By Ernie Palladino
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The Yankees might have thought the first steps of their free agent period were going to be easy.

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Then reality set in. Free agency is never easy or clear-cut. And the way the Yanks have struggled the past two seasons, nothing has come easy for them, either.

The Mets faithful may have a good laugh at that. To say the Yanks have fallen on hard times after suffering through their team’s comical front-office pratfalls the past eight playoff-less seasons is something akin to a bon vivant flying into hysterics because the head on his pricey imported beer isn’t thick enough. When all is said and done this winter, the Yanks will still have spent an ungodly sum as they simultaneously ponder the playing future of Alex Rodriguez and how to replace Derek Jeter at shortstop.

Yet, the events of last week indicated that signing veteran roster hole-fillers won’t be as easy as they might have hoped. In fact, they may be faced with additional, internal issues sooner than later.

The biggest one may come in the bullpen, where closer David Robertson is likely to reject his $15.3 million qualifying offer. Rumors are that no less than six teams are interested in the right-hander, so it would be personally wise for him to play the field. That means if the Yanks want to keep the 29-year-old, they’ll have to shell out major bucks — think in the $18 million range — for multiple years. And that’s providing the Red Sox, who tend to spend as freely as the Yanks at times, don’t make a huge play for him to create a powerful one-two punch with their 40-year-old closer Koji Uehara.

The Yanks are in a position to shrug off losing Robertson, since Dellin Betances is his obvious heir apparent, anyway. But that would necessitate finding another setup man.

They would love to re-up Chase Headley, especially since they have grave doubts about how A-Rod and his creaky hips will perform long-term. Headley made quite the impression after coming over from San Diego. He’s a strong glove, and his six homers, 17 RBIs, and split of .262/.371/.398 have the Yanks thinking commitment. Of his 50 hits in 58 games, 31 went for extra bases.

Problem is, other teams noticed that, too. He’ll be a desirable entity, especially since the third base star of free agency, Pablo Sandoval, is going to command a $100 million deal befitting a World Series hero. The Yanks would rather have the cheaper Headley. Though they’ll probably talk with Sandoval, he’s not coming here. But Headley won’t come at rock-bottom prices, either.

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They’ll also have to spend to keep Brandon McCarthy, who went 7-5, 2.89 after he came over from Arizona. The Yanks are hoping he can keep that up to supplement a rotation that will probably have a ready-made spot if Hiroki Kuroda retires.

If McCarthy leaves, the Yanks could conceivably go after one of the big three free agent arms in Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, or James Shields, or try their luck with a second-level pitcher like Jason Hammel.

That takes care of their own free agents. Then they can get around to adding to the roster at shortstop and potentially filling a second-base situation if Headley leaves and they choose to put Martin Prado over there.

There will be plenty of work to keep Brian Cashman busy. He’ll undoubtedly throw around lots of bucks. Again. These are not the Mets, after all. In view of last year’s $209.4 million payroll, that $189 million budgetary pipe dream ownership once dreamed of should not even be a thought this year.

Whether it translates into winning is another thing. The Yanks had MLB’s most expensive non-playoff team by a lot in 2014. They could easily repeat the dubious honor.

At least they saved a few sheckles on fourth outfielder Chris Young. They only had to give him $2.5 million for his three homers and 10 RBIs in 23 games. The Mets handed him $7.25 million for a heck of a lot less.

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