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This is one in a series of posts in which we break down each team’s wily offseason maneuvers and tragic offseason blunders.

Gah! My hip!Last year, the Yankees managed to bash their way into the postseason despite lackluster starting pitching and an average age of fifty-seven years and three months. And for the third year in a row, New York was eliminated from the playoffs in the first round. In the Northeast, where we’re all overachieving Alpha-people who walk fast, talk faster, and expect nothing less than perfection from our sports teams, this is unacceptable. It’s especially unacceptable when you’re the most expensive team in baseball year after year by a margin of about fifty million bucks, or roughly the payroll of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

This offseason, they needed to add pitching and youth. They also faced another conundrum: many of their expensive superstar veterans were up for free agency. They kicked off the offseason by re-signing Andy Pettitte, 35 ( who ultimately did decide to exercise his 1 year, $16 million option), Mariano Rivera, 38 (3 years, $45 million), and Jorge Posada, 36 (4 years, $52.4 million). And, of course, they came to terms with Alex Rodriguez, 32 (10 years, $275 million), who was advised by Warren Buffet in the deal after his agent, Scott Boras, turned out to be greedy and classless (and A-Rod was shocked, shocked!).

Considering the year Jorge Posada just had, considering money is no object for the Steinbrenners, and considering how hard it is to find a catcher even close to that caliber, that deal actually made sense to me—even though they’ll be shelling out $13 million a year for a catcher in his late 30s. As for the A-Rod deal, given that no one but the New York Yankees would (or could) give him the money he wanted, that deal was at least understandable. And I suppose for a big-market team, $16 million isn’t too much to risk on a frontline starter. But I really do not understand the Mariano Rivera deal. Do they really think he’s going to last three more years?

Goddamn, in this infield, I have to do everything myself!Better money was spent locking up second baseman Robinson Cano, 25, with a long-term deal. He’ll get a minimum of $30 million for 4 years, and, if the options are exercised, a max of $57 million over 6 years. However, Cano will be one of just two every day players still in his twenties. Can the Yankees really expect such a roster to stay healthy into October? On some level, the Injury Bug is a capricious insect that attacks at random, like when your catcher breaks his elbow going after a foul pop. But when your team consists of thirtysomethings, I think you have to expect a certain amount of oblique strains, groin pulls, and hamstring tweaks. Though the Yankees do have some good outfield prospects in their farm system, they’ll begin the year in Double A and aren’t close to being ready for primetime.

The Yankees will hold tryouts of sorts for the 1B spot during Spring Training. The contenders: Morgan Ensberg (32 years old, .230 avg, 12 HR), Wilson Betemit (29 years old, .229 avg, 14 HR), Shelley Duncan (28 years old, .258 avg, 7 HR) and Jason Lane (31 years old, .175 avg, 8 HR). None of these guys is very inspiring. Lane and Ensberg have five games at first base between them. Shelley Duncan has nine. Wilson Betemit? The leader at fourteen. Not that first base is known for being a defensively challenging position, by any means. But that is some pretty slim pickings, and of the bunch, only Ensberg has a career OBP of more than .350.

With a question mark at first base, a third baseman who has never felt comfortable in the position, and a shortstop whose defensive abilities are consistently ranked among the last in baseball by the advanced systems of measurement, the New York infield’s only defensive bright spot is the aforementioned Cano. In the outfield, they can expect solid defense from Abreu and Melky Cabrera, when he’s playing. Matsui and Damon aren’t liabilities, defensively, but neither of them is very durable anymore.

Another start, another 90 pitches for me.Nonetheless, despite all these red flags, the Yankees will get a bit younger next season—from within. Their farm system is flush with righthanded pitchers, and we got a peek at three of them last season: the highly-touted Phil Hughes, 21, who had flashes of brilliance but battled injury; Joba Chamberlain, 22, who dominated batters down the stretch; and Ian Kennedy, 24, who pitched well in his 3 September starts. Kennedy projects to be a three-hole starter, while Chamberlain and Hughes have front-line stuff. However, all are certain to be on pitch counts and innings limits, which presents an even greater challenge for a team that plans on playing in October. Nonetheless, the Yankees will happily take whatever they can get from the trio, as Carl Pavano is expected to spend the season in the minors, rehabbing and womanizing, and as last year’s acquisition, Kei Igawa, turned out to suck a lot.

