Everyone has said it, even the man himself: Brian Cashman is going to have the toughest off-season of his career, and easily the most daunting off-season of any other GM in baseball. He has to choose a direction in which to take the New York Yankees. As you’ll soon see, it won’t be an easy decision, and much of it will be out of his hands.
Essentially, there are two paths he could take: keep the veteran core and let the youngsters work their ways into the lineup, or gut the team and start over — or at least to the extent that’s possible. The problems with these paths are clear. He doesn’t have much control over the former. If Steinbrenner gets his way, Torre is gone, which may preclude our veteran troika of Mo, Po, and Pettitte from returning. The logical thing to do then would be to choose the latter path. However, George wants a ring, and that path is not conducive to victory in 2008. If George doesn’t understand this, it would probably cost Cashman his job.
(Official prediction: Cashman convinces George that if he wants to contend for a ring in ’08, he has to bring Torre back. The Boss acquiesces, and we bring back the troika. A-Rod, of course, is a complete wild card in either scenario.)
Let’s take a journey down each path to see what lies ahead. True, we won’t be able to get a vivid image of the landscape, but we can at least formulate an idea of what 2008 will be like. As always, please leave your takes in the comments. This is just a starting point.
Bringing back the vets
Bringing back Joe Torre would make the chances of Mo, Po, and Pettitte staying far greater. That means the Yanks can continue their search for the catcher, closer, and left-handed starter of the future while not having any immediate pressure to produce. Basically, they would have bought themselves two years, at which point we’ll probably see marked decline from these three. This is ideal in that the Yankees continue to contend while also seeking to get younger.
This means picking up Bobby Abreu’s option. Yes, it leaves the Yankees with a logjam at OF/DH, but playing Bobby in right field next year is optimal in this scenario. Any permutation of the outfield with him — Matsui, Melky, Bobby / Damon, Melky, Bobby / Hideki, Damon, Bobby — is better than the outfield of Hideki, Damon, and Melky we’d have without Bobby.
Then again, you all remember how we reacted earlier this year to Bobby’s prolonged slump. Are we in store for another one of those — only longer because he’s a year older? So that’s the first risk of signing the vets: A slumping Bobby Abreu.
Then you have to re-sign Jorge Posada. But for how much? Clearly, we’d love to give him two years, $30 million with a club option for 2010, but that’s doubtful. At minimum he’ll get three years guaranteed, with a strong possibility of a fourth (or at least he’ll demand a fourth). If he’s making $15 mil, he’s going to play — unless he gets hurt. Second risk: an ineffective or injured Jorge.
There’s not much the team can do about Andy Pettitte. He’ll come back if he wants. I’d love to see him in pinstripes under either scenario. I guess we just have to wait and see.
It’s almost the same situation with Mo. They’ll surely make him an offer, and I doubt any team would outbid them for him. So it’s a matter of Mo’s will. Not much you can do, but if he wants to come back you definitely take him.
Altogether, the risk is a complete breakdown of the offense. A-Rod might not be back. We have three outfielders going on 35. Derek Jeter will be 34. Jorge will be thirty-freakin-seven. Giambi will be 37. This will not be a 1,000-run offense.
What about the rotation? You’d have a 36-year-old Pettitte, a 28-year-old Wang, a 39-year-old Mussina, and then Hughes and IPK (I’m beginning to think the Yanks will keep Joba in the pen — and that makes me unhappy). You know we’re not getting a full, effective year from Moose. You figure Pettitte will hold up, but he’ll be 36; you never know at that age.
So there’s that. It poses a large risk, but if it works out, it’s a solid team. However, the more I think about it, the less I want to travel this road. It seems doomed to repeat the past. And if it doesn’t work out next year, we’re stuck with the same players (minus Giambi and Moose), who (duh) will all be another year older. Yeah, maybe you bring in Santana then, but maybe you don’t.
