Sunday, October 08, 2000

They’re doing it over at MLB Trade Rumors, so I thought I’d give it a whirl here for the Yankees. This is what Cashman has on his plate this off-season, and my opinion on what he should do with it.

Contractual obligations
CJorge Posada$12m
1BJason Giambi$21m
2BRobinson Cano$400K
3BAlex Rodriguez$16m
SSDerek Jeter$20m
LFHideki Matsui$13m
CFJohnny Damon$13m
RFBobby Abreu$16m

Position Player Obligations: $111.4 million

SPRandy Johnson$16m
SPCarl Pavano$10m
RPMariano Rivera$10.5m
RPKyle Farnsworth$5.25m
RPMike Myers$1.25m

Pitcher Obligations: $43 million

Team Options (buyout in parenthesis)
Jaret Wright—$7m ($4m)
Gary Sheffield—$13m ($0)
Mike Mussina—$17m ($1.5m)

Arbitration EligibleThree full years MLB service
Sal Fasano
Aaron Guiel (not quite sure, but he’ll be close)

Protected PlayersLess than three years MLB service
Robinson Cano (he won’t have two full years service time, so it’s unlikely he’ll be a “Super Two,” therefore eligible for arbitration)
Chien-Ming Wang (same deal as Cano)
Scott Proctor (probable Super Two)
Nick Green
Andy Phillips
Wil Nieves
T.J. Beam
Brian Bruney
Melky Cabrera
Sean Henn
Jeff Karstens
Darrell Rasner
Kevin Reese
Kevin Thompson
Jose Veras

Unrestricted Free Agents
Octavio Dotel
Tanyon Sturtze
Ron Villone
Bernie Williams
Miguel Cairo
Craig Wilson
Cory Lidle

For starters, I’d let every one of the unrestricted free agents walk, with the possible exception of Dotel. Here’s the conundrum with him, though: Cashman paid him $2.25 million to rehab and then pitch poorly upon his return, so there’s a lot of lost value there. So why would the Yanks pony up another $3 or so million to bring him back in 2007? Since they did pay him to rehab and pitch poorly, I would think that an astute businessman would offer Dotel $1 million and a few incentives. However, since pitchers have a limited shelf life, it would make sense that Dotel would want to sign for the most money possible. The market for relievers is always thin, so one would figure that Dotel could get up to $3 million elsewhere—especially in the bullpen-starved environment that is Boston. He’s still a gamble at this point, and the Yanks have already eaten their initial ante. It’s a discount or bust.

Same goes for the option players—for the most part, they’re not worth the money or trouble. I know I’ve talked about picking up Sheffield’s option because it’s at market value. But the more I think about it—and the more I watch the playoffs—I realize that letting Sheff go is the best option, even if he lands in Boston (which would be monumentally stupid on Theo’s part). There is just no place for him on this team, but more importantly, it’s high time the Yankees stop trying to bring in big-name veterans looking to win it all (more on this later). Mussina is a strange case, and his return is contingent on his salary demands. The upside to bringing him back is that you know what you’re getting. He’ll be brilliant at times, injured at others, and a few times he’ll completely melt down. Even in his waning years, though, he’ll never be worse than a solid No. 3 pitcher. So if he wants a 2-year, $18 million contract, I’d be willing to talk (obviously with the intention of bringing down that price). Anything more, and he can go pitch elsewhere.

The nine position starters are accounted for: Giambi, Cano, Jeter, A-Rod (I’ll talk about him later), Posada, Matsui, Damon, and Abreu will all be back. If Torre is back (and I think he will be), they’ll likely go with 12 pitchers, meaning 13 position players. That’s five bench roles to fill, and I’m sincerely hoping Phillips and Cairo aren’t included here. Bench players come and bench players go; it’s part of baseball. To be attached to these particular bench players is counterproductive. The idea is to find an up-and-coming player to fill that role, so you can benefit from his developing skills until the point comes where you make him a starter or cut bait. Miguel Cairo does not fit that bill, nor does Nick Green. Cashman needs to grab his searchlight and find a few potential candidates. Just a few in-house names to get the ball rolling: Andy Cannizaro and Gabe Lopez. They may not be the answer in the end, but it’s a start.

