As the Yankees look to build a revamped contender in 2008, sans the OPS and distractions inherent with ARod, the trade market seems like a more viable option than the free agent market.
This year's free agent class makes last year's famously bad group look like they deserve their own wing of the Hall of Fame. There are no superstars out there, no aces, no lockdown closers (other than Mariano Rivera). Teams across baseball, flush with revenue-sharing cash, are signing their young stars to long-term contracts before they hit free agency, so by the time players finally hit the market, they are often well past their primes.
But if the Yankees don't want to part with any of their Holy Trinity of young pitching, they're not going to score Miguel Cabrera, Johan Santana or anyone else who can make up for ARod's lost run production. And they still need to find a way to get better. Somehow. Unfortunately, that means trawling the dregs of this year's free agent class to see if there's anybody alive out there.
Even though there's no huge difference-maker available, if the Yankees can improve by a win here, or 20 runs there, the effort will be worthwhile in what could be a very close division/Wild Card race next season.
So is there anyone who can help? Anyone worth taking a chance on? The Yankees need to leverage their position as a pretty good ballclub with a ton of money by taking chances on guys they can sign to short-term deals. That way, they can avoid Pavano-like commitments, while paying riskier free agents more than they could get elsewhere. Brian Cashman should at least investigate these four players:
1) Barry Bonds - You hate him. I hate him. Even Willie Mays is starting to hate him. But Bonds can be had for a one-year deal, can play DH and a little left field, and could make up for a lot of the missing ARod production. DHing will help him stay healthy, and if he can play 140 games, he can hit 35 home runs. Signing Bonds would also give the Yankees flexibility to explore trading Damon, Matsui or Melky Cabrera. This is what having money is for, guys.
2) Eric Gagne - By all accounts, Gagne's velocity and stuff were the same in Boston as they were in Texas. He was just psyched out by his horrible start for the Red Sox, and never got back on track. Gagne can also probably be had for a one-year deal, and the more potentially decent bullpen arms the Yankees stockpile, the better.
3) Brad Wilkerson - Signing Wilkerson is mutually exclusive with signing Bonds, but he makes for a decent backup plan. He can play some left field, maybe fill in at center, and DH. He'll be looking to sign a short contract to put up some decent numbers in an attempt to prove his stint with Texas was an injury-related fluke. Again, he's a risk, but a risk worth taking for a team that can absorb the loss.
4) Kerry Wood - As Kid K moves further away from surgery and Dusty Baker, he becomes more likely to partially regain his past form. Like Gagne, he's a power arm worth adding at low cost to help out in the 7th and 8th innings. Because Lord knows help isn't coming from within, right, Farnsy?
All four of these guys could end up being worthless cripples by June. But if so, the Yankees won't really have lost anything, other than the draft picks they'd gain for losing ARod. The money won't make much of a dent, and the contracts will be short. Let's see if the young Steinbrenners have any gamble in their blood.