Yanks could get creative at Winter Meetings

Club has some needs, but unlikely to sign high-priced free agents

Yanks could get creative at Winter Meetings

NEW YORK -- The week ahead promises to be filled with high-wire acts for Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who will again dangle from the side of a 22-story building before attempting even more challenging maneuvers with his team's roster at the Winter Meetings.

Cashman is scheduled to participate in a "Heights and Lights" celebration in Stamford, Conn., on Sunday evening, serving as one of Santa's elves and rappelling off the rooftop. Within hours, he'll touch the ground in Nashville, Tenn., ready to get down to business with his fellow general managers.

Hot Stove Tracker

MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2015 Winter Meetings from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, with the Network launching 35 hours of live Winter Meetings coverage on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. Fans can also catch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, as well as the announcement of the Hall of Fame Pre-Integration Era Committee inductees on Monday at 11 a.m. and the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday at 10 a.m.

The Yankees have some clearly stated needs, but scoring solutions will require creativity, as most of the club's roster spots are already locked in by long-term commitments.

Yanks to keep ears open at Winter Meetings

Cashman has let it be known that he is open to exploring any and all trade opportunities, having already found a match by acquiring outfielder Aaron Hicks from the Twins for backup catcher John Ryan Murphy. That move followed the mold of last offseason's swaps for Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi, both of which paid dividends quickly.

It remains possible that there could be a bigger splash in store. While there are technically no untouchables on the Yankees' roster, some players are more available than others, as it would take a blockbuster-type haul to pry the likes of Brett Gardner or Andrew Miller from the club's clutches.

Club needs

Starting pitcher: The Yankees have legitimate health concerns in their rotation, as Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia and Eovaldi all spent time on the disabled list last season, while Ivan Nova was ineffective in his return from Tommy John surgery. If Tanaka is healthy, they look at him as a bona fide ace, but some backup would be nice. The Yanks are monitoring free agents, including Wei-Yin Chen.

"They're like race horses; they can go down at any time, and normally they do," Cashman has said of starting pitchers. "Any chance you have a way to improve upon that, you really have to focus on it if you can. It's easier said than done."

Bullpen: With the duo of Dellin Betances and Justin Wilson setting up closer Miller, this projects as a position of strength for the 2016 Yankees, though Cashman has said that he would like to build upon it.

"Bullpen is the area that's one of our areas of strength," Cashman said. "But if an opportunity comes along and it's another bullpen piece, so be it. If it makes sense in our world, then we'll become aggressive on it."

Second base: All of the starting positions appear locked in except for second base, where the Yankees project to field a platoon of Dustin Ackley and Rob Refsnyder, with Ackley starting against right-handed pitching and the rookie Refsnyder getting nods against lefties. Cashman has said that if he were to upgrade, it would be in terms of defense, viewing Ackley and Refsnyder as "offensive-minded" players.

Who they can trade if necessary

Gardner: The Yankees would be happy to have Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury patrolling two-thirds of their outfield on Opening Day, but Gardner is one of their few players with legitimate trade value. He slumped in the second half, which new hitting coach Alan Cockrell believed was due to lingering injuries, and is signed through age 35 at $39 million more over the next three years.

Miller: The left-hander answered all of the questions in the closer's role, securing 36 saves in 38 opportunities, but the Yankees have a safety net of sorts because they believe Betances could step into the closer's role without issue. Miller is still due $28 million through 2018.

Nova: Even though the Yankees need starting pitching, they have let teams know that Nova is available, though they do not intend to sell low on him. He has one season remaining before free agency and the Yankees could just as easily keep him for rotation depth.

Top prospects

Per MLBPipeline.com, the Yankees' top 10 prospects are, in order, outfielder Aaron Judge, infielder Jorge Mateo, right-hander James Kaprielian, Refsnyder, catcher Gary Sanchez, third baseman Eric Jagielo, left-hander Ian Clarkin, left-hander Jacob Lindgren, infielder Tyler Wade and right-hander Rookie Davis.

Judge and Kaprielian could make their big league debuts in 2016, while Sanchez is the favorite to serve as Brian McCann's backup. Cashman has mentioned Jagielo as a candidate to help support Chase Headley at third base.

Rule 5 Draft

The Yankees' 40-man roster is at 39 players, freeing them up to make a Rule 5 Draft pick if they desire. They have not made a selection in the Major League phase since 2011, when they selected right-hander Brad Meyers from the Nationals.

Big contracts they might unload

In addition to Gardner and Miller, the Yankees would listen if a club was interested in Carlos Beltran, who seems better suited for DH duties at this stage of his career. He has one year and $15 million remaining on his contract. They have other higher-paid players, but none that appear realistic to trade.

Payroll summary

No discussion of the upcoming payroll is complete without a look ahead. The Yankees will shave approximately $37 million after '16, when deals with Mark Teixeira and Beltran expire, then figure to see another $46 million come off the books in 2017-18 when they part ways with Alex Rodriguez and Sabathia.

What does that mean for 2016? Generally speaking, the Yankees aren't looking to add any more huge-salary players, having been assessed for a $26 million luxury tax bill for a $241 million payroll in '15.

Heading into next season, the Yankees already have the league's highest payroll at $183 million, a figure that does not include raises to arbitration-eligible players. The Yankees' 2015 Opening Day payroll was $219 million.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.