Cracking The Hot Stove Code

Last week, we had four days of Winter Meetings to look forward to, and all we got were four days of rumors. (1,2,3,4) The Yankees haven't needed this much TLC since 2008, and now they get to do it with a budget in mind. On top of that, the free agent market isn't exactly booming with potential. Brian Cashman may have missed a number of outfield  and infield free agents last week, but none of them were "must-haves". He has to please the fans with a winning team, he has to please ownership by staying within a budget, and he has to do his job with the largest media market in American sports breathing down his neck. How's he going to get his job done when the media is broadcasting all his weaknesses to every baseball organization and agent he needs to negotiate with? He makes stuff up.

If you've followed any of the rumor updates from last week, you'll see that the number of contradicting reports is ridiculous. Baseball news has evolved into a competition of the fastest fingers. The first reporter to tweet a rumor or an acquisition gets some sort of point. What are the points good for? I don't know. And while it breeds competition, it degrades the quality of news. A false break is usually lost in the storm of other rumors from unreliable sources, and nothing goes checked.

Welcome to "The Hot Stove", the show where everything's made up and the points don't matter. That's right, the points are like awards given out by the BBWAA.

But this post is more than a rant about how untrustworthy the rumor mill is, because there's actually a meaning behind it all. The rumblings come from somewhere, and that somewhere is usually an agent or organization. One agent may offer a reporter a legitimate signing break so that they could help spread a false rumor that a big market team may be interested in their client. While the rumor is bogus, that'll rarely hurt a reporters reputation. Instead, this rumor will help influence a team to increase their bid on the free agent in order to keep up with the fake suitors.

It works in favor of organizations as well, as they can pretend to have interest in a free agent that a rival is involved with. Only last year, Cashman admitted to driving up the price on Carl Crawford, who was heavily connected to the Red Sox, and ultimately signed with them. He's become notorious for manipulating the media, and it's hard to read into anything linked to the Yankees anymore.

So far in this offseason, in response to losing Alex Rodriguez for the first few months of the season, Cashman said that the Yankees are looking to upgrade at third base. During the length of the winter meetings, the Yankees were connected to Chris Nelson, Kevin Youkilis, Eric Chavez, Ian Stewart, Jack Hannahan, Marco Scutaro, and Mark Reynolds. They were also linked heavily to Jeff Keppinger, and at one point, were considered favorites to sign him. But when Keppinger actually signed, we heard a completely different story.

First the Yankees bid $12 million for 3 years, more than what he received from the White Sox, but preferred to play for Chicago. Lots of fans and reporters were shocked that the Yankees couldn't even sign a utility player they clearly had interest in. Then we heard the Yankees never even made an offer.

Eric Chavez, another third baseman the team supposedly had a lot of interest in, was also signed by another team, yet later we found out that the Yankees again never offered a contract.

Then there were the outfield rumors, which included Scott Hairston, Cody Ross, Shane Victorino, Ichiro Suzuki, and Nate Shierholtz. The team was the frontrunner for Shierholtz, and they even (supposedly) offered him a contract. Of course, he went on to sign a one-year $2.25 million deal. It's hard to believe the Yankees couldn't beat that.

Now the team supposedly offered Kevin Youkilis a $12 million one-year deal, and I'm not sure we should have any faith in that being real either. It seems that the long list we were given a week ago of outfield and third base options have all signed somewhere else, and the Yankees never even got close to making an offer. Cashman also led off the Winter Meetings by saying he's looking for just an "upgrade" at third base. The organization closed out the meetings by saying that Cashman's hands were tied by ownership, and he couldn't even offer contracts to these utility players without consulting the Steinbrenners. It would seem that the Yankees are struggling to even find a mediocre bench player.

But all of these rumors from a normally quiet Cashman is a bit odd. It makes me believe that the GM is strategically making teams believe that he's only interested in a platoon and utility third basemen and outfielders. Why would he do that? Because teams know that the Yankees need these positions filled, and by playing coy on the market for positions of need, other teams are less likely to inflate the price.

An example of this happened yesterday. Just a week ago, the Royals made it well known that they needed a top tier pitcher, and that they needed him now. They got their guy in James Shields, as well as Wade Davis, but paid for it with the top offensive prospect in the game, Wil Myers, as well as former first round picks, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and a former 5th rounder from last year, Patrick Leonard. In other markets, Myers for two years of James Shields sounds reasonable, but as it stands, the Rays were able to convince the Royals to give up much more.

After his long tenure with the Yankees, Cashman has learned how to manipulate the media beautifully. I expect that everything he tells reporters, and much of what we find out, is for a reason. Heck, we didn't even find out that Andy Pettitte signed until a week after the parties agreed.

When it comes to the rumors about platoon players this offseason, I think Cashman means the exact opposite of what he says. I won't say that the team will go out and sign Josh Hamilton and trade for Chase Headley, but even if they extend Robinson Cano next year, they have a bit over $40 million to play with in 2014, and 3 potential first round picks in 2013 to restock their farm system. They still have a considerable amount of resources stockpiled, and I think they're poising themselves to unexpectedly strike some impact players.

The only other option would be that the team has decided to go through their first rebuild since the early 1990's. Considering they gave Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera rather big contracts, I find it hard to believe ownership would be willing to waste money on pitching without a commitment to win in 2013. There are four offensive positions to fill, and based on everything we've heard, there are two ways I see the team moving forward.

  1.  The rumors about the Yankees contacting teams about Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes, and Ivan Nova are true. They could get a nice package of MLB ready prospects for that, and fill out the team with young high upside players for the long term. It's risky, and something the Yankees aren't accustomed to, but it looks similar to what the team planned when trading for Michael Pineda. It doesn't help them much in 2013, but it makes the future bright, and helps offset the bulky contracts of CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira.
  2. They sell the farm for young players closer to their prime. Trading away Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, and Gary Sanchez would allow them a pick at a number of established and productive players. It'll risk the team becoming older over the next few years, but they'll have a much better chance over 2013 and 2014. The farm wouldn't be completely destroyed either, thanks to the three first round picks in June's draft.

I'm sure there are a number of other ways to treat this offseason, but from the numerous rumors that have become more transparent to their real nature, it's clear that the Yankees are molding a new team, and the most logical way is through the trade market.

2013 and 2014 will ignite a new stage for the organization, and this offseason will determine what it'll be. The starting lineup for the 2013 Yankees will likely have at least four different players at OF, 3B, C, and DH. In 2014, Granderson will be gone, Rivera and Pettitte will probably retire, Derek Jeter will be in the last year of his contract, and who knows if Robsinson Cano will agree to an extension.

These are weird times in Yankee-land, and how this offseason is handled will hold tremendous consequences to the future. So while the rumors say that they'll probably settle for a platoon at just about every position of need, the next stage for the team won't be composed of aging platoon players and utility infielders as we've been led to believe. Cashman is up to something.