Almost one year ago, I started this blog with the first posting, The Future Of The Yankees. Once again, going into the offseason, this blog will tackle the offseason issues with the Yankees. And, even more so than last year, it's imperative the Yankees make the right decisions to some tough questions, because even more so than in the past, the results if the don't could be dire.
First off, I'd like to tip the hat to New York Post writer, Joel Sherman for his defense of Brian Cashman. He points out that while Cashman has made mistakes, his sticking to his guns of not trading Wang, and Cano when the whole world was screaming for him to do just that has worked out. Sherman's adds that while Cashman's further "not-trading" of Kennedy and Hughes may not have worked out in 2008, it still might bear fruit in the future. While the whole planet has given up of Kennedy and Hughes, Sherman rightly points out that the Rays and White Sox got into the playoffs on the strengths of young arms that struggled at first. And he's right—these things take time and patience, something New York doesn't have buckets of. One example; probable AL Cy Young, Cliff Lee, had a above-6.00 ERA last year and was sent to the minors.
Let's look now at next year's Yankees.
The job is Posada's, though there are health issues. Can he throw? And even if Posada is fully recovered, there's still the question of Posada's age; he will be 37 next year. The Yankees must use him judiciously and throw him some more DH days. Molina is fine as a back-up but don't consider him a starter.
The long-term is another issue. It's possible Posada heads to first base sooner rather than later, which makes signing Texiera a non-go. If the Yankees decide to put Posada on first-base, signing Rod Barajas or Greg Zaun is a possibility to platoon with Jose Molina until Francisco Cervelli or Jesus Montero is ready.
Giambi is gone. Gone. Gone. And as such, the Yanks could go after Mark Texiera (Posada's move to 1b notwithstanding), but as Cashman has said, "Just because you put certain players on the top of your list doesn't mean you're going to be on the top of their list." One possible inexpensive option if Texiera falls through could be Raul Ibanez, who admittedly is not Keith Hernandez at 1st base, so his defense is a serious consideration. However, Ibanez can fill in there, with some other days going to Posada, Shelley Duncan or even Nady. Ibanez is also a lefty, which we may need more of after losing Giambi and maybe Abreu. Another option is to see how September call-up Juan Miranda does in the spring—although he had a good year in Scranton, that option seems like a lot of prayer would be involved.
I don't think the Yankees should necessarily go into the offseason with the idea of trading Robinson Cano, but you'd have to consider him as an asset if there are options out there for making your team better. Cano is young, relatively cheap and still has a bright future. He's much like Delmon Young was when the Rays traded him for Matt Garza. If you trade him—for Matt Cain, for instance, or Jake Peavy in a package deal—signing Rafael Furcal (who could take over leadoff duties should Damon be traded) or Orlando Hudson are options.
Xavier Nady acquitted himself well after coming over from the Pirates, though he did tail off late in the year. He should get more comfortable with a full year in pinstripes. Should Abreu leave, Nady might be more comfortable in right field, where he played in Pittsburgh (and had 10 assists before coming to the Yankees).
Last season, I championed trading Johnny Damon, and I do it again this year. Not that he's terrible. He's a good guy who had a nice year—when he was healthy. It's just that his being healthy is not a common occurrence. He's older, and has been plagued with nagging injuries throughout the past two years and it shows in his slower reflexes. His runs are down as are his extra-base hits and his Ks are up. More importantly, he's a defensive liability; Florence Henderson could run on Damon's arm, much less Rickey Henderson. Anyone watching Carlos Gomez or any of the Rays outfielders knows that defense is key to making the playoffs and a centerfielder that can cover ground saves runs. (According to stat experts, the Yankees lost 6 games more than they won due to their defense.) Brett Gardner is a sterling defender, who, even in his brief time in the Bronx showed he can cover the deep of Yankee Stadium's outfield. He's also a pitcher's nightmare when on base (13 stolen bases with 1 caught stealing in 127 AB), and after an admittedly terrible start, batted .294 in August and September. See what he can do in spring training. Also see if Melky Cabrera can get out of his funk and throw him into the spring training mix. As uber Blue Chip prospect Austin Jackson will likely start in AAA and is likely not far away from the Bronx, trading for a big-name player for centerfield is unlikely.