Acquisitions: LaTroy Hawkins, Morgan Ensberg

Losses: Roger Clemens, Doug Mientkiewicz, Andy Phillips, Luis Vizcaino, Tyler Clippard

Projected lineup:

1. Damon, CF, .270, .351, 12 HR

2. Jeter, SS, .322, .388, 12 HR

3. Abreu, RF, .283, .369, 16 HR

4. Rodriguez, 3B, .314, .422, 54 HR

5. Posada, C, .338, .426, 20 HR

6. Matsui, LF, .285, .367, 25 HR

7. Giambi, DH, .236, .356, 14 HR

8. Cano, 2B, .306, .353, 19 HR

9. ______, 1B, estimated at .230, .340, and 12 HR

Projected rotation:

1: Wang, 19-7, 199.1 IP, 3.70 ERA

2: Pettitte, 15-9, 215.1 IP, 4.05 ERA

3/4: Chamberlain/Hughes/Kennedy

5: Mussina, 11-10, 152.0 IP, 5.15 ERA

Closer:

Mariano Rivera, 30 saves, 4 blown saves, 3.15 ERA

Spare parts:

Melky Cabrera and whoever doesn’t get the regular 1B job

Grade: C

The Yankees have financial resources even other big market teams—the Red Sox, the Angels, the Mets, the White Sox, the Dodgers—can only dream of. While their 2008 roster will doubtless mash the ball as much as they do every year, it’s pitching, defense, and health that win in the playoffs, and this squad looks questionable on all three. New York’s goal is to field a team that can not only get to the playoffs, but can advance in them. If their three rookie pitchers can shoulder the load, they may be able to do that. But right now, this looks too much like the same team that was only good enough last year for second place in the division and a quick out in the playoffs. The Yankees needed hotter offseason action than this.

-Hot Offseason Action Index-

75 Responses to “Tepid Offseason Action: New York Yankees”

  1. Tripp,
    You can disregard Cordero and Valverde based solely on the fact that they pitched in the NL but they are both better closers right now than Rivera. They’re also guys that aren’t on the decline. If you want to hold onto Rivera it’s based more on sentimentality than him being the best option available.
    There are more aces in baseball than Santana and Beckett. Of course it’s hard to define what an actual ace is but I would say it’s a dominant pitcher that his team expects to win every time he takes the mound. Guys that I think fit that profile other than Santana and Beckett would be CC Sabathia, John Lackey, Brandon Webb, Jake Peavy, Dan Haren, Roy Halladay, Jason Verlander, Scott Kazmir, Fausto Carmona, Eric Bedard, Roy Oswalt, and Carlos Zambrano. These are guys that I think their teams would be happy to see pitching game 1 of the World Series.

  2. Coley Ward says:

    Melissa, I’d agree with that list, except for Zambrano, who I think walks way too many guys. Also, I might add Smoltz and Cole Hamels.

  3. Brian Sadecki says:

    Sorry to backtrack but…

    I don’t care how old Mariano River is, he’s not even on the same planet as Cordero or Valverde.

    ERA-plus over the last five seasons:

    Rivera: 265, 231, 307, 251, 142 (averaging 239.2)

    Cordero: 171, 237, 136, 124, 150 (averaging 163.6)

    Valverde: 218, 109, 182, 81 (1.45 WHIP!!), 177 (averaging 153.4)

    His salary is ridiculous but, again, I think most of that is for time served.

    Also, just because these guys moved during the off-season doesn’t mean that we should have gone for them or could have gotten them cheap.

