Pay attention to the New York Yankees this time of year, and you remember certain myths of past off-seasons. Bubba Crosby was once the answer in centre field, not a free agent named Johnny Damon. Alex Rodriguez would be shunned if he opted out of his contract. Mark Teixeira was too expensive to pursue. Rafael Soriano was not worth the sacrifice of a first-round draft pick.
One way or another, of course, Damon, Rodriguez, Teixeira and Soriano all wound up in pinstripes. Sometimes the marketplace shifts, and plans change. Sometimes ownership makes a new demand. The goal of building the best roster, and burnishing a valuable brand, can trump any long-range strategy.
But with the winter meetings starting Monday in Dallas, the Yankees could be wallflowers at the Hilton Anatole. This would be a major change, considering their recent past.
– In December, in Orlando, the Yankees were deep into their pursuit of Cliff Lee, while also dining with Carl Crawford, strictly to drive up his price for the Boston Red Sox.
– In 2009, in Indianapolis, the Yankees landed Curtis Granderson in a three-way trade with Arizona and Detroit that shipped Ian Kennedy, a future 21-game winner, to the Diamondbacks.
– In 2008, general manager Brian Cashman left the meetings in Las Vegas to court C.C. Sabathia at his home in California, while completing a deal with A.J. Burnett.
– In 2007 – during Hank Steinbrenner’s brief and costly reign atop the hierarchy – the Yankees arrived in Nashville debating whether to trade for Johan Santana. They did not, but by then they had already showered $275-million on Rodriguez.
The Yankees have been quiet since the Tigers’ Jose Valverde struck out Rodriguez to end the division series Oct. 6. Then again, that is nothing new. Besides the signing of Soriano, which he did not endorse, Cashman has kept his prospects and held on to the Steinbrenners’ money.
“We haven’t really done anything since Lee chose to go to Philly,” Cashman said. “We went through a winter, post-Cliff Lee, of doing nothing. The trade deadline, the whole season, same thing. It’s a reflection of the fact that we have a lot of talent here, and a lot of talent coming.”
There is more to it. Cashman said he has found newer general managers to be unrealistic, asking far too much in trade talks than he is prepared to give. He resisted the high prices at July’s trading deadline, and the Yankees still finished with the best record in the American League.
The other difference is Cashman’s boss. Hal Steinbrenner is more rational than his famously impatient father, George, and more willing to take a long-term view. That fits with Cashman’s management style, which has grown somewhat more conservative, if not fully by choice.
“I’m still very aggressive, and I want to do certain things,” Cashman said. “But I’ve gotten better at what I do – as you would hope – and I’m just not as dumb as I used to be.
“I also think we know our players a lot better now than we did 10 years ago. We’re better positioned to assess what they are and what they’re going to be.”
The Yankees have successfully brought along players from their farm system in each of the past few seasons: Brett Gardner, Eduardo Nunez, Ivan Nova. Next season they expect the emergence of slugger Jesus Montero, and maybe right-hander Hector Noesi, who is pitching well in the Dominican winter league.
A new contract agreement for Sabathia came swiftly, ensuring the Yankees would have their ace in front of Nova, Burnett, Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia, whose new contract will be official when he passes a physical.
It is a decent rotation, bolstered significantly by a bullpen with the best earned run average in the American League last season and an offence that generated the second most runs in baseball. Cashman said he liked the depth of prospects expected to fill out the Class AAA rotation.
Even so, expect the Yankees to monitor the market for free-agent left-hander Mark Buehrle, although they doubt he really wants to pitch in New York. They seem to have minimal interest in C.J. Wilson, Edwin Jackson or Yu Darvish, if his Japanese team makes him available.
The Chicago Cubs’ Matt Garza has succeeded in the American League East, and the idea of Cashman finally being able to trade with Theo Epstein, his former rival in Boston, is intriguing. There has been no sign of serious trade talks, but of course, that could change in Dallas, where other starters – John Danks? James Shields? – will also be dangled.
One thing seems certain: The Yankees will enter the meetings with a stable of prospects, especially pitchers and catchers, and no pressing needs except a left-handed reliever and some help for the bench.
They do not have to make a major move, and for now, they do not seem eager to act. Yet these are the Yankees, so be prepared for plans to change without notice.
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