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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Despite questions, Cashman has golden opportunity

Despite questions, Cashman has golden opportunity

Despite questions, Cashman has golden opportunity

ORLANDO, Fla. -- If you look at the New York Yankees from a certain angle, you see a team filled with questions and stripped of talent.

Playoffs?

Child, please.

"I'm glad Opening Day is not tomorrow," general manager Brian Cashman said, "because we've got some holes to fill."

Yes, a couple. Cashman has no second baseman, at the moment anyway. He's uncertain about his third baseman and his catcher. He needs at least two starting pitchers.

And then there are the really tough questions. Can Derek Jeter still play at a high level? How about Mark Teixeira?

David Robertson seems to be the likely replacement for retired closer Mariano Rivera, but Cashman wouldn't walk past an upgrade there, too.

So, Brian, how's the offseason going?

"It would be naive to say I'm confident about it," Cashman said. "The process isn't that easy."

The Yankees missed the playoffs in 2013, and as you know, this is unacceptable. To Yankees ownership. To Cashman. To fans around the world. To those meanies in the New York press corps.

Which leads to ...

If you look at the Yanks from another angle, you see an incredible opportunity for Cashman to reshape his club. He has the openings and the resources almost any general manager would love to have, and he has every right to wonder how it's all going to play out.

It's tougher and tougher to construct a club with free agents since most teams lock up their best players before things get that far. But there's a significant amount of talent available.

Cashman learned on Monday that second baseman Robinson Cano, center fielder Curtis Granderson and right-hander Hiroki Kuroda had rejected qualifying offers.

This did not come as a surprise, but it did formalize the fact that Cano and Granderson will explore their options in free agency. Kuroda has told the Yankees he's undecided about pitching another season in the United States.

Once a player hits the open market, nothing is certain. It's difficult to imagine any team outbidding the Yanks for Cano, but crazier things have happened.

Granderson is even less certain because the price for power is going up, up, up. While Cashman does have some money to spend, it can be used up quickly.

At the moment, Cashman has just seven players under contract for 2014, and with between $80 million and $100 million -- and maybe way more than that -- coming off the books, he can be a huge player in free agency.

If third baseman Alex Rodriguez is suspended for the 2014 season, another $25 million would be freed up.

To wander the lobby of these General Managers Meetings is to hear the Yankees will be involved in almost every high-profile free agent.

First, they'd like to re-sign their own guy, Cano, and perhaps Granderson. It is also believed that they have checked in on Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Masahiro Tanaka and Shin-Soo Choo.

When the Yanks are active in free agency, it changes the dynamic of the entire offseason, both for players and competing teams.

For Cashman, though, it's about closing the deal. Other than Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano in the outfield, he's not feeling comfortable with any other position. Even if Ivan Nova has another tremendous season and CC Sabathia has a renaissance, Cashman has significant questions about his rotation.

Michael Pineda being healthy and productive would be a nice start, but there are still holes.

If Cashman is sweating it, he's not showing the world. He answered question after question about the same way on Monday, saying he had plenty of ideas about how to improve the club, but also more uncertainty.

"So we're going to have to use the time this winter wisely," Cashman said. "Sometimes, you don't get all the holes filled in that time frame. A number of years ago -- four years ago or so -- I went into Spring Training and wasn't able to get everything filled. We had holes on the pitching staff, and some Hail Mary's came through on our non-roster invites with [Bartolo] Colon and Freddy Garcia.

"We weren't looking too strong at that point in time, and we were able to piece it together. Sometimes, you have to go longer than the winter time to get it right. The bottom line is I'm glad Opening Day isn't tomorrow. We have some work to do."

Cashman's track record says he'll do just fine piecing things together, and if Jeter and Teixeira can still play at a high level, and if Pineda is close to what he was in Seattle, the Yankees have a chance to be competitive.

It's just that they haven't had this many questions in a while. If the joy is in the journey, Cashman will have himself a fine offseason.

"I'm confident about going through the process as I've done on a yearly basis," he said. "We've had our fair share of challenges. Those experiences have served me well, but I don't know where it's going to take me yet. We'll find out. We'll play it out."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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