    When you have Rivera in camp, you do what it takes to keep him. Especially when the rest of your bullpen is Kyle Farnsworth.

  4. Paul Moro says:

    Brian, I’m not completely against you here. I think that Mo is still one of the better closers in the game and I expect him to perform just fine in 2008. And I don’t think anyone here is surprised that, looking at the ERA plus of those three over the last five years shows that Rivera has been the best by quite a bit.

    But I think the argument here isn’t what Rivera HAS done in his career. No one can dispute that he’s going to Cooperstown while the same probably won’t be said of Valverde or Cordero when their careers are winding down. The argument is what he WILL do during the next three years. I don’t really fault the Yankees for paying Mo. For one, he’s a NY-legend. Two, they’re the Yankees and can pay to keep their guys. But I have a hard time being 100% sure that he’ll outperform Cordero and/or Valverde over the next three years. Ideally, teams shouldn’t be paying for what a player did in the past. They should be paying for what they think the player will be worth over the length of the offered contract. Looking at the ERA plus of those three last year, can you be sure that Mo will be better?

  5. Also, Rivera’s numbers aren’t as good as his last 4 or 5 years at first look, but after the first week of the season he was pretty dominant. He didn’t have many save opportunities because of the high powered offense and because the rest of the bullpen had already blew the save before they got him the ball.

    10.57 era after April. 2.21 for the rest of the season. Strikeout to walk ratio still phenomenal. I don’t see the signs of him slowing down.

  6. I don’t think that what Rivera has done 3,4, or 5 years ago is an accurate predictor for what he will be doing at age 38,39, & 40. Obviously Yankees fans love him because he helped them win championships but his better days are behind him. Cordero is 32 and Valverde is 28 and regardless of what they would have cost they are likely to have better numbers going forward. Their numbers this past season reflect the fact that they are in fact better than Rivera right now. Career wise he is an obvious Hall of Famer but this should be about where he is going not where he has been. They are just entering the prime of their careers and Rivera is past his. These guys would not have only replaced
    Rivera but most likely would have been an upgrade. The Yankees failed to improve a bullpen that was in fact a weakness.
    Coley,
    Hamels is a guy I considered but I’m waiting to see him perform at a high level again this season. Carlos may walk people but he is a dominant pitcher and can absolutely shut down the opposition. If he is not an ace how did he just land a contract for $18 million per? Had he tested the open market he would have likely commanded even more. As for Smoltz, I didn’t include him because I think he is on the downward side of his career. I don’t think he necessarily dominates the opposition but there certainly can be an argument made for him.

  7. Coley Ward says:

    Melissa, if we’re compiling a list of aces and we’re including all the guys with $18 million contracts, please don’t forget Mr. Barry Zito.

  8. Brian Sadecki says:

    It’s hard to separate myself as a fan.

    But if you take into account these 3 pitchers’ histories and where they pitch and ignore money and whoever you’d have to trade to acquire them, I still take Mo in NY in 2008 by far.

    His K/9 was higher than average and his velocity was still there. He’s old but he’s not showing many signs of slowing down.

    Neither of these guys is an upgrade for the next 3 years. Cordero’s pretty old and not as good and Valverde is DEFINITELY not as good.

    As far as looking at the last three years as a linear regression, that’s ridiculous. I’m not going to punish the guy for being out of his mind lights out three years ago.

  9. Coley, I thought of Zito right after I made that comment. My only defense would be that Zito had performed like an ace before he got the big money. Let’s also not forget that he is left handed which tends to lead GMs to overpay. Zito certainly isn’t an ace and he is overpaid. I also don’t think you can say that Zambrano isn’t an ace simply because of his strike out to walk ratio which is still better than 2 to 1. In 5 full seasons as a starter his highest ERA was 3.95 which he compiled on his way to 18 wins this past season. He has logged over 200 innings each of those seasons and his other ERA totals are 2.75, 3.11, 3.26,& 3.41. He has totaled over 200 strike outs twice and the least he has struck out in a season is 168. In Carlos’ first full season as a starter he had an ERA of 3.11 in 214 innings pitched and won 13 games with 168 strike outs. This past season in Hamels’ first full season as a starter he had an ERA of 3.39 in 189 IP with 15 wins and 177 strike outs. I would have to say that if you think Hamels is an ace then you would have to concede that Zambrano is as well.

