I couldn’t agree more. The 2009 Yankees have many of the pieces in place to make just as strong a run in 2010, making them potentially the first team since the 2000 Yankees to repeat as champions. First, a brief history of the teams who’ve won the World Series since the 2000 Yankees, and why they failed to repeat.
2002 Angels: Did anyone outside of California care at all about this World Series? I know I sure didn’t. But, hey, Barry Bonds was exciting. He broke all the records for home runs in the majors and artificial testosterone in the blood. I’m still impressed.
2003 Marlins: Win World Series. Hold garage sale. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
2004 Red Sox: The most amazing thing happened in 2004. After game 3 of the ALCS America collectively stopped caring about Baseball. Bud Selig was forced to cancel the rest of the playoffs. The outcome was even worse for the sport than 1994.
2005 White Sox: A very good club that, in addition to receiving superb starting pitching performances in the playoffs, probably played over its head for a lot of 2005. Also, Ozzie Guillen manages this team.
2006 Cardinals: It’s hard to repeat as champions when you have no hitters outside of Albert Pujols.
2007 Red Sox: The first of the teams to win since the 2000 Yankees with legitimate repeat potential. It took a talented Rays team to keep them out of the 2008 World Series (no Tampa, thank YOU).
2008 Phillies: The Phillies are the first team to repeat as NL champs since the Braves. With a better bullpen they just may have repeated as World champs. But they didn’t. And that leaves the 2009 Yankees in an enviable position. The Red Sox are filled with lineup problems and aging players. Their window may have closed.
The Phillies, meanwhile, have serious bullpen issues. However, they may still represent the NL in the World Series again next year.
Despite these legitimate challenges, many of which Larry has already highlighted, in the 2nd half of 2009 the Yankees began to make me feel, as a fan, that they were straight up better than everyone else, something I hadn’t felt about the Yankees since the late 90′s. The team came together in a way no Yankee team has in years and suddenly they were posting ridiculous stats, like nearly fifty come-from-behind wins and fifteen walk-offs.
Better pens than mine have already analyzed the team’s 2nd half; instead, let’s focus on why the Yankees are positioned perfectly to build on that performance.
The leaders of the New School: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira. Brian Cashman didn’t just throw money around on the best available talent in the 2008 offseason. He purposefully locked up young players, in their primes, who were capable of performing well under the New York spotlight. And A.J. Burnett. These are the core players who are in a position to step forward and take over leadership of the team in the years to come. So long as Mark Teixeira remembers how to hit a curveball next postseason.
Still going, after all these years: Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez. (Yes, I include A-Rod with this group. He’s about their age, has been on the Yankees for nearly a decade now, and will need to perform at a high level into his later career for the team to succeed.) What a difference a year makes! Last season the sports media was preparing Jeter’s eulogy, Andy ran out of gas in the 2nd half, Jorge was MIA, and Mo was adamant that this would be his last contract.
Meanwhile, A-Rod defied all expectations, in every way. He sunk about as low possible just before the season began, only to sink lower. Then, he bounced back, hitting 30 homers and 100 RBI for the 12th consecutive season (13 seasons overall, an MLB record) and there is no need for me to get mushy, again, over his other-worldly playoff production. With all this weight off his shoulders, what’s his ceiling for next year? 70 homers? 80 homers? 90 HOMERS? I say 80.
All of these players are under contract next year except Andy. The only way Cashman loses his job is if Andy isn’t wearing pinstripes again in 2010.
Affordable, young, productive: Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, David Robertson and Alfredo Aceves. OK, so these guys aren’t exactly Tino Martinez and Bernie Williams, but then again neither were these guys. For years the knock on the Yankees has been that they were too heavily invested in overpriced superstars who were past their primes. Now, the team has a low-cost nucleus of talent that gets along well in the clubhouse and does its job.
For those keeping score at home, that’s the entire infield, two outfielders, four
starters and some bullpen contributors who are coming back in 2010. Even if the team can’t expect repeat performances, a level of production between 2008 and 2009 play would mean that Jeter, for example, puts up an OPS+ of 117.
The problem areas: One starting pitcher, left field, designated hitter. The Yankees need to replace Chien-Ming Wang’s spot in the rotation, and decide what to do with Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, both of whom are free agents.
Rumors about the Yankees’ offseason intentions have run the gamut from being the front-runners to sign John Lackey (yes, please!) to wanting to reduce payroll for the first time.
I am drawing the following conclusions: 1) Cashman wants a pitcher, because he needs one. 2) The Yankees probably want to keep their payroll to between $190 and $210 million, as they’ve done for many years. 3) The Yankees want to get younger. 4) They want to build around guys who can become a new core of the team for a few years.
Keeping those rules in mind, here are the Yankees’ best options, as I see them:
John Lackey or Randy Wolf: The Yankees currently have a rotation of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte (assuming he re-ups), Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, with Chad Gaudin, Alfredo Aceves and Sergio Mitre lurking should the two youngsters at the back end run into trouble. The first three are as good as you’ll find in baseball, and while we’d like to see the Yankees continue to develop Joba and Hughes as starters, we all saw what happened when two rotation spots were entrusted to kids who were still learning about being a Major League starter, and so it seems like it would behoove the Yankees to grab another veteran, as one can never have too much pitching depth. In my opinion, Lackey and Wolf are the best two guys available.