To put it differently, this will be the Yankees continuing to spend, spend, spend on marquee names. I’m not going to say that this strategy won’t work just because it hasn’t since the Yanks really started dropping dollars on free agents (Moose in 2001, Giambi in 2002), because they should have won it in 2003. However, I don’t think it’s the best strategy. You set the bar high with those marquee names, and there are no guarantees in baseball. So when you fall short, it hurts extra bad.
Gut the team
Disclaimer: This is far too radical for the Yankees to ever actually do. It completely shakes up the team, and would cause a frenzy in the mainstream media. I’ve thought about this a lot, and while it’s not necessarily our best option — well, it just might be. It’s certainly a work in progress. Like with the Joe Torre decision, people can offer alternate viewpoints that make sense to me. Thus, I would alter the grand scheme. But this is my thought process right now.
So goodbye Jorge, goodbye Bobby, goodbye Torre. We’ll deal with filling your slots in just a second. If Pettitte still wants to come back, I’d welcome him. You can always benefit from having a guy like that on your staff. Plus, he’s lefty and he’s a good use of the Yankees’ vast resources. Same goes with Mo. If he wants to come back at two-years, $22 mil, he can pitch the ninth inning. If not, have fun pitching in Chicago or Detroit.
Let’s start with the coaching staff. For manager, I’d choose former Columbus Clippers manager Trey Hillman. He’s not a well-known name (I admit to not having known of him until recently), but his philosophies seem conducive to coaching a young team. You can read his take on baseball, philosophy, and life in this ESPN article.
Dave Eiland would take over as pitching coach. He’s familiar with the young guys, as he’s been the pitching coach for AA Trenton and AAA Scranton. I really don’t have anything against Guidry, but if we’re shaking this thing up, I’d rather just install Eiland.
Hitting coach can remain Kevin Long. The players seemed to like working with him, which I suppose is a strong indication. That, and I can’t think of any good reason to let him go — or any good replacement for him.
As far as who sits next to Hillman on the bench, I’m open to suggestions. However, I read somewhere the suggestion that they get an old ex-manager for the job, a la Don Zimmer. We already have one of them on staff in Larry Bowa, but it’s doubtful he wants to take on that role; he’s strongly expressed his allegiances to Torre in the past. Can anyone else think of someone appropriate?
At catcher, we know there’s no way to replace Jorge. Even if he regresses to his career averages we’re not going to find a catcher who will hit that well. So what do you do in that situation? You could scour the free agent market and hope Mike Barrett rebounds…naaaah. Might as well go with a kid. P.J. Pilittere isn’t getting any younger. Jose Molina said that he’d like to sign with the Yanks. Let ’em split time.
Shelley Duncan needs to get more at bats next year no matter how the Yankees construct the team. I’m not saying the kid’s going to hit 30 home runs, but he’s going to produce above average against lefties. So put him in a platoon at first. The other half? Juan Miranda. That is, unless you think Eric Duncan can do it. You can stop laughing now — it wasn’t that funny.
Up the middle we’d be the same. Yeah, you’d like to shift Jeter somewhere (preferably to second, Robbie to third, with the Former Attorney General at short), but it’s not happening. Theoretically, a new manager could make him move, but I doubt a guy like Hillman would come in and do that, even if he knows Jeter is a liability at short.
Third is a tough spot. You’d like to do better than Wilson Betemit, but you don’t want to be making hasty moves with farmhands. In other words, it would have to be the right move. Otherwise, you stick with Betemit and see what he can give you with consistent playing time.
The outfield seems set, as the Yanks would still have Damon, Matsui, and Melky under contract. However, it would be nice to dish one of Damon and Matsui. Personally, I’d rather keep Damon, though it would be easier to keep Matsui, since Damon’s no trade clause isn’t full, while Hideki’s is. Who to slot into right field I’m not sure. So maybe you keep both, just because it won’t hurt (since there is no one better).