  10. Coley Ward says:

    Melissa, I’d agree that Zambrano has been an ace in the past. But I wouldn’t have signed him to that monster contract, as he is trending in the wrong direction. Also, I’d agree that Hamels hasn’t quite acheived ace status yet. But unlike Zambrano, I think Hamels’ best days are to come and the stats seem to back that up. Of course, if you’re the Phils, you have to worry about Hamels’ back. But if you’re the Cubs, you have to worry about Zambrano’s fat ass.

  11. Big Z actually came into camp last spring in the best shape he has ever been. He is a big dude but he’s never come into a season out of shape. He certainly has the kind of frame that he could add weight but he is also very athletic for his size. He can field his position and run the bases rather well for a guy as big as he is. CC Sabathia is definitely fatter than Zambrano and it hasn’t stopped him from being an ace. Carlos is only 26 and I don’t think his best days are behind him but we shall see. He could have the potential to eat himself out of the league but hasn’t come close to that yet.

  12. Brian Sadecki says:

    Something interesting from The Harball Times:

    The Yankees were right not to trade Phil Hughes

    Despite our forecast for Santana’s dominance, that doesn’t mean that the Yankees will be despairing too much when he pitches across town every fifth day. That’s because they’ll get to have a poor man’s Santana in Hughes, and at a much poorer salary.

    We project a 4.12 ERA for Hughes in the much tougher American League, and more importantly, our three-year forecast sees that number dropping to 3.84 by 2010. If we put Santana on the Yankees, his forecast for 2010 would be a 3.76 ERA—pretty much equivalent to Hughes! While Santana is the better pitcher now, he probably won’t be any more valuable over the life of his contract than Hughes, if Hughes can stay healthy (or if Santana cannot, I suppose).

    Now that’s a big if, but the Yankees have 137 million reasons to feel pretty good about taking that chance.

  13. Paul Moro says:

    I think that the Yankees ultimately made the right move by not trading away Hughes. Next offseason, they can dump Giambi, Pettite, Abreu, Mussina, Pavano (if they don’t buy him out first), and Farnsworth. That’s potentially over $80 million that can get freed up. Knowing the Yanks, not all of them will leave for better or worse, but they obviously are looking at Sabathia. He’s going to get at least $22m per on the free market and the Yankees are going to offer him a massive deal. And they get to plug in Wang, Chamberlain, Hughes, and maybe Kennedy along with him. That’s potentially a decade-long rotation.

    Ultimately, the Yankees still have a playoff caliber team in 2008. And once you get into the postseason, pretty much anything can happen. So to me, it looks like that’s the Yankees game plan. Go into 2008 with this bunch, make some mid-season acquisitions to improve their chances of a playoff-berth, and hope to high heaven that Sabathia doesn’t resign with Cleveland AND that Cleveland doesn’t bomb during the season (which would make it highly likely that they’d trade CC before he becomes a free agent). And that’s Cashman’s gamble that I think he presented to Hank Steinbrenner. If this doesn’t happen, Cashman’s gone.

  14. Sarah Green says:

    Sabathia only gets to the free agent market if the Red Sox don’t make a trade for him first. Woot!

    But seriously, folks…this rumor was mentioned in the piece from the Globe I used to update our post on Curt Schilling’s shoulder (ie, that if Schilling goes down and Wakefield goes down and the Red Sox end up without enough starters, the Red Sox would be willing to pull the trigger on a trade for CC) and I almost laughed. According Shapiro, the Indians won’t trade Sabathia unless they completely choke in the first half of the season.

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