Here's the uncomfortable reality for the Yankees: You don't merely replace a player like Robinson Cano. Cano, until Friday the Yanks' franchise second baseman, has of course agreed to terms with the Mariners on a whopping 10-year contract. The upshot is that the Yankees have now lost one of the five best players in baseball.
So, if you're the colossus in the Bronx coming off a rare playoff absence and bent on contention in 2014, what do you do? You make up ground in other areas.
Already, the Yankees have addressed the glaring need at catcher by inking Brian McCann, and the star-caliber Jacoby Ellsbury is also in the fold. Then they immediately responded to the Cano signing by snaring Carlos Beltran with a reported three-year pact worth roughly $45 million. Those are all good things insofar as contention is concerned, at least in the near-term.
From the Yankees' standpoint, the roadmap ahead involves, first and foremost, addressing Cano's old position. The newly signed Kelly Johnson would likely constitute a five-win decline relative to Cano. For a team coming off an 85-win season and toiling in the brutal AL East, that's too much to abide. The only realistic option on the market is Omar Infante, who figures to be a more palatable three- to four-win backslide from Cano's levels.
Elsewhere, the Yankees can certainly tolerate Brett Gardner's lack of power at the corner outfield spot thanks to his standout defense and base-running, and Alfonso Soriano or Beltran can hold down the other flank position (the other will DH). Given the surfeit of outfielders, there's no excuse for giving a deep-decline Ichiro anything close to regular duty (he should really be cut loose) or keeping Vernon Wells around.
Beyond all that, our own Jon Heyman tweeted that the Yankees, prior to the Beltran deal, had about $175 million left in the budget, which means there's probably still enough to land Infante and make a dedicated effort to land top import Masahiro Tanaka, provided he's posted and provided the max posting fee is set at $20 million.
After that flurry of activity comes the time to pin hopes. To wit, the Yankees will need relative health and customary secondary skills (i.e., power and walks) from Mark Teixeira, suitable production from Soriano against same-side pitching and a passable offense-defense pairing at shortstop between Derek Jeter and Brendan Ryan. Oh, and, budgetary concerns and general distaste notwithstanding, they could probably use Alex Rodriguez around (failing that, Johnson slots in at third).
It's hard to overstate what the loss of a player like Cano means to a win-now team like the Yankees, but their recent additions in tandem with what's still on the market mean they can do a reasonable job of papering over his loss. In this instance, the "paper" in question is of course Yankee dollars. If you're the Yankees, now's no time to stop spending them. Infante and Tanaka should be their next targets.