Yankees managing partner Hal Steinbrenner and top Yankees executives are lining up meetings at next week's General Manager meetings with agents for multiple big-name free agents, showing strong signs they'll be back as big-time free-agent players.
They are closely eying just about every big-time performer who's free (with one notable exception).
It's interesting that Steinbrenner appears to be at the center of things as the Yankees try to rebound from what was for them a disappointing season. "Hal is very involved, and he wants to win," someone familiar with the Yankees dealings said.
The Yankees have to be considered the favorite to retain star second baseman Robinson Cano, but they are also looking closely as the four players just below Cano on this year's agent list -- Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Masahiro Tanaka and Brian McCann -- and maybe a dozen players, or more, overall.
Word is the Yankees still believe they can keep get their payroll below the luxury-tax threshold of $189 million, thanks to $100 million or so in contracts coming off the books, depending to a fair degree on the status of Alex Rodriguez's PED arbitration case vs. MLB.
"The Yankees have been very aggressive" showing interest, said agent Scott Boras, who represents Ellsbury, Choo and shortstop Stephen Drew.
The Yankees havern't been major free-agent players the past couple winters, signing back their own guys like Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera while doing mostly short-term deals, like the one-year deals for Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez two winters ago and the ones for Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner last winter.
Also on the Yankees' expansive list for interest this time are Drew and pitchers Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, Bronson Arroyo, Scott Feldman and Dan Haren. One big free-agent name conspicuously absent from their list of top targets is pitcher Ervin Santana, as people who have talked to the Yankees said they aren't convinced he's right for New York.
The GM meetings begin Monday in Orlando with club owners expected to file in Tuesday or Wednesday for their own meetings.
The presence of Drew on the list suggests the Yankees may want at least a strong shortstop hedge in case they decide Derek Jeter won't be able to handle full-time duties anymore -- though third base is obviously a considerable question, too, with the 211-game Biogenesis ban hanging over Rodriguez's head. Ellsbury is interesting, too, as an Ellsbury signing would necessitate a move of Brett Gardner to a corner outfield spot.
Steinbrenner certainly doesn't have the personality of his father -- he hasn't been known to yell, scream, or for that matter, rip -- but that doesn't mean he isn't in the middle of things. He worked out the $12 million deal to bring Jeter back with the iconic shortstop and his agent Casey Close.
They say general manager Brian Cashman isn't being blamed for the Yankees' inability to reach the playoffs for just the second time in 19 years, that injuries ultimately hurt them most. And Cashman did work the deal to bring back his guy Joe Girardi as manager, and did also make the call to make the $14.1 million qualifying offer to Curtis Granderson after a debate about whether that was worth the risk (they obviously want him to decline it, so they can sign one of the free-agent outfielders).
But, as Cashman pointed out in the past, especially in the Rafael Soriano signing, where ownership overruled his "no" vote, Yankees ownership will have its say. In the case of Alfonso Soriano, Cashman eventually came around to agree with club president Randy Levine that Alfonso Soriano made sense, but sources suggest he was at least telling the Cubs he didn't want to relent on minor leaguer Corey Black until Levine and Steinbrenner overruled him.
Steinbrenner was obviously right on that score. And he hopes to keep his streak alive in Orlando.