Barring a a big-time unexpected swerve, the Yankees seem pretty well set in their plans to not add significant payroll this offseason as they try to address their team needs. They've engaged pretty much every older free agent from last year's team in some capacity while letting the younger, more expensive ones walk. If there is going to be any real effort towards improving the quality of the on-field product next year and not just controlling the dollars, that effort may have to come through the trade market, a roster-building medium with which Cash has great familiarity.
The Montero-Pineda deal aside, Cash has had a pretty successful recent track record adding productive pieces in their prime to the aging core of his lineup, most notably with the now departed Nick Swisher and the likely soon-to-be departed Curtis Granderson. Both of those moves followed a similar formula- seeking out and adding sub-30-year-old players with skill sets that fit the Yankee mold who were coming off seasons of significant decline in production. It's the classic buy-low method and there's no argument to be made for the Swish or Granderson deals not being good ones in terms of the production they brought to the team.
There are some names out there that could fit that similar mold of what Cash has looked for when making trades to bolster the lineup, some of which everybody knows and some that haven't been considered nearly as much. There's been no real indication that the Yankees will make a move for any of these players, but if Cash is playing opossum again, here are 4 guys who would make a lot of sense to go after.
Josh Reddick: OF, Oakland A's- 25 years old, 3 Years of Arbitration Eligibility Remaining
Reddick is the player in this group who admittedly least fits the mold. He's younger and more inexperienced than Swish or C-Grand were, which makes him still a bit of an unknown in terms of projecting his future, and is coming off a career year in 2012. Despite a disappointing 2nd half, Reddick still posted a .326 wOBA in his first full season in the Majors while hitting 32 home runs and accumulating 4.8 WAR, 6th best amongst all AL outfielders.
There are some things to not like about Reddick, mainly his 22.4% K rate for the season that spiked in the 2nd half of this season and the fact that he's a left-handed hitter who would be added to an already lefty-heavy lineup. But that lefty power swing would play nicely to the short porch in right at YS3, as would Reddick's budding patience at the plate (8.2% this season) and well above-average defense in right. Reddick supplemented his struggles to hit for average, an average that was negatively impacted by a low .269 BABIP, with a solid all-around game and didn't display any kind of platoon split this season, so the hitting tools are there.
There's reason to believe that with more experience, Reddick could develop into a great all-around player, and with 3 years of arbitration eligibility remaining he would be a tremendous help in keeping payroll down. Despite adding an OF already this offseason, Oakland hasn't indicated any willingness to trade Reddick, but you never know with Billy Beane. Bare minimum, it's worth putting a call in to see what the A's would ask for in return.
Chase Headley: 3B, San Diego Padres- 28 Years Old, 1 Year of Arbitration Eligibility Remaining After 2013
Headley is a name that people should be more familiar with, and he's much closer to the Swish/C-Grand mold than Reddick is. Headley turned 28 this season, has roughly 4+ years of Major League experience, and possesses a lot of key skills the Yankees value. Like Reddick, Headley is coming off a career year, one that was enough to get him a Final 5 NL MVP nomination and one that cancels out any chance of the Yankees not paying through the nose to get him. But he still has power (31 HR, .212 ISO), patience (12.3% BB rate), plus defensive skills, and would bring some right-handed balance to the lineup.
The big hurdle to overcome in this scenario is Headley's position. He has some outfield experience from back in the day, but Headley has been and is still presently a third baseman and there isn't any reason to think the Yankees are going to move Alex Rodriguez from that post this season. Any last chance they had of shipping him and his contract to Miami died last night with the big trade, and relegating A-Rod to full-time DH duty to make room for Headley would be a huge slap in the face to Alex and make his contract an even bigger eyesore than it already is. There's also the issue of paying Headley, which the Yankees would have to do handsomely after his final year of arb eligibility in 2014. Trading a package of top prospects for just 2 guaranteed years of service probably isn't wise for a team as old as the Yankees, even if Headley fits a lot of needs.
Alex Gordon: OF, Kansas City Royals- 28 Years Old, 3 Years Remaining on Current Contract at $10.5 Million AAV
Moving from Reddick to Headley got closer to following the Swish/C-Grand formula, and moving from Headley to Gordon gets even closer than that. Gordon is also 28 years old, plays the outfield, is coming off a bit of a down year offensively, albeit a year in which he still hit .294/.368/.455, and is under contract for the next 3 seasons at a team-friendly rate less than the value of the qualifying offer made to Swish. He hits for average, he hits for some power, he runs the bases, he plays a great defensive outfield, he's got a healthy career BB rate with a declining K rate, and the Yankees would theoretically be getting 3 peak years from him. The only downside is he's another lefty swinger.
That being the equation, it goes without saying that Gordon would not come cheap either. He'd probably cost the Yankees more in trade pieces than Headley would, and the Yanks and Royals don't exactly add up as trade partners. KC is on the record as being in the market for Major League or Major League-ready starting pitching, and the Yankees don't have much to offer in that department. Putting a trade package together around Phil Hughes and/or Ivan Nova, assuming KC was even interested in them, would leave the rotation further short-staffed than it presently is, rendering any team-wide benefit to adding Gordon minimal. Gordon is the type of player that you give away top prospects for, but even a package including 2 of the 3 of Williams, Sanchez, and Austin plus some other top low level pieces might not get it done.
Justin Upton- OF, Arizona Diamondbacks- 25 Years Old, 3 Years Remaining on Current Contract at $12.83 Million AAV
This is the name that everybody knows, and any smart Yankee fan or blogger started to drool a little bit when Upton being on the trade block was first mentioned. Outside of being younger (which is not a bad thing at all), Upton is the closest fit to what Swish and C-Grand were when the Yanks traded for them. He's a former All Star and MVP candidate, he' got 5+ years of experience at a young age, is a true 5-tool player, is coming off a severe decline in performance this season (.341 wOBA, 2.5 fWAR), and comes with 3 guaranteed years of team control at a more than reasonable cost. If the Yankees are truly not in on Justin Upton, everybody in the front office needs their fucking head examined.
Upton's big red flag has nothing to do with position or price or years of control, it simply comes down to makeup. There have been some negative reports on his attitude and work ethic in Arizona, which if true are probably the main contributing factors to his being on the block. The Yankees value makeup a lot, and Upton's reported questionable one could be a turn-off for them, but that should in no way factor into the decision to pursue Upton. In Arizona, he was a big fish in the small pond, a young player thrust into the spotlight and expected to be a star on a team that had none. That wouldn't be the case in New York at all. If any clubhouse can straighten out a young kid with some possible attitude problems, it's the Yankee clubhouse, and you don't ignore young talent like this just because of possible attitude problems.
Cash and Kevin Towers are very familiar with each other and each other's organizations, and could probably come to an agreement based around a package of 3 top 5 Yankee prospects and bonus pieces to sweeten the deal and make up for the lack of Major League-ready talent in return. If they truly are willing to dump their best player before he hits his prime, the D-backs are going to need an infusion of high-ceiling position player talent, and that's something the Yankees do have. I wasn't totally sold on Upton at first, but there really is no valid case to be made for why the Yankees shouldn't go after him.
It's obvious there are players out there who would help, even if not all of them are officially "available." Swish and C-Grand weren't trades that a lot of people anticipated either, so the precedent has been set. Time will tell if ownership gives Cash the freedom to work the phones and try to orchestrate another big trade or not.