Monday, October 16, 2006

State of the Yankees

The past week has been filled with various (mostly retarded) off-season plans that will (supposedly) enable the team to get over the LDS hump and return to glory. However, there is no surefire off-season plan that will right the Yankees ship; there are simply too many obstacles in the way to makeover the team in one off-season. So instead of writing a fantasy column spewing unreasonable ideas (i.e., the departure of Jason Giambi—sorry, there’s just no justifiable way to make that happen), this will be a series of logical maneuvers that would indicate a new direction. It’s obviously not the only solution, nor is it a certainty to work. But it will fall within the realm of possibility. And no, it won’t involve overpaying for the top veteran free agents.

Before I broach the subject of transactions, the State of the Yankees must be addressed. Not only will it give an idea of where the team stands heading into the off-season, but it will help make clearer the areas in which they can change. And honestly, if there’s an area where change is possible, it probably should be enacted; they didn’t drop right out of the playoffs without reason.

Seven of the eight position players are playing with multi-year contracts, and of those at least six will be back next year: Jorge Poasda, Jason Giambi, Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, and Bobby Abreu. There is either no reason to move these guys (Matsui, Damon, Jeter, Posada) or they are unmovable (Giambi, Abreu [no trade clause]). In addition, Robinson Cano will remain property of the Yankees, guaranteed to be back for at least c.$400k. However, the Yanks should try to lock him down through his arbitration years; allowing the 23-year-old who finished third in the AL batting race to go to arbitration next year would be rather foolish.

This leaves little flexibility in the starting nine. One area in which the Yankees can bend is first base/DH. Giambi can be moved to permanent DH, both for defensive and health reasons, which allows the Yanks to slide a new body onto the first base bag—and Andy Phillips is not the answer. Hindering their flexibility, however, is the lefty situation. Of the seven players mentioned above, five are lefties and one is a switch, leaving Jeter as the lone righty. The problem therein is transparent: Derek Jeter will not suffice as the lineup’s power righty.

Alex Rodriguez was left off the certain-to-come-back list because of the probability that Cashman is listening to offers. This isn’t to say that he’s on his way out the door, but if we’re focusing on roster flexibility, he’s the most expendable. He is a great player, better—in theory—than anyone on the list of returning players is, but he’s the only commodity that will yield a return of starting pitching. Then again, as we can see, they’d need another righty with some pop to replace him. One look at the third base market shows that the team isn’t likely to find that in the vacated position. This is why the A-Rod conundrum needs its own column.

People talk about the team’s chemistry and how it dwindled over the season’s final month, spurred by the returns of Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield. While those two heavy hitters may have altered the shape of the team, the chemistry banter is nonsense. If you want to pin the blame on those two, you can point to the flexibility issues they created (and that I noted above). In addition to flexibility, the other main issue hindering the 2006 Yankees was the pitching staff. It is exceedingly difficult to win a playoff series with just one reliable pitcher (not to say that it can’t be done).

Only a few of the Yanks pitchers are guaranteed contracts for next season: Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Mariano Rivera, Mike Myers, and Kyle Farnsworth. However, there are an additional few that are property of the Yankees due to lack of service time: Chien-Ming Wang, Darrell Rasner, Jeff Karstens, Scott Proctor (likely arbitration-eligible), and Sean Henn—not to mention the guys on the brink in the minors. The positive spin to the few returning arms is that the Yankees can begin their pitching overhaul. The negative is that these guys would not comprise an intimidating pitching staff.

Before I begin to address the issues at hand, here is a breakdown of where each 2006 Yankee stands:

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

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

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 ineligible 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