The New York Yankees entered last year’s off-season as defending world champions. With money off the book from the expiring contracts of Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Andy Pettitte they had resources to acquire some of the offseason’s best free agents, including Jason Bay, Matt Holliday and John Lackey. However, they decided to commit to a budget and decided not to go after some of these players. Bay went to New York, the Mets, that is, and has a .749 OPS and only 6 home runs, a total drop off from 36 in 2009, along with a concussion. Holliday signed a ridiculous contract with the Cardinals, but is posting career norms (138 OPS+) protecting the best hitter in the game. Division rival Boston would take Lackey, but he is posting very poor numbers (97 ERA+). So, the Yankees did not truly miss out on the cream of the crop.
With passing on the big name free agents, the Yankees let Damon and Matsui walk. Damon is having a good season with the Tigers but is seriously lacking power, as he only has 7 homers and a .410 Slugging percentage compared to last year in which he blasted 24 homers and slugged at a .489 clip. Matsui, however, is having a poor season, posting a 106 OPS+ and a brutal .638 OPS vs left-handed pitchers compared to an outstanding .976 OPS off southpaws last year.
Meanwhile, desperate for pitching, the Yanks resigned World Series hero Andy Pettitte. They also dealt for Javier Vazquez, who is posting numbers worse than his first disastrous tour in the Bronx in 2004 (79 ERA+) and Curtis Granderson, who is posting average numbers (.766 OPS) and signed Nick Johnson, who has not played since May. Brett Gardner replaced Damon, and has been a revelation for the Yankees, posting a respectable .378 OBP and stealing 35 bases.
The question heading down the stretch is, regardless of how the Yankees fare in October, what the Yanks’ strategy will be in December to retool for next year. Three of the “Core Four”, Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter, are free agents at the end of the year. Rivera, who is posting perhaps his best year yet at the age of 40 (1.18 ERA), should be a lock to resign. Meanwhile, Pettitte was having one of the best years of his borderline hall of fame career, posting a 2.88 ERA until injuring his groin in a game against the Rays. Unfortunately for the Yankees, he has suffered some setbacks and may not return until at least September, so his future beyond 2010 is in the air.
The biggest question, out of these three, however, is Jeter. Jeter is in the last year of a 10-year deal, and with the approaching milestone of 3000 hits, which would make him the first Yankee to do so, one would think he would easily resign with the Yankees. However, he is in the middle of what’s probably the worst season of his career. His average has dipped from .334 last year to .276. Also, his defense has reverted to career norms, posting a putrid -7.3 UZR. Unless Jeter gets on a roll to end the season like he did in 2008, the negotiations for a new contract may get ugly. However do not expect Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman to let him walk. Jeter is still valuable, and there aren’t many potential replacements that can fill his shoes.
The Yankees were being aggressive in the trading market before the deadline. In early July, they attempted to pry Cliff Lee from Seattle. The deal was pretty much on paper until the Mariners balked at the injury to one of the components to the Yankees’ package and dealt him to the Rangers. They also attempted to deal for Dan Haren, but the Diamondbacks took a less quality package and sent him to the Angels. Lee has not been as dominant in Texas as he was with the Mariners, posting a 4.18 ERA. However, the Yankees will not easily be fooled by these small sample sizes, and they will be desperate for pitching, so they will attempt to blow the competition away in order to get him.
If Pettitte is effective when he returns, him pitching in 2011 is not out of the question, it's just about his health. All signs point to letting Vazquez walk, with the possibility of receiving draft picks if he is a Type A or Type B free agent. The rotation could look something like this: CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, AJ Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes. If Pettitte decides to finally hang up his cleats, then Joba Chamberlain should be given a chance to be a starter again. Very formidable options.
Another need for the Yankees in the off season is some offense. Yes, they do have the best offense in the majors (116 OPS+, 676 runs scored), but at times the lineup has been flat. Nick Johnson, was supposed to be a replacement for Matsui while batting second behind Jeter and hitting in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. However, he proved to be a bust and the DH has been a round of musical chairs with no full time DH until a platoon of Marcus Thames and Lance Berkman was created. Berkman has already stated that he wished to have his 2011 option to not be picked up. Meanwhile, Thames has done very well as a part time player, posting a .861 OPS in a limited amount of at bats. Good hitters off the bench aren’t exactly common, so he should be retained as a part time player.
The best option for the DH, however, is Adam Dunn. Dunn was rumored to be dealt to several different teams at the trading deadline, including the Yankees. Dunn is quite simply a terror at the plate. He walks a lot (career 16.3 % walk rate ) and hits a lot of home runs (347 for his career). This year, he has an isolated power average at .285. As a left-handed slugger in the Yankee lineup the short porch in right field would make him an absolute nightmare for opposing pitchers. Another good thing is that he could be cheap. When he was a free agent before the 2009 season, he didn’t sign until February with the Nationals for two years, making a sum of $20 million. Other more expensive options would be Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth, who could split time at DH with Nick Swisher. Only knock on Crawford is that he will get a long term contract into his 30's. Players that last longer are those with power and good on-base skills. Crawford's main game is speed, which usually declines after age 30. Werth, on the other hand, is pure power, and had been a staple of the Phillies lineup for the past three years. However, the amount of years and money is also a concern. If the Yankees intend to have a strict budget again, then they should go after Dunn.
Another huge question mark going into the offseason is the future of Yankee manager Joe Girardi. Girardi is also in the last year of his three year contract with the Yankees. There have been rumors of him going to his hometown team, the Chicago Cubs, who he also played for. If the Yankees repeat as World Champions this November, you can consider Girardi coming back a lock. If not, it’s a Pandora’s Box being opened.
So, in sum, expect Brian Cashman to be agressive instead unlike last year, making most of these moves: bring back the whole Core Four for at least one more year, sign a top-notch pitcher (Most likely Lee), and sign a big bat (Preferably Adam Dunn). The rest of the season is a huge factor, so keep watching.