Patient Yanks could have busy Winter Meetings

Patient Yanks could have busy Winter Meetings

NEW YORK -- For the Yankees, the first nudge toward organizing their roster for 2013 arrived last week with the announcement that reliable starter Hiroki Kuroda had agreed to a $15 million contract for a second season wearing pinstripes.

Prioritizing starting pitching, the Yanks had essentially been in a holding pattern waiting for a response from Kuroda, and they received more good news when Andy Pettitte officially inked a $12 million deal on Wednesday.

Completing two major moves on the rotation front make it possible that the Yankees could be in good position to create headlines at next week's Winter Meetings, which will begin on Monday in Nashville, Tenn.

"It feels like it's taken a while to get some traction this winter, but I also know patience is part of the process," general manager Brian Cashman said.

Despite their advancing ages, Kuroda and Pettitte were perfect fits for the Yankees because they are high-end players willing to return on one-year commitments, which speaks volumes about where the Yanks stand heading to the Winter Meetings.

For the purposes of this year, at least, the image of the Yankees as aggressive checkbook wavers does not exist. Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has decreed that the club must fall below a $189 million payroll for 2014, which explains why you haven't heard the Yanks connected to big free agents like slugger Josh Hamilton and starter Zack Greinke.

The Yankees still have several holes to fill between now and the moment that manager Joe Girardi will address his roster for the first time in February, with several key figures expected to be deleted from the club that was swept in the American League Championship Series by the Tigers.

Pettitte's positive reply further strengthens a rotation that projects to include CC Sabathia, Kuroda, Phil Hughes and either Ivan Nova or David Phelps at the moment.

"We'd like to add to that and lengthen it, and deepen it and strengthen it," Cashman said.

There is expected to be a vacancy in right field, as Nick Swisher is anticipated to exit in search of a large multiyear contract, and the Yankees do not have high hopes of retaining Rafael Soriano, who opted out and likely will be sought by clubs as a closer.

The Yanks, of course, believe that their ninth innings will be handled by Mariano Rivera. Cashman and agent Fernando Cuza are expected to soon hammer out an agreement to keep Rivera in pinstripes after the all-time saves leader confirmed that he hopes to continue pitching following his season-ending leg injury in May.

"We're talking, so hopefully we'll finalize everything," Rivera said earlier this month.

With no apparent replacements from within the organization, the Yankees do have interest in re-signing catcher Russell Martin, who reportedly has agreed to wait for the Yanks to settle their pitching situation, but has also drawn interest from the Pirates, Rangers and Mariners.

"That's a very physical position and Russell handled it pretty well," Girardi said. "So I'm sure other teams are going to be interested in Russell, just like we are."

The Yankees have also heard rumors that Ichiro Suzuki's first choice would be to stay in New York, coming off the good vibes created during a successful half-season following the July trade with the Mariners.

Ichiro could slide into the right-field vacancy, but does not replace Swisher's power production, which could prove to be a concern if New York intends to restore Brett Gardner to a starting role in left field.

The Yankees are planning as though Derek Jeter will be in the Opening Day lineup, and rumblings of a potential blockbuster trade involving Alex Rodriguez -- a sexy story during his tumultuous postseason -- have been repeatedly shot down by Cashman, who says that he fully intends to have Rodriguez manning third base for the Yanks in 2013.

Rodriguez's massive contract -- $114 million remaining through 2017 -- and no-trade rights make any deal involving him a logistical nightmare, but the trade market should be an appealing avenue for the Yankees to check other boxes on the winter plan.

Viewed as reluctant to float multiyear offers because of the self-imposed $189 million target for '14 -- as YES Network broadcaster David Cone said recently, "Free agents do not need to apply here" -- Cashman will be challenged to show his creativity if the Bronx Bombers are to repeat as division champions.

"I've never said we wouldn't do multiyear deals. I never said we can't," Cashman said. "We're capable of a lot of different things, but we certainly have strong preferences. We will communicate those directly to the agents."

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