David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since 1991, when he started covering New York City
The Yankees used to get upset about missing out on free agents such as Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke. So now they're supposed to apologize for whiffing on Eric Chavez, Jeff Keppinger and Nate Schierholtz?
Of course not, but that's missing the point.
The Yankees' inactivity at the winter meetings, which concluded Thursday morning at the Opryland Hotel, is symptomatic of a potentially more troubling problem that became painfully obvious a week earlier when Russell Martin bolted to the Pirates.
This unhealthy obsession with 2014 and its menacing $189- million luxury-tax threshold is interfering with the Yankees' efforts to build a World Series winner for 2013. It's paralyzing them.
On Thursday, Brian Cashman shrugged off the questions about his inability to secure an outfielder, catcher or A-Rod replacement here. The most interesting thing he did probably was talk with the Mets about trading for R.A. Dickey (it wasn't a match).
But there's a clear distinction between choosing not to overpay for the Keppinger types in an overheated free-agent market and letting a reliable catcher skip out of the Bronx for an affordable two-year, $17-million contract. Cashman said as much before leaving empty-handed.
If the looming 2014 apocalypse were not an issue, would the whole Martin affair have turned out differently? "Maybe," he said. "Yeah, I think Pittsburgh got a good one in Martin."
He didn't say that about Keppinger with the White Sox, Chavez with the Diamondbacks or Schierholtz with the Cubs. There is one common thread. As was the case with Martin, Cashman never made an offer to any of them, despite interest, and that was something he made sure to emphasize Thursday.
"I know what I can do and I know what I can't do," Cashman said. "And my communication with ownership has been consistently strong. I think we've had a lot of success as long as I know what the parameters are."
We got a better idea of those parameters Thursday when the Yankees tried to woo Kevin Youkilis with a one-year, $12- million offer to keep third base warm for Alex Rodriguez. The club's only other signings also have been one-year contracts: $15 million for Hiroki Kuroda, $12 million for Andy Pettitte and $10 million for Mariano Rivera. You get the idea.
Those are the exceptions, however. Good players, and healthy ones under the age of 35, don't like one-year contracts. It's not an appealing option, especially not in this market, in which marginal talent is getting mucho bucks. In other words, the Yankees picked a bad time to have so many holes while being faced with somewhat limited flexibility to fill them. "In free agency, that's the way it is; people bid it up," Cashman said. "We have to constantly remind ourselves that we have a lot of talent, and that allows us to be patient."
Simply put, to let the prices drop. This is unfamiliar territory for the Yankees and those who are used to doing more robust business with them. Even Scott Boras, no doubt infuriated by having one fewer deep-pocketed bidder around, took a shot at them Wednesday in Nashville by saying they no longer behave like a "Goliath" of the game.
Boras will be very interested to see if that changes a year from now when Robinson Cano, one of his clients, hits free agency. That has the potential to be a nightmare for the Yankees, who will have to go dollar-for-dollar with the Dodgers and whoever else feels flush with cash.
Right now, the Yankees have $72 million committed for that season, but that's tied up in only three players: A-Rod, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia. Derek Jeter can be a free agent that winter. The Yankees also will be faced with a handful of arbitration-eligible players for 2014.
It's a lot to think about, and with those concerns already clouding the Yankees' minds, Cashman looked uncomfortable this week. "I'd rather be able to get everything you want when you want it," he said. "But it's just not how it works."
There was a time when the Yankees had the money and freedom to do exactly that. Not anymore. Now we'll see if they still can be the Yankees without it.