The Yankees still have plenty of free-agent options

Is a triad of "under the radar" veterans their best bet to fill remaining holes?
12/07/2013 9:30 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Bronson Arroyo: Durable, effective...a good fit for the Yankees?(AP)
An already wild off-season got even wilder for the Yankees on Friday, as four big dominoes fell in their winter spree. The day started with the team agreeing to a one-year deal with Hiroki Kuroda, continued with their other two qualifying offer-worthy free agents, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, officially departing for the Mariners and Mets, respectively, and ended with the news that the team had agreed to a three-year deal with Carlos Beltran.

With Kuroda back and Beltran making it four big position player acquisitions this winter, the Yankees may have filled almost all of their holes; the definition of the starting lineup depends both on how they plan to deploy Kelly Johnson and whether or not Alex Rodriguez is eligible for any or all of the season, while the "open" fourth and fifth spots in the rotation could theoretically be filled from within.

However, even with the reported parameters of the Beltran deal adding an anual average value of $15 million to the books next season, the Yankees still could have some cash to play with before the goal of keeping the payroll under $189 million luxury tax threshold next season becomes a pipe dream. If that's the case, the question becomes where and how to spend it.

It's entirely likely that another top-tier free agent like Masahiro Tanaka or Shin-Soo Choo is out of the cards, but with the $189 million goal in mind, these three free agents may be the right fit on the radar for the Yankees both in 2014 and beyond:

Omar Infante: Cano is officially gone and David Adams and Jayson Nix were non-tendered, which outside of Johnson currently makes either Eduardo Nunez, who played two games at second base last season, or Corban Joseph - who played two games in the Majors last season period - the top in-house options to take over as the everyday second baseman.

Enter Infante, who hit .318 with 10 homers for the Tigers last season and is probably the best of the remaining crop at either second or third base. He is a .279 career hitter who has been right around that average (or better) in each of the last five seasons, and while shoring up a spot that is low on quality top-level depth right now, he would provide another righty bat in the lineup to keep it balanced. Depending on A-Rod's status, signing Infante could either shift Johnson to a bench/DH role (if Rodriguez plays) or into a third base platoon with someone (Eduardo Nunez, perhaps?) that on paper projects to be just as effective as any one-year stopgap that's on the market.

Coming off perhaps his best season, Infante still could come cheap, as he hasn't made more than $4 million in any single season in his career. MLB Trade Rumors projects a three-year, $25 million deal for him, and even at a longer-term deal at maybe $7 million per, he's still a good investment.

Bronson Arroyo: CC Sabathia is the ace, and with Kuroda back, he immediately slots into the No. 2 spot in the rotation that he has occupied over the last two years. Add in Ivan Nova, and there's still two spots in the Yankees rotation to be filled either from within or by a free agent signing.

However, outside of David Phelps, the majority of the current crop of internal candidates is either unproven over the long haul (Vidal Nuno, Adam Warren) or coming off injury (Michael Pineda, Manny Banuelos), so the Yankees may be hesitant to bank on more than one of that quintet in 2014.

There's a good crop of starters left on the market with or without MLB and NPB shoring up the posting system and Masahiro Tanaka becoming available, but for the Yankees' money, Arroyo might be a better bet than Ervin Santana (who might command more time and/or money than the Yankees can or want to give) or a "second-tier" option like Matt Garza or Ubaldo Jimenez.

Arroyo will be 37 next year, so even a two-year deal is both workable and not terrible, and given that he's durable (32 or more starts and 199 or more IP each of the last nine seasons), effective (3.74 and 3.79 ERA the last two seasons in a hitter's park), and won't cost any more than any of the above, he may be the perfect "stopgap" that allows the Yankees to see what they have in their system in 2014 (and maybe 2015) but still have durable veteran insurance.

Mark Reynolds: A lot of the Yankees' lineup flexibility depends on whether or not Alex Rodriguez will be suspended and if so, for how long - but Reynolds, who hit six of his 21 homers last year in just 110 Yankees at-bats, can be much more than just a backup plan no matter how tha saga is resolved.

He can play both first and third base, a facet that's important with Mark Teixeira also returning from an injury that cost him almost all of 2012, and fits the plans either way. If Rodriguez is gone for any length of time, Reynolds can be the righty side of a third base platoon with Johnson and a power bat off the bench the rest of the time, and if A-Rod is around all year, Reynolds can simply be the latter while backing up both corners and DH'ing now and again.

The bench may seem full no matter how things are sliced, but with Eduardo Nunez still having one Minor League option and Vernon Wells literally costing the Yankees nothing against the tax threshold, all it would take is a little creative versatility to find a spot for Reynolds or someone exactly like him.

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