Yankees have pressing decisions to make this off season...
The 2009 defending champion New York Yankees have a few decisions to make in the off season. Do they dive into the free agent market or try and retain some of their key players from the 2009 championship team?
Let's take a closer look in order of importance...
Joe Girardi did an excellent job utilizing the bullpen and the starting rotation this past season allowing for plenty of rest for all involved. It was a refreshing change from the days of Joe Torre as Torre had a penchant for burning out his pitching core before the season was over.
The Yankees lost a probable 18-wins to kick it off due to injuries to Wang. C.C Sabathia stepped up and became the ace of the staff that everyone envisioned when he was signed back in December of 2008. A.J Burnett was a roller coaster ride that eventually proved that his signing in December of 2008 was well worth risk.
Andy Pettite returned for another season and grinded out another Pettite like year that saw the verteran lefty become superman in the post season once again clinching all three series wins in the post leading the Yankees to their 27th World Championship.
After that...there is not much to say.
Phil Hughes did not live up to the hype as a starter but found new life as a reliver. Joba proves that when he has to think too much he is ineffective. Fill-ins like Sergio Mitre and Chad Gauding proved serviceable at best.
So chaotic was the Yankee starting rotation that Girardi was forced to go the entire playoffs on a three man rotation and luckily for the Yankees the Angel nor Philly offense showed up to play the game when it mattered.
The Yankees simply cannot afford to go into next season without correcting the starting rotation.
As of this writing the Yankee rotation for 2010 looks like this...
SABATHIA, BURNETT, JOBA, HUGHES and a combination of Gaudin and Mitre.
There is nothing sure fire in sports but C.C is about as close as the Yankees can get in the reliable department for a starter.
After C.C there are 4 huge questions marks in the starting rotation that need to be seriously addressed now.
Andy Pettite may or may not be back. He wanted to come back for one more season. Check. He wanted to pitch in the new stadium. Check. He wanted to win another World Series. Check.
Pettite does not need the money (as his signing last year indicates). He does not need another ring (the man has 5). He wants to spend time with his family and this year admitted that the new park was difficult to pitch in and he did not have 'a lot left" this year as he grinded out nearly all of his starts barely going 6 innings per.
So conventional wisdom says that Pettite will retire and in doing so will go out on top. Unlike Mussina who "went out on top" (and I bet is kicking himself in the ass) with a 20-win season (and no Championships or Cy Youngs might I add) Pettite can leave the game as the best post season starter in history, 5 rings and clinching each post season series in 2009.
Yet conventional wisdom and the baseball player never really mix well...If he comes back he will a year older can can give the Yankees 5 plus innings at best. If he does not come back there is a spot to fill.
A.J Burnett is good for 14-15 wins per year if he stays healthy, which was the knock against him when tlaks about him coming to the Yankees swirled. He has been healthy the last two seasons so knock on wood. When he is on he is one of the best in baseball...when he is off Gaudin and Mitre look like Cy Young candidates.
Joba Chamberlain has only lived up to the hype when he comes in to relieve, working quickly, accepting the sign and hitting the glove. In other words, when he does not think, he excels. As a starter Joba gets into frequent trouble when runners are on base...he loses his concentration and tries to be too fine. In doing so he abandons his strength which is a quick set to deliver an over powering fast ball or a nasty breaker.
A thinking Joba is not good for the Yanks. Cashman says that Joba will be a starter in 2010....at this point he has no choice but to think that. The Yankees would be better off finding a 4th rated starter in the free agent market (more on this later) to replace Joba so he can set up Mariano- a role he was made for.
Phil Hughes started to live up to the hype going 7 innings before injuring himself in his first year and since has never been the same. He excelled in the regular season this year in lights out, electric relief appearances before falling back to earth in the same role during the post season. Hughes is slated to be the 5th start in 2010 as of this writing...a mistake in my book. A few acquistions in the off season will allow Hughes to move to the pen in 2010.
