Before looking to the future, I will start by examining the present.
The Yankees seem to be comfortable with their current assortment of players going into 2009. They have rebuilt their pitching rotation, upgraded first base production on both sides of the ball, and should feel pretty good about their corner outfield positions: LFs Damon/Matsui (likely to DH a lot) and RFs Nady/Swisher.
The beauty of the offseason is that New York retained some very good depth throughout the various levels of the organization and should be able to benefit, especially in the quality of the bullpen.
There are weaknesses though.
Regarding SS/2B fielding, despite my love of the Captain, I have come to believe that he is subpar defensively (although, by all measures, his offense overcomes). Come to think of it, Cano doesn't seem to be helping in the field.
Also, will the position of CF (Gardner/Cabrera) hurt them? If Gardner were only average offensively, I would be more than happy to make him an everyday player.
Finally, at long relief, will the Yankees have someone who can produce at a higher level than Ponson, should it be needed?
Other big question marks I have for the current season:
—Will SP2 A.J. Burnett give them more than 175 innings this year?
—Will C Jorge Posada be a liability with runners on first base?
—Will CL Rivera return to form after a seemingly un-invasive surgery?
—Will OF Nick Swisher see an O'Neill-like spike in production playing his first season in pinstripes?
When the 2009 season is over, there will be a large roster turnover. The contracts for Andy Pettite, Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, Xavier Nady, and Jose Molina will expire. The one I think has a chance of returning is Pettite, assuming he turns in an impressive '09 campaign. But, overall, the Yankees may be able to write off about $42 million.
This isn't as much as they reclaimed after an '08 season which led to three major acquisitions (more than $70 million). But it will certainly be enough to allow the considerations of some marquee acquisitions.
So the question I pondered was who would be available during the next offseason? The names that stood out are Erik Bedard, Rich Harden, John Lackey, Matt Holliday, and Rick Ankiel.
If Burnett or C.C. Sabathia falter, I would anticipate the Yankees grabbing one of the three aforementioned pitchers, possibly to a $15 to $18 million contract; this leaves enough in the bank to replace Damon in left with Holliday at a possible $22 million annually.
Although I doubt this would happen, they could even consider moving Jeter to right field. His arm strength and speed, along with the short porch, might make this a defensive bonus so long as he continues to produce an OBP in the .370s.
His replacement could come from either the free agent pool which features Jack Wilson, Khallil Green, or the currently low stock of Bobby Crosby, or they could engage in trade talks for a shortstop like Michael Young.
However the scenario plays out, it will certainly be another exciting offseason. Below is what my team would look like if faced with the same decisions:
Batting Order 2010
1-RF Jeter, 2-2B Cano, 3-3B Rodriguez, 4-1B Teixeira, 5-LF Holliday, 6-C Posada, 7-DH Swisher, 8-CF Gardner, 9-SS Wilson
Pitching Rotation 2010
1-Sabathia, 2-Lackey, 3-Chamberlain, 4-Wang, 5-Burnett
The cost of this roster would be approximately $210 million. A more likely outcome would be Jeter remaining at short and Swisher taking on a full time role in right field. This could save the cost of a replacement SS and bring the salary below $200 million.
By 2011 we may begin to see Austin Jackson and one of the many catchers begin to break in at the major level, as well as the emergence of another pitcher (my money is on Phil Hughes). This may be a consideration after 2009 is said and done and may prevent the unnecessary spending on another Type A pitcher.
All in all, the end of this season should produce another wildly entertaining Yankee offseason as the team continues to rebuild. Can't wait to see what story consumes the media this time.