10/18/12 9:30 PM ET
Roster questions hover over Yankees' exit
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
It is possible, as third baseman Alex Rodriguez suggested, that he will be wearing the same Yankees uniform when the club reports to Spring Training in February. But some of the players who filed disappointedly out of New York's dugout after Thursday's 8-1 loss to the Tigers will have done so for the last time.
"We've got a lot of free agents, and every year, the roster changes," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "I can't really tell you what constitutes major [changes] or not, but we do have a lot of players that are free agents. Almost every one of them have contributed in a big way here. We always have tough decisions every winter."
Rodriguez must approve any potential deal because of his no-trade clause, but the wheels are already in motion for several others. The Yankees' free agents include several cogs of the starting lineup, with Nick Swisher, Ichiro Suzuki and Russell Martin potentially in search of new homes.
"They'll go into the free-agent world, and we'll have to have another conversation on another day when we have our pro scouting meetings and we talk to ownership," Cashman said.
Swisher is eligible for free agency for the first time in his career and is expected to seek a multiyear contract. The Yankees, who aim to reduce payroll below $189 million for the 2014 season, were unlikely to be serious players for Swisher even before he turned in a 5-for-30 postseason.
"I'll talk about all that stuff later," said Swisher, who added that his four years in New York have been, "awesome, absolutely awesome. Best place in the world to play, absolutely."
Ichiro sparked the lineup after being acquired in July from the Mariners, raising his performance to the surroundings of a pennant race. He enjoyed playing in New York and is expected to continue playing in 2013, though he isn't prepared to say where.
"[The season] just ended today, and like I've said before, I just want to be that player that is needed and wanted, and that's all I can tell you today," Ichiro said through an interpreter.
Martin was issued a three-year contract offer from the Yankees this spring and rejected it, rolling the dice in hopes of scoring a larger deal. He wasn't counting on batting just .211 in the regular season, however, which could present a bargain if the Yankees aim to retain him.
Postseason hero Raul Ibanez also is a free agent, while the Yankees hold hefty $15 million options on both Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson that they are expected to pick up for 2013.
"I expect to [be back], but I don't control those chips," Granderson said. "They make those decisions, and I'll be waiting to see what happens this offseason."
There are also decisions on the pitching front, with Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda both set to be free agents. If Pettitte pitches in 2013, it would be for the Yankees, though he said he needs time to decide that.
"I would love to think about it maybe for a month or so, think about what I want to do, definitely not jump to a conclusion," Pettitte said. "It's a huge commitment at this stage of my life."
Kuroda provided New York with 16 wins and a 3.32 ERA at a price tag of $10 million, and the right-hander should bring interest from the Yankees and other clubs.
In the bullpen, Rafael Soriano helped the Yankees weather the loss of closer Mariano Rivera, finishing the year with 42 saves and a 2.26 ERA. Soriano could opt out of his contract, forfeiting next year's $14 million payday to seek a larger deal.
Then there is Rivera himself, whose contract is also expiring. Rivera vows that he will return to the Yankees at age 43 from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, and the question isn't if the Yankees would welcome Rivera back -- it's at what price.
Beyond Rivera, who is obviously a legendary Yankee, Cashman said that he has no problem with fielding an older club, as long as the players are talented.
"I don't care if it's old; I care if it's good," Cashman said. "There's some old guys that are good. Andy Pettitte is good. Raul Ibanez turned out to be really good. He's old. But at the end of the day, these guys are really competitive, they're good at what they do, they're great professionals and if you compare that to the remaining choices, despite their ages, they look really good.
"Hiroki Kuroda is an older player. Ichiro Suzuki is an older player, and these guys contributed to that win column despite their age. And why? Because they were better than any of the younger guys we had choices for. So I'm not going to apologize for it. We go there, and we are old. If you're old and still good, then it's not an issue."
Along with many other looming decisions, there will be plenty of occupied air space and newsprint around the Yankees in the months to follow. With the conclusion of the season on the field, the Yankees' second season -- of Hot Stove baseball -- is off and running.
"Certainly now's not the time to talk about what we can or will be doing, or want to be doing," Cashman said. "We didn't want our winter to start just yet. Unfortunately, it's coming sooner than we wanted."