Welcome to the latest edition of Bombers Banter, a round table discussion for New York Yankees writers.
In this issue, Greg Fertel, Robert Maccariello, Lenny Neslin, and I chat about the acquisition of Curtis Granderson and Javier Vazquez, the departure of prospects and key pieces of the 2009 team, and this season's American League East race.
Let's get this started by sending him questions at email@example.com with "Yankees Mailbag" in the subject line.
1. The Yankees acquired Curtis Granderson but didn't appear interested in signing free agents Matt Holliday or Jason Bay, so it appears as if the team will enter spring training with an outfield that includes Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher. Have the Yanks done enough to improve their outfield or is there another move they should make?
Greg Fertel: The Yankees outfield is just fine. Obviously adding a complementary player like Reed Johnson or Rocco Baldelli wouldn’t hurt, but it’s not a season-changing necessity.
The Yankees outfield will be very good defensively, and as we’ve seen with the Red Sox and Mariners, that’s a trend in baseball for good reason. I’ve written that I think Brett Gardner will be more valuable in 2010 than Johnny Damon if they have the same amount of playing time, and I stick by that.
Because of this, I think the Yankees outfield is quite a bit stronger overall than it was in 2009.
Robert Maccariello: The Yankees outfield has not significantly improved or regressed. If anything, it only improved from a defensive standpoint.
Granderson is an upgrade in CF over Melky. Even with several scouts saying that Granderson took some less-than-perfect routes to balls in the outfield last year, his speed gives him the ability to get to balls at the upper limits of Melky's range. People began to respect Melky's arm last year so he had less assists, and his good plays were accompanied with some head-scratchers.
Swisher will be the starting right fielder again, and despite some interesting moments, he had a surprisingly solid year with the glove. Damon had one of his worst years in the field, struggling with some higher fly balls all year. His range has diminished with the health of his legs and knees, so Gardner will breathe some life into Death Valley.
Damon's HRs and veteran leadership will be missed, but Gardner's speed can be a game-changer and a distraction to any opposition's pitching if he gets on base. Despite his improvements at the dish, Melky still disappoints overall on offense. He has shown little improvement in being selective with his swings, has only recently become an average bunter, and is a poor baserunner.
Granderson can easily hit 30-40 homers at Yankee Stadium and steal 30-40 bases. Swisher is an OPS machine and is good for 20-30 homers.
Lenny Neslin: All year long I expected the Yankees to retain Damon and let go of Matsui. When the Yankees traded for Granderson, I saw no need to sign Damon too—unless he was going to be a part-time DH.
But that idea was quickly erased when Brian Cashman picked up Nick Johnson for that role. I love Swisher out there in right and for his off-the-field intangibles. Not many people have confidence in Gardner, but I think he deserves a chance at a full season in left.
No question Melky was loved by the fans, but he doesn't have as much potential as Gardner. Despite a small sample size, a .345 OBP for Gardner last year is a big deal. With his speed, he turns walks and singles into doubles with ease. He becomes a major threat if he can get on base as much as he did in the minors.
Jordan Schwartz: While Granderson is an upgrade over Cabrera in center, I didn't think it was enough of an improvement to warrant trading away top prospect Austin Jackson. Granderson (.249 avg) has power, Gardner (.270) has speed, and Swisher (.249) draws a bunch of walks, but none of them hit for average.
The outfield is once again the weakest part of the team, and the Yankees would help their cause by re-signing Johnny Damon and possibly even taking a chance on Xavier Nady, who could add some depth.
2. The addition of Javier Vazquez to the starting rotation means Phil Hughes will probably remain in the eighth inning role in 2010. Is this where he should be or should the Yankees eventually give him another shot at starting?
Greg Fertel: The Yankees definitely should not give up on Hughes as a starter. Joba should probably start the year in the rotation because he doesn’t have the innings limit that Hughes does, but I do wonder what another year as a setup guy will do for his development.
I don’t think the Yankees see either player as a reliever, long-term, so I think Hughes will get a chance to start. I just hope they use him in a way where he’ll be available to step into the rotation when one of the top five starters inevitably goes down with an injury. That would best serve the team and Hughes himself.
Robert Maccariello: Phil Hughes has succeeded in the eighth inning role. His excellent control enables him to throw strikes out of the bullpen, and an excellent breaking pitch makes him a guy who can strike batters out—both fantastic assets late in the game with runners on base.
