What could the world champion, richer-than-God New York Yankees possibly need? What do you get for the team that has (apparently) everything?
The question most Yankee-watchers have been asking is: Who’s in left? World Series MVP Hideki Matsui is a free agent, as is Johnny Damon. Neither player’s health inspires much confidence at this stage, though Damon’s legs have the edge over Matsui’s. Today, we learned that the Yankees may try to keep both players. This is surprising, and I’m inclined to suspect trickery — how can Yankees GM Brian Cashman and Red Sox GM Theo Epstein both be professing a strong desire to re-sign their own sub-optimal LF/DH types when there’s Matt Holliday on the market? Could it be because they don’t want to start the inevitable bidding war (Holliday is a Scott Boras client) just yet? Both the Sox and the Yanks need a left-fielder; both teams have plenty of cash; and Holliday is the best one on the market. Let the auction begin! (It’s worth noting that Austin Jackson, one of NY’s top prospects, is an outfielder; but they aren’t relying on him being ready to contribute next year.)
Yet although the Yankees’ outfield has gotten the most attention as the area that needs improvement, even more material to the team’s success next year is beefing up the starting pitching. Despite signing the best two starters on the market last winter, the Yankees actually looked a little thin in the rotation in 2009. As a staff, Yankee pitchers were worth 18.7 wins above replacement — 10th in the majors. The starters ranked 15th in the majors in win probability added, at -0.42, with a fielding independent pitching mark of 4.31, good for 11th in MLB. Somehow I think they had something a little more impressive in mind when they signed CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett (though naturally, I suspect they’re quite pleased with the WS trophy). Yes, Andy Pettitte is getting up there, but it seems to make sense for the Yankees to re-sign him at least as an insurance policy (that is, of course, if he doesn’t retire). The Yankees are also, again, placing faith in their home-grown arms.
However, I do think they need to add to the pitching staff. I see no reason why baseball’s richest team shouldn’t get in on the bidding on John Lackey, for starters, and they should also be looking at Erik Bedard and Rich Harden. Though all three of these pitchers experienced health issues this year — and Bedard may not be ready to go by Opening Day — the Yankees have the kind of cash that lets them recover easily from bad contracts. And when healthy, all three of these guys can throw.
Why should the Yankees make a push on pitching when their offense is so strong? Why does a team that can score more than 900 runs really need to invest even more in starting pitching? Answer: injuries. The Yankees were remarkably healthy this year, especially for a team that’s on the older side. In 2010, if some of their big bats go down, it sure would be nice if they had some strong arms to carry them back to October.