Andy Phillips should join Cairo in his exile from Yankeeland. I enjoyed Phillips at times this season, but when you take a step back and really assess the team, he doesn’t bring much to the table. In nearly 250 at bats this season (quite impressive for first-half backup), he made an out in 72 percent of the time. His 11 doubles, three triples, and seven homers were nice, but they don’t make up for the fact that he struck out in 22 percent of his at bats while drawing only 11 walks. He’s not nearly capable of handling the role every day, which is what the Yankees first baseman will have to do in 2007. Jason Giambi’s steroid-addled body can’t handle the position on a regular basis, and if he’s going to benefit the team at all next year, he’ll have to be our David Ortiz/Jim Thome. Give him maybe a day a week at first, and relegate him to DH the rest of the time. That saves his body wear and tear and hopefully will keep him in greater health later in the season.

Who, then, fills the role? Carlos Pena would have been an option, but the Yanks went with Craig Wilson instead, allowing Pena to mosey on up to Boston. He may not be with the Sawks next year, but he likely wouldn’t return to the Yankees. Trawling the rest of the Yanks minor league system, it appears there aren’t many viable options for the job. Eric Duncan certainly won’t be ready; hell, after last season, I’d be hesitant to even start him in AAA. The only experiment even remotely worth pursuing is Randy Ruiz. However, I feel he’d be a carbon copy of Phillips, thus inadequate for the task at hand. Two names pop up when scouring the free agent market: Daryle Ward and Travis Lee. I’m not familiar with Ward’s defense, but if he’s above average, I’d make him my first target (though the fact that he’s a converted outfielder leaves me with little confidence in his first-baseman abilities). Lee is the superior defender, though his batting statistics were downright terrible in 2006. However, we’re not looking for a guy who can mash; we simply want someone who won’t kill the team. Phillips can kill a team with his frequent strikeouts and low OBP. Just to throw another name into the fray, Doug Mientkiewicz had a decent year at the plate and is a fine defender at first. However, his failed experiment with the Mets has me doubtful as to his ability in high-pressure situations. All things considered, I believe Lee fits the bill better than the rest.

Ideally, this would be the perfect year to have a young catcher backing up Jorge, so that when Jorge’s time with the Yankees is done—likely after the 2007 season, though a good season should give him another year—they would have someone to step into the shoes. Unfortunately, no such catcher exists in the Yankees system. There is a lot of hype surrounding Jesus Montero, but he’s 17 and certainly three years away at the minimum. Bringing back Fasano wouldn’t be a terrible idea, but he can’t hit a lick. Then again, neither can most backup catchers. Sal’s personality is great for a clubhouse environment, and I think that gives him a menial edge over the lot of backup catchers out there. Unless Cashman spots what he considers a steal in the market, I don’t see any reason to not bring back Fasano.

The outfield is set and loaded with lefties. There is no doubt that Matsui, Damon, and Abreu start in the outfield, with Melky playing the role of fourth outfielder. Many Yankees fans are outraged at this, and feel that some move needs to be made so that Melky can be an everyday player. My argument is that he’ll be 22 next year, so there’s plenty of time. As the Yanks proved this year, injuries can happen to anyone at any time, so having Melky as the fourth outfielder gives the Yankees some much-needed depth. The only position to resolve, then, is the fifth outfielder spot. Nostalgia leads most people to desire Bernie’s return, but the truth is that he’s finished. If he wants to continue playing, that’s fine; he can find a club that wants to ink a 39-year-old with a slow bat, no arm, and aspires to start. Cashman needs to be firm here and make a move for the betterment of the team. To me, the final outfield spot comes down to two guys: Aaron Guiel and Kevin Thompson. Much as I like Guiel, he would be a lefty backing up three lefty outfielders. I’d expect similar production from Thompson and Guiel, so that Thompson is a righty gives him the edge here. Of course, this can all change in Spring Training, but from the current outlook, he looks to be the favorite. Keep an eye on Bronson Sardinha as well. The 2001 first round pick picked up his game considerably upon promotion to AAA, hitting .286/.365/.492 in 185 at bats for the Clippers. Lefty or not, if he impresses at Spring Training I’d expect him on the roster.

Much as I want to get to the real problem, the pitching, there is but one area left to address (and it kind of relates to pitching): Alex Rodriguez. We all know the varying opinions on him, that he’s a bum and should be traded or that he’s far too valuable to give up. I’m not a psychologist, nor do I know the man personally, so I can’t speak as to his mental well-being. Players are prone to bad years, and if A-Rod’s 2006 is the worst you’re going to see, trading him seems like nonsense. You can go ahead and cite his past two postseasons (and the last three games of the 2004 ALCS if you really hate him), but the losses weren’t even close to being his fault; they were team efforts. If you want to pin blame, it should be on the pitching staff, not on Alex. Specifically in 2006, no one hit well after Game One against the Tigers; to blame A-Rod is to display extreme bias. No one hit. However, despite my defense of the man, I’m still in the camp that wants him traded.

