Over a week ago I was asked by fellow Yankee Featured Correspondent Jordan Schwartz to weigh in on several timely Yankee topics. As usual, with time constraints and the need to research the topics, I was late in getting him my thoughts.
However, I just noticed I have been demoted to "Contributor." Why? Because I am the only guy without a 200 person long list to replace Johnny Damon in LF ?
Here's what the other Featured guys said . Good stuff throughout.
Here is my recommendations for the various questions:
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?
Since Brian Cashman is determined to get younger and cheaper, there was no chance that the Yankees were going to sign Matt Holliday or Jason Bay. The team is committed to $118 million already in 2011, plus would need to re-sign Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera (both will be back) and possibly Andy Pettitte and/or Javier Vazquez.
According to reports, the Yankees do not have more than $2 million to spend in 2010. Because Johnny Damon blew his opportunity with the Yankees, and will not likely sign a one year deal for $3-4 million, the Yankees will stay with their in-house options.
The Yankees are very confident in having a combination of Brett Gardner being an everyday LF/CF as they love his defense and speed. His 2009 batting average of .267 and OBP of .345 were both above the league averages of .267 and .336, respectively, and, in double the plate appearances, were considerable improvements over his 2008 numbers. Same level improvement from one season to another is not new to Gardner, who made a habit of this throughout his minor league career.
Plus, hitting instructor Kevin Long will continue to work with Gardner to keep from pulling his front shoulder out and jumping at the ball, certainly improving both percentages in 2011.
Rule 5 draftee Jamie Hoffmann also has potential. Similar to Gardner, Hoffmann is a really good defensive outfielder, and is capable of playing all three outfield positions. Hoffmann has a long swing but Long can work with the talented OF to reduce his bat drag, thereby increasing bat speed and power.
Gardner and Hoffmann provide enough skills for the Yankees that within a lineup of Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, Cano, Swisher, they both only need to perform on a league average basis.
But both will likely surprise and perform better than that.
2. The addition of Javier Vazquez to the starting rotation means Phil Hughes will probably remain in the 8th inning role in 2010. Is this where he should be or should the Yankees eventually give him another shot at starting?
The Vazquez trade was great for the 2010 Yankees, and could be even better if they sign the right handed ace back for 2011 and beyond. But since the Yankees have four proven starters, only one spot in the rotation remains.
Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes will compete for that fifth spot, and most believe Hughes should start and Chamberlain revert back to the bullpen.
But according the Cashman, Hughes will be on an innings limit in 2010, likely around 160 innings while Chamberlain will be freed from his limitation shackles.
While the Yankees are heavy with quality starters this year, the possibility that Pettitte and Vazquez will not be around in 2011 points to Joba and Hughes both in the rotation next year. After the 2007 two-rookie starter debacle with Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes, the Yankees have switched to having one young starter at a time in rotation.
The Yankees were blessed with healthy starting pitching in 2010, but with pitching so fragile, health in the rotation can change at any moment.
With the innings limit on Hughes and possible health risks, Chamberlain should then start the season in the rotation with Hughes in the bullpen while they build him up to possibly start from mid-season on, leading to both youngsters in the rotation in 2011.
As Brian Cashman and Mark Newman have repeatedly said, the Yankees are in the business to develop starting pitchers.
David Robertson, Alfredo Aceves and rookie Mark Melancon will hold down the bullpen in front of Rivera in 2010 and beyond. If, however, the Yankees decide that Hughes is full time in the bullpen, then the most promising of Zach McAllister or Ivan Nova could get the call up to the Bronx if an injury (or continued ineffectiveness) occurs.
3. How do you feel about New York trading away three of its best prospects this off-season in Austin Jackson, Mike Dunn, and Arodys Vizcaino?
While I am a big fan of using young players, guys like Austin Jackson, Michael Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino were expendable players. With the money available to spend in the Yankee system, the young players they promote need to be impact players, and those three were not impact guys.
With Jackson, who is a really good kid, the lack of power scared the Yankees, and without the power, the high strikeout rate was a huge problem. Plus his ceiling was that of Granderson’s game right now, so why not trade potential for absolute and get a lefty power guy?
Dunn’s ability to throw strikes was a big question mark, and while his fastball and slider combo can be good at times, his lack of command didn’t bode well for his Yankee future. The removal of Dunn from the Granderson trade was only for using him to obtain another piece they needed.
The Yankees are now light in available lefties with Damaso Marte and Boone Logan (obtained in the Vazquez trade) the only proven lefties on the roster. There is still a chance Rule 5 loss Zach Kroenke gets offered back tothe Yankees, but if he does, as a two-time Rule 5 draftee, he has the opportunity to decline and become a free agent.
I always find it amazing how guys like Vizcaino, who has limited professional experience can be ranked as one of the top prospects within a system. A big arm? Sure, but many guys have a big arm.
