An option for 2010: Build with pitching and defense

Davidoff: Wang all but non-tendered
Bruney might be headed to Atlanta

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.

Davidoff: Wang all but non-tendered
Bruney might be headed to Atlanta
  • AJ

    Holy crap guys Nelson Cruz is available, Rays are interested. Shouldn’t the Yanks be ALL over that?? He’s hit well in limited at bats at Yankee Stadium and he’s a 29 year old with great power and speed. Don’t know his defense, but can he play left field?

    • AJ

      OK i got a little excited, he’s not “available” the Rays are just talking to the Rangers about him. That could mean them calling and the Rangers GM hanging up.

      • JSquared

        Yeah, he’s a good player, but I don’t see any reason to upgrade Right Field.

        • whozat

          He’s not even that good. Check out his splits.

          • JSquared

            He’s good… after one full year of baseball, who knows if he’ll get better or worse, he’s a good player, but i don’t think we need to talk about a RF when we have one already.

            • whozat

              Actually, if you’d bothered to look at the splits like I suggested, you’d see that no — he’s not that good. He hit well in Arlington for one season. He’s hit poorly outside of Arlington…well, always.

              And, since Swisher can play either corner, there’s nothing wrong with looking at RFers. Just not _this_ RFer.

              • JSquared

                What is “that good” no one put him in a range of “good”.

                I wouldn’t suggest putting Nick Swisher in Yankee Stadium LF.

      • pat

        Career .224/.289/.423 outside Arlington.

        • Salty Buggah


  • Matt ACTY/BBD

    I agree that an OF of Cabrera-Gardner-Swisher would be great defensively, but I don’t think that defense makes up for the lack of offense out of 2/3 of the outfield. Basically, you’d be getting below average production from left and center, and I don’t think great defense could cancel that out.

    • Jamal G.

      Amongst AL center fielders in 2009, Brett Gardner had a 104 wOBA+.

      It’s not only the improvements in on the mound and in the field, but the continues well-above-average production at catcher, short stop, second base and third base will lend a hand in softening the blow of having a below-average hitter in left field.

    • The Scout

      It would be useful to compare the Yankees’ scoring, team ERa, and record when they started Cabrera, Gardner, and Swisher in 09 to the Damon, CF, Swisher line-up to get some idea of what the difference might be.

    • dalelama

      I agree Matt…this World Series was tough enough with 4 or 5 automatic outs in the line-up. Gardner was brutal—no one can take a called third strike down the middle like Brett Gardner.

      • The Three Amigos

        Gardner also barely played for a month and then was thrust into the starting lineup. Gardner is not great, but has proved time and time again if he gets consistent at bats to get into a rhythm he can be a decent hitter.

        • Mac

          Gardy needs to learn how to bunt and bunt well. Personally, I think Gardy’s hitting success came at the hands of minor leaguers like Elmer Dessens and one of his inside the park HR’s should have been a single and a 3 base error, but I dislike Gardy and guys like him – Jason Tyner is my comp although I think Tyner was a better hitter and didn’t take advantage of wild and inconsistent minor league pitching to raise his obp via walks.

          Problem with Melky 8th and Gardy 9th is Melky probably gets alot less to hit vs. when Jeter was backing him up.

          I’d give it a shot if the Yanks can’t find another significant;y better alternative.

          Just for fun, Mike Cameron Babip .304 and p\PA 3.96

          Melky BaBip .288 p\PA 3.87

          Melk had better #’s close and late and high leverage vs. Cammy and now you have Cammy as a RHH playing 82 in YS.

          Ideally, I’d like Melk to get another shot in CF to see if he could improve on his .752 ops. If Damon and Matsui are willing to come back lets say Matsui 1 year 10 mil, Damon 2 years 19 that might be the best option – I’ll take the chance they decline because it potentially locks up the #2 and #5 hole with probably the best short term solution.

          I’d love to see Cash work a deal for a serviceable LFer like De Jesus as well Melk CF, Swish RF). Just do better than Mike Cameron.

  • pat

    Too bad the perfect piece for this plan is likely going to sign with the Cubbies.

    • Benjamin Kabak

      That’s not a done deal. Rumor was debunked at least twice on Sunday.

