- Wallace Matthews, ESPNNewYork.com
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NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees have run their race. The manager has done all that he could do, the players have had their chance. None of it was good enough this season, for various reasons, and nothing we say about it now can change anything that happened between April 1 and Sept. 29., when the Yankees' season of injury, underachievement and ultimately, mediocrity came to a merciful end.
Ladies and gentlemen, it's Cashman Time.
The general manager's season begins today and runs through Opening Day of 2014, and over the next six months, we at ESPNNewYork.com will be keeping a close eye on how Brian Cashman, with (presumably) the moral and financial support of his Boss, Hal Steinbrenner, goes about repairing a franchise that is deeply wounded.
It is quite a to-do list for the Yankees' GM this offseason, from deciding who will manage the team next season to replacing a solid half-dozen key members of the team.
In the probable order in which they will be handled, they are:
1. Make a decision on Joe Girardi
The Yankees manager had probably his finest season on the bench, considering all the injuries the team had to contend with this season, and he capped it off with a stroke of genius: Sending Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter to escort Mariano Rivera off the Yankee Stadium mound for the last time Thursday night.
Recommendation: Bring him back. This could get done this week.
2. Know what you have a third base next season
This, of course, is contingent on what happens in a hearing room at the Park Ave. offices of Major League Baseball beginning today in the matter of Alex Rodriguez vis-à-vis Biogenesis, Anthony Bosch, PEDs, etc. The Yankees need to know if: (a) they need a new third baseman for 2014, and (b) if they can count on an extra $25 million to spend this offseason.
Recommendation: Start planning for at least a half-season without A-Rod.
3. Think about how much Robinson Cano is worth to you
Even assuming that the $305 million demand is an opening salvo, not a hard-and-firm demand, it's probably going to cost an A-Rod-like investment in years and dollars to keep Cano in pinstripes. Cano will turn 31 on Oct. 22; do the Yankees really want to be paying him $25 million or more per year as he approaches 40? They've made that mistake before. Then again, without Cano in their lineup, how much is left?
Recommendation: Try to knock him out with a huge five-year offer. More than that? Take a deep breath, swallow hard and let him go.
4. Adjust to life without Mo
It's impossible to replace the G.O.A.T. in any business, and the Yankees will never actually replace Rivera. But someone has to pitch the ninth inning, and right now, the prime candidate is David Robertson, who had another terrific year as Mo's setup man. And if you replace Mo with Robby, you've got to find someone to replace Robby.
Recommendation: Give the ball to D-Rob but understand the ninth inning will never be the same. Be prepared for sweaty palms on a nightly basis.
5. Begin planning for the post-Jeter era
There's no doubt Jeter will exercise the $9.5 million player option in his contract for 2014, but there is plenty of doubt about whether the soon-to-be 40-year-old Captain is still physically capable of playing shortstop on a daily basis. The evidence from this season is that he is not, and the calendar is not moving backward.
6. Come up with three big league ready starting pitchers
The Yankees are losing Pettitte to retirement and Phil Hughes, and possibly Hiroki Kuroda, to free agency. Cashman would no doubt like to bring Kuroda back for one more season, despite late-season fades the past two years, but that might not be an option. Kuroda has expressed a desire to finish up back home in Japan, and, turning 39, 2014 might be that year. The in-house candidates are Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno and Jose Ramirez, a 23-year-old righty who went 1-3 with a 4.88 ERA for Triple-A Scranton this year, but Cashman likes his upside. Not very exciting? I hear ya.
Recommendation: Sign Kuroda, hope Pineda comes back strong and scour the free-agent market. Not much there, but Tim Lincecum, Scott Feldman, Barry Zito and yeah, A.J. Burnett and Bartolo Colon, stand to be available.
7. Upgrade behind the plate
Chris Stewart is a stand-up guy and the pitchers love to throw to him, but it became obvious why he's been a backup catcher his whole career. My guess is a full season of Francisco Cervelli would reveal the same. Neither Austin Romine nor J.R. Murphy is ready just yet.
Recommendation: Brian McCann. That is all.
8. Persuade Hal that a $189 million salary cap is foolish
I've been writing since spring training that this will not happen, and I'm more sure of it now than ever. Already, it has been publicly downgraded from "mandate'' to "goal,'' and as we know, goals aren't always met. Just ask the 2013 Yankees. There's no reason that the New York Yankees, with the most successful regional sports network in baseball, a new lucrative radio deal and some of the highest-priced tickets and concessions in professional sports, should be squeezing pennies until Abe Lincoln squeals in pain. And besides, there's nothing down on the farm. Time to go shopping.
Recommendation: Spend, Hal, spend. Spend wisely. But spend.
Brian Cashman has a busy winter ahead of him; here are our suggestions.