AL East Hot Stove Preview (cont.)
Posted: Wednesday October 31, 2007 10:58AM; Updated: Wednesday October 31, 2007 11:00AM
New York Yankees
2007 Record: 94-68, 2nd in AL East
What They Should Do: Weak Sell. It's safe to assume that no team has ever had this much talent coming off the books at any one time. So let's start by considering what assets the Yankees still have locked into place. The starting rotation should not need Andy Pettitte to return, nor really any help at all. A staff consisting of Chamberlain, Kennedy, Hughes, plus veterans Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina, could be one of the better groups in the American League, and has ample backups in the form of Clippard, Igawa, Horne, and possibly Carl Pavano. Yes, there are contingencies where several things could go wrong, but that's just as true for the other 29 MLB clubs. The middle infield, with Derek Jeter and the strangely underrated Robinson Cano, is rock-solid. Jason Giambi is back in the DH slot, if he can stay healthy. An outfield of Damon, Cabrera and Matsui, with Shelley Duncan a candidate for work against left-handed pitching, is probably about league average.
Let's say that the Yankees part ways with all their free agents. That would imply going with Wilson Betemit at 3B, and probably Duncan at 1B. It would mean being willing to tolerate a year of Kyle Farnsworth as your closer, or perhaps hoping to get big things out of Edwar Ramirez, who struck out 15.4 batters per nine innings (!) between three professional levels this year. There's nothing at all at catcher, so we would allow the Yankees to sign a middling free agent along the lines of Michael Barrett at that position.
How bad would that team be? Not as bad as you might think. It looks like about an 86-88 win team from here, although with a high degree of variance on either side of that estimate because so much of the talent is either very young or very old. I should pause here to note that I'm a fairly big fan of all three of Chamberlain, Kennedy and Hughes -- not just in the long-term but also in the near-term -- and a believer that players like Betemit, Cabrera, Duncan and Ramirez are better than they're given credit for, albeit probably below league average relative to their positions. It's a group that would reach the playoffs -- I don't know -- 30 percent of the time, and occasionally back into 98 wins, making Joe Girardi the biggest hero in New York since Fiorello LaGuardia.
But, it wouldn't be the juggernaut that Yankees fans are used to, and so what the club needs to ask itself is whether it's willing to tolerate being merely decent for a year instead of being dominant. Of course, there is a lot of middle ground between this "worst case" scenario and the Yankees throwing money at any player who will take it. In evaluating these alternatives, the Yankees ought to abide by two guiding principles:
This would rule out going after a player like Torii Hunter, who is likely to be overpaid, and for that matter Mariano Rivera, who isn't going to cut the Yankees any bargain. It would imply providing players like Cabrera, the three young starters, and perhaps Betemit with the benefit of the doubt as they try and entrench themselves in the lineup. Here is one riff on that strategy: