On the surface, the Yankees are trying to dump AJ Burnett and save roughly $13-$15 million over the next two seasons. For 2012, those $7 million in savings will help the Yankees re-sign Eric Chavez and ink a lefty-swining DH. Beyond 2012, the Yankees will have a few notable contracts coming off the books. Those freed up dollars can be used to ink one of the top free agent pitchers. At the top of the 2013 free agent list is lefty, Cole Hamels. With the Yankees ready to cut ties with Burnett and slash payroll after 2012, is Hamels the Yankees’ end game next winter?

Bronx Bound?--AP Photo

Following the 2012 season, the Yankees will be relieved of the following contract obligations:

On the surface, the Yankees have $50 million coming off the books and have $130 million committed to the 2013 team (less Burnett) before arbitration hearings. Of note, Mariano Rivera will be pitching for the Yankees for as long as he wants. Rivera will be 43-years-old in November, but I’m convinced that Mo is not a human, so age is just a number. To be conservative, let’s assume Mo comes back on a one-year deal with a player option for 2014. ($15MM/season).

Sitting at $145 million, the Yankees still need a catcher, right fielder, and additional starting pitcher.

On the catching free agent market, only Miguel Montero really gets me excited. The 28-year-old Montero hit .282 last season with 18 HRs and 86 RBIs. Montero and the Diamondbacks agreed to a one-year, $6 million contract in arbitration, so expect him to receive more in free agency. Montero is regarded by many as a great defensive catcher with an above average bat. He’s worth watching, but given the Yankees’ internal catching options, it just doesn’t seem practical.

In the outfield, Josh Hamilton clearly headlines the free agent class, but he does not come without his blemishes. Putting him in New York just doesn’t seem like a good idea and the Yankees won’t want to take the risk. Michael Bourne, Ichiro, BJ Upton, and Delmon Young will also be free agents, but none of these players really excite me. I am intrigued by Shane Victorino, but the Flyin’ Hawaiian has played more than 80 percent of his games in center field. None of these free agent options are great fits. If Swisher and the Yankees can agree to a two-or-three-year deal worth $12 million per season, I think both sides will be happy.

Assuming the Yankees spend $12 million on right field, the Yankee payroll will stand at $157 million, which leaves more than enough room to ink Hamels. Hamels, 28, posted a 14-9 record with a 2.79 ERA and 194 strikeouts in 2011. Hamels, an owner of a 74-54 record and 3.39 ERA, has been a stalwart for the Phillies and an integral part of their 2008 World Series championship. Hamels is 7-4 with a 3.09 ERA in post-season play.

There are a ton of variables in play when it comes to signing Cole Hamels. The Yankees must make a decision on their catching situation as well as right field. Is Austin Romine the long-term answer? Is Russell Martin willing to take a two-year deal? The same questions will be asked for right field and Nick Swisher. Will the Yankees opt for a cheaper, better defender in right? Don’t forget about the Phillies’ spending ways, either. They were willing to open their wallets for Jonathan Papelbon and Cliff Lee. Don’t forget that Roy Halladay will be a free agent following the 2013 season. They won’t let Hamels just walk away. In terms of year committed and dollars spent, Hamels won’t come cheaply.

Finally, the Yankees must be mindful of Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano’s impending free agency following the 2013 season. Both players were integral to the Yankee success in 2011. Both players will likely demand at least $15 million per season on the open market and the Yankees may only be able to keep one of the two players.

Personally, I’d prefer a Sabathia-Pineda-Hamels-Nova-Hughes rotation with Cano, Swisher, and Romine. The Yankees can slide Brett Gardner to center field if be and let Granderson walk. Given the current free agent landscape and Yankee budget, inking Hamels, Cano, AND Granderson isn’t feasible. Granted, these are some long-term decisions that do not need to be made this year, but they are worth pondering.

At the end of the day, I prefer a strong starting rotation over an extra bat. Clearing $13-$15 million worth of AJ Burnett to land Cole Hamels next season would be fine with me.