However, he has also succeeded in the starting pitching role when healthy. I think he should get a shot to start should one of the current starters go down with an injury, or he could even fill the No. 5 spot from April onwards. He has shown that he can do well in either role. Additionally, his poise and attitude even as a young player is beyond his years.
What surprises me is why Joba Chamberlain has not been moved to the bullpen either in Hughes' place or in a seventh or eighth inning role. Joba has not shown the ability to pitch well as a starter to the level he has been able to in the bullpen. Why is Hughes being limited despite showing talent as a starter while Joba is being pushed despite showing far less progress and major control issues? This continues to bother me most about the Yankees in 2010. The discrepancies are glaring and confusing.
Lenny Neslin: I hope the Yankees choose Hughes to be the fifth starter and send Chamberlain back to the bullpen. Last year, I wanted to see what Chamberlain could do as a starter, but his dreadful control and his fastball's loss in velocity make me believe he is best suited for the bullpen.
Hughes, on the other hand, has a great repertoire of pitches and has the mental toughness to be a starter. If the Yankees choose to have Hughes start the year as the setup guy, I'd expect him to be the first guy to replace an injured starter and be stretched out over a few starts like Chamberlain was last year.
In the long run, I see Hughes as a solid starter in a competitive rotation and Chamberlain as an elite closer or back of the rotation starter.
Jordan Schwartz: I would've rather given Hughes, who is coming off an outstanding year as a reliever, another shot at starting, but it appears the Yankees have no intention of doing that after the acquisition of Vazquez. While Chamberlain clearly has better career stats as a starter (12-7, 4.18 ERA vs. 8-9, 5.22 ERA), Hughes should also get another chance to start and hopefully will once Andy Pettitte retires, which could come as soon as after this season.
3. How do you feel about New York trading away three of its best prospects this offseason in Austin Jackson, Mike Dunn, and Arodys Vizcaino?
Greg Fertel: It hurts a bit, as I follow prospects very closely. However, there are big question marks with these three. Jackson has shown no power and strikes out way too much. I have seen people say that Jackson’s best case scenario is Granderson, but I see very few similarities between the two as players. Dunn has a live arm and is somewhat new to pitching, but the guy walked more than five batters per nine innings in the Minors in 2009. That won’t get it done in the Majors.
I really liked Arodys, and he was the prize of the Vazquez trade for the Braves, but he is just so far away and has a lot to overcome to make it to the Majors. There's also Ian Kennedy, who is as big a loss as any of these guys. He was very impressive in the AFL and should be a solid contributor for years to come as long as he stays healthy.
Robert Maccariello: Losing Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino for established pro pitchers is not really the point of emphasis that naysayers for these deals have used. It's all been about Austin Jackson, and I, for one, have never been high on him. In five minor league seasons, he only hit 30 home runs, including only four in 2009. Last season, he had 123 strikeouts and only 40 walks. He did hit .300, but 67 RBI is low for somebody who's considered the centerfielder of the future.
I have no problem giving up the relative unknown 23-year-old who still has shown some holes in his game despite playing against Double-A and Triple-A talent, especially when the Yankees gain a proven, professional All-Star in Granderson. The chances of Jackson becoming the greatest outfielder in the majors—or even reaching Granderson's level—are not as good as Granderson continuing to play at a very high level. The deal is even more palatable because Granderson is young and in his own prime.
It wasn't like the Yankees got rid of Jackson to get a player on the decline for only a year or two.
Lenny Neslin: It hurt to see A-Jax leave the club. If you believe his max potential was any less than Granderson's skill level today, then it was a good trade. And I believe that. But more importantly, Cashman filled all the Yankees' needs this offseason without trading Chamberlain, Hughes, or Jesus Montero—the Yankees best prospect.
Vizcaino was still a lottery prospect in that he was just 19-years-old. Dunn was definitely on the verge of joining the bullpen full-time in 2010, but at least the Yankees received a replacement lefty reliever in return, Boone Logan.
Jordan Schwartz: It's disappointing to see the Yankees trade away three top prospects in one offseason, especially a guy like Jackson, who the organization has been touting as the next big thing for the past couple years. New York reportedly wasn't willing to part with Dunn in the Granderson deal but then included him in the Vazquez trade. The lefty went 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in 12 relief appearances at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2009.
Vizcaino was recently named the club's third-best prospect by Baseball America. He had a 2.13 ERA in 10 starts for Class A Staten Island this year, and Yankees senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman has said the right-hander throws 96 mph with "a hammer of a curveball" and "really good stuff."
