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Vernon Wells and redoing the Yankees' offseason

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If you could start the offseason over for the Yankees, what would you do differently? Hint: It probably doesn't end with Vernon Wells.


I spent most of the offseason being a Yankees apologist. They'll be fine, I mumbled. They always are. You might agree or disagree, thinking the Yankees are either in good shape or unquestionably doomed. But after Sunday I think we can all agree on something: When a team's offseason ends with them spending $13 million on Vernon Wells, that team probably has a few regrets with how its offseason played out.

There are all sorts of crass analogies you can muster up on this one -- it was a last-call-on-a-Tuesday-night kind of trade -- but we'll go for accuracy. Looking down at a major-league roster at the end of the offseason and seeing Vernon Wells's name is like looking down at your roster at the end of a fantasy draft and seeing Vernon Wells's name. How did you get there? What happened? Was there anything you could have done diff-- well, of course there was. Why are you even doing this? Aren't those grown men playing a children's game? Goodness, the choices you've made in your life …

So let's look at the money the Yankees spent in the offseason, and see if hindsight might improve what the Yankees did. There are just a couple of ground rules:

  • I'm not going to contemplate what they could have done with the salaries of Mariano Rivera and Robinson Cano, because neither of them were going anywhere.
  • I won't search for a first baseman, as the Mark Teixeira injury came relatively late in the offseason. Same goes with the Granderson injury and looking for another starting outfielder. That's a little too much hindsight.

Excluding the Rivera/Cano salaries, the Yankees committed $83.5 million this offseason to the following players:

Curtis Granderson - $15 million (team option)
Kevin Youkilis - $12 million
Ichiro Suzuki - $13 million (two years)
Travis Hafner - $2 million
Hiroki Kuroda - $15 million
Andy Pettitte - $12 million
Vernon Wells - $13 million (two years)
Brennan Boesch - $1.5 million

Of those, only Ichiro and Wells are around for 2014 as well. $83.5 million is a lot of bones or clams or whatever you call them, especially when you're not adding any long-term value to the team. But when you consider what the Yankees didn't get involved in -- onerous long-term deals for pricey players -- they did quite well.

Would you trade Granderson, Youkilis, Ichiro, Kuroda, and Pettitte for five years of Anibal Sanchez? Considering the win-now situation of the Yankees, nope. It isn't really close. I wouldn't trade Kuroda's 2013 season for Sanchez's, regardless of salary. It takes a $10 million commitment to secure pitchers like Kevin Correia and Carlos Villanueva, more for a Joe Blanton. As such, Kuroda and Pettitte were probably the best options, and there's no point in seeing what else the Yankees could have done with the money. They did pretty well for themselves.

That leaves $56 million to play with, and a team can still get a nice player for that. Say, Nick Swisher. But would a four-year commitment to Swisher be worth the loss of Granderson, Youkilis,and Ichiro? ZiPS projects Granderson to be more valuable than Swisher for 2013, for example. On the free-agent market, having $56 million to play with usually means sinking it into one contract, and the Yankees didn't want to use that strategy because they had too many spots to fill. Granderson, then, was a pretty good option.

And the market for third basemen was almost completely barren, with the Yankees bereft of Justin Uptons to trade. Youkilis is an overpay, most likely, but he was just about the only option for a team looking for a starting third baseman.

So, wait, we're motoring through a recreation of the offseason, and so far we have the Yankees re-signing or acquiring Cano, Rivera, Kuroda, Pettitte, Granderson, and Youkilis … which is exactly what they did in the first place? This is getting boring. Oh, and I think the Hafner deal was a decent gamble, too, so he stays. It's hard to quibble with too many of these moves, especially considering the Yankees' desire to avoid long-term deals right now.

Except there are three names left, and they're all outfielders. Ichiro, Wells, and Boesch will combine to make just under $28 million over the next two years. Let's look at a couple of combinations that might have been more appealing than that waking nightmare of a potential outfield:

Torii Hunter ($26 million)
The death throes of Hunter's career will probably resemble what Ichiro looked like with the Yankees over the last two years. So that kind of risk was already being accepted with Ichiro. The Yankees would be paying Hunter twice as much as Ichiro, and they wouldn't have Wells, but, well, okay.

Cody Ross, Nate Schierholtz, and Geovany Soto ($29 million)
Well, that's quite the overpayment for Ross, but at least you get a lefty complement with Schierholtz and an okay-fielding catcher who has at least a 50-percent chance of hitting above replacement level.

Scott Hairston, Eric Chavez, Maicer Izturis, and A.J. Pierzynski ($25.5 million)
Izturis would have helped protect against an extended Jeter absence, but with Teixeira's injury, he could have allowed Youkilis to play first. Pierzynski on the Yankees is some WWE-style theater, and we should have been rooting for it in the first place.

Russell Martin and Ichiro ($30 million)
Okay, a little overbudget, but Martin was steady, and the people in HR don't even have to create a new personnel file.

Ichiro, Juan Pierre, Yorvit Torrealba, and, hell, I don't know, Rick Ankiel, with the rest of the money going into a slush fund for one heckuva holiday party ($15 million)
You're starting to see a pattern, here.

Ichiro, Delmon Young, Cody Ransom, and Miguel Olivo (converted to 3B for the hell of it) ($15 million or so)
Because when it comes to paying Vernon Wells $13 million …

Danny Murphy, Donnie Murphy, David Murphy (trade), and Dale Murphy ($7 million and prospects)
… just about any option would have been preferable.

Ichiro and a Free Cockapoo Puppy at the Park promotion (first 25,000) ($26 million)
But here's the main point: If there was $13 million to spend on an emergency Vernon Wells, how was there not enough money to sign a catcher? Mike Napoli, David Ross, A.J. Pierzynski, Russell Martin … all of those players cost either close to what Wells did, or a lot less. Instead, the Yankees have a Chris Stewart/Francisco Cervelli duo behind the plate, and all of their remaining offseason resources went to Wells, who probably isn't going to be better than the Melky Mesa or Ben Francisco they already had.

There isn't a lot I would have done differently with the Yankees' offseason, and if they held fast to their pre-Vernon position that the money was all gone, they creatively spread money around the roster. But the decision to spend on Wells, even if prompted by injuries, means that they had a little wiggle room in the payroll the whole time. The didn't spend it on a catcher. They didn't spend it on an outfielder who was a better bet than Ichiro. They spent it on Vernon Wells.

Vernon Wells.

The Yankees had money all along, and they spent it on Vernon Wells.

You can't blame the Yankees for the fastball that broke Granderson or the unexpected aches of Teixeira. Apart from that spate of bad luck, the offseason was prudent and calculated for the Yanks. Until we found out there was a slush fund for emergencies, that is. Now that we know that -- and how they used it -- we can wonder openly what the Yankees were thinking. And I'm not sure we'll ever know the answer. I'm not sure we want to.

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