With the free-agent market weak and the Yankees' wallet tighter than ever, GM Brian Cashman will have to be half Billy Beane, half magician this offseason.
If Hal Steinbrenner's budget stays the same, Cashman won't be pulling up to December's Winter Meetings in Nashville in his usual Brinks truck. It will be $189 million or bust.
For the big names available on the open market, the Yankees -- yes, the Yankees -- will almost certainly be outspent.
If Derek Jeter leads the league in hits again, he won't be returning for a measly $8 million player option. Jeter will want, at least, $17 million.
So you could be talking about $100 million going to four players with 21 others needing to divvy up the other $90 million. If you were to re-sign Robinson Cano -- let's say for $20 million per year -- you would have $70 million for 20 players. We could go on, but you get the point -- if Hal's mandate stays in place, Cashman will have to be more creative than Picasso.
Cashman will probably construct his team by signing his own free agents and through trades. And money will be a factor in every move.
Still, let's look at three big ideas for Cashman, realizing every move proposed below will have a butterfly effect the Yankees' GM will have to deal with:
1. Trade for Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle
The next five years figure to be ugly if A-Rod spends them in New York, collecting boos along with his $114 million.
The deal makes sense for the Yankees because they shed themselves of A-Rod's contract, while receiving a star player in return. They will also part with one player (Nunez), who they think can be an everyday player, and another (Nova), who was their No. 2 playoff starter a year ago. So it is not a no-brainer.
Plus, the Yankees will be taking on more salary. Reyes, 29, has $92 million guaranteed to him over the next five years, while Buehrle has $48 million the next three years. The Marlins back-loaded these contracts and were steadfast in excluding the no-trade clause.
In this trade, the Marlins would be receiving Mr. Miami and two young, talented players, while lowering their financial commitments.
The Yankees would pay none of Rodriguez's salary, but would be adding payroll, further complicating their 2014 mandate of $189 million or bust -- but it may just be worth it. Still, the Marlins may want to eventually unload Reyes' and Buehrle's salaries without getting any money back, and Rodriguez would also have to agree to waive his no-trade clause.
If the deal were to happen, Reyes could share shortstop and DH with Derek Jeter. If Jeter loses mobility from his ankle fracture, Jeter could shift to third and relinquish short to Reyes.
2. Sign Torii Hunter
Cashman should change the complexion of the outfield with an emphasis on defense. Brett Gardner should return as either the starting left fielder or center fielder. Ichiro Suzuki, on a one-year deal, should be made to feel wanted by an early courting. He can take one of the corner outfield spots.
The Yanks should look to trade Curtis Granderson, who is a free agent after next season, and take much of the $15 million Granderson is owed and give it to Hunter.
The people who want the Yankees to become younger may not like this, but Hunter makes sense, even if he will be 38 next June. Any big name the Yankees acquire in free agency is likely going to be older, because the young guys will receive multiyear offers from other clubs.
Hunter hit .313 with 16 homers and 92 RBIs this season. His OPS was .817. The Yankees aren't going to pay him the $18 million he made last year, but if he is willing to take a little less, then an outfield of Ichiro, Gardner and Hunter could be pretty good.
3. Deal soon-to-be free agents for high-level prospects
Whether or not you agree with Hal's $189 million edict doesn't matter. It is what the new boss, not the same as the old Boss, wants.
The original plan was to reach the goal like any other huge corporation -- the Yankees were going to ride the backs of young, talented, cheap labor. The problem? Michael Pineda's shoulder, Manny Banuelos' elbow and Dellin Betances' control have all gotten in the way.
All three are free agents after next season. The Yankees could try to restock the upper levels of their system by dealing these three guys now. Cashman may say the Yankees don't need to get younger, but if they are going to become cheaper they need less experienced, less expensive players.
Under Hal's mandate, the Yankees may not be able to pay Hughes, Chamberlain and especially Granderson. Cano would seem to be a higher priority and Scott Boras is not going to give any pinstriped discounts, nor should he.
So the Yankees could deal Granderson, Hughes and Chamberlain, with dual masters at play -- winning and cutting payroll.
That may sound dire to Yankees fans, but if Cashman works some magic the Bombers could be in a better spot than they have been in years.