As the 2010 baseball season gives way to the Hot Stove League, what the Yankees want is no secret. The club wants its manager back, its short stop back, its closer back, its long-time lefty starting pitcher back, if he wants to return, and some guy whose name rhymes with Shmliff Shmlee in pinstripes come December. In fact, Brian Cashman said as much yesterday.
“Like Joe Girardi, the intent for the organization is to have them back. We want them back. The intent of the players is to stay. They don’t want to be anywhere else. That creates a great atmosphere of getting something done,” the Yanks’ GM said of Rivera and Jeter. “If a player wants to be here and we want to keep him, and the discussions are fair and legitimate, it gets done. If things don’t work out that way, it means one side sees it differently than another, and then it can drag out. That’s also possible, too. At the end of the day, I think the recipe is all there for positive relationships to continue.”
What the Yankees do not want is pretty clear as well. They don’t want drama and drawn-out negotiations with Jeter and Rivera. “The intent will be to keep things private and work through things privately and with respect to the players here,” he said. “These aren’t your run-of-the-mill guys you have typical conversations with. These guys are legacy players.”
They also don’t want to lose out on Cliff Lee. After him, the starting rotation market is thin, and the opportunity to trade for, say, a Zack Greinke would come at a very high price to the organization. Without him, the Yankees would face some tough decisions and a very thin pitching staff, and it goes without saying that Cashman will hand Lee and agent Darek Braunecker a blank check at some point in November or early December. Whether he signs it will determine the Yanks’ short- and long-term pitching futures.
Yet, the Yankees have a group of decidedly less sexy questions that need answering and holes to be filled. We already know the club needs a new pitching coach, one who can figure out why the Yanks’ starters’ strike out totals have diminished while their home run rates have risen over the last few years and one who can perhaps reach and improve a few key young arms. The organizational depth chart reveals a bunch of other key spots that will need filling before the winter is out.
For starters, the Yankees are going to lose most of their bench. Austin Kearns’ contract is mercifully up, and Lance Berkman won’t re-up with the Yankees. Marcus Thames signed just a one-year deal and could look to cash in on a career platoon year. The Yankees too might be hesitant to re-sign him. After all, can we expect the club to catch Thames’ lightning in a bottle two years in a row?
Behind the dish and at the designated hitter spot, the lineup is in flux. Nick Johnson, Brian Cashman’s Plan C last year, clearly won’t be back, and the list of available free agent DHs will again include Johnny Damon, whose more designated than hitter at this point, Hideki Matsui and Vladimir Guerrero. Adam Dunn too will hit the open market, and although I love the thought of his blasting 45 home runs at Yankee Stadium, he’s unlikely to sign with the Yankees.
To fill this hole internally, the club could, as I’ve written in the past, have Jorge Posada and Jesus Montero share starting catcher and DH duties while Francisco Cervelli can slot into the true backup role. As long as Cervelli isn’t expected to catch 724 innings next year, the Yanks should get a decent amount of offensive production from the catcher and DH slots. Defense will remain a question.
Cashman yesterday seemingly expressed a willingness to follow this route as well. “I do have people who believe [Montero is] Major League-ready at the catcher position with a tremendous offensive bat. But nothing gets handed to somebody. You take it and earn it. He’ll have a chance to come to Spring Training and fight for something and show that he’s ready for something more at a higher level or not.”
Inside the starting rotation, we again see flux. Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre and Dustin Moseley should not all be back with the organization next year, and Javier Vazquez was already out the door more than a month ago. A.J. Burnett remains a big question mark, but he’ll start 2011 in the rotation. If he can’t regain some ability to get hitters out, the Yankees will have a problem on their hands. Beyond that, if Andy Pettitte does the unthinkable, the Yanks will be faced with a starting pitching problem. Cliff Lee, then, is nearly a necessity.
Inside the bullpen, we finally find some consistency. Kerry Wood will be gone, and although I’d love to see the Yanks bring him back as a reasonably-paid set-up man next year, he could command closer money on the market. Damaso Marte, a non-factor for most of the past two years, will be one again next year, and David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan will back up Mariano Rivera.
Those are, of course, just the broad brush strokes in anticipation of an active market. We can see where the Yankees will have holes to fill because of guys who are leaving. We know the club will keep an eye on the Carl Crawfords and Jayson Werths, if only to drive up their prices for division and AL rivals. For a club that finished the year just two wins from a World Series berth, the roster will look significantly different come March 31, and the prize, of course, remains Cliff Lee.