The Winter Meetings may have passed, but it’s still relatively early in the baseball off-season. As you can see on our sidebar widget, there are still two months until pitchers and catchers report (the biggest day of the year on which nothing happens). That’s plenty of time for the Yankees to sift through their options and decide on the best course of action for the 2009 team. We’ve been debating this hotly in the comments, and aside from a few overzealous folks, most everyone is making cogent points.
I explained on Friday night that I think there are two paths the Yankees can take right now. First is to create a more balanced team. This would entail bringing back Andy Pettitte to fill the fourth/fifth slot in the rotation and trading for Mike Cameron. The lineup would then be filled with solid, established players (and a high-ceiling guy in Cano), and the rotation would be solid one through five. It would give the Yankees the depth to deal with an injury or two. It would give the team even more of a veteran presence.
The other path the Yankees can explore is an all-in push for 2009. By signing CC and A.J., the Yankees have begun such a movement. Adding a big bat like Manny Ramirez or Mark Teixeira (as we’ve heard from our favorite rumormonger) or even Adam Dunn would re-ignite the talks of a 1,000-run offense. The difference, of course, is that this year the Yanks have the pitching to match it. The lineup would be disgusting one through nine, and the rotation would still feature a top four you can place against any team in the league.
At this point, adding Cameron might hamper the team’s ability to sign one of the boppers on the market. While some cite the $88 million that came off the payroll after last season, that’s not the whole story. Some players are due raises, and others weren’t on the opening-day payroll (Marte, Nady). So let’s go through the team’s current commitments (plus arbitration estimates):
* AAV of contract
** Arb estimate
That totals $173.85 million in committed salaries for 15 players. That leaves 10 more players, likely for the most part under the reserve clause, which will keep their salaries in the $400 to $500,000 range. Even at the high end, $5 million for those 10 players, that leaves the Yanks with a $183.85 million opening day payroll. Notice how it’s right around the team’s stated goal of $180 million.
Still, we know the Yankees. They could find a way to squeeze another contract in there. Perhaps they backload A.J.’s deal, knowing that $26 million comes off the books from Damon and Matsui after the year. That would give them the flexibility now to add a bat and still keep the payroll under $200 million.
If you add Andy Pettitte, it’s almost impossible to add a bat without exceeding 2008’s payroll. Same with Mike Cameron. So the choices going forward:
1) Sign Pettitte. Sign bat. Screw payroll.
2) Sign Pettitte. Trade for Cameron. Go into season like that.
3) Let Pettitte retire or go elsewhere. Let Milwaukee pay Cameron’s salary. Sign big bat.
Without choosing one over the rest (though No. 1 is clearly the best option), this all leads me to believe that the Yankees should hold off on this Cameron deal. Wait until the rest of the bats are off the market so you can see where everyone else stands. Some might say that this would drive up the price for Cameron. Not so. At least, I don’t think it will. What other teams would be interested in a 35-year-old CFer making $10 million? That list begins and ends with the Yankees.
If the Yankees do add Teixeira or Manny or Dunn, they won’t have room for Cameron anyway. All three make the outfield rather crowded — Tex by moving Swisher there, Manny and Dunn because they play there. True, the later two could DH, but what about Hideki? You can’t blindly rely on him to play in 120, 130 games, but you also can’t relegate him to bench duty. He’s too good when healthy, and is making too much money.
Mike Cameron will still be available in January. The Yankees might as well wait on that and see if they can better improve the team with a better bat.