Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Are the Yankees Trusting Their Farm System (a little)?

The Yankees are one of the oldest teams in the MLB. Which shouldn't come as a shock to anybody. The Yankees haven't "rebuilt" since the early 90s, so adding pieces rather than starting over had been the Modus Operendi for quite a while.

The core we all know is old. Jeter is 36, positively Jurassic for a shortstop. Alex Rodriguez is 34 and his hip is far older than that—his stats this year show that. Posada is 38 and probably will never be a full-time catcher ever again, as his body has finally realized how old and beat up it really is. Never mind Nick Johnson, who's body is 31 going on 63. Andy Pettite so far has given Father Time the slip this year, but who knows how long his shoulder will hang in there? And while Vasquez, Rivera and Burnett are pitching well of late, all have had their slipping-down moments and aren't getting younger, any of them. And if we're to believe Bill James, since all are over the age of 33, a steady decline is in store for all of them.

Point being, the Yankees, and their 40-23 record, have had less to do with their big-name, big-ticket star veterans—and more to do with young unproven kids—than it has been for a long, long time.

This isn't to say that we should neglect the contributions of the Yankee elders, or that the Yankees should dump their vets and have a giant youth movement. Rather to say that a lot has been asked of the 27 and under Yankees—Cano, Gardner, Hughes and Cervelli—due to injuries or poor performance of the elder Yankees. And that they have responded.

Cano was asked to protect A-Rod by moving into the 5-hole in the lineup. Most Yankee fans weren't at all optimistic. All Cano is doing is having an MVP season, batting 80 points higher than A-Rod and hitting 5 more HRs. He's batting 365 points higher than his average coming into the season, and is 1st in the AL in total bases and is 2nd in WAR.

New York Magazine wrote an article decrying the fact that Brett Gardner was going to be the Yankees starting left fielder and not Matt Holliday. They weren't the only ones. All Gardner did to respond was to bat .317, steal 22 bases, and have an OPS+ 8 points higher than Holliday. He also has 3 more assists than Holliday. He's 5th in the AL with a .400 OBP and is 4th with 44 runs scored.

Many Yankee fans wanted the Yankees to go after John Lackey this past offseason. (Some even had dreams of Halladay and Lackey. Come on, really guys?). Why not sign Lackey to plug a hole in your staff? Problem solved, right. However, unlike the Yankees of the past, the Yankees did not sign a big-ticket free agent and kept the options to in-house candidates. And the 24-year-old Hughes rewarded their faith. 9 wins out of 12 games started, a 3.11 ERA, a 132 ERA+ and 74 Ks in 75.1 IP. He's 6th in the AL with a 2.2 WAR. To compare, Lackey has a 4.54 ERA.

And most had no faith in Francisco Cervelli, calling last year a fluke and hoping they would call hot prospect Jesus Montero up, even though he was barely 20. Most went something along these lines: "You also cannot ignore that in 40-60 games, Francisco Cervelli is projected to also be in that batting order. Cervelli is a great defensive backstop and provided some unexpected production in his limited time with the big team in 2009. But there is nothing in this past that says he will produce with the stick in the majors." Even The LoHud blog, when writing their prediction for this year, wrote:

"If something were to happen to Posada early in the year, the Yankees who would probably have to lean on Cervelli and Rivera (or a new addition) to get them through until Montero is ready for the big leagues. That wouldn’t inspire a lot of confidence."

Cervelli is batting .282 overall with a 718 OPS. His BA climbs to .588 with 2 outs and RISP. He is tied for 8th in the AL with a .7 WAR. Which is to say nothing about how well the staff pitches when Cervelli catches. He's gotten to be so solid that many writers are beginning to think that Posada should move to DH permanently and Cervelli should be the everyday catcher.

And this is nothing to say of David Robertson, who after a rough start, has thrown a 1.64 ERA over his last 12 appearances, spanning back to early May. And Chamberlain, who has a 1.45 ERA in June—and who, if you threw out 2 bad innings, would have an ERA of 1.72.
Again, this is not to knock the Yankee Elders at all. Pettitte, Jeter, Swisher and co. have all been really good, and Mariano Rivera has been his supernatural self as usual. Without them, the Yankees would be nowhere near first place.

This is to say that instead of journeymen or high-priced free agents, the Yankees instead have been turning to their own of late, to play important spots on their team, be them starters or role players. The total salary of Cervelli, Cano, Hughes, Gardner, Robertson and Chamberlain is 11.2 million with Cano making 9 million of that pot. Matt Holliday makes 16.3 million this season. John Lackey makes 18.7.

Brian Cashman started a youth movement of sorts in Yankeeland. Of course it’s not a youth movement like they have in Oakland, but for the Yankees, it is a youth movement for a town that wants gratification 5 minutes ago and for whom every mistake unforgivable, and every loss is a travesty. Is this a sign of a subtle change for the Yankees? Maybe. They still are the highest-priced team in the land. But maybe, they will give their kids a chance for once instead of trading them all away.

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