Unless a kid is a can’t miss like a David Price-, Alex Rodriguez- or Chipper Jones-type candidate, I can never rank a low A ball guy No. 3 (or higher) in any organization. Not enough time to see if he can play the game and make the necessary adjustments as the game gets faster and tougher at the higher levels.
With so much discourse about the Yankees getting rid of such a top guy, I looked into Vizcaino a little more.
Ever hear the term "Million dollar arm, but a ten cent head?" That term applies perfectly to Vizcaino. Too much attitude, not enough attention to working hard at his craft and he did not listen to authority; ie: his coaches.
In fact, I found out that many of the young Latin guys who are highly rated allow that prestige to get in their heads too much and develop a “I am too good” type of attitude. Vizcaino is following in the footsteps of Jose Tabata, a talented kid who wore out his Yankee welcome, but has since turned the corner with the Pittsburgh organization.
The Yankees did give up some talented players, but as I said earlier, they were expendable, and the Yankee did get major talent back. As with each season, the Yankees are looking to win the World Series and the players traded away were not going to help them in 2010. And there is too much other talent in the organization to worry about guys who are now gone.
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?
The losses of Melky Cabrera, Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon are all huge offensive losses. Each had their share of big hit moments in 2009 and while all will be missed on the field, only Cabrera will be missed in the locker room.
I wrote on Bleacher Report about the close relationship between Cabrera and Robinson Cano and how it might affect Cano’s 2010 season. It all depends on Cano’s professionalism and maturity level. Even though they have been with the Yankees for at least four seasons each, both Damon and Matsui were hired bats.
Damon chanced the market and it backfired while Matsui jumped too soon at the first offer which came his way.
While both were well liked and good clubhouse guys, the biggest clubhouse presences of Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett (surprisingly) and Alex Rodriguez still remain. A-Rod has to pick up the slack and become a bigger mentor to Cano, who could sulk after his best friend Cabrera was traded.
5. The Red Sox have been very busy this off-season, acquiring John Lackey, Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron, and Marco Scutaro. Are the Yankees still the favorites to win the AL East?
The Boston Red Sox did improve their team with the additions of John Lackey, Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron and Marco Scutaro. Also, Victor Martinez, acquired from the Cleveland Indians at the 2009 trading deadline, will have a full season with the Beantowners.
The biggest improvement will be with the improved pitching and defense. While all are north of 30 years of age, Beltre, Cameron and Scutaro are all plus defenders, with Beltre considered by a few people as one of the best defensive third baseman of all time. (Lets hope he begins to use an athletic cup).
Lackey joins an already potent staff including Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Dice-K and Clay Buchholz and if they stay healthy all season (a big if) they go into every series this season with at least one ace pitcher starting a game.
But with Martinez in the fold for an entire season, the offense is still shaky and not on par with the Yankees lineup. David Ortiz and JD Drew had down seasons in 2009 and both are well into their 30’s. Will Jason Bay’s presence as a run producer be missed? Will Martinez hold up for an entire season of catching, and will it affect his late season hitting? His defense behind the plate might also make a few Red Sox fans scream for Jason Varitek to start.
The only position players under 30 years of age next season will be Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia. Every one else will be over 30. Theo Epstein built this team to win in 2010, but they have question marks with age all over the field.
The Yankee will be the team to beat, with the Red Sox right there again, but do not discount the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010. Although winning 13 games fewer in 2009 than in their 2008 World Series season (84 vs. 97), the Rays still won the second most games in a season in franchise history.
And unlike the Red Sox, the Rays key players are all in their 24-29 year old primes. Their young starters (James Shields, Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann, David Price and Wade Davis) all now have good Major League experience and should be even better in 2010.
I predict the Yankees will win the AL East, but the Rays will compete with the Red Sox for the AL Wild Card playoff spot.
Those are my suggestions for Brian Cashman for 2010. It appears he is still lurking for another veteran OF, but I would stay away early on from injury prone guys like Rocco Baldelli, Xavier Nady and other retreads. If there is some concern in the outfield mid-season, a trade can always be had.
The real reason not to after a big time OF is that Carl Crawford's first foray into free agency begins in the 2011 season. While I believe the Rays will still re-sign the speedy OF, other big pocketed teams are clearing space for him.
What Cashman has done for the foreseeable future is put the Yankees into the World Series mix every year with his combination of great veterans and solid farm system, which keeps producing young players every year. In getting Vazquez and C-Grand, the Yankees gave up some talented kids, but still kept the key studs like Jesus Montero, Joba, Hughes, Austin Romine, Zach McAllister and Mark Melancon.
Because of the limited rosters of 25 men, a team can only keep so many palyers on their roster and young "prospects" in their system. An old trading axiom in baseball stated that you trade your "prospects," but you keep your studs.
While it is tough to win every year and repeat as World Series Champions, the current Yankees regime is poised to compete every season.
The credit goes to GM Brian Cashman.