      • Salty Buggah

        There is a Mo! If we get Cameron, we don’t lose much offense and the pitching/defense plan still applies. Cameron would be perfect, like Pat said.

  • Bonos

    You want to replace Damon,s defense in LF? DeJesus for two years at 6 mil per, same numbers as Damon playing in YS and 13 assists. Damon is a handicap going forward with his slugging a YS special.

    Jack Z committed a miracle in Seattle, all in one year. He’s one Lackey or Sheets away from the playoffs.

    • pat

      Heh, I think you mean performed?

  • Count Zero

    I’m on board with the principle — but I don’t think I could handle watching an 8-9 of Melky-Brett every day. Especially if we assume that Cervelli is going to get 45+ starts at C.

    Give me Cameron or DeJesus with that additional P and I’ll co-sign. But I need one more OF with at least a semblance of a bat.

    • Mattchu12

      Agreed. And we can get both DeJesus and an additional pitcher in the form of Gil Meche. If he gives us what he’s given three of the last four years, he is well worth the 2 year, 24 million dollar contract he has left. All I want from the fourth spot is an ERA under 5.00 and quality innings.

      I still think we should sign Pettitte though. CC-AJ-Andy-Meche-Hughes/Joba with the other in the bullpen setting up Mo. Give me that, and I’ll not just co-sign, I’ll throw my wallet on the table and help the team make it happen.

  • Ryan

    Why are we not still discussing Curtis Granderson. 30 hr last year is a lefty bat. Sure he is horible against LHP but the friendly Yankee Stadium might cure that. And he is one of the best CF in the game defensivly.

    • Jack

      Sure he is horible against LHP but the friendly Yankee Stadium might cure that

      No, it won’t.

    • Benjamin Kabak

      Friendly Yankee Stadium won’t cure his inability to make good contact against lefties. Plus, the Tigers’ asking price is going to be way way to high.

  • Hey ZZ

    What type of contract do you see Ben Sheets getting?

  • nf

    For the love of god, NO to Melky in LF. His bat isn’t good enough, and he’s terribly overrated on defense. This isn’t moving Franklin Gutierrez back to LF, it’s Melky Cabrera.

    • Chip

      The 1998 Yankees managed 114 wins with Chuck Knoblauch hitting .265/.361/.405 and Chad Curtis hitting .243/.355/.360 in the lineup. The next season, they won it all again despite the fact that Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter were the only real threats and only those two and Tino managed to even hit 20 homers.

      This past season, Melky Cabrera was about the only guy the opposing hitters were afraid of despite the fact he was league-average in centerfield. If we went into the year with an outfield of Melky/Gardner/Swisher, I can’t really say I’d be super upset as long as we had a decent DH option. Nothing would fall out in death valley and I’d love to see what Gardner could do given a full seasons worth of at-bats. Who knows, maybe Austin Jackson plays his way onto the roster? Give me a rotation of CC/AJ/Pettite/Sheets/Hughes with Joba down in AAA and I’d be a happy man.

      • Benjamin Kabak

        with Joba down in AAA

        Why, exactly, would that be a good thing?

        • Chip

          Because that means he’s ready to take over when one of AJ/Pettite/Sheets inevitably gets hurt. I just believe that he’s the one who would lose the fifth starter battle and maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea if he went down to try to get his curve and change back.

    • Bonos

      Amen to that. What was Melky’s UZR in LF, in 40 games last year? -2.5 or -19/150 per. That’s what I thought. Melky is replacement value in CF otherwise, meh. At least Swisher does cartwheels out there.

  • Jake K

    I think Gardner and Melky as starters in the outfield is a bad idea. That’s a lot of lost offensive production, too much I think given we can probably expect at least slight regressions from Posada and Jeter. Having two below average bats in the outfield means everyone else needs to stay healthy and productive, not something I would want to wager on.

    • Chip

      I think the argument they’re making is that they’ll save more runs in pitching/defense than they’ll lose from the poor offense. I mean it takes a LOT of production to make up for the atrocious year in the field that Damon had last year.

      The combination of Melky and Gardner could possibly be an upgrade of 30 runs on defense alone. In fact, despite the fact that Damon had a career year at the plate, Brett Gardner was nearly as valuable even though he didn’t get nearly the amount of playing time. I want to see him in a full season.

