Hot Stove season is almost over. After what was for a time a quiet, and then literally overnight a busy, off-season of moves for the Yankees, us fans have a good idea of what the 2012 team might look like heading into the season, its’ strength, its’ weaknesses, and the potential strategy going forward as Brian Cashman looks to reduce payroll, get younger offensively, and continue to sure up a starting rotation that is for now quite good.
On paper, everything looks right in the Bronx. The Bombers return each major productive piece of the 2011 Yankees, a 97-win and 103-pathag-win team, with the exception of Bartolo Colon. CC Sabathia and Brian Cashman are in it for the long haul. The rotation is vastly improved with Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, and a potential rebound season from Phil Hughes. There is pitching depth. The bench is good shape. The bullpen is fantastic. The offense, baseball’s second best last season, should be improved with Alex Rodriguez hopefully playing more than 100 games and Jorge Posada now in retirement. This roster is a juggernaut the likes of which we have not seen since at least 2009 if not further back.
On paper that is. We make plans on paper but part of planning is to plan contingencies, paths of action for the inevitable situation where the plan does not work out as expected. In baseball, as in any sport, this means understanding what you need and expect from your players, and understanding further what you might do if these players do not live up to expectations, if there are injuries, if players are ineffective, or if the challenges ahead were initially misjudged. This means identifying areas of potential failure and internal as well as external replacements, then re-evaluating your situation at some future date.
The point at which this re-evaluation takes place and these contingencies are put into action can vary. We all remember the early season shakeup of 2005 that saw Robinson Cano promoted to the starting lineup and Tony Womack sent to the outfield. These events were set in motion after the game on May 2nd of 2005, but their effects are still felt to this day. Cano is now an All-Star. The older, displaced, or otherwise disrupted players were no longer major factors. The Yankees went on the narrowly make the playoffs in 2005 and though they lost in the first round, their mere presence in the ALDS against Anaheim was largely a result of this move.
On the flip side, we remember the 2008 Yankees, a team that lost Jorge Posada down the stretch and replaced him with the then-useless Ivan Rodriguez. Earlier in the season, Brian Cashman had moved to bolster the mid-season roster by trading a number of useful prospects, including Jose Tabata, to the Pirates for Xavier Nady (who had a nice second half, but was ultimately displaced by Nick Swisher) and Damaso Marte (who was an unmitigated disaster). Though these moves occurred much later in the season, their impact was felt. The Yankees missed the playoffs, the only such failure in the past 17 seasons, and saw Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf, Daniel McCutchen, and Jeff Karstens develop, to varying degrees, into useful players in Pittsburgh.
Planning for the unexpected is difficult, but possible. Planning for the unforeseeable is simply a matter of hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. It is thus the first of these contingencies that is of the most interest to fans and analysts. There are a number of such disturbing potentialities, both offensively and on the pitching side of things, which deserve some thought.
While catching remains an organizational strength, the loss of Jesus Montero may actually have some material impact on the catching situation in 2012. At this time, the only near-term and full-time option the Yankees have behind the plate is Russell Martin. While Francisco Cervelli may be a serviceable backup, should Martin go down there will almost certainly be a need to bring someone in to take his place. Montero, while obviously not a catcher in the long run, could probably have filedl that gap for a month or so and not completely tanked the roster. He is gone.
The Yankees have actually shown surprisingly little ability to find decent short-term options behind the plate, or even decent backups, over the past decade. Many such acquisitions have been failures. That is part of the reason why good internal options are so necessary. In the long run, Gary Sanchez and JR Murphy present potential replacements for Martin, or at least good secondary options. At the moment, though, Austin Romine may be our only hope. Should he show an improved offensive package at AAA early in the season he could be the contingency. If he does not, things could get ugly. It’s tough to find good catching on the market and the Yankees especially have not shown an aptitude.
This is made even more of a concern because of Martin’s spotty recent track-record, his trouble with catching workloads, and the Yankees obvious reluctance to commit to some other more expensive, more entrenched long term option behind the plate with so many good prospects coming up through the system.
Down the third base line, Alex Rodriguez alone accounts for much of the heartburn Yankees officials and fans must be feeling when considering potential need for contingencies. At his best, Rodriguez is still a great player and one who’s bat will be counted on if the Yankees are to win 100+ games this coming season and go deep into the playoffs. But as we saw at the end of last season, the bat is old, the injuries have taken their toll, and as we’ve seen since his MVP-caliber 2007 season, the injuries are plentiful.
I wrote at length about the Yankees potential backup infield problems earlier this off-season, and without a full-time DH this becomes an even bigger issue offensively. Suffice to say the options were somewhat weak and are now even weaker. The market is very shallow and internal options are practically non-existent. It seems like we will have to rely on the Penas, Nunezs, and Chavezs of the world for now. Should Rodriguez miss a lot of time due to injury, though, we will have to look outside the organization. In doing so, we may actually find some interesting options.
The outfield is strong, but should one of the three starters go down, we may have a major problem on our hands. Andruw Jones is awesome… in limited at bats against opposite-handed pitching. As a full time player, he’s a disaster. Chris Dickerson and Greg Golson are extremely talented, but ultimately weak players who should not be given starting positions on the New York Yankees for more than a few days. Internally there are virtually no options.
Thankfully, this is not such a big problem. Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner, and Nick Swisher are all reasonably young, reasonably consistent players with reasonably good records of health. That outfield has two center fielders and finding a corner outfielder on the market mid-season is quite easy. The Yankees have done it before, and while it doesn’t always work out, it’s always an option. Think of Lance Berkman, Xavier Nady, Craig Wilson, Bobby Abreu, and Matt Lawton.
Where the Yankees internal contingencies and depth shine is on the pitching side of things. The rotation is obviously quite strong and the depth, at the big league level and throughout the system, is perhaps even stronger. With six starting pitchers and plethora of high level options, any unexpected starting pitching deficit should be handleable without major acquisition. The bullpen is even more solid. Even if age and injuries hurt Mariano Rivera‘s 2012 season, and this is possible if not particularly likely, the depth makes even that kind of a loss bearable. While there are areas of concern, especially offensively depth wise, this pitching depth and organizational depth will make dealing with these weaknesses and putting contingency plans into action far easier.
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TagsA.J. Burnett Alex Rodriguez Andy Pettitte Austin Romine Baltimore Orioles Bartolo Colon Boston Red Sox Brett Gardner Brian Cashman Bullpen CC Sabathia Chien-Ming Wang Cliff Lee Curtis Granderson David Robertson Dellin Betances Derek Jeter Francisco Cervelli Freddy Garcia Game Recap Hiroki Kuroda Ivan Nova Javier Vazquez Jesus Montero Joba Chamberlain Joe Girardi Johnny Damon Jorge Posada Manny Banuelos Mariano Rivera Mark Teixeira Melky Cabrera Michael Pineda New York New York Yankees Nick Johnson Nick Swisher Phil Hughes Prospects Rafael Soriano Red Sox Robinson Cano Russell Martin Tampa Bay Rays Yankees