The 2006 Yankees proved something that should have been painfully obvious already (and was to many): without solid pitching, you’re not going anywhere in the playoffs. Superior hitters can carry you through a 162-game regular season, as there is a margin for error there. Once in the playoffs, that margin disappears. I’ve already listed the returning starters, and it’s basically the same bunch from this year. Unfortunately, the same pretty much goes for the pitching staff. The only solution, as I see it, is to trade one of your powerful offensive cogs for some pitching. So, who’s it going to be?

Jeter—Not even worthy of addressing.
Cano—Ditto.
Giambi—Contract runs through 2008 season at $20 million per; unlikely any team would want to take him on, even if the Yankees ate the majority.
Posada—A good catcher is hard to find.
Matsui—Not a terrible trading chip, but he won’t bring back a young or top-of-the-line starter. Plus, they just re-signed him.
Damon—Not happening.
Abreu—No trade clause. Probably wouldn’t waive it, and if he did, he’d demand his 2008 option be picked up. That’s a deal-breaker all around.
Melky—Proved he can play in New York, only 22 years old, won’t fetch the Yanks any pitching value.

That leaves Alex. His remaining contract is hefty, but payments from Texas would help in this situation. I’m not quite sure how that agreement was worded, and there is as possibility that trading A-Rod would nullify future payments from the Rangers. But let’s work under the assumption that they’re kicking in $10 million a year. That leaves $15 million from the Yanks. Even if they picked up $5 million a year, $10 million a year for A-Rod is a steal and a half. There is talk of the Angels being interested, as he’d bring a bat with which to protect Vlad. But I’m not so keen on trading him within the American League. Then again, we’ve all seen the results when you move pitchers from the NL to the AL. I’d absolutely love a three-way deal with the Angles and White Sox where A-Rod lands with the Angels, the Angels send a prospect up to Chicago, and we receive Ervin Santana and Joe Crede. It may be a bit far fetched, but that seems like a reasonable return considering the Yankees pitching woes. The biggest obstacle there is that the Angels likely won’t want to part with Santana, and the White Sox would probably only deal Crede for a top prospect, which Angels GM Bill Stoneman is always reluctant to sacrifice. I’d also take John Lackey for A-Rod straight up, but I doubt Anaheim would be keen to that scenario, either.

Once again, please note that I’m not jumping on the “A-Rod is finished in New York” bandwagon. I’m just saying that with all the bats the Yankees have, trading one of them for pitching help is a smart move. And since A-Rod would fetch the most in return, he’s the prime target. In order for this Yankees team to turn around, they’re going to need a complete pitching overhaul. Contractual obligations are hindering this, though, and Cashman will have to think far beyond conventional logic in order to avoid making 2006’s mistakes in 2007. Trading one of if not the most talented player in the league seems counterintuitive when you phrase it like that. But thinking about it in terms of the team puts it in a different perspective. The Yankees need more pitching to win; A-Rod can fetch a pitcher or two; the Yankees have more talent in their lineup than they know what to do with. It all points towards trading him for the benefit of the team.

If the Yankees don’t make some bolds moves this off-season with their pitching staff, they’re doomed to repeat the failures of 2004-2006. Even though I strongly advocate trading A-Rod for pitching, no one can will that to fruition, so we’re going to work under the assumption that there is no Ervin Santana or John Lackey in the cards for the Yanks. What they have is a mediocre staff, and there doesn’t seem to be much room for upgrade. Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt top the free-agency ranks, and neither seems particularly attractive. Schmidt will be 34 in January, and if the Yankees have learned anything since 2001, it’s that overpriced, over the hill pitchers don’t get the job done. He’s also a flyball pitcher who has seen his strikeout rate decline, making him even less attractive. Zito would be a more viable option if he wouldn’t command ridiculous money on the open market, for which we have Scott Boras and A.J. Burnett to blame. Since he’s the premier starter on the market (and a lefty), I’d expect his eventual contract to exceed that of Burnett, probably to the tune of five years, $60-65 million. Sorry, folks, but that’s just not going to do it. Let him sign with the Mets or Red Sox.