Gaudin/Mitre in limited use performed on par...however a defending champion will need more from their 5th hole than a "par" performance. They two are best suited for long releif work and again, a few acquitions in the off season will allow them to be utlized to their respective strengths- relief.
So what should the Yankees do, in my opinion of course, to fix their rotation problems for 2010?
Regardless of Pettite's status, John Lackey should be acquired. In addition to Lackey a 4th or 5th type starter type should be picked up as well. Someone like John Garland or Jarrod Washburn would do nicely.
What does this do for the Yankees?
If Pettite comes back this would be your 2010 rotation...
CC, LACKEY, PETTITE, BURNETT, Washburn or Garland
Robertson/Aceves/Gaudin/Mitre for the 6th, Hughes/Marte/Joba for the 7th and 8th with Mariano in the 8th.
If Pettite does not return...
CC, LACKEY, BURNETT, Washburn or Garland and Hughes (Hughes is infinitely better than Gaudin or Mitre and in the 5th hole the pressure is off)
Robertson/Aceves/Gaudin/Mitre for the 6th, Coke/Marte/Joba for the 7th and 8th with Mariano in the 9th.
Either option is an improvement of SABATHIA, BURNETT, JOBA, HUGHES AND GAUDIN/MITRE.
Hey, it's just my opinion.
Matsui, Damon or both?
This wont take long.
I am a Matsui fan...let's get that out right now. The man is a professional hitter and when healthy can drive in 100 rbi. He is designated to the DH role ecause of his damaged knees and while he would excel in that spot this is a team with and aging catcher and keeping a full time DH spot open for a man that cannot play the field would be a mistake. Unlike Damon, Matsui would probably take a one year deal in the 5-7 millions range with incentives and accept the role as a full time DH...but that does not make it a practical move and the Yankees should just let it go.
Matsui should be allowed to walk...he will not be without a ton of offers and will do well wherever he goes, my guess would be the Mets, Seattle or a return to Japan.
Damon is an offensive force, this is without question. Coming off a career high in homers and driving in 82 runs, Damon kept pace wiht Matsui. His stroke is tailor made for the short port in the new stadium and he should continue to have great offensive numbers for a few more years. However, he is 36 years old and is a defensive liability. He does not track balls well anymore and has no arm. Unlike Matsui he can still play the outfield from time to time and therefore signing him as the DH and part time outfield platoon player makes more sense. He still has the wheels to score 30-40 more runs that Matsui as well making Damon the more viable of the two to bring back.
However...Damon will be greedy and want more years and more money than he will be worth at the end of any contract. If Damon can bypass his greedy agent and agree to sign for 2-years MAX for between 5-7 million per then that is a deal everyone should be able to live with. If he wants 3-4 years or more than 10-million per, the Yankees should allow him to see if anyone is stupid enough to offer that for a 36-year old outfielder that can no longer play the field.
Bottom line, the Yankees should let Matsui go and play hard and fast with Damon making is clear what his role and worth is. Time will tell how badly Damon wants to be a Yankee.
Matt Holliday would be an option for the Yankees. Chone Figgins is very versatile but will never match Damon or Matsui's offensive contributions. Carl Crawford will not be available for another year. The Yankees have nothing on the farm...
By improving their starting rotation with the likes of Lackey and Washburn the Yankees move Joba and Hughes to the pen arguably giving the Yankees the best starting rotation and pen in all of baseball. That will allow them to not focus so much on adding offensive fire power...
The stronger the starting rotation and the pen the less they have to worry about replacing any offense that may or may not be lost. Remember, pitching wins ball games. No one hit very well in the post season with R.I.S.P.
Pitching is a must.
Austin Jackson, who is not yet quite ready, will be given a chance to compete for a spot in the outfield and Melky Cabrera, Nick Swisher, Xavier Nady (if healthy and re-signed), Bret Gardner, Jerry Hairston (assuming he gets picked back up) and more can platoon if necessary because the offense on this team has been and will continue to be generated by infield and pitching wins ballgames.