4. The Bombers had great chemistry in 2009, which helped them win the World Series. How do you believe the departure of Melky Cabrera, Hideki Matsui, and possibly Johnny Damon will affect that aspect of the team?
Greg Fertel: I don’t think it will affect the team too much. While the Yankees lost those players, it’s not like they replaced them with clubhouse cancers. Granderson is widely renowned as one of the best guys in baseball.
I think that winning breeds team chemistry and that it’s not the other way around. This aspect shouldn’t change enough to affect the 2010 Yanks.
Robert Maccariello: Losing mainstays Matsui and Damon will certainly remove a strong veteran presence from the clubhouse, but not to the point where there should be any cause for concern. Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada are the consummate professionals and lead by example. Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte are also great veteran leaders and help to teach and manage younger members of the pitching staff. Nick Swisher will still wiggle and dance in the outfield, and A.J. Burnett will still slap people in the face with shaving cream pies.
The Yankees are also gaining Granderson, who is well-regarded as a bright guy and a great player to have in the clubhouse and the community. The one downside I see to this is the loss of Cabrera and its effect on Robinson Cano. We already saw both players struggle at times in 2009 without their "uncles" Larry Bowa and Bobby Abreu on the team.
Don't underestimate how much the loss of Melky will impact his best friend Cano, who remains with the Yankees and of whom much is expected.
Lenny Neslin: I am a believer that team chemistry affects a team's ability to win championships. However, I think the Yankees got guys with great character in return for those whom they lost—Granderson especially. I think Joe Girardi can help the new players meld with the champions of 2009.
They still will have A.J. Burnett's pies and Swisher's wacky postgame interviews. The 2010 Yankees should be just as fun as the '09 club and still have a great chance of repeating as champions.
Jordan Schwartz: When Cabrera was demoted to Triple-A between Aug. 15 and Sept. 10, 2008, his good friend Cano went into a minor slump, hitting just .255 with one walk and 23 strikeouts in 25 games—below his .271 season average.
I don't think you can overlook the importance of chemistry, and it'll be interesting to see how Cano responds to playing without one of his best friends on the team.
5. The Red Sox have been very busy this offseason, acquiring John Lackey, Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron, and Marco Scutaro. Are the Yankees still the favorites to win the AL East?
Greg Fertel: Yeah, I think the Yankees still are favorites, but not by much. Because it’s so small, any injury or weak performance can change this and allow the Red Sox to win the division.
Don’t forget about the Rays either; they’ve been pretty quiet but will still be very competitive. There are two playoff spots for these three teams, and some bad luck is all it could take to knock the Yankees out of the playoff picture. The same goes for the Sox and Rays.
Robert Maccariello: The Yankees are the defending champions, and as such, should still be the favorites to win the AL East. The additions of Beltre and Cameron do not really scare me much. Mike Lowell—bad hip, hand, and all—was a solid player for them in the field and at the dish, and he's now gone.
The organization continues to push Jacoby Ellsbury who has less power than an office building in Rwanda. Marco Scutaro had a very good year in Toronto, but he's more useful for his glove than his bat on a day-to-day level. I do think Boston's move to make Victor Martinez their everyday catcher over Varitek is a great improvement for them.
What does continue to scare me in Boston is their pitching staff. I expect Beckett and Papelbon each to have a better year. Adding Lackey to Buckholz, Lester, Matsuzaka (a year removed from some hidden injuries) bolsters the starting rotation even more.
I think the Yankees continue to hold an advantage in middle to long relief pitching as well as on offense, edges that should see them repeat as AL East champs.
Lenny Neslin: Theo Epstein and the Red Sox have done a fine job making changes to their club this offseason. I believe the addition of Lackey, the return of a healthy Dice-K, and the growth of Clay Buchholz will give the Red Sox a slight edge in rotations. But I think the Yankees' bullpen and lineup outweighs that difference and makes them favorites to win the East.
Jordan Schwartz: The best move the Red Sox made this offseason was acquiring John Lackey, whose ERA hasn't been higher than 3.83 since 2004. The addition adds depth to Boston's already strong rotation, but I still believe CC Sabathia gives the Yankees' staff a slight edge, and New York's lineup is still better, so they should be the favorites to win the division.
Follow me on Twitter at JordanHarrison.
Jordan Schwartz is Bleacher Report's New York Yankees Community Leader. His book "Memoirs of the Unaccomplished Man" is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and authorhouse.com.
Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org