming days, the club seems ready to proceed down the path originated in October.

The idea has been to refrain from signing players to nine-figure deals who they felt would be financial drains at the end of the term, dominate the international signing period, grow the farm system by maintaining its best prospects while protecting draft picks and find a way to get younger. They have succeeded in each of these aspects.

The final tease on the free-agent market, James Shields, agreed Monday to a four-year deal with the San Diego Padres. As the Yankees did with Max Scherzer and Jon Lester, they passed on Shields, seemingly worried about the final years of a contract with a player who has many miles on his right arm. Consider it part of the plan nicely upheld by general manager Brian Cashman and ownership.

By passing on Scherzer, Lester and Shields the Yankees salvaged their own draft picks and actually moved up the draft order in the process. The team now owns the 16th pick in the First-Year Player Draft and they received a compensation pick for losing David Robertson to free agency, which is good for pick No. 30.

The Yanks signed Andrew Miller and Chase Headley, neither of whom broke the bank nor resembles major issues at the end of the contract. They paid less than Robertson would have cost for Miller, maintained their pick and received another for basically a left-handed version of Robertson, if not something better. In Headley, they solidify another measure of providing solid infield defense with the upside of a switch-hitting, on-base percentage batter who is just starting his 30s.

The Yankees began their international deluge right as the bell rung on the current signing period. They have signed 10 of the top 30 prospects according to Baseball America, and they are considered one of the favorites to land highly touted Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada.

Moncada would cost the Yankees, or any team for that matter, a good deal of money. Moncada is looking for a bonus of anywhere from $30-40 million and it could climb. That type of bonus requires a 100-percent cash penalty because it surpasses the maximum international pool.

Moncada is exactly the type of signing the Yankees can make. The Yanks are only fighting against teams with incredibly deep pockets – the Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers among them – for the services of a player who is said by many to be the next future star from Cuba, possibly better than Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes before him.

The Yankees have surpassed their international spending pool already and the penalty beyond the money is that the Yanks will not be able to spend lavishly for international free agents for the next two years. This plays into their plan set at the outset of the signing period; they were going to go full tilt where it concerned international spending and leave the threshold in the dust. They won’t stop trying to add to the total when the best player out there is available.

It should be noted that while the Yankees are thoroughly invested in trying to sign Moncada, it will not come without a battle with the clubs mentioned. Further, Moncada might not want to even play in New York. No one really knows at this time. It is safe to assume the Yankees will make a big offer, but it should not be assumed they've got an inside track to the 19-year-old phenom. The Yankees' offer could be matched or beaten or simply ignored by Moncada if he prefers to play elsewhere.

Lastly, the Yankees did in fact get younger and while they made a wealth of moves, none of them incurred the loss of a top prospect. They traded for Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi (both turn 25 later this month) and Justin Wilson (27). Each player has some upside and some work to get there, but they immediately helped to shrink the average age of the club. They will also be given every opportunity to succeed.

In refraining from trading away top talent, the Yankees have some chips for the July deadline if they decide to be buyers, and they have a wealth of up and coming youngsters – Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Rob Refsnyder and Jacob Lindgren, just to name a few, who might join the Yankees in the not-so-distant future.

The Yankees are in the position they hoped to be less than two weeks before players begin to report to Tampa. With the right bounces and health, the Yankees can be a threat this season.

While the club is not a sure thing for the playoffs as constituted, they have a bonafide foundation in place to grow the organization. That could not be stated in recent years, and the methodology might go a long way in creating a new era for the Yankees, one in which financial might is balanced with fiscal restraint and young talent reigns supreme over aging veterans.

Photo of Brian Cashman courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer and sports media strategist. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly Closer Report column. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.