LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Some believe Joe Girardi did his best managing job last season when he kept the Yankees in contention while dealing with an incredible number of injuries to high-profile players.
He may have to repeat that performance this season.
So far at the Winter Meetings, the Yankees have not stepped to the plate in regard to their biggest need — pitching — though that could change if they win the negotiation for righthander Masahiro Tanaka, if he is posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles .
The Yankees likely will not be able to stay under the $189 million luxury tax threshold if they want to rebuild their team the right way. There’s no way they can stop with their expensive offensive signings. They didn’t exactly do this the Red Sox Way. They spent big on Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran, although they lost Robinson Cano to the Mariners in a 10-year, $240-million deal.
They likely will lose Alex Rodriguez for at least some of the 2014 season, depending on how much of his 211-game suspension is reduced on appeal and how the federal suit Rodriguez brought against Major League Baseball plays out.
Their pitching issues have to make the Red Sox feel good sitting there with six veteran starters and an enhanced bullpen.
The Yankees have a lot of catching up to do.
“I think we’ve made moves definitely to improve our ballclub,” Girardi said. “I feel much better about the offense going into next year than the way we finished last year. Presumably you’re going to get a healthy [Mark] Teixeira and a healthy [Derek] Jeter. I talked to both of those two guys and their rehabs are going great. Jeter is having a normal offseason. Feels great. Tex is where he wants to be and where he needs to be. So you start adding some of the names that we’ve added, some of the guys we kept had a good year offensively last year. It’s a much better lineup than when we finished last year.’’
Jeter is the interesting topic — the 8,000-pound gorilla.
In a perfect world Jeter, at age 39 and coming off a complicated ankle injury, could be moved to second base to replace Cano or third base to replace Rodriguez.
But apparently you can’t tell an icon to move his position. With Jeter stuck at shortstop, it precludes the Yankees from signing someone such as Stephen Drew, who would have more range at a critical position. So the Yankees have to go into spring training not knowing how limited Jeter will be.
The Yankees need bounce-back years from CC Sabathia, who struggled more than he has in his Yankees career; Hiroki Kuroda, who had a poor second half; Teixeira, who is coming off a wrist injury; and Jeter.
“I think you have to pay a lot of attention [to those players] because they’re a big part of our team,” said Girardi. “I feel much better about CC, a year removed from [bone spur surgery in his left elbow]. His hamstring healed up very well. Maybe one of the best games he pitched was the last game of the year, and he was trying to fight to throw another game, and we were like, ‘No, CC.’
“Derek, I know, he’s going to do everything he can to be the player he was before he got hurt, and I feel good about that because I know it’s hard. And Tex, I’m confident he’s going to be back and be a force in the middle of our lineup.’’
He said of Ellsbury, “I think we’ve acquired a great player. We’ve seen the damage he can do against us. We firsthand witnessed how he can change a game. I’ve seen him hit home runs to beat us. I’ve seen him steal home to beat us. I’ve seen him do it all, make great catches. So we added a great player.”
He strangely withheld naming Ellsbury the starting center fielder until he’s had a chance to discuss things with him.
With Ellsbury, Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, Vernon Wells, Ichiro Suzuki, and Brett Gardner, the Yankees have a surplus of outfielders. Gardner is now seen as the trade bait. Could he bring a much-needed second baseman, somebody like the Reds’ Brandon Phillips?
If the Yankees can’t move the surplus, then what?
“Well, I think there are a couple different things that we can do,’’ he said. “We’ll just wait until the offseason is almost over before we have those discussions.’’
As for the starting pitching, Girardi said, “I feel good about the top three that we have. But I think [GM Brian Cashman] and his staff will continue to look to improve and we’ll just see. We’ll see how some of these young kids emerge.’’
There was a story that Girardi and Cano didn’t see eye to eye and that Cano didn’t want to play for Girardi based on the fact that he didn’t want to bat second.
“I talked to Robbie. I told Robbie, ‘When I can get you back to third, I’ll get you back to third. But right now I think you hitting second gives us the best chance to win,’ ” Girardi said. “It wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t ideal all the injuries that we had last year.
“He didn’t tell me he was unhappy, but there were things that I heard, and I sat down and talked to him. He was like, ‘OK, whatever you need.’ ’’
Girardi also has to deal with the A-Rod situation.
“I think what probably we’re all looking for is clarity,” Girardi said. “What’s going to happen? Obviously the sooner there is a decision made, the quicker you can decide what to do with your club. What your needs are and what your needs are not. I think that’s what we’re all looking for.”
The Yankees, who are producing few viable major leaguers from the farm system, have had to keep up by spending big amounts of money. Gardner may bring them something, but it appears they will have to spend big to fill all of their needs.
One way or another, Girardi is faced with managing a team that will look far different in 2014.