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Yankees offseason blueprint: Much to do

11/12/2012 11:29 AM ET
By Jon Lane

The Yankees are hoping Hiroki Kuroda doesn't walk away as a free agent.(AP)
The inevitable became official on Friday with Nick Swisher, Rafael Soriano and Hiroki Kuroda each rejecting their qualifying offers from the New York Yankees. Swisher and Soriano are expected to accept more money and years elsewhere, which means the re-signing of Kuroda, whose value is higher than the qualifying offer of one year and $13 million, becomes priority No. 1.

Kuroda’s return is far from a slam dunk. It’s no certainty he’ll settle for another one-year deal and map out an eventual trip back to Japan to finish his career. Teams including the rival Boston Red Sox and big-spending Los Angeles Dodgers will make plays for the veteran right-hander and Hal Steinbrenner’s $189 million mandate for 2014 looms large in any decision the Yankees make for 2013.

A panel of experts will discuss the challenges the Yankees face beginning on Monday night with the premiere of “Yankees Baseball Tonight.” As always, the list starts with pitching.

1) Rotation
Kuroda started the 2012 season under questions on if he’d be able to handle American League hitting. He responded with career-highs in wins (16) and innings pitched (219.2) to go with a 3.32 ERA. If the Yankees can woo him with enough money, and convince Andy Pettitte to pitch at least one more year, four-fifths of the rotation is set (CC Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova/David Phelps). If not, the Yankees will have to somehow find a Freddy Garcia-type reclamation project, and rely on both Nova (who endured a sophomore slump) and Phelps (3.34 ERA) to emerge as reliable back-end starters. Michael Pineda is recovering from a torn labrum, but don’t count on him until at least June – if at all in 2013.

2) Outfield
Even though he’s 37 and not in line with the Yankees’ youth movement, Torii Hunter had a solid 2012, hasn’t slowed defensively and would be a nice fit in the Bronx. But his affable personality and willingness to accept a short-term contract also makes him popular, and reports have indicated he’d want two years and not one, which the Yankees may only be willing to offer.

Hunter or no Hunter, Swisher is likely headed out of town and the Yankees will have to decide if they want to shop Curtis Granderson and bring back Ichiro Suzuki – who loves the Bronx – for another year. Josh Hamilton isn’t happening, and neither Jason Bay nor Melky Cabrera will be anywhere near 161st Street and River Ave.

3) Bullpen
Even with the possible departure of Soriano for more money, years and the chance to close, the Yankees bullpen appears to remain in good shape. Mariano Rivera will return and despite turning 43 on November 29 and recovering from a torn ACL, his ability to defy Father Time has proven remarkable. David Robertson appears to be the closer in waiting. Joba Chamberlain will be stronger off Tommy John surgery and the Yankees are hoping for a similar outcome from David Aardsma. Joakim Soria, also off the procedure, has expressed an interest in setting up for Rivera and could be ready to return by May.

4) Catcher
The Yankees want Russell Martin back and it will again come down to dollars. The organization needs depth with Gary Sanchez far from ready and Austin Romine the prospect closest to being Major League ready. Chris Stewart was a solid reserve in 2012 and Eli Whiteside was claimed off waivers from the Giants.

5) Bench
Raul Ibanez had his ups and downs before emerging as a postseason hero. The Yankees would like him back along with Eric Chavez despite going hitless in 16 playoff at-bats. A reliable righty bat with power is a must.

Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC

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