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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Offseason Prospectus #1: New York Yankees

Congrats, Yankee fans! Your team now considers its ticket-gouging practices not only justified, but inspired! Expect another price hike for 2010!

Congrats, Yankee fans! Enjoy a winter of typical smugness and self-satisfaction as you root for your other favorite franchises: Dow Jones, Exxon Mobil, Citibank, the LAPD, and the national debt clock (yay, it's up again!!!).

Little known fact, when Yankees fans watch poker, they root for the house: "Look at the rake on that hand! Damn, Harrah's stock is on the rise! Go dealer!"

To everybody else, take solace in the fact that if the Yankees don't win a couple times every decade, our spite would be unjustified. The New York Yankees are an institution, like corporate greed, political graft, abuse of power, and hate crime, which defines our sense of "evil" in the world. Without them, we might be in danger of becoming confused, apathetic, and superficial creatures, absent the ethical or moral center which guides not only our beliefs and actions, but allows us to experience the full range of human emotions, from pride and joy to fear and grief. Our entire existence would be a desperate affectation of behaviors associated with actual feeling only via observation. Our only true connection to "the real" would be the overwhelming anxiety brought about by considering the potential revelation of our monstrous inhumanity. Imagine the horror...
And thus, unfortunately, I begin my discussion of baseball's "hot stove" season...

Free Agents:

Johnny Damon (36) LF/DH
Chad Gaudin (27) RHSP
Jerry Hairston Jr. (33) IF/OF
Eric Hinske (32) PH
Hideki Matsui (35) DH/OF
Jose Molina (34) C
Xavier Nady (31) RF
Andy Pettitte (37) LHSP

Arbitration Eligible:

Brian Bruney (28) RHRP
Melky Cabrera (25) CF
Joba Chamberlain (24) RHSP
Phil Hughes (23) RHRP
Chien-Ming Wang (30) RHSP

ETA 2010?:

Francisco Cervelli (24) C
Kei Igawa (30) LHSP
Austin Jackson (23) CF

The Yankees will, of course, be considered among the favorites to win another championship going into 2010. They will also, once again, be a very active participant in the free agent market. Seven guys from their World Series roster are eligible for free agency and three of them - Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, and Andy Pettitte - were World Series heroes, perhaps elevating their bargaining position this offseason.

Outside their popularity with the fans and in the clubhouse, resigning Damon and Matsui doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Both have edged into their upper 30s, are basically worthless on defense, and a touch injury-prone. The Yankees have several players - Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez, and even Derek Jeter - who could probably stand to get a few extra games at DH to help keep them fresh throughout the season. That option will not exist if Matsui stays, as his knees made it impossible for him to play the outfield at all this season. The Yankees will likely pursue the top tier of free-agent outfielders, specifically Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. Their success in procuring either of them might spell the end for Damon and/or Matsui.

New York also has a corps of major-league ready outfielders within the system, although none who profile as power-hitting corner outfielders like Matsui or Xavier Nady. Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner, and Austin Jackson are all probably capable of holding down a starting center-fielder job this coming season, but, obviously, they can't all do it in New York. I expect at least one from this trio will be part of a package for a starting pitcher, a corner outfielder, or for role players in the vein of the departing benchwarmers, Hinske and Hairston.

The other major offseason questions in New York will revolve around the back-end of the rotation. Andy Pettitte clearly pitched well enough to be given another year at $5,000,000 to act as the third or fourth starter, but the tears in his eyes and the tip of cap as he walked off the field last night suggested, to me at least, a man consumed with the idea that this was the conclusion of his encore performance. You can't end on a much higher note than winning the deciding game of a World Series. He is, currently, at best, a borderline Hall of Famer, but hanging on too long could do more harm than good to his legacy.

Girardi will again endure a variety of second-guessing regarding the so-called "Joba rules." I expect Chamberlain will be much better next year, in his second full season as a starting pitcher, but New York fans would clearly prefer than he be under as little pressure as possible, so finding a #3 to slot in front of him will probably be among Brian Cashman's priorities. The Yankees deep pockets make them real candidates to overpay for a high-risk/high-reward guys like Rich Harden, Erik Bedard, and Joel Pineiro.

Of relatively minor interest to the casual fan will be negotiations with Jose Molina. Francisco Cervelli looked pretty good in his limited audition in '09 and would seem a competent back up. However, because of Posada's age, the Yankees use their backup more than most teams, both as a late-inning defensive replacement, the personal catcher for A.J. Burnett, and for stretches when Posada is only capable of DH-ing. Girardi clearly highly valued Molina in that role this season (perhaps seeing a little of himself) and he remains one of the better defensive catchers in baseball.

A final note: the fact that Girardi turned to Chad Gaudin for only one inning during the entire postseason suggests that he has very little faith. However, Gaudin, despite his throughly average overall numbers (6-10, 4.64 ERA), had some flashes of brilliance this year as a starter (8 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 9K v. Texas in June, for instance). He has already spent six seasons in the big leagues (mainly as a reliever), but will be just 27-years-old (that magic 27) on Opening Day 2010. The team who takes an inexpensive roll of the dice on him as their fourth or fifth starter could be looking at one of the year's best bargains.

Projected 2010 Opening Day Roster (Revised 1/24):

SS Derek Jeter (R)
LF Johnny Damon (L) FA
1B Mark Texeira (S)
3B Alex Rodriguez (R)
CF Curtis Granderson (L)
2B Robinson Cano (L)
RF Nick Swisher (S)
C Jorge Posada (S)
DH Nick Johnson (L)

SP C. C. Sabathia (L)
SP Javier Vazquez (R)
SP A. J. Burnett (R)
SP Andy Pettitte (L)
SP Joba Chamberlain (R)

CL Mariano Rivera (R)
SU Phil Hughes (R)
SU Damaso Marte (L)
MR David Robertson (R)
MR Alfredo Aceves (R)
LOOGY Boone Logan (L)
SWING Chad Gaudin (R)

C Francisco Cervelli (R)
1B Juan Miranda (L)
IF Ramiro Pena (S)
OF Brett Gardner (L)

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