Negativity abounds about 2013 Yankees, but not with management

Brian Cashman answers questions concerning third baseman Alex Brian Cashman answers questions concerning third baseman Alex Rodriguez at the baseball winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn. (Dec. 3, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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TAMPA, Fla. -- Only Movie 43 received worse reviews than the Yankees' offseason.

OK, perhaps that's a stretch. But by and large, from fans in particular and also many members of the media, the Yankees' winter has been more excoriated than extolled.

"The amount of success we've had for a long time, we're judged at a higher standard,'' general manager Brian Cashman said without complaint Saturday, just days before spring training is to begin. "So no, it [the reaction] doesn't surprise me.''

The Yankees are entering a spring training like none in recent memory. They're not being discussed as an also-ran, but they're not a favorite in the AL East, either.

Strange-sounding -- given the past 40 years -- words such as "cheap'' and "cost-conscious'' have liberally made the rounds.

Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner doesn't object to the latter -- he himself has spoken in the last year about the desire to bring the payroll to $189 million by 2014 so the franchise can avoid paying a steep luxury-tax penalty.

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But Steinbrenner does take umbrage with the first charge.

"There was nothing cheap about Kuroda's contract or Pettitte's contract,'' Steinbrenner said this past week. "I mean, I don't know. Sometimes I have to scratch my head.''

For all of the Yankees' perceived inactivity during the offseason, they did sign three top free agents, as Steinbrenner and Cashman are happy to point out. It just so happens that they were three of their own, all on one-year deals.

They brought back Hiroki Kuroda for $15 million, Andy Pettitte for $12 million and Mariano Rivera for $10 million. Later, they signed Kevin Youkilis ($12 million) and Travis Hafner ($2 million).

The payroll will be in the range of $208 million, according to Baseball Prospectus, down just a notch from last season, when it was just over $209 million, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts.

"I think we had some good signings and I think we did our fair share in the offseason,'' said Steinbrenner, adding that the team still is looking for a righthanded-hitting outfielder before the start of the regular season. "Similar payroll to last year shows we want to win. So that [criticism] was a little disappointing. But as far as the acquisitions themselves, whatever criticism there was, that doesn't bother me because I know they were the right moves.''

So why the pessimism?

The ALCS sweep at the hands of the Tigers, a series in which the Yankees looked worn down, obviously kick-started it.

Soon came the Pirates swooping in and signing catcher Russell Martin, a player whom Yankees personnel people didn't want to lose. Later came the winter meetings in Nashville, when the Yankees weren't linked to any of the top free agents on the market, even through rumors.

Another player they wanted to keep, Eric Chavez, signed with the Diamondbacks. It was a foregone conclusion that they were never going to make a run at Nick Swisher, who signed a four-year, $56-million deal with the Indians.

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Organizational insiders have said the Yankees' failure to pursue some of the top free agents had more to do with a weak crop than cutting payroll.

There's plenty of truth to that. Even before the collective-bargaining agreement inspired them to try to get to $189 million, the Yankees had doubts about the ability of two of this year's headline free agents, Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke, to handle New York.

At the same time, there's little doubt that if not for the push toward $189 million, the Yankees would have held on to Martin and, at the very least, seemed more engaged in the free-agent market.

Throw in a roster that's a year older and the two offseason bombshells surrounding Alex Rodriguez -- hip surgery announced in December that very well could cost him the season and the recent one alleging another link to performance-enhancing drugs -- and in the eyes of many fans, 2013 looks like a year with nothing but storm clouds in the forecast.

It's probably not that dire. The Yankees' starting rotation and bullpen should be among the best in the American League.

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As for the offense, Cashman is fond of saying he likes "big, hairy monsters'' who can hit the ball out of the ballpark. Fans who criticized the team for overdependence on the long ball and who were desirous of more "small ball'' likely will get their wish. As of now, the outfield features more speed than pop with the likes of Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki.

"We won't be as big and hairy as I'd like on the offensive side,'' Cashman said.

Roster additions, of course, still can come throughout spring training, and who knows which players could become available before the July trade deadline?

But for the owner and GM, the bottom line with the offseason critiques is this: The questions being posed about this year's team are similar to those that were asked in 2011 and again last year. The Yankees won 97 games in 2011 and 95 last season.

"There might be less pressure on our players because the focus and expectations are higher elsewhere and it will be a challenge for those teams to deal with it,'' Cashman said of having underdog status. "And I'm sure it will motivate some of our players who might say, 'Don't forget about us. We're still dangerous as hell.' ''

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