To the pitching staff. Clearly, you want Joba, Hughes, and IPK heading the staff. You’d figure Wang would be in there, but hear me out. He will be 28 next year and in the prime of his career. He’ll likely make the league minimum again next year (he only has 2.159 years of service time, so he probably won’t be a Super Two), and then will have three years of arbitration before free agency. This makes him very attractive to small-market teams, since he’ll be available at a below-market price through most of his prime. I’m not saying you have to trade him. I’m just saying the Yanks would do well to shop him around and see what they can get. Hey, Ned Colletti is supposedly looking to dish Matt Kemp. Now, the source is Bill Plaschke, and he’s likely full of shit. But a man can dream, right?
(You’d pull the trigger on a Wang for Kemp trade, right? Right?)
So let’s recap for a second. We have Pilittere/Molina catcher, Shelley/Miranda at first, Cano at second, Jeter at short, Betemit at third, Hideki in left, Damon in center, Melky in right, Giambi at DH. Not optimal in any sense, but you could surely do a lot worse, especially in a “rebuilding” year.
In the rotation, you’d have Joba, Hughes, IPK, Wang, and Mussina (though maybe he’d waive his NTC, too), and a number of fringe guys to take spot starts. It’s doubtful that you’ll get 200 innings out of Joba, Hughes, or Mussina, so having another two guys ready to go in the minors is always nice. Guys like Alan Horne, Jeff Marquez, Steven White, Tyler Clippard, and even Chase Wright and (::sigh::) Kei Igawa to take a couple of starts here and there. Unlike this year, I’m more willing to give them a spot start next year, when there aren’t the expectations of a division title.
The bullpen is a bit shakier of a monster; it should basically be an open audition year, and should be stocked with youngsters and maybe a couple of vets. Ohlendorf, Ramirez, Whelan, Britton, Beam (remember him?), Henn, Rasner, the ever-present Karstens, Scott Patterson, Veras, Charlie Manning, Ben Kozlowski, Steven Jackson, and hey, maybe even Eric Wordekemper and David Robertson. Eventually, once they recover and rehab, Humberto Sanchez, J.B. Cox, and Marc Melancon can be in the mix. Those are the guys you really want to get a look at.
The overriding theme: Forget about 2008. It’s an audition. It’s a way to get the young guys big league experience. This way, you can evaluate them and make a better determination of what they can give you in the long run. Then the team is set up well for another run to glory in 2009.
If you keep Torre and the vets, I’m not sure the Yanks would be in the trade market that heavily. You have to keep the vets around, since your goal is to win in 2008. But you don’t want to salvage the farm, since you know the clock would be ticking quickly on the current team. Yeah, “B” prospects would be available, but they usually don’t fetch much. Maybe bench fillers, but that’s the extent of it. So we’ll leave it alone under that scenario.
Trading might be heavy if the Yanks were to enter “gut the team” mode. Thing is, we have no idea who would be available, both for us to trade away and for other teams to trade to us. I’ll construct a quick list of players I’d trade from the Yanks. Who we’d get in return is a complete crapshoot. You’d figure they’d be looking for a third baseman — maybe Andy LaRoche from the Dodgers or someone along those lines.
(Seriously, if Ned Colletti is looking to add veteran pieces, we can supply those. We’ll take his young talent for vets any day.)
Players I’d trade under the right circumstances:
Chien-Ming Wang — Probably has the most trade value
Mike Mussina — 10-5 guy, so he’d have to consent, and he wouldn’t fetch much
Hideki Matsui or Johnny Damon — Shedding one of those contracts would be nice, though we’d likely have to pick up some of the tab
Melky Cabrera — Yeah, I know he’s young and would fit under this scenario. But there were rumors of a Melky for Noah Lowry swap. We could do a lot worse.
Jason Giambi — Fat chance
Kyle Farnsworth — No, seriously, you can have him
And then you listen to all offers for the “B” guys, but you don’t go shopping them around.
It’s tough to gauge the Yankees’ budget. Some think it’s unlimited, but there has to be a line somewhere. Plus, not that we should care what other people think, but getting the payroll down to the $140 million level will silence the “they buy their team” crowd. So what would the payroll look like under the gutted team scenario?