  • gargoyle

    No way they are going with Melky/Gardner/Swish.

  • Mattchu12

    I’d like to see us bring over David DeJesus, plop him in left field. Reap the benefits of his defense and the benefits of a solid offensive player playing in the friendly confines of New Yankee Stadium. Then you turn to Johnny D and Matsui and say whoever accepts their one year, eight million dollar deal first gets to play for the reigning World Series Champions as the designated hitter.

    • Mattchu12

      Hell, I’d like to see us bring over both David DeJesus and Gil Meche. Meche is going to cost 24 million over the next two years, but had ERA’s under four in two of his previous seasons and both of those seasons were healthy. Last season he was hurt, and had an ERA just over 5, but I think it is more likely that he pitches solidly than he pitches like that again.

      He gives us that extra starter (in addition to Pettitte, we need Pettitte) to deepen our rotation. We have a Spring Training duel between Hughes and Joba to see who get’s the final spot, the other is in the bullpen setting up Rivera waiting for Burnett, Pettitte, or Meche to get hurt. We’ve been very lucky to have been this healthy, but at least now we have Joba or Hughes to be our number six man instead of the currently projected Ian Kennedy or Kei Igawa.

      • MattG

        You’ve forgotten McAllister, Nova and Aceves, with likely one or both of Gaudin and Mitre. The Yankees are not short on swing-men, AAAA starters.

        And you should’ve forgotten Igawa.

        But, a Meche salary dump to add DeJesus is not a non-starter. I’d listen.

  • Matt Flynn

    I hear that Josh Hamilton is available. I wonder what the cost would be?? I wouldn’t mind the Yanks making a play for him

  • Jay

    I would not like to see Melky and Gardy in the lineup togehter on a regular basis – too little offense. However if the you were to play Cabrera and Swisher in the corner outfield spots and Gardner in Center, I would consider playing Melky in Right and Swish in Left.

  • steve s

    I don’t agree with all the Gardner bashers. Give him 500+ at bats and it is not an incredible leap of faith to say you are looking at 100+ runs scored and 50+ stolen bases from the 9th hole in the lineup! He has improved significantly at every level of college and pro ball he has played once he got his feet wet, he throws himself into walls to make a catch, he’s cheap and homegrown and, if he fails, Ajax is on deck in 2011. Sounds like a viable plan to me and it would enable the Yanks to still reduce payroll (if they are serious about that) in 2010 and still add a Lackey type salary.

  • theyankeewarrior

    It was said above a bunch of times but I’ll still say it again. Mike Cameron fits perfectly into this pitching/defense plan while also giving the Yanks power and on-base skills.

    As long as some mystery team isn’t offering 2/18 or something like that, he should be a Yankee.

  • MattG

    The problem with this plan is that if you list the places where the Yankees need an upgrade, you get this:

    Left Field

    …large gap…


    …large gap…

    Anything else

    So whatever pitching they add will be, at best, a marginal upgrade, and you don’t add Lackey’s commitment for a marginal upgrade.

    (the preceding assumes a return from Andy Pettitte–can I put this in my signature until he signs?)

  • kunaldo

    We’re the Yankees…let’s build with pitching, defense, AND offense! Who’s with me???


  • Bo

    I’ll be shocked if they go with an OF of Melky-Gardner-Swisher next yr.

    That is a terrible OF. That shouldnt even be considered plausible.

    • king of fruitless hypotheticals

      …i wish i knew how to do the UZR research, cause i bet there are teams with much lower OPS out there with lower UZR outfields…

      anybody want to teach? :)

      • pete

  • toad

    This doesn’t strike me as a good idea. Yankee Stadium is a home run ball park, so you should try to build your team to take advantage of that.

    How many championship Yankee teams have been based on pitching, defense, and speed as opposed to power? It’s the Bronx Bombers, remember.

  • pete

    I think mike cameron should be first order of business (after pettitte). If you can’t get it done reasonably, then I would go with this, but it should be plan B at best. Johnny Damon would be an important part of this plan though (at DH) because you’re going to need somebody to fill in at LF when pena or cervelli is in the lineup (pushing A-Rod or Posada to DH).