Thursday, November 03, 2005

2005 Off-Season, Part IV: Gimme Gimme Gimme

Just as the papers are becoming mum on the free agency issue – mainly because it open season doesn’t begin until the 15th, and the guys that are going to file have filed – I’m stepping in and giving my take on what could be an integral off-season in the remaking of the New York Yankees. Then again, it seems like every off-season since 2000 has been crucial, since they all followed seasons in which the ultimate goal could be smelled but not touched.

What exactly are the Yankees looking for? The foremost priority in free agency has to be bullpen help, something the Yankees had little to none of by the end of the season. There are six starters in place for Opening Day 2006 as of this writing, so it’s also presumable that one of those six would join the bullpen ranks – or join the ranks of Rondell White in the “Yankees For One Year Club” (assuming it’s Wright, Pavano, or Chacon that is shipped off).

As it stands now, here’s the pitching:

Starters         Releivers
Randy             Mo
Moose             Small
Pavano           Wright
Chacon           Proctor

Nine pitchers in all out of a staff of 11 or 12. The glaring absence of a lefty in the bullpen needs the most immediate action, with B.J. Ryan at the top of the talks. While Ryan would be a great addition by every means, he would be the 8th inning guy, still denying the Yanks a guy to face lefties. This is where I make a proposition to Al Leiter and see if he’s interested in pitching one more year in this bullpen role. Joe Torre had approached Al after the season with this question, and Leiter said he’d need time to think about it. I still think it’s a better option than what’s out there.

Barring Leiter, for a lefty out of the pen, sign me up for Dennys Reyes. Unless there’s a lefty reliever in the minors that will be ready to make the leap next year (and I’m aware of none), the Yanks are going to have to get a lefty regardless of Ryan’s status. Sure, Reyes was released by the Padres this year when his ERA inflated from the mid 3’s to 5, but that’s not the whole story. Or maybe it is, and maybe I’m just trying to make any case I can for the guy. But he almost did sign with the Yanks upon his release, but decided to spend the rest of the summer in his home country instead. He’s a risk, but one the Yanks can possible afford to take.

The other name I like on the free agent relievers list: Julian Tavarez. He’s another considerable risk, considering the hot temper he displayed in St. Louis, especially in 2004, when he pulled a Kevin Brown on the bullpen phone. I can see him as a Sheffield kinda guy, though. Stick him in the Bronx, and watch the energy flow. Or at least that’s my hypothesis, unproven of course. If someone can make a compelling argument as to why he’d self-destruct in New York, I’m all ears.

Jason Grimsley is a name that may fly under the radar, but could be a decent addition to the pen crew. He tosses some serious heat and is a ground ball guy, something I’ve always liked in a reliever. Michael Lewis put it best: no matter how hard you hit a ground ball, it’s not going out of the park (paraphrased). I think I’d rather have him than exercise the $1.5 million option on Tanyon Sturtze. In fact, I think there is very little that could make me want Sturtze back next year.

To close out the ranks of relievers, Octavio Dotel is rumored to be sought after by the Mets in a set up role. If he’s going to set up in Flushing, why can’t he set up in the Bronx? Problem is, Dotel is a serious risk right now, considering his entire elbow was reconstructed over the summer (which was a smart move, considering Billy Beane was more than likely going to trade him at the deadline). Though, I guess he’s really only an option if Ryan doesn’t sign.

I know I said to keep the center field search on the trade block, since the market for center fielders is, well, basically non-existent. Johnny Damon and Preston Wilson head the list, proving that the Yankees are not going to find the answer here.

But wait, there’s still a chance for salvation in the free agency market. Remember the whole thing where Hideki can play center (yes, I’m assuming his deal will get done)? So slide Matsui to center, and sign Brian Giles. Yes, this idea has been up at for quite a bit now, but it still warrants mentioning. Age is a factor with Giles, as he’s 34, but just remember what age we signed Sheff at (yes, exactly).

The statistic that stood out to me most about Giles: .423 OBP, and when his caught stealings and double plays are factored in, he still doesn’t make an out 39.5 percent of the time. If that’s not enough, he strikes out once every 10 plate appearances, which is better than any current Yankee performed in that category in ’05. Oh, and he walks at a considerably higher rate than he strikes out: 119-64 last year, 313-202 over the past three.

He’s not a power hitter, but he smacks doubles with the best of them, and as mentioned before, has a propensity to get on base, which is invaluable. Plus, he put up those 2005 numbers at Petco Park, which is a pitcher’s kind of place. Who knows what he could do in the much more neutral Yankee Stadium.

Unfortunately, Giles has not been mentioned in connection with the Yankees at all this off-season. His name has made headlines in St. Louis and Cleveland, but it seems that he isn’t going to make his way to the East Coast. This is a shame because not only do I consider Giles a perfect fit for the Yanks at this point, but I think he’s the best free agent on the market, period.

That brings us to the backups, unless the Yankees intend to reel in a full-time DH, which is unlikely, considering the way Joe likes to juggle his lineups. Personally, I think Tino is done, and isn’t going to contribute much should he return in 2006. His numbers are particularly inflated because of the stretch in May where he carried the team, and for that the Yankees Faithful are greatly indebted. But the team really needs to move on, and by move on, I mean move backwards to a name that appeared on the 2004 roster: Travis Lee. Granted, Lee may stick with the D-Rays if he is the starter, and may be able to find a starter’s gig elsewhere. But should be wish to return to New York and get some reps in at first while Giambi DHs, I say pounce on the opportunity.

He puts up decent numbers, .272/.331/.426, along with 22 doubles in ’05. Plus, he’s not particularly handicapping, striking out at about the league average rate (about once ever six and a half plate appearances), and drawing his share of walks. He also provides the kind of glove Joe loves to use in the eighth inning of a tight game.

Doug Mientkiewicz’s name is sure to pop up along the way somewhere, but I’d avoid him. Not only is he the dick who stole Boston’s World Series ball (after being there for what, three whole months?), but he also made some disparaging remarks about the Mets with the intention being for them to not pick up his option. Good job, Douggie, you’re a first-class douche bag, and I hope you end up playing on the Royals next year.

Back up catcher is next, and let me tell you this: there is absolutely no one on that list the Yankees could use. The two best options are to convince Flaherty to not retire (again), or let Will Nieves do the back up work next year. Molina would be a colossal mistake, as would Ramon Hernandez, though both of them aren’t likely to sign with the Yanks due to the presence of Posada.

And that, folks, is basically what the Yanks need heading into next year. The fourth outfielder role can be more than adequately filled by Bubba Crosby, and the team proved in ’05 that when you have A-Rod, Jeter, and Cano in your infield, the matter of a utility man isn’t of much importance. Most of the back up roles I’d like to see filled by guys from the farm system (the aforementioned Nieves, Kevin Thompson, to name two). On a parting note, I’ll recap the Sporting Brews Yankees Off-Season Plan:

Bullpen: B.J. Ryan, any two of the following: Julian Tavarez, Dennys Reyes, Jason Grimsley, Al Leiter
Outfield: Brian Giles, Brian Giles, Brian Giles
First Base/DH: Travis Lee