With everyone having now made their decisions on the qualifying offers that were made (all were declined) and the GM meetings this week getting things moving towards the meat of the 2012 offseason schedule, the Yankees know where they stand and know where they need to focus their efforts to build their team for 2013. As presently constructed, the Yankee roster is short 2 starting pitchers, 1 right fielder, 1 hitter capable of handling a significant chunk of the time at DH, at least 1 relief pitcher to build depth in front of a returning Mariano Rivera, and a couple of pieces to fill out the bench.
The precedent has already been set from the front office for how they plan to fill these needs, and it's going to be on the cheap, cheaper than it was last season when the Yankees jumped in late to swipe a few veterans on 1-year deals. That strategy will eliminate some of the players mentioned below, but that still isn't stopping me from putting together my list of the top free agents the Yankees should be going after this offseason. We'll tackle the first half of that list, the position players, after the jump.
Russell Martin- C
I got more negative feedback in the TYA comments section for the pro-Martin post I wrote earlier in the week, but I still stand by my belief that Martin is the best option. He'll likely come cheaper than Pierzynski or Napoli coming off the bad year, he should be easy to sign to another short deal, and he has the most familiarity with the holdovers on the pitching staff.
Kelly Shoppach- C
He's best suited as a backup, but if the Yankees don't bring back Martin they could do worse than to plug Shoppach in as a 1-year bridge to the future. He's got some pop (career .192 ISO), some patience (8.3% BB rate), and isn't a butcher behind the plate. He'll turn 33 soon after the 2013 season starts too, so between that and his career as a backup he's still got tread left on the tires.
Eric Chavez- 3B/1B
Chavez wouldn't have been on any list I made before this past season, but a .360 wOBA in extended playing time has a way of getting you noticed. He was on the fence about coming back in 2012 after a bad year; I wonder how he'll feel about coming back for another year as the corner infield insurance after a good one.
Jeff Keppinger- 2B/3B
He's been connected to the Yankees as a bench option in the past, but he might be out of their price range after hitting .325/.367/.439 this year. That's way over Keppinger's true talent level, and he does have a pretty significant L/R platoon split, but he can play all 4 infield positions if needed and could be had at a reasonable price later in the offseason if every other team passes on him.
Placido Polanco- 3B
His days of contending for batting titles are long over at age 37, but Polanco is still a solid defender at third base and still has the elite contact skills that the Yankee roster could use more of (7.6% K rate in 2012, 6.8% career). He could be a right-handed version of Chavez.
Marco Scutaro- 2B/SS
Admittedly a longshot after the postseason he had, but Scutaro represents exactly what the Yankees would look for in a utility infielder. He can play multiple positions, makes a lot of contact, has some pop, and has the type of professional approach that would fit seamlessly into the Yankee clubhouse. If by some stroke of black magic he doesn't get a multi-year deal to start for another team, like the Giants, he would be ideal insurance for Jeter.
Torii Hunter- RF
I've already made my case for Hunter, which you can read here, and the Yankees spoke to his agent at the GM meetings this week. They've already declared that they won't go more than 1 year for Hunter, a wise move given some of his red flags, but he's my #1 option for a 1-year stopgap in right if that's the approach Cash takes.
Melky Cabrera- LF/RF
The Yankees aren't connected to him, and despite the PED suspension he'll still probably garner enough interest from teams to get more money and more years than New York wants to commit. But if the 'roid bust does scare people off, there's enough to like about Melky (under 30, switch hitter, improved power, speed, experience in New York) to take a flyer on him.
Scott Hairston- OF
Like Keppinger, Scott Hairston is in a position to earn more than he's actually worth after his big 2012 season (.342 wOBA, 20 HR). The Yankees were interested in him for their right-handed DH spot this season and couldn't get him. Given his platoon tendencies, I'd look at Hairston as a last resort for 2013.
Angel Pagan- CF
Matt Imbrogno's profile on him turned me on to Pagan, and there is a lot to like about him. He's 31, plays solid D, makes a lot of contact, can steal bases, and is a switch hitter without a huge platoon split from either side. He probably couldn't be had on just a 1-year deal, but Pagan would be the type of player worth giving another couple of years to and plugging into the leadoff spot.
B.J. Upton- CF
Another player who won't be had on a 1-year contract, Upton will be looking at big dollars on the strength of his power, plus athleticism, and the fact that he's still in his prime at 28. He strikes out too much (25.1% career K rate), but Upton has 30-30 potential and would give the Yanks one of the top defensive outfields with Gardner and C-Grand flanking him. Assuming, of course, that Granderson wasn't traded to clear payroll room to sign Upton if the Yankees were interested.
Ichiro Suzuki- RF/LF
He seems to be gaining a lot of support after his .322/.340/.454 rebirth in pinstripes, but I'd still only look at Ichiro as a last-ditch effort on a 1-year deal. There's just no reason to expect him to replicate or come close to replicating those numbers over a full season, and when his BABIP isn't going his way, Ichiro offers little else offensively.
** Coming up tomorrow- the pitchers. **