Lackey is 31 years old, had pitcher VORP of 33.5 and made $10 million in 2009. Wolf is 33 years old, actually has a higher pitcher VORP of 48.6 and made less than $5 million in 2009. Money may therefore play a factor.
Rumor has it that Lackey wants A.J. money, $90 million over five years. He would therefore make the Yankees more expensive if Matsui and Damon both resigned for another season at their 2009 prices. Despite Lackey’s strong playoff resume, don’t be surprised if the relatively less expensive but comparably effective Wolf winds up in pinstripes. (Note from Larry: I would actually be shocked if the Yankees signed Wolf. He may have had a great year in La-La Land, but the NL West is a straight-up joke, and if history has taught us anything we should stay far, far away from guys who have spent their entire careers in Quadruple A).
The ongoing debate is what the Yankees should do with Damon and Matsui. Improving upon the team’s replacement-level fourth starter with either Wolf or Lackey only makes up for losing one of those bats. The Yankees need either to keep one of them, if not both, or sign a comparable player.
Jason Bay, Matt Holliday, or Johnny Damon: Everyone who follows baseball knows about the big two corner outfielders on the market. Is either of them a good fit for the Yankees?
The only argument for either of these guys is they would make the team younger. Bay is 32 and Holliday starts next season at 30. The argument against these guys is they’ll be expensive. Rumors are already circulating that the Red Sox have offered Bay 4 years, $60 million. Holliday is a Scott Boras client. The Yankees would probably have to offer Bay more than the Sox to land him, and Boras is thinking Teixeira money for Holliday.
Of the two, Bay seems like the better fit. Holliday’s true value is unknown. He racked up his stats in Coors Field. When he played in pitcher-friendly Oakland, in the American League, he struggled. Is he a National League player? Can he hit at normal altitude? Are answers to these questions worth $140 million over seven years?
The Yankees would get a known quantity with Bay. He performed well in the hyper-competitive AL East under the intense Boston media scrutiny. In many ways, he’s a similar hitter to Damon, with more power but a lower average. He’s just as streaky, and just as weak in the field.
The Yankees also have a dark horse in Chone Figgins. Rumor has it that the Bombers are considering offering him something in the ball park of $10 million per year and then converting him to left field. Laughable at first, this option is more serious than it seems. It would save money, make the team younger, and provide a dynamic offensive player. (Note from Larry: Just say no to Chone Figgins. He’s old, just came off a career year and is a near-certainty to decline and not live up to whatever contract he ends up receiving. Figgins will be Tony Womack all over again).
The Yankees have fewer options at the DH spot. Rumor has it the team is considering platooning that spot with older, everyday position players. This is stupid. It amounts to substituting Hideki Matsui’s bat with either Ramiro Pena’s, Francisco Cervelli’s, or Eric Hinske’s (if they resign him) on a daily basis.
I’m hoping the Yankees are not serious. If the Yankees want to rest older, everyday players, like Posada, then they should rest them. Matsui is as good a hitter or better than every player on the team except A-Rod, Jeter and Tex. (He gets on base more than Robinson Cano and hits for a higher average with runners in scoring position.) He’s also an excellent DH and pinch hitter, and a consummate professional. The smart option is to sit him when they want to DH Jeter or A-Rod, and sit the other players when they want to rest them. Trading Posada’s bat for Matsui’s is a wash.
1) Sign Lackey at $15 million a season or less. He’s younger than Wolf, and NL pitchers have a spotty track record when it comes to transitioning to the AL. Lackey is also a proven big game pitcher, something the Yankees will need come October. (Note from Larry: I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Lackey, but it should be pointed out that as per RAB, the Yankees would likely be better served forgoing this year’s free agent pitcher crop in favor of next offseason’s).
2) Resign Damon and Matsui, provided they are willing to sign one- or two-year deals, at reduced costs. Both players were overpaid in 2009. Damon is no longer a center fielder, and DHs don’t make $13 million per season. Of the $26 million these two made last season, there would be $11 million left between them if the Yankees sign Lackey for the high end of what he’s worth, which is $15 million. Of the two, Matsui seems more likely to take this deal. He’s less valuable and not a Boras client
. (Note from Larry: The Yankees are definitely looking to keep both Damon and Matsui; I’d like to see both of them return on one-year deals, if possible).
3) Chone Figgins over Jason Bay or Matt Holiday, if Damon won’t play ball. Less expensive and athletic are important qualities. Rumor is that Figgins can be had for $10 million per season, probably 50% less per year that what either of the other two players would cost. He is versatile in the field, and has a high OBP.
All of this assumes that the rumors regarding the players’ price tags are true. If they are, the Yankees would be well-suited to keep the offense together, and pursue Lackey, hard. Locking up Tex last season was brilliant. This year a high-caliber position player that fits the Yankees needs isn’t available. Damon and Matsui are known commodities. Adding John Lackey to the existing Yankees squad would make the Bombers the runaway favorites in 2010. Isn’t the point of all this to win another World Series?
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