Yankees Can Look Forward to a Busy Offseason
With the Yankeesâ€™ quest for a repeat championship crushed by a hungry and talented Rangers team, the Bronx Bombers face a long offseason of uncertainty. Itâ€™s amazing how many leaks can spring up in what was supposed to be a $213 million juggernaut. Unable to fend off the low-budget Rays for the division title, the Yankees easily dispatched the Twinkies before finding themselves thoroughly outpitched, outhit and outmanaged by the Rangers.
More than anything, they were outmaneuvered by the Rangers back at the trading deadline, when GM Jon Daniels stole the big prize, Cliff Lee, after the Yankees believed they had a deal in place. Not only did it give the Rangers the edge they needed to win the pennant, it gives them a fighting chance of resigning Lee as a free agent this winter.
The offseason will be dominated by the pursuit of Lee, but the entire baseball world will be interested observers as negotiations proceed with franchise icon Derek Jeter. Everyone knows heâ€™s coming back and that he will be overpaid for his past production, but does he really want to set himself up for future criticism by insisting on a raise? Imagine how many times the New York press would write about the aging, singles-hitting shortstop with no range who is making $20 million. Then again, it promises to be a lot less money than the Yankees will be paying Alex Rodriquez to enter the decline phase of his career.
Look for Joe Girardi to get a new, three-year contractâ€”one year for each ring in the three-ring binder he seems to be married to. Hereâ€™s hoping the team inserts a clause prohibiting him from intentionally walking more than one batter a game. After all, the object is to prevent base runners and not create new land mines for his pitchers to navigate.
Mariano Rivera also isnâ€™t going anywhere, and letâ€™s hope the Yankees donâ€™t try to insult him again by low-balling him. After all, he was one of the few players (along with Robinson Cano and Andy Pettitte) who showed up and performed effectively against the Rangers.
The second Javier Vazquez era in New York has officially ended, which opens up at least one rotation spot. Pencil in CC Sabathia at the front of the rotation and Hughes in the middle, with A.J. Burnett and his $16.5 million salary weighing down the back end like an albatross around the neck of GM Brian Cashman. Yankee fans may not have the stomach to watch A.J. implode for another season let alone the three years he has left on his contract, but itâ€™s not like any teams are going to be willing to trade for him.
No one knows if Pettitte will finally decide to hang up his spikes, but Iâ€™m betting that he will. The second half of the season had to be frustrating for him, and it also reminded him that his body is breaking down even if his elbow and shoulder held up. His teammates should do what Brett Favreâ€™s teammates did and jump on a plane and visit him to plead for a return, because he proved to be the most reliable Yankees starter this offseason.
Hereâ€™s the nightmare scenario that has undoubtedly crept into Cashmanâ€™s mind: Pettitte decides to retire and the Rangers dangle a six-year, $150 million offer in front of Lee. Although the Yankees wave a blank check at him, Lee decides to take a little less to play in the low-pressure Dallas market since itâ€™s closer to his Arkansas home and heâ€™s formed a nice bond with his teammates. Maybe he doesnâ€™t want to play second fiddle to his buddy, CC Sabathia, or he realizes itâ€™s personally fulfilling and just as rewarding to be the Dragon Slayer in his own kingdom.
Japanese star Yu Darvish has chosen to stay another year in Japan, while Ted Lilly has resigned with the Dodgers. That leaves Carl Pavano as one of the few notable starting pitchers on the free agent market along with Hiroki Kuroda of the Dodgers. Obviously, Pavano wonâ€™t be making a return engagement to the Bronx so what would the Yankees do to fill two holes in their rotation?
Ivan Nova is one option, but heâ€™s far from polished and is best viewed as a stopgap starter in case of an injury (or a complete Burnett meltdown). Â No other starters in the minors are ready to make an impact, although the good news is that the Yankees only have to pay Kei Igawa one more year to pitch at Scranton-Wilkes Barre. Converting Joba back to a starter is, well, a non-starter. Alfredo Aceves looked good in spring training, but after an injury-plagued year he may need back surgery and even if he is able to return should not be counted on as anything other than a swingman out of the bullpen.
Carlos Zambrano, the temperamental but talented ex-ace of the Cubs, would be an acceptable trade risk only if the Cubs took back Burnett. Zambrano is owed $36 million over the next two years plus a vesting option that is unlikely to be triggered, while Burnett is owed $50 million over the next three. If Iâ€™m the Yankees Iâ€™d pay the difference and throw in a mid-level prospect or two to make that deal happen.Â Big Z has never had an ERA over 4.00 and his worst ERA+ is the 111 he posted in his rookie year.
Here is another trade that might be a little harder to pull off, because there will be a lot more competition and the target may not want to land in New York. If the Royals are smart (I know, an unlikely occurrence), they will unload Zach Greinke while he still has high trade value. He would probably prefer to land on a small-market team that has a good chance to contend every yearâ€”the Twins are probably the ideal team for himâ€”as opposed to the media pressure that comes with playing in New York. Cashman can make a Greinke deal happen by biting the bullet and packaging Joba with Brett Gardner and rising star catcher Austin Romine. The Royals need a good, young catcher as well as a speedy leadoff hitter and they could give Joba another shot at being a starter with no innings limit.
Imagine if the Yankees convinced Pettitte to come back, signed Lee as a free agent and traded for Greinke. After all, if thereâ€™s anything they have learned itâ€™s that pitching wins championships. Howâ€™s this for a powerhouse rotation: Sabathia, Lee, Pettitte, Greinke and Hughes. A.J. Burnett could be a $16 million mop-up guy like Vazquez was this year. It doesnâ€™t hurt to dream.