The name likely headed to the Bronx: Matsuzaka Diasuke. He’ll come with a hefty price tag—likely $10 million to his current club just to sign—but his potential warrants that kind of investment. He’s younger than Zito and has been flat-out dominant in Japan and in International competition. He projects very well for the Majors, and is a younger option than Zito. Brian Cashman has revamped his personnel in Japan, ostensibly to give the Yanks the edge in signing Matsuzaka. There will be plenty of players in this race, mainly the Red Sox, Yankees, and Mariners—though likely every team would jump at the opportunity to acquire him. Since money is not an object and pitching is short on this team, expect Cashman to come in with the largest bid. Just being the Yankees may be enough to leg out this race.

The signing of Matsuzaka would likely spell the end for Mike Mussina. Above, I discussed the potential for bringing him back at $8 to $9 million per year, but that’s money that can be spent elsewhere with Matsuzaka on board. Assuming the Yankees do sign him, the Yanks would have precious few rotation spots to fill. Matsuzaka and Wang will form a nice 1-2 punch, and Randy will be able to step in behind them. He’s got another off-season to cope with his diminished “stuff,” and should be able to fill the shoes of a No. 3 starter (barring, of course, an April and May meltdown like last year). Like it or not, Carl Pavano will start the season as the No. 4 starter—unless he gets hurt in Spring Training, which is a vast possibility. With two years and $20 million left on his contract, he’s not going anywhere. Unless the Yanks find a way to opt out of his contract (not bloody likely), he’ll get every chance in 2007. That leaves the No. 5 spot up for grabs, and it should be filled by a younger pitcher. I’d like to see Darrell Rasner get the nod. He pitched well enough in September for the Yanks, and has better pitches than Jeff Karstens. Since he’s only 23 years old, Karstens would greatly benefit from starting the season in AAA. Cashman has said the plan is to get Karstens on a weight training and conditioning program this winter so he doesn’t lose effectiveness as the season wears on. It would make sense to allow him to get used to his new physique (if the program even works) in AAA.

So it looks like the Yanks won’t have to worry about bidding for the mediocre crop of starting pitchers this off-season. If they pursue anyone, it should be Ted Lilly, but that possibility seems remote. He could slot in well as the No. 4 or No. 5 starter and would provide some Pavano insurance. However, since the pitching market is thin, especially for lefties, Lilly might command a bit more money than he’s worth. Money means less to the Yankees than it does most clubs, but that’s no an excuse to overpay for Lilly. At 30 years old, the Jaret Wright special (three years, $21 million with an injury clause) would be a reasonable contract, but the current demand for starting pitching may up that. If Cashman wants another veteran, Lilly is the way to go. But if he really wants to spur the youth movement, he’ll stay away from the non-Japanese pitching market.

Two utes may see some time next year, though likely only in the case of injury. Tyler Clippard and Phil Hughes are on the rise, and it’s impossible to not think of them as the future of the Yankees staff. It’s unlikely that either makes the team out of Spring Training, but with Dr. Pavano on staff, it’s conceivable that either or both could see time as early as May. I’m not sure of the readiness of them, but at a time when grizzled veterans aren’t getting the job done, moving to the youngsters feels like the right move. They both required some time to adjust to Eastern League hitting, so I’d like to see how they react to International League hitters before giving them a shot at the Show. Once again, the Yankees have enough options to allow their continued nurturing of Clippard and Hughes, so there is no need to rush them along. Once 2008 comes along, you can begin factoring them into the plan.

The final facet of the 2007 Yankees is the gravest: the bullpen. They had the makings of a quality one in 2006, but Torre’s usage obliterated that possibility. The Yankees had three of the top 10 most used relievers in the Majors this year: Scott Proctor (83, 1st by 8 appearances), Kyle Farnsworth (72, 5th), and Ron Villone (70, 8th). Of these, Villone and Proctor out did the pack in innings pitched, 102.1 and 80.1, respectively. The only other reliever of the top 10 in appearances who topped 80 innings was Scot Sheilds, widely known for his rubber arm. He also destroyed the Yankees duo in performance, posting a 2.87 ERA to Proctor’s 3.52 and Villone’s 5.04. But these are the problems you face when your manager refuses to use certain players except in mop-up situations. So, before the bullpen issue is even addressed, the Yanks need to find someone to better manage the players therein. If you’re going to be ridiculous and carry 12 pitchers, you might as well use all of them. Why carry the extra pitcher when he’s just going to sit dormant in the pen?

