Torii Hunter. - Thearon W. Henderson
A look at the New York Yankees as free agency approaches, including some predictions.
Saturday is the first day Major League Baseball teams can sign free agents who were not on their rosters for the 2012 season. Meaning, the free-agent frenzy will have begun for real.
The rumors about what the New York Yankees might, or might not, do have already been swirling. Let's break down some of the key decisions general manager Brian Cashman and the Yankee brain trust need to make, along with offering a prediction on what I think will ultimately happen.
[Related: Who the Yankees should keep, and let go]
Nick Swisher has had a nice run in New York, except for his post-season failures. His time in the Bronx appears to be up, however. He is a free agent and most indications are that the Yankees don't have much interest in bringing him back.
Ichiro Suzuki is also a free agent, and I have been clear in my position that I would rather have Ichiro in pinstripes in 2013 than Swisher. Ichiro, 38, played extremely well for the Yankees after being acquired from the Seattle Mariners.
There has already been a ton of speculation that right-handed hitting veteran outfielder Torii Hunter is the apple of the Yankees' eye when it comes to potential right fielders. This makes sense on some levels because Hunter hits right-handed, still has some power and is a good defender. Also, the Yankees may not want Ichiro and Brett Gardner, slap-hitting speedsters, manning two of their outfield spots.
Of course, if you want to shoot for the moon slugging Josh Hamilton is also on the free-agent market.
Valentine's View: In the end I think the Yankees bring in Hunter. Ichiro would be fine, too, but the Yankees saw Ichiro as a Gardner replacement in 2012. With Gardner back, the similarities between the games of the two might make the Yankees look in another direction.
Russell Martin is a free agent. Optimally, the Yankees would bring Martin back. There are a couple of factors that make bringing Martin back tricky, however. His offensive production continues to decline each year. Despite hitting 21 homers in 2012, Martin had career lows in batting average (.211) and on-base percentage (.311). The Yankees might not want to make a long-term, expensive commitment to Martin with his declining offense, but the alternatives aren't great. Atlanta's Brian McCann is coming off his worst offensive year (.230/.300/.399). A.J. Pierzynski is a free agent, but he will be 36 next season.
Valentine's View: Martin will be brought back ... unless somebody offers him crazy money.
The Yankees' decisions here revolve almost entirely around veteran free agents Andy Pettitte and Hiroli Kuroda.
Valentine's View: If Pettitte decides not to retire -- again -- he will pitch in New York with the Yankees on a one-year contract. That should work for both sides. Kuroda was the Yankees' best pitcher at times in 2012, and if reports that he is willing to pitch on a one-year deal are accurate the Yankees need to make that happen. NOW!
Cashman always says he is focused on improving the Yankees' pitching, but I don't know of any other available free-agent starters who would be definite upgrades and are realistic targets.
The Yankees and Rafael Soriano seem to be going their separate ways after Soriano opted out of the final year of his contract. The veteran closer seems to believe he can cash in on the great year he had subbing for Mariano Rivera, and he might be right. The Yankees also have the question of whether or not Rivera will return hanging over them.
Valentine's View: If Soriano wants to go, so be it. The Yankees need an answer from Rivera as to whether he will pitch in 2013 or retire, and they need it quickly. After what they saw in 2012 I doubt anyone in the Yankee organization would be comfortable with David Robertson closing games, so if the Yankees need a Plan B other than Rivera they need time to figure that out.