Itâ€™s tough to lose Gardner, but the Greinke deal can only happen if the Yankees throw money at Carl Crawford to inject some speed and youth to the top of the lineup. Crawford has turned into an all-around dangerous hitter with nice run production, and as they say, speed never slumps. Jeterâ€™s days as a leadoff batter need to end while Crawford offers superior speed and defense compared to another possible free-agent targetâ€”Jayson Werth. It should be noted that Crawford drove in 5 more runs than Werth in 2010, strikes out less often and is two years younger. Heâ€™s a dynamic, high-character guy, but 10 to 12 teams will be gunning for his services and Iâ€™m guessing the Yankees will sit tight with their current outfield and invest their money in pitching. The way I look at it, the Yankees were thoroughly outhit by the Rangers in this last seriesâ€”can they really expect better production from the same aging lineup next year? They need an impact bat, a starting catcher, two starters and a reliable set-up man and they tend to get what they want, even if they donâ€™t always target the right players. (Remember the days when Jesse Barfield was brought in to be the savior?)
Center fielder Curtis Granderson saved his spot by turning around his batting the last month or so of the season, thanks to some extra work with hitting coach Kevin Long. He batted .455 in the Twins series and .294 versus the Rangers. Nick Swisher stays in right unless Werth is signed, in which case he moves to left. The infield is set with Teixeira, Cano, A-Rod and Jeter, but the team could use a utility player whoâ€™s got more pop in his bat than Ramiro Pena, especially since A-Rod can expect to see more time at DH in the future. Bill Hall of the Red Sox would be the perfect pickup, since he can play anywhere in the infield or outfield and has good power. Eduardo Nunez should be retained over Pena, with the idea he will start playing once every week or two to see if he can be the long-term successor to Jeter at short. Good luck running that idea by the captain.
That leaves catcher. Despite catching only 83 games, Jorge Posada committed 8 errors, was charged with 8 passed balls and allowed 32 wild pitches. He also threw out a career-low 15 percent of base runners. Itâ€™s tough to say this because heâ€™s been a valuable player for a long time, but Jorge needs to be more of a part-time player in 2011, with most of his at bats coming at DH. Thatâ€™s another conversation thatâ€™s not going to go well between manager and player. Not only is Francisco Cervelli not the answer as starter, he shouldnâ€™t be retained as the backup either. Heâ€™s a weak hitter with no power and his defensive numbers were actually worse than those of Posadaâ€”he threw out only 14 percent of runners and committed 13 errors in 90 games. Top prospect Jesus Montero is probably ready to be a productive hitter in the majors, but needs more polish behind the plate. Plan on him making the team next year and sharing DH at bats with Posada and A-Rod. The playoffs demonstrated that the Yankees lineup desperately needs a young gun with some pop, like the Rangers had with Nelson Cruz.Â Â Â Â
If Posada is only allowed to catch 30-40 games and Montero catches maybe 50-60, that leaves a lot of games for someone else to fill. Victor Martinez is not the answer, as the Yankees donâ€™t need any more high-priced DHâ€™s masquerading as catchers. The best option would be the guy who just carved out their heart again with a clutch home runâ€”Benjie Molina. He could serve as a mentor for Montero while offering a nice combination of defense, leadership and hitting production. A one-year contract for about $3 million ought to get that deal done and then the Yankees wouldnâ€™t have to worry about him clubbing any more home runs to beat them in the playoffs.
Nick Johnson and Austin Kearns, we have some lovely parting gifts for you. And it would be nice if the Yankees upgraded the back end of their pitching staff beyond the limited abilities of Sergio Mitre, Chad Gaudin and Dustin Moseley. Donâ€™t look for a return engagement with Johnny Damon either, since thereâ€™s no spot in the outfield for his noodle arm and the roster is already filled with too many players best suited to be a DH. Marcus Thames proved he can crush lefties, while Greg Golson brings speed and defense to the bench.
The bullpen will require some attention. If Damaso Marte can regain his health, he can team up with Boone Logan as a serviceable pair of lefties. Father Time has still not caught up with Rivera, and David Robertson is good enough as a seventh-inning guy. Girardi seems to have lost faith in Joba, which is why he should be traded now while he still has some value. Neither Robertson nor Chamberlain seem capable of handling the eighth-inning role, so the Yankees may have to overspend and pay $6-7 million or so to keep Kerry Wood around for another year. He may have impressed enough in NY to secure another shot as a closer somewhere else, although he seems adamant about pitching only for a contender. If Wood leaves and Chamberlain is traded, then the Yankeesâ€™ pen could be in trouble as Cashman is opposed to spending big free-agent bucks on set-up relievers.
It doesnâ€™t do any good to question why the Yankees let themselves get outbid by a handful of small-market teams for the services of Aroldis Chapman, but that has proved to be a major blunder. After all, they were willing to invest significantly more money in Igawa three years ago and he wasnâ€™t attracting hordes of drooling scouts.
Hereâ€™s how the Yankees roster could shape up for next season, assuming some of the moves I suggested take place:
C-Molina, Posada, Montero
SP-Sabathia, Lee, Hughes, Greinke, Burnett
RP-Rivera, Wood, Robertson, Logan, Marte, Aceves
Here is a possible batting order. Jeter and Posada are not going to like being moved down in the order, but at the end of the day the manager has to do whatâ€™s best for the team.
Of course I could be completely wrong and the Yankees might decide to sit out the free agent season and just let the kids develop another year. Yeah right.
Chris Jensenâ€™s heroes have always been Yankees, except for the few months he was fascinated by Joe Charboneau in 1980.