Is it spring yet?
The Yankees need to set the wheels of change in motion, slowly, even though their fans may not want to yet.
Yankees fans can be loyal to a fault. We demand that the Yankees continue to win, and demand that they win with the players we have grown to love on the field. Those players have this terrible habit of aging, and that can have a negative effect on their on-field production.
Even when past their prime and no longer the team's best chance to win, fans want to see no one else in those pinstripes. This creates a chasm between economics and management, tradition and progress, the past and the future. We need to begin a transition into a new era that loyalist fans can accept, and it needs to start before Jeter, Mo, Posada and Pettitte are gone.
My girlfriend's mother told me that she would boo the Yankees if they did not re-sign Jeter, because he is a class act and she has always liked him. This does not have any effect from a managerial stance, since his popularity does not win them games, but means everything from an economical stance, since he and the other "dynasty" Yankees, (Posada, Rivera and Pettitte) have a decade plus of promotion and success behind them and easily hold the interest of the casual fan. They have been playing long enough together for fathers to have brought up their now-adult kids on them.
Nobody wants the group to disband or for the ride to end. That's what this season will be about. 2011. The season of denial.
The 2010 Yankees performed as well as they did in spite of the production of "dynasty" Yankees Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. (Jeter did not sniff .300 and Posada batted below .250 for the first time since 1999.) Their fielding left much to be desired as well. Jeter's Gold Glove felt like the punchline to a season-long joke and Posada threw out a Piazza-esque 15% of would-be base-stealers.
While those players own the hearts of New Yorkers, they are quickly becoming a liability on the field and at the plate. Mariano Rivera has remained productive as the closer and Andy Pettitte had another consistent season, but as evidenced by the 2-year deal that Rivera inked yesterday and Pettitte's retirement indecision, neither has many seasons left at this level. The "dynasty" Yankee window is closing, and the team has to show fans that they are prepared to move on in a way that is acceptable to those fiercely loyal fans.
Reduce the roles of Jeter and Posada
Derek Jeter is still an everyday ball player. He is still the Captain, still plays his heart out, and should be on the field as often as possible as a leader. Gold Glove award aside, he should be at a less demanding position than shortstop. Luckily, the Yankees already have an established player who has been called a better defender at the shortstop position.
He plays right next to Jeter: Alex Rodriguez.
When the Yankees acquired A-Rod, there was much debate as to who should play the 6-spot, since almost all experts agreed that Rodriguez was the better defensive fielder, but the position belonged to Jeter. The time has come for them to switch spots. Jeter does not need as much range to play third, and a less demanding position may rejuvenate him at the plate.
Worst case scenario: Jeter takes the position change personally and it affects his play, although his career of professionalism suggests that this will not happen. Jorge actually has two replacements at his spot in Francisco Cervelli and Jesus Montero.
Cervelli does not appear to have the offensive potential of Montero, while Montero definitely does not have the defensive potential of Cervelli. Combined though, they have the talent to give Posada the rest he needs to stay productive behind the plate. Posada catches, Montero DHs. Cervelli catches, Posada DHs. Find a timeshare of that that keeps Posada fresh for the postseason, and we keep Jorge involved while grooming a replacement.
Cervelli is the replacement in my book. He had a clutch year at the plate -- .316 BA with runners in scoring position -- and looked comfortable behind the plate. (Ironically he threw out a lower percentage of base stealers than did Posada -- 14% vs 15% -- and their other defensive comparisons last season are comparible, right down to their pitcher's ERA and RAvg (Posada: 4.13, 4.35 Cervelli: 4.04, 4.33). Perhaps I was too harsh on old Posada before, or too high on Cervelli.
Either way, Cervelli has my vote of confidence going forward, whatever that is worth.
Montero is a fantastic hitter, but everything I have read about him says that he will not stay at catcher. He's an older Bryce Harper-type with a slightly lower ceiling and is destined for the outfield or a DH spot in the AL. So be it.
