NEW YORK -- Retaining players might not seem like the juiciest part of the free-agency process, but as far as the Yankees are concerned, making sure they held on to their talent entering next season was of the utmost importance.
As the club prepares for the Winter Meetings, which will begin on Monday in Nashville, Tenn., it does so with the knowledge that starting pitchers Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte are back in the fold for 2013. Mariano Rivera is also thought to be on the way shortly.
Thus the Yankees will have secured three of their top four free-agent priorities from within, and they continue to have hopes of retaining catcher Russell Martin after two seasons of mixed results for him in pinstripes.
Though he has received interest from other clubs, most notably the Pirates, Rangers and Mariners, Martin showed a willingness to wait for an offer from the Yankees while they made pitching their priority.
Even with at least five starters now in line for the rotation, it would surprise no one if general manager Brian Cashman continued to seek arms, holding firm to his oft-stated belief that "pitching is the key to the kingdom."
The Yankees also have some holes to fill in their lineup, most prominently a replacement for Nick Swisher in right field, and they have shown a clear preference for veteran players willing to accept short-term commitments.
Here is a quick glance at the Yankees' situation heading into the Winter Meetings:
Catcher: The Yankees were encouraged by Martin's improvement in the second half and the fact that he never seemed to take his offensive woes behind the plate. Martin reportedly turned down a three-year offer in the $20 million ballpark this spring.
If Martin departs, the Yankees wouldn't have a ready-made fit for starting catcher, but they've been stockpiling help in a group that includes Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, Eli Whiteside and Austin Romine.
Right field: With Swisher not expected to return, the Yankees are weighing Ichiro Suzuki's preference to remain in pinstripes after his strong second half. Ichiro added a refreshing dimension of speed to the lineup, but the Yankees may feel they need to replace Swisher's power.
Designated hitter/bench: Andruw Jones will be gone, leaving a need for a power bat against lefties, but the Yankees may have interest in keeping Raul Ibanez to hit against righties -- especially after his terrific postseason. Reserve infielder Eric Chavez is a free agent but could return, and the Yankees would entertain an upgrade over utility infielder Jayson Nix.
Pitching depth: The rotation seems set with CC Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Phil Hughes and either Ivan Nova or David Phelps, but that won't stop the Yankees from seeking help, probably in the form of a few low-risk veterans willing to try out for the role formerly held by Freddy Garcia. The Yankees aren't counting on Michael Pineda, though there is hope he could be back from right shoulder surgery around June. Rivera's return softens the blow of potentially losing Rafael Soriano, and the Yankees expect to have David Aardsma, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan and David Robertson among those filling important roles in the bullpen.
Who they can or need to trade
OF Curtis Granderson: There has been speculation that the Yankees could look to move Granderson, and while he is not untouchable, there's no urgency for them to do so. The Yankees believe it would be difficult to replace Granderson's power; besides, due to the center fielder's 195 strikeouts and his $15 million price tag, they probably wouldn't receive fair value in a trade anyway. There has been talk that the Yankees might move Granderson to a corner-outfield spot and switch Brett Gardner to center field.
SS Eduardo Nunez: When the Yankees stripped Nunez of his utility role last season and sent him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, they instructed coaches to use him only as a shortstop -- a move, it appeared, that could boost Nunez's trade value. His defensive work is still suspect, but many believe he can swing the bat at the big league level. At this point, he might be the Yankees' most appealing trade chip.
3B Alex Rodriguez: We should mention A-Rod's saga, even though he said that he won't waive his no-trade clause and Cashman has stated he is not making -- or receiving -- any calls regarding Rodriguez. The postseason was ugly, but the Yankees don't believe that was a true indication of Rodriguez's skills at this point in his career. They still see him as an above-average third baseman, and since he's owed $114 million through 2017, it seems to be a safe bet that he'll be wearing pinstripes for years to come.
After the 2012 season, MLB.com named the Yankees' top 10 prospects in this order: catcher Gary Sanchez, outfielder Mason Williams, outfielder Tyler Austin, left-hander Manny Banuelos, outfielder Slade Heathcott, right-hander Ty Hensley, outfielder Zoilo Almonte, infielder Angelo Gumbs, infielder Dante Bichette Jr. and outfielder Ramon Flores.
The organization does have some promising position-player talent, but it's stocked lower in the pipeline and many players have had injury issues. The Yankees' top pitching prospect, Banuelos, will miss all of 2013 after having Tommy John surgery. Still, players like right-handers Adam Warren and Mark Montgomery could help the 2013 big league squad.
Rule 5 Draft
The Yankees' 40-man roster is at capacity -- they had to designate Whiteside for assignment on Wednesday to create room for Pettitte -- so the team would need to clear room if it wanted to select a player in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft.
Big contracts they might unload
None, really. Granderson's $15 million salary is slotted into the budget, so while an extension might not help the Yankees' plans of getting under $189 million for 2014 (don't forget, they'd also like to lock up Robinson Cano), they're fine for the purposes of next season. As for the biggest contract, again, all of that October speculation that A-Rod had played his final game as a Yankee was premature.
RHP Chamberlain ($1.675 million in 2012), OF Gardner ($2.8 million), RHP David Herndon ($495,000), RHP Hughes ($3.2 million), LHP Logan ($1.875 million), IF Jayson Nix ($480,000), RHP Robertson ($1.6 million).
There has been plenty of talk about Hal Steinbrenner's directive to get below $189 million for 2014, but the Yankees appear primed to sit in the $200 million range for '13. The signings of Kuroda and Pettitte raised the payroll committed to players for next season to $158 million, and that does not yet include raises to arbitration-eligible players, which figure to add another $5 million to $6 million. A-Rod ($29 million), Mark Teixeira ($23.125 million), Sabathia ($23 million) and Derek Jeter ($17 million) will bring in the Yankees' highest salaries in 2013.