For the first time in decades, financial constraints may have hampered the Yankees.
Whatever the cause, the Yankees enter 2010 as an inferior team compared to the unit that won the 2009 World Series.
The everyday lineup suffered the most damage. Allowing both Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon to leave the Bronx created a void that GM Brian Cashman didn’t adequately fill.
Curtis Granderson, the most notable offseason addition, comes packaged with an epic flaw. His well documented inability to hit left-handed pitching is an issue that did not plague the departed duo of Matsui and Damon. In fact, Matsui excelled in that department, batting .282 versus lefties—eleven points higher than he did against righties—with 13 homers, 46 RBI and an astounding .976 OPS in 2009.
Damon, meanwhile, hit a respectable .269 against southpaws which is markedly better than his replacements, Granderson and Randy Winn.
The switch hitting Winn, who will be 36 in June, hit a pitiful .158 from the right side last season. Although his career numbers are much better than that, it’s easier to expect deteriorating numbers as he reaches the twilight of his career.
More perplexing is the acquisition of former Yankee and new DH Nick Johnson.
While evaluating Johnson, it’s a question of when—not if—he’ll spend an extended stint on the DL. Johnson has only played 100 games or more in three major league seasons and has failed to do so every year since 2006.
Anyone anticipating a power surge from him due to the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium could be headed for disappointment. Johnson has only hit 20 homers or more once in his career. Further, he’s always spread the ball to all fields and isn’t known as a pull hitter.
Since Johnson signed for $5.5 million, just one million less than Matsui’s $6.5 million deal with the Angels, the decision to let Matsui walk for a one million dollar discount on Johnson is far from a sound baseball move. More preposterous is the notion that Johnson will be invaluable as a first baseman to spell Mark Teixeira.
Scouts have observed Johnson’s once above average defense taper off in recent years. More significantly, Teixeira is in the prime of his career at age 30 and rarely needs a day off. In the unusual circumstance that Teixeira would be on the bench, Nick Swisher has proven to be a decent option at first base anyway.
The brittle Johnson will have the opportunity to play with the pitcher he was traded for in 2004, Javier Vazquez. Yet another spotty addition by Cashman, Vazquez finds himself returning to a league where he’s been little more than an average starter.
Vazquez’s track record aptly demonstrates that he’s strictly a NL pitcher. Three of the four years Vazquez has spent in the AL, he’s amassed an ERA of 4.67 or higher and surrendered at least 25 homers. That includes his one unforgettable year with the Yankees when he went 14-10 with a 4.91 ERA and capped it by yielding Damon’s earth shattering grand slam in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS against Boston.
Although his numbers in Atlanta last year represented an ace-like performance, Vazquez is a misfit in Yankee Stadium. Left-handed power hitters will have field days off of him at home and he’ll be nothing more than an exorbitantly priced, backend starter.
Granted, on the surface, the Yankees didn’t give up much to acquire him. Melky Cabrera is a useful fourth outfielder whose production can be replicated by Brett Gardner and Winn. The wildcards in the deal, however, are pitchers Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino.
Vizcaino was ranked as the third best prospect in the Yankees’ system prior to the trade and impressed in Staten Island in 2009. If the 19-year-old continues to develop in the next few years, this is a trade that could really burn the Yankees down the road.
The more attractive alternative to Vazquez was to roll the dice on one of the several low-risk, high-reward starters that were on the market. Despite Ben Sheets startling signing for $10 million after missing the entire 2009 season, his base contract is still two million less than what the Yankees have committed for Vazquez and wouldn’t have cost them an intriguing young arm like Vizcaino.
In the end, Cashman just needed to resign either Matsui or Damon, not both. He should have been able to play one against the other in negotiations as a result, but instead let his personal vendetta with agent Scott Boras intercede.
Both Matsui and Damon have become defensive liabilities, but their bats will not be easy to replace.
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