Returning are Mo, Farnsworth, Proctor, Myers, and Bruney, all of whom have earned Joe’s trust to some degree. Normally, I’d say this plays greatly to the Yankees benefit, since they can mix and match relievers to create a solid bridge to Mo. Unfortunately, Torre is obsessed with this idea of having a pitcher designated to a certain inning, a formula that failed horribly right from the get go (see Quantrill, Paul). I see the logic in having a determined set-up man for Mo, but I also believe there should be some flexibility in that area, too.

So that gives the Yankees five bullpen arms, meaning they should only be carrying one more—though the possibility is imminent that they continue to carry 12 pitchers. Ron Villone could be retained, but his late-season collapse has many soured on him. Many, including me, believe that this was largely due to Torre overusing him, so bringing him back wouldn’t be a terrible idea; it really depends on the demand for his services on the market. If he can be had for one year and $2 million, it’s a possibility. Anything more, in terms of both length and money, and letting him walk is the smart move. It’s basically the same premise as Dotel: you take a one-year, incentive-laden deal or you sign elsewhere. Even then, the Yanks may be better off handing the job to Sean Henn, who began his grooming for relief duty during the 2006 season.

Furthering the youth notion, the presence of T.J. Beam and J.B. Cox make the signing of an additional righty reliever less necessary. And, looking at the market, the Yanks are better off staying away. With the players they already have, it makes no sense for the Yankees to go out and waste money and a roster spot on over-30, mediocre bullpen arms. You might as well just turn the duties over to the guys who are coming up through the system. They certainly can’t be worse than the Mike Stantons and the Steve Karsays that linger in the market.

And that’s that. It’s not going to be an easy off-season for the Yanks, but it should be a decently quiet one. Matsuzaka should be their one big splash, and fill-ins and role players should garner the remainder of the team’s attention. The 2006 Yankees proved that you can’t win in the playoffs by mashing, so an overhaul should be in the works. Due to contractual obligations, it won’t be a complete overhaul, but each facet of the organization needs to be looked at microscopically. It’s all about pitching from here on out, and I think we can all agree that the team can easily afford to sacrifice one of their bats if it means picking up a quality starting pitcher. I also think we can all agree, though a pedestrian cost-benefit analysis, that the man for the task is Alex Rodriguez.

I’ll close with my ideal 2007 Opening Day lineup. Please do not take this as my predicted 2007 Opening Day lineup, because in all likelihood it won’t be. But since I’m advocating an A-Rod trade, I’ll be creating this lineup with a decently reasonable one in mind (Lackey and Figgins, though I think we could do a bit better; as I said, I’d ideally like to land Santana and Crede, but I don’t think that’s very likely).

1. Johnny Damon—CF
2. Derek Jeter—SS
3. Bobby Abreu—RF
4. Jason Giambi—DH
5. Hideki Matsui—LF
6. Jorge Posada—C
7. Robinson Cano—2B
8. Travis Lee—1B
9. Chone Figgins—3B

BN—Melky Cabrera
BN—Kevin Thompson
BN—Andy Cannizaro
BN—Sal Fasano

SP—Chien-Ming Wang
SP—Randy Johnson
SP—Matsuzaka Diasuke
SP—John Lackey
SP—Carl Pavano/Darrell Rasner

RP—Mariano Rivera
RP—Kyle Farnsworth
RP—Scott Proctor
RP—Brian Bruney
RP—Mike Myers
RP—Sean Henn
RP—T.J. Beam/J.B. Cox

However, trying to evoke Yankee logic, I see it like this:

1. Johnny Damon—CF
2. Derek Jeter—SS
3. Bobby Abreu—RF
4. Alex Rodriguez—3B
5. Jason Giambi—DH
6. Hideki Matsui—LF
7. Jorge Posada—C
8. Robinson Cano—2B
9. Andy Phillips—1B

BN—Melky Cabrera
BN—Kevin Thompson (though that may be a stretch)
BN—Sal Fasano
BN—Miguel Cairo

SP—Chien-Ming Wang
SP—Randy Johnson
SP—Mike Mussina
SP—Carl Pavano
SP—Jaret Wright

RP—Mariano Rivera
RP—Kyle Farnsworth
RP—Scott Proctor
RP—Brian Bruney
RP—Mike Myers
RP—Ron Villone
RP—Octavio Dotel

Even with the unbalanced lineup, the first scenario seems head and shoulders above the second. Let’s hope Cashman sheds some traditional Yankee logic and shakes up this team as much as possible.