After weeks of celebration, followed by a week of organizational meetings, the Yankees are ready to deal. They have a budget, they have a plan, and now it’s time to find the players to fit the 2010 team. We’ve discussed the issue from most angles, debating who would fit best in left field, what pitchers the team should pursue, and how they should handle the designated hitter spot. Over the next week we might get a glimpse of the plan, as the Yankees will probably be active at the Winter Meetings.
In the past the Yankees have treated us to offensive powerhouses. In the mid 2000s many wondered if they could score 1,000 runs in a season. It never happened, but the Yankees were routinely over the 900-run mark, among the league leaders in runs scored (if they didn’t lead overall). They could still turn in an offensive machine for 2010, but with uncertainty in the left field and DH spots, and with many key contributors getting further away from peak age, the Yanks could see a dropoff in offensive production this season.
That doesn’t mean they won’t contend, though. Instead of seeking out the best bats — Matt Holliday and Jason Bay, namely — they could put that money towards pitching. With an improved rotation and better outfield defense, they could make up for the lost offense — and then some. It’s not a strategy we’re used to the Yankees pursuing, but with their roster and payroll limitations, it might make the most sense this year.
They could go about this in a number of ways. They’d probably add Andy Pettitte and one other starting pitcher. The safe way is John Lackey, though there are a few teams who figure to bid on his services, and he won’t come cheap. The Yankees can find room for him if they think he’s their guy, but if not they could take a look at the riskier starters: Erik Bedard, Rich Harden, or Ben Sheets. Acquiring one of those pitchers would bump either Joba or Hughes to the bullpen, but they’d also be No. 6 on the pecking order. As we’ve learned over the years, there’s a 100 percent chance the Yankees will need more than five starters during the season.
A better outfield defense already exists on the roster. Going with Melky in left, Gardner in center, and Swisher in right would give the Yankees an above average defense in the outfield, combined with a hopefully average one in the infield. With a better pitching staff and outfield defense (and hopefully some improvement from A-Rod in the infield), the Yanks could save many of the runs they otherwise would have scored with better hitters in the outfield. In other words, they’ll be scoring fewer runs, but so will their opponents.
The 2009 Mariners showed that defense can win you ballgames. After a 100-loss season in 2008, the Mariners improved greatly in 2009 by focusing on defense. They led the AL in ERA by a decent margin, yet had just two pitchers with more than 100 IP — and one of them they traded at the deadline. A Cabrera-Gardner-Swisher outfield wouldn’t be as good as the Chavez-Gutierrez-Ichiro combination, but the Yankees also figure to have a better staff than the Mariners. Good pitchers and solid defense count for a lot in baseball.
As for the DH, the Yankees could choose to bring back Damon to fill in as DH and occasionally in the outfield, or they could bring back Matsui, who will presumably cost less. That adds yet another good hitter to an already good lineup. Even without Damon or Matsui, the Yanks have one of the best leadoff hitters in the game, one of the best 3-4 combos, and three other good, useful hitters. A team with that type of lineup, especially with Damon or Matsui at DH (making four other good, useful hitters), and a rotation of Sabathia, Burnett, Sheets/Harden/Lackey/Bedard, Pettitte, and Chamberlain/Hughes can afford to carry Melky and Gardner hitting eighth and ninth.
There is more than one way to build a team. We’ve seen the Yankees build previous teams around power and OBP. The 2010 Yankees might be better off with an emphasis on pitching and defense. There are a few starters on the market who could strengthen the rotation, and the Yankees already have a good outfield defense under team control. Add a DH to that, and we could see a different, but still very successful, Yankees team in 2010.