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In the wake of losing out on Cliff Lee, Brian Cashman has preached patience, but can the Yankees afford to wait on filling the team’s most pressing needs?

As things stand, the Yankees need to fill the following holes: at least one above average starting pitcher, a competent relief pitcher (preferably a lefty if Damaso Marte’s prognosis has not improved), and a right handed bat with some defensive utility.

According to a report from John Heyman, the first, and most important of those needs, is likely to be met by the return of Andy Pettitte. If the veteran lefty does eventually decide to come back, the Yankees will essentially be returning a 95-win team that was one game removed from the best record in baseball. However, the roster has suffered to two key subtractions, each directly feeding into the other two main deficiencies on the team.

Kerry Wood had a 0.69 ERA in 26 innings with the Yankees.

With Marcus Thames likely ticketed to Japan and Kerry Wood packing his bags for Chicago after signing what seemed to be a steeply discounted deal with the Cubs, the Yankees find themselves in the market for their replacements. Unfortunately, two seemingly ideal targets, Bobby Jenks and Josh Willingham, both came off the board yesterday, which leads us back to original question about whether being too patient is a bad thing?

Considering the contracts signed by the likes of Scott Downs, Joaquin Benoit, Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain (all three-year deals worth at least $4 million annually), Wood’s decision to turn down a $3.5 million offer from the White Sox and take $2 million less from the Cubs was somewhat surprising (although taking less money to play in a preferred spot seems to be in vogue this offseason). The Yankees offer to Wood has not been reported, but based on the White Sox offer, it doesn’t seem as if Wood would have returned to New York for anything less than $4 million. Although many might argue that such a price would have been reasonable, it’s important to remember that Wood has averaged less than 50 innings per season since 2005. So, even though his dominant performance (0.69 ERA in 26 innings with the Yankees) at the end of the 2010 season is still fresh in many people’s minds, it shouldn’t overshadow his more relevant injury history. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that the Yankees rode Wood pretty hard down the stretch, and it’s doubtful that the fragile righty would have been able to shoulder a similar workload in 2011.

One potential replacement for Wood was rumored to be Jenks, but that went by the wayside when the Red Sox inked the former White Sox closer to a two-year deal worth $12 million. Although Moshe Mandel at TYU makes a compelling case for Jenks, it’s hard to get too optimistic about the prospects of a 30 year old reliever who has been out of shape for most of his career, even if his peripherals suggest a rebound season. At a more modest salary, Jenks may have been worth a gamble, but $12 million over two seasons is a significant outlay for middle relief. Besides, the Yankees already have a hard throwing fastball, slider, curve reliever in Joba Chamberlain, who is five years younger and will be making considerably less money. Although many Yankees fans have been down on Chamberlain because of his inconsistency, it is worth noting that Chamberlain enjoyed some of the same positive peripherals (xFIP of 3.34; K/9 of 9.67; BB/9 of 2.76) as Jenks, so any bullish case for the latter would apply to the Yankees’ enigmatic righty as well.

When in the lineup, Josh Willingham has wielded a potent right handed bat.

Marcus Thames quietly had a very productive 2010 season with the bat, posting an OPS+ of 122 in 237 plate appearances. Thames wasn’t a viable option in the field, however, which mitigated his overall value, so his departure isn’t really a significant loss. One seemingly ideal replacement would have been Josh Willingham, but he was just traded to the Oakland Athletics. Even if the Yankees could have acquired him, however, the relative lack of playing time might not have been appealing to a player one year removed from free agency. Also, Willingham’s recent injury history also suggests that he might not be a reliable option. As evidenced by Nick Johnson last season, impressive numbers on paper can’t overcome the negative impact of inevitable injury. Willingham probably isn’t in that class yet, but the trend isn’t encouraging, so maybe the Yankees failure to obtain him will wind up being for the best.

Patience really is a virtue, particularly if you are the General Manager of the New York Yankees. Although it may seem as if this week has been one of missed opportunities, there is still plenty of time until Spring Training. On the relief side, high profile targets like Rafael Soriano and Brian Fuentes remain, but an under the radar guy like Pedro Feliciano could turn out to be the best fit. Meanwhile, the solution to the team’s need for a righty bat might be someone like Bill Hall, whose versatility would also give the Yankees added flexibility.

Clearly, Brian Cashman has his work cut out for him, but there really is no need to make any rash judgments. Patience is not something normally associated with the Yankees, but considering the current circumstances, it seems to be the best course. As long as Cashman is able to fill the Yankees’ holes before the spring, the team should be well positioned for the playoffs, not to mention a major player at the trading deadline. Then, at that time, all patience can be put to the side. In the meantime, however, it will have to be in full supply.

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