(in millions, duh)
Cano: $3 (reasonable arbitration number)
Betemit: $2 (arbitration)
Molina: $1.5 (seems reasonable)
Everyone else makes $500,000 or under. So that puts the knowns and the relatively-knowns at $103 million. That’s 9 guys on the active roster. Personally, I’d fill the rest with minimum-making guys. Even at half a million a pop, that’s $8 million. Are you kidding me? A $112 million payroll?
That’s not even the best part. You’re axing Giambi, Mussina, Pavano, and Farnsworth after next year. That frees up an additional $50.5 million! Yeah, some guys will get raises, but not $50.5 million worth.
What, you ask, does a lower payroll help us do? Well, it helps keep down the price of players in general. All these free agents keep comparing themselves to guys on the Yankees, who have monster deals. Without those deals, there’s less of a comparison.
But most of all, it keep the focus on in-house players, with free agents being brought in on an as-needed basis. You know, kinda like we did in the late 90s.
No, this plan is not perfect. But there is no perfect plan in baseball. There are far too many unknowns to plan far into the future. However, if we take a step back and asses the situation from afar, we can see that the Yankees aren’t on the best path right now. If we re-sign all the vets and bring back Torre, we’re just falling victim to the same vices that have tortured us for the past four years.
There is no better year to execute this plan than now. The Yankees are at an impasse. On one end lies the old guard. On the other, a new team model. Both have their merits. With the old guard, we stand a better chance of winning in 2008. However, there are a number of risks involved. So many things can go wrong during the season, and even if they make the playoffs there are no guarantees. The last four years have taught us that.
The risk is minimized under the “gut the team” scenario, since there are few expectations to go along with it. Yes, we’re risking not making the playoffs in the final year of old Yankee Stadium, and I understand that this would upset many fans. But we can’t let sentimental attachments stand in the way of progress. Wouldn’t you rather sacrifice one year — just one — in order to get the team back in order and ready to contend in the first year of the new Stadium? I sure would.
Writing this has turned around my opinion on the Torre situation — sort of. I truly believe that the latter option of gutting the team is the best for the long-term. But you can’t half-ass it. Yeah, you can have flexibility in the plan. For instance, bringing Pettitte back at one year, $16 million presents little risk because it’s a one-year deal. Same with Bobby. That would be $32 million off the payroll for ’09, a year when we’ll already see $50 million come off the books. But signing Mo and Po to long-term deals is far more hazardous, especially if you’re keeping Joe as manager. They’re his guys, and they’ll play their normal roles until they physically can’t anymore. And honestly, I’m not prepared to sit through that. I don’t want to see a broken down Jorge behind the plate for 130 games when he’s 40 years old. I don’t want to see Mo at 40 failing to shut down big games. I’m not saying that’s how it will play out; I’m saying it’s a risk we incur by bringing everyone back.
As I said at the beginning, this is such a radical idea that I can’t see the Yankees doing it. However, think about this, too. Brian Cashman’s contract is up after next year. People will opine that Cashman wouldn’t gut the team because to do so would risk his job. But if his contract is up, what is he risking? He could be ready to leave the Yanks, and allow this to be his calling card. “I gutted the Yanks, and two years later, it paid off.” He’s got more than enough money to get by for a year of unemployment. Why not hand the reigns to Damon Oppenheimer and let him continue the magic? If the Yankees do succeed after that, he could probably get a job GMing anywhere.
To me, it makes too much sense. With the Yankees resources, both player- and money-wise, they could rebuild in just one year. Hey, after 2008 both Johan Santana and C.C. Sabathia are free agents. Add one of them to the rotation, and, uh, you’re pretty set, I would think. Or is that just continuing down the path I’m currently admonishing? Surely you have to bring in some free agents, and it would seem that young, power lefties would be idea.
So let’s open the floor. What do you like about this, and where do you think I’m insane?