Abreu is an option here, but not for the three years he wants. Nady is a possibility here as well, with Damon or Matsui over in left. Melky could fill in here as well. There are dreams for Matt Holliday in a trade...maybe. But I don't see it.
Most likely, this is Matsui's domain for 2009.
Joe Girardi, on the last day of the season, gave this nugget: The Yankees staff had a better ERA in 2008 than they did in 2007 (4.29 to 4.49). And that was with Wang, Hughes, Petitte and Chamberlain injured for parts of the season—a testament to pitching coach Dave Eiland. Girardi also said the no. 1 priority this offseason is starting pitching. Contradiction? Not when you consider these facts: Mike Mussina is considering retirement, Andy Petitte is not the Andy Petitte of 1997. Rotation spots 3 through 5 are a grab-bag. So assuming Sidney Ponson, Darrell Rasner, Carl Pavano and the other misfit fill-ins are history, here are the contenders for the 2009 Yankee rotation:
Chien Ming Wang (coming off injury)
Mike Mussina (very strongly considering retirement)
Andy Petitte (37 and aging poorly)
Joba Chamberlain (23 and never pitched more than 100 innings)
Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Alfredo Aceves (talented, but who knows?)
So what do the Yankees do? Sportswriter Peter Abraham wrote this: "The average fan wants them to open the vault for Sabathia. But having a healthy Chien-Ming Wang atop the rotation with Chamberlain as the No. 2 would allow the Yankees to invest their money more judiciously in a pitcher such as Dodgers free agent Derek Lowe."
First off, Derek Lowe will be 36 next season. So you get rid of Andy Petitte and maybe Mike Mussina to replace them with a 36 year old? And back when Lowe was a Red Sox, his last two seasons there, he had a ERA of 4.47 and 5.42. His ERA at Yankee Stadium those years? 5.11 and 9.75 respectively. So, no to Lowe. Just stop it.
Cashman has to go after Sabathia hard. Ridiculously hard. Kidnap his wife if you have to, Cashman, but make sure you get him. You need a unqualified stud and you need a lefty. So get him.
After Sabathia, there's a drop off, as all the other possibilities have some heavy baggage with their good points. Ben Sheets is a superstud when healthy; unfortunately, he's very often hurt. Same might be said for A.J. Burnett, though he was healthy this year, and he pitches well at Yankee Stadium and led the AL with 231 Ks.
The trade market is interesting, but could be expensive. Jake Peavy is a stud, but would cost half the farm system. Oliver Perez is a thought—a strikeout lefty, who however, gives up a boatload of walks. Zack Grienke is an option as is Matt Cain, who is inexplicably on the Giants trading block. Would Cano, Kennedy and maybe a throw-in, like Chris Britton or Wilson Betemit get it done for one of these guys?
Cashman...explore. The Yankees have a ton of young talent at home. However, we shouldn't rely on them; have some quality starters and let the youngsters fight it out and earn a spot for themselves.
Not really a problem here as these guys performed well above what was expected. Rivera was god-like as usual (how bad is the shock going to be to Yankee fans when he's not there anymore?). Brian Bruney, Edwar Ramirez, Jose Veras, Dave Robertson, Dan Giese and rookie Phil Coke pitched superbly. Damaso Marte could come back and be the first lefty out of the pen. Jonathan Albaladejo should be back from injury as well com spring training.
As I've written repeatedly, 2008 was a "correction year," which is basically just a nice way of saying it was a down year, because a lot of older players' were in the last year of their contracts, playing injured and old. Giambi, Farnsworth, Petitte, Pavano. Now, in 2009, the Yankees have a chance to set a new course. They can start to build a foundation for the future by giving talented young players (Hughes, Gardner, Kennedy, Coke, maybe Austin Jackson) time to grow, and supporting these players with judicious free agents; i.e., not Jason Giambi, but Paul O'Neill; not Gary Sheffield, but Scott Brosius. The Yankees need to get younger, healthier, faster, play better defense and smarter baseball. To that end, this offseason is truly the most important in recent memory. Let's hope the Yankees choose the right course rather than the easy one.