Yankees Hot Stove Something: Mark Teixeira, Pitching Are Top Priorities

JerseySenior Analyst IDecember 8, 2008

I don't want to call this a "report." It's a list of my opinions, not a reporting of incidents. So it's a hot stove something.

Before I begin, I'd like to point out a nicely-done piece on the same topic, by Baseball Prospectus' Jay Jaffe. While I don't agree with everything he says, it is a very solid overall plan, and he probably put in a lot more effort than I did with mine.

I do believe the Yankees must sign Mark Teixeira. When the Yankees traded for Nick Swisher, many felt this put them out of the bidding for Tex, yet their name continues to surface in discussions of the star onebie. I, for one, advocated the Swisher deal, and did not feel that it meant the end of Tex-in-Pinstripes speculation.

Swisher is a very good fallback option, and with his ability to play the outfield, he is a viable starter even if the Yankees do sign Teixeira. But considering that there is no other big-name first baseman available, the Yankees HAD to make a move in case they didn't sign Tex.

It's not like they're the only team that wants him: At least four other teams have expressed interest, including (for some reason) the Red Sox. It's not that the Yanks are suddenly committing to Swisher, but they can if they have to. What better option is there, really?

Of course, then came Brian Cashman's quote of commitment that Swisher is the Yankees' opening day onebie. He gave the same line about Bubba Crosby a few years ago, only to then sign Johnny Damon. Of course Swisher is our opening day first baseman: He's the best we've got on the roster. But if we sign Tex, suddenly that plan changes.

This brings me to the first issue of this discussion, the top priority, I believe, of the current winter meetings: The Yankees must sign Mark Teixeira.

I know there's been a lot of talk about CC Sabathia, and I'd love to have the guy, but Tex is the most important piece of the puzzle right now. There are many available starting pitchers, and while none are quite as good as Sabathia, it's not like the market is bankrupt.

Fact is, there is no one out there even close to Teixeira in terms of all-around production (not even Manny Ramirez), let alone at the first base position. He's still under 30 and will be worth every penny we send his way. He's a switch-hitter, a great defender, and an extremely good hitter, accruing great stats both in the power and on-base departments.

So that's priority number one. Priority two has to be the rotation. Someone must be signed. The Yanks have expressed interest in Sabathia, Derek Lowe, and A.J. Burnett, but all three have some glaring issues.

Sabathia is the safest of the three, a young ace with all kinds of talent. But he will also demand the most money by a long shot, and he's still no guarantee. After throwing precisely seven billion pitches last year and the year before, he's an injury waiting to happen.

Plus, his American League numbers are inflated by his win total. His ERA and WHIP are very good, but not quite elite. In the NL, he was supernatural, but he has he pleasure of facing an eight-man lineup there.

I'm not saying the Yankees shouldn't go after him, but with the amount of money he'd be getting, the Yanks may want to look for a cheaper alternative.
Then there's Burnett, but I really don't want him. His stats aren't so sparkling by any means, and he's prone to injury. Last year, his most noticeable statistic was his career high in starts. The guy never gets through an entire year healthy, and I'm certain history will repeat itself in 2009: The man led the majors in pitches thrown last year.

The only thing is that he's been excellent against both the Yankees and Red Sox in his career. Signing him would mean the Yanks don't have to face him anymore, plus they'd probably cut into the Red Sox a little bit more. But for those few games, I don't think he's worth it, not one bit.

Finally, there's Lowe. He's a good pitcher, and he'd be nice to add to the rotation. He won't command a crazy amount of money, but probably more than your average 35-year-old.

And that's just it: He's 35. He'll want four years, and who knows if he can keep it up. He wasn't any good the last time he was in the AL (with Boston), and while his years in LA have been lovely, they've been in the NL.

I don't know for certain that he can keep it up in New York. He does, however, have excellent durability and is a superb ground-ball pitcher, which works heavily in his favor.

Out of the big three names, I'd take Sabathia and Lowe, but I won't go near Burnett. Sabathia may want tons of dough, but hey, we're the Yankees. We can afford it. He's definitely the best available starter, and is instantly an ace for this team. Lowe is cheaper, but also older, and is not exactly ace material. I'd still sign him, because I think he can continue his LA success.

There's also Ben Sheets, and I'd love for the Yankees to sign him. Their names have been mentioned together in passing, but there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of discussion with them. Sheets has a similar injury bug to Burnett's, but has put up much better numbers when healthy, albeit in the National League.

He pitched nearly 200 innings last year, which is a great sign, although he did end the year on the DL. That will probably decrease the amount of money he'll get, and I think he'll come back just fine. I like Jaffe's idea of including a vested option, in which he'd get to return provided he pitches a certain amount of innings over the duration of his contract.

