After loss of Robinson Cano, Yankees are optimistic but also realistic

Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner speaks at

Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner speaks at a press conference announcing an eight-year partnership between the Yankees, the Big Ten conference and New Era Pinstripe Bowl before at Yankee Stadium. (June 3, 2013) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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The Yankees haven't exactly given off an overwhelming vibe of disappointment since the loss of Robinson Cano, but they're not kidding themselves, either.

"The team can't be better without Robbie Cano,'' team president Randy Levine said of the club as currently constituted. "He's a great player. We're going to miss him.''

So even with the buzz created in the last month by the signings of catcher Brian McCann and outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran -- the latter's deal is likely to become official this week -- general manager Brian Cashman has plenty of work to do.

"Hal [Steinbrenner] has said, Cash has said, we have holes to fill, so we're trying hard,'' Levine said. "Hopefully we'll get there. But having a championship team is within reach.''

Steinbrenner, speaking after Ellsbury was introduced Friday in a news conference at the Stadium, didn't paint the recent signings as completely making up for the loss of Cano, one of the game's best all-around players.

"Robbie, again, was a great player and he was a big part of this organization for a number of years,'' Steinbrenner said. "As I said, it's not going to be easy to replace him. But we're doing a good job and life goes on, and we're not done yet.''

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Levine, also speaking after Ellsbury's introduction, said the Yankees are "pretty close'' to again being championship-caliber.

"Look at the team we have,'' he said. "Brian McCann, he's exceptional. I think Jacoby Ellsbury, really dynamic, exceptional. These are great players. Hopefully we'll have another announcement [Beltran] soon. Everything I hear, Derek Jeter is working hard. He feels really, really great. So I think we're going to have a really, really great team.''

The holes, however, are significant, made more difficult to fill as the club tries to bring the payroll to $189 million to avoid incurring a harsh luxury-tax penalty. Steinbrenner, who two springs ago called getting to the luxury-tax threshold a "requirement'' but has backed off that statement during the last year, again stressed that $189 million is a goal rather than a mandate.

"We get close to that number and then we look and see what kind of team we've got,'' he said. "If it's not good enough, it's not good enough and we'll keep going.''

Cashman is in the market for infield help at second and third -- he turned down a proposal by the Reds that would have shipped second baseman Brandon Phillips to the Yankees in exchange for outfielder Brett Gardner -- a starter to bolster a thin rotation and bullpen depth, both from the left and right side.

One free agent high on the Yankees' board came off it Friday when second baseman Omar Infante agreed to a four-year deal worth a reported $30 million with the Royals. The Yankees had offered him a three-year contract for $24 million.

Sources have said the Yankees are interested in 37-year-old Michael Young, a past player of interest for them who primarily has been a shortstop in his career but has played plenty of third, second and first as well.

The Yankes also have spoken with the agent for Juan Uribe -- reports Saturday night had him agreeing to terms with the Dodgers -- and have expressed some interest in Eric Chavez, though there is concern about the 36-year-old's vast injury history. The Yankees saw that up close in 2011-12 when Chavez played effectively for them but battled injuries.

Japanese righthander Masahiro Tanaka remains the Yankees' top pitching target, but there is increasing skepticism that his club, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, will post him this offseason. Sources have consistently said the Yankees currently aren't in on any of the big-name starters on the market such as Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez. That, of course, is subject to change, especially if Tanaka is not posted.

As the winter meetings began last week, Cashman said he hoped to leave with a player or two. He departed Thursday morning with nothing, though not for a lack of effort.

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"We've got our lines in the water for trades and free agency,'' he said. "Obviously [we] stand here today without reeling in any more of the talent that we're shooting for, but there's a lot of time between now and Opening Day. And in some cases, it might not be resolved until the trade deadline. We'll just have to wait and see.''

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