After Tanaka signing, Yankees GM Brian Cashman confident in current roster
That shouldn't come as a surprise, though, general manager Brian Cashman said during a Wednesday conference call about the Tanaka signing.
"I think Hal Steinbrenner has said on a number of occasions that it was a goal, but it would not come at the expense of making the championship-caliber efforts that our fans are used to," Cashman said. "I think there's an exclamation point that has been made (by signing Masahiro Tanaka) that our work was not complete in terms of trying to put together a team people could talk about as having a shot at playing into October. We've done a lot of work, so I think our fans can recognize Hal and Hank Steinbrenner mean what they say when they intend to put a team on the field that can compete on a yearly basis."
Even though the Yankees' payroll has likely shifted north of the threshold, however, the GM warned that even if the Yankees aren't done shopping, it doesn't mean they're necessarily in the market for high-prices items just because the checkbook is in the proverbial red anyway.
"I think clearly a lot of heavy lifting needed to take place this winter and it has, but I think we're always looking to improve. We're always looking to add talent and have people compete," he said. "I don't think it's realistic to think that there will be any more heavy lifting that will take place, but I also don't want to say that were not going to try to improve ourselves. We'll just have to do it in a much cheaper way going forward."
Cashman made it clear that while there still are plenty of roster concerns, any more signing will likely be more depth than impact - but as rumors swirl that the Yankees are once again looking into the feasibility of signing Stephen Drew, the GM admitted that the infield situation is something he will watch closely over the next nine weeks.
"I think that people want to see how the bullpen and infield will shake out; although we might have people in play, I think the entire infield is something most people will focus on," Cashman said. "What's Brian Roberts going to be? What are Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira going to be as they come back from their injuries? Can Kelly Johnson secure third base and handle it on a consistent basis, and what about anyone else who is brought in to compete, fill in or protect?"
As for the other key concern, the bullpen, Cashman was unsure what might happen, but did also touch on one thing Hal Steinbrenner has already intimated: that the open closer's job is more David Robertson's to lose than anyone else's to win.
"When it comes to who's going to slot where in the bullpen, I think that's are going to have to play out and answer themselves. Certainly David is the odds on favorite (to be the closer) and our expectation is that's the job he's going to secure, but we're going to play it out and watch how Spring Training goes," Cashman said. "I think what Hal is speaking to is that he's who we plan on having do the job and that's our hopes. He understands that he has to come in and compete for it and earn it, and certainly his work product as a set-up man is second to none, so it's something that he's certainly earned the right to take, and we hope to look forward to him locking that down."
Even if no more signings or trades are made, and Roberts and Johnson are the starting second and third basemen while Robertson fronts a bullpen full of in-house candidates, the GM feels that the Yankees have a team on paper that can do some damage.
"This particular free agent market was deeper in some areas than others, so we've tried to gravitate to secure as much impact talent as we could get if it fit, and that led us to Ellsbury, Beltran and McCann," he said. "We've obviously tried to address areas of need in as many ways as possible. It's a 25-man roster and there are a lot of areas that needed improvement, and ownership has stepped up to allow us to secure a lot of players that should make our fans excited that 2014 is going to be rather different than 2013."
That excitement, however, comes with a caveat: the hope that the injury bug doesn't bite nearly as hard in 2014 as it did last summer.
"We believe all of the guys we got are gains, but how it collectively comes together remains to be seen. I just know that we needed to add more talent, we've done that and we're excited by it, but we need everyone to stay healthy," Cashman said. "We experienced a rash of injuries last year that I don't think anyone has ever experienced, so we just hope that everyone stays healthy and maximizes their potential and if that's the case, we'll feel really good about how 2014 should play out."
So then, all that said, what is the expectation for 2014 with this roster as it stands?
"I think we'll have to let the play on the field determine (where we stand)," Cashman said. "The AL East is the toughest division in baseball; we have the current World Champion Red Sox and four talented teams that want to take that away from them, and that isn't even counting all the other great teams in the league. Hopefully, we've pushed ourselves into the conversation that we can be included back with the better teams in the American League."