Oliver Perez is also a free agent, but I shudder at the thought of signing him. He's awesome when he's on, but he's also prone to the meltdown. His inconsistency translates into a better-than-average season, but never quite up to the potential he shows when he does pitch well.

I fear the all-too-likely stinkbomb in a critical September start, and with the wealth of other starters available, I don't want this guy on the Yankees next season.

Finally, there's Jake Peavy, who isn't a free agent, but has been talked about in trade rumors. He's the Johan Santana/Erik Bedard/Dan Haren of this season, and this time, the Yankees should heavily consider chasing him. They shouldn't jeopardize their farm system, though.

Believe it or not, I still believe Cashman made the right decision by not trading for Santana last year. Sure, Melky is essentially worthless, but I don't think he was the sticking point in the non-trade. Phil Hughes is a future ace, and Ian Kennedy will be a solid mid-rotation starter.

Before you point to last year, keep in mind the beginnings of one Mike Pelfrey. He was awful his first few times in the majors, but soon settled down and was excellent last season.

Both pitchers are young and still have time to prove themselves. Hughes was great after getting himself some eyewear, and I'm positive he'll anchor this staff for many years. Kennedy is a former first-round pick, and while last year was awful, his minor league stats are great, and his first stint in 2006 was very impressive.

That said, I'd be quite willing to part with Kennedy to acquire Peavy. One thing the Yankees should do is look at what the Mets gave up for Santana and use it as a starting point. The Mets gave up peanuts to acquire the guy. Carlos Gomez can run very fast, but he can't get on base enough to utilize his speed. I'd take Brett Gardner over him any day. And what has Phil Humber done, exactly?

The Yankees need to point to that trade when talking with the Padres and present a better package. Gardner, Ian Kennedy, and another prospect not named Hughes should ideally get the job done. I don't think the Padres will give up Peavy for those three players, but based on the Santana package, I think that's a great place to start.
After Tex and the pitchers, the Yankees need to trim the fat a little and trade Hideki Matsui to anyone for anything. He's an absolute waste of space, and if someone like the Giants are willing to pick him up, I'd do it for whatever they offer. I'd trade Hideki Matsui for a jelly donut (Chanuka reference!).

Jaffe feels the Yanks can get Randy Winn for him. I don't know if that's based on anything or just speculation, but if we could get Winn in return, I'd take it. Know why? Because he's not Hideki Matsui!

I know Matsui put up decent numbers last year, but he's been reduced to a DH (who can play the field if you're desperate) and is rapidly declining. The Giants may be willing to take him on based on his numbers from last year, so the Yankees must use these numbers as a selling point, even if they are truly a mirage.

(I keep mentioning the Giants, by the way, because Matsui has a full no-trade clause, but has indicated that he may waive it to go to San Francisco.)

Fourth, there's the O-Dawg. Orlando Hudson is an interesting free agent, as the Yankees have been rumored to be shopping Robbie Cano. Hudson is a defensive upgrade, but I do believe Cano has a lot more upside in his bat. Last year was lousy, but he'd been great for two years prior and has been considered a top prospect for this team.

Hudson is a nice replacement if Cano moves to the outfield or is traded, but otherwise, all reservations must be put on hold. Unless Cano is moved, Hudson isn't coming here so quickly.

Finally, we need a little bench depth. After trading Wilson Betemit for Swisher, there really is no middle infielder on the bench, so the Yanks should consider signing Nomar Garciaparra. There is the intrigue of signing the third member of the onetime "big three" shortstop club, but more important, he could be a valuable asset to this team.

Their outfield depth could use a little help, too. Swisher can play there if needed, and there's Xavier Nady and Johnny Damon in the corners. Gardner and Cabrera will probably platoon in center, and Matsui is there if we're desperate, provided he isn't traded. There are certainly enough outfielders on the team—there just aren't enough GOOD ones.

If we do somehow land Winn, that would help, but I don't know what the likelihood is of that. The Mariners are rumored to be shopping Ichiro, so perhaps he could come to New York and play center, but again, I don't know if the Yankees are even talking with Seattle. And there's been some rumbling that Cano is headed to the outfield (paving the way for O-Dawg), but who knows if he's any good out there.

The outfield is a big mess of maybes and plug-ins, without three solid everyday players—especially when you consider that Damon will probably need a few days off to play DH every now and again.

To recap, the Yankees have five priorities heading into the winter meetings, in the following order:

1. Sign Mark Teixeira at all costs.
2. Sign at least one starting pitcher.
3. Trade Hideki Matsui for anything.
4. Consider Orlando Hudson.
5. Add some bench depth.

Note: I'd put the bench depth as a higher priority than Hudson, except that the Hudson signing would have a bigger impact. It would indicate something with Cano (whether that something is a trade or a position change), and it would affect the everyday starting lineup. Plus, bench depth is easily acquired after the meetings, while a starting twobie may not be.


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