Name a replacement for Mo
This one was easy. We did it a few years back, but it was too easy and we had too much time to think about it blew it with Joba Chamberlain. Like an easy pub trivia question.
He had all the tools to be a dominant closer, and with him in the setup spot, the Yankees were gold with a lead in the 7th."Yeah, but what if he were a starter and we got that type of performance for seven innings every fifth game?" -- Brian Cashman's evil internal Jimminy Cricket.A couple years of that not working leaves Joba with a shattered confidence and no role back in the bullpen.
We have three options: Fix him, and frankly none of us know what it will take to do that. Audition the role and hope for the best or find a free agent when Mo retires.Audtion the role?
Yankee closer, 2015
I want to give Joba another shot at the setup role this season. He has the capabilities, but needs to get his head back. He is an emotional guy, and the role calls for a collected individual who reacts to nothing. Watch Rivera close out a game. He looks like he is playing chess while listening to a Bernie Williams album. He is concentrated yet laid back. Joba looks like he just finished off an MMA fight after each inning of work. Since Kerry Wood was not resigned, (why, when he was so reliable?) we let Joba set up until the end of May and make the call then.
Pettitte is gonna do his thing
Pettitte has left for Texas before. He has said he was going to retire before. We will always take him back, but it has been made clear long ago that we need him more than he needs us.
No hard feelings. If we lose him again, it will probably hurt fans the least of the four, yet it will still hurt.
Andy Pettitte has been the rock of the Yankee pitching staff. He hasn't been a Cy Young candidate in years, but every time he steps on the mound, he gives us a chance to win.
This one is the toughest to call, since starters only pitch every five games, nobody would really be replacing him if he left. Someone else is in his spot four out of five games anyhow, unlike Jeter who is always between second and third and Rivera who is always on with the lead on the line. Pettitte's spot is in the playoffs when we need a win, and he was not started in that spot in the ALCS. Game 6 went to Hughes, who took the loss.
Since the Yankees management already took the role away from Pettitte, and he has always felt like the most likely to leave, losing Andy Pettitte doesn't seem like the deathblow that fans find the idea of losing the other three. If he stays we'll be happy. If he leaves it will not affect ticket sales.
Worst case scenario: Sergio Mitre is our fourth starter if Pettitte goes and we do not get Cliff Lee. I take it back. Losing Pettitte could be terrible.
Promote the heck out of the rest of the farm-raised team
As I said before, the Yankees did as well as they did in large part because of the up-and-comers on the team.
Yes, free agent mercinaries like Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez played a large role, but where would the Yankees have been without the production of Brett Gardner, Robinson Cano, Phil Hughes and Francisco Cervelli?
Each of them came through the Yankee farm system and shown that they can be mainstays in pinstripes for years to come. (Speaking of farm-raised stars, I cannot wait foe Ivan "Super" Nova to break out in another season and a half.) We can even include Nick Swisher in the group since he blossomed in New York after forgettable seasons in Oakland and Chicago.
With a small change in promotion tactics, the Yankees look like they are rebuilding with youth even though they are basically maintaining the status quo. These are the Yankees that will inherit the team when Jeter and company retire, even though that will not be for a few years. It will be a lengthy transition, but that is how the fans will best accept it after fifteen years of this core group.
Worst case scenario: None. The Yankees are just shifting focus. Nobody will forget about the veterans.
All this leads to Derek Jeter's contract.
Critics say he is worth no more than the average shortstop and should accept a short contract in case he breaks down. Fans will not accept an abrupt departure and will blame the Yankees if he is not retained.
Frankly, I have no problem with a contract in the 15-20 mil a year range. (I'm not paying it and he plays on my television for free.) I would simply include a team option for a position change. Nobody else will offer him that much per year to play shortstop.
That way, he gets his money, the fans keep him, and the team gets better. We all win. Especially the team. Enough to get to the World Series with the "dynasty" Yankees for one last hurrah, while preparing fans for what is to come.
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