First, let's get it clear that the Yanks have a lot of payroll being freed with the assumed departures of Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, and Carl Pavano (not to mention minor contracts of Morgan Ensberg, Kyle Farnsworth/Pudge Rodriguez, LaTroy Hawkins, Chad Moeller, Chris Woodward, etc). All together, we're looking at a freed-up 75 million (according to Peter Abraham) for this off-season.
Now... going into the off-season here's what the Yankees are rolling with offensively:
Catcher - J. Molina / J. Posada*
Secondbase - R. Cano
Thirdbase - A. Rodriguez
Shortstop - D. Jeter
Left Field - J. Damon
Center Field -
Right Field - X. Nady
Designated Hitter - H. Matsui
* - Posada plans on catching about 120 -130 games in 2009. I don't really see this as a realistic expectation. He had surgery just past the All-Star Break; so I can only see him realistically playing a little more than half the season at most. Also... wouldn't it be a little bit risky/irresponsible of Joe Girardi to play a 38 year-old catcher coming off shoulder surgery 120 games?
The starting rotation, on the other hand, is much more worse off:
1 - Chien-Ming Wang
2 - Phil Hughes
3 - Alfredo Aceves
4 - Ian Kennedy
5a - Kei Igawa
5b - Darrell Rasner
Essentially, the Yankees would be surrendering before the season even started if they neglected to improve that God-awful pitching staff. No joke: I'd make a case that the rotation listed above would be among the worst in baseball.
Because Brian Cashman and the Yankees recognize this, C.C. Sabathia is the Bronx Bombers' number one target entering the 2008-09 off-season. However, Sabathia is not (repeat NOT) coming to New York. As SI's Jon Heyman notes, Sabathia "loves" the National League and is currently building a home in Orange County, near his family. While the Yankees will, inevitably, bring a huge offer to the table for Sabathia, I can't help but think that the Dodgers and the Giants are going to be the top-two destinations where Sabathia will end up.
This brings us to a flurry of second tier options for the Yankees to consider. It's been made absolutely clear that Yankees' co-chair, Hank Steinbrenner, loves A.J. Burnett. I think this deal gets done as soon as Brian Cashman and the Yankees' brass realize that C.C. to N.Y. is not happening.
Today, Buster Olney, acknowledged something that I've been pushing to Yankee fans for a while now: Derek Lowe in Pinstripes. Think about it: Two of the best sinker ballers in the league (Wang and Lowe) on one team with a decent-enough infield to make it work. I would love this move for the Yanks, and think Lowe would love to come back to the AL East and take on his former team, the Red Sox (afterall... if you can't be in L.A., why not N.Y.C.?).
The Yankees' fantasy rotation should be completed by bringing Andy Pettitte back with a one year contract. If Pettitte decides against playing baseball in 2009, the Yanks have Phil Hughes to fall back on as their 4th or 5th starter.
These signings give the Yankees a rotations looking something like this in 2009:
1 - C. Wang
2 - A. Burnett
3 - A. Pettitte
4 - D. Lowe
5 - P. Hughes
This looks MUCH better than the monstrosity listed above. I know a lot of people are probably reading this and wondering: "Where's Joba?"
The Joba situation is a tough one. Jorge Posada, as a guest on YES' CenterStage a few weeks ago, comment that Joba's shoulder should not be overlooked. Like a young Mariano Rivera, and Kerry Wood after him, Joba may be destined for a role in the bullpen as Mariano's heir apparent.
Think of it this way; in 2009 Mariano Rivera will have a platoon of Phil Coke, Jose Veras, and Edwar Ramirez in the middle innings with Damaso Marte (lhp) and Joba Chamberlain (rhp) doing their best Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson (circa 1996-1999) impersonations.
I don't know about you... but I think that group has the propensity to be one of the best and most talented bullpens in baseball entering 2009. Combine that with a healthy season from Phil Hughes in the starting rotation and the Yankees are sitting pretty as a play-off contender once again.
Turning back to the offense for a moment; there's obviously some holes that need filling:
Catcher: Obviously, this is going to be a weird set-up for 2009. Jose Molina will be back in the Bronx as will a recuperated Jorge Posada. However, the Yankees are going to need a serviceable platoon partner for the first part of the baseball season. The free agent crop of catchers is extremely thin... maybe bringing in a guy like Greg Zaun or Paul Lo Duca would be the best idea. This way, you can just drop them onto waivers and let them spend the remainder of their one-year deals in Triple-A once Posada comes back to the bigs.
First Base: Big Tex (Mark Teixeira). It seems obvious right? The thing is... do the Yankees want to financially handicap themselves with another outrageously expensive contract? I really don't think that's what Brian Cashman's looking to do this off-season. In fact... I believe that Cashman acquired Xavier Nady this past year for two reasons. First, to fill in for an injured Hideki Matsui (and platoon with a defensive liability in Johnny Damon) and, second, to take over at first base when Jason Giambi's team option is declined during the off-season.
Also, Johnny Damon wants to be thrown into the first base mix next season, according to NY Daily New writer Mark Feinsand. To me, this move makes the most sense. To his credit, Damon goes all-out in the outfield, but a lot of times... this leads to injury. I think moving Damon to first keeps his bat in the line-up, which is what the Yankees really need to keep their offense functioning (despite what my friend, and fellow blogger, Mike Plugh has to say about Damon's offensive inabilities). This move also keeps Nady and, possibly, Matsui in the two corner outfield positions; drastically improving the Yanks' outfield defense.
Second Base: I think Robbie Cano will be back in 2009. The only thing I attempt to trade him for is a young Center Fielder... because the CF market is extremely dry this offseason. A few examples of CF that would fit the bill for possible trading would be the Brewers' Corey Hart, the White Sox Nick Swisher, or maybe the Marlins' Cameron Maybin (with a package of players, of course). The only other chance the Yankees have is to cross-their-fingers and hope the Brewers buy-out Mike Cameron's team option for 2009... thereby making him a free agent this off-season.
If any of these moves are made... look for the Yankees to lock up formet AL East Second Baseman, Orlando Hudson or a serviceable stop-gap like Mark Ellis. Though they could just slide Wilson Betemit in a 2B, I don't trust his durability in the long run.
Third Base and Shortstop: A. Rod, Jeter. Case Closed.
Left Field: I think Hideki Matsui will be back in the LF fold next spring, with Nady moving to RF and Damon getting most of his playing time at 1B. However, I think that the Yankees' big splash this off-season will come with a guy who can play a little LF and a little DH, splitting time with Matsui and Damon in the OF. For now, though, we'll stick with Godzilla in left because his contract and increased batting average last season make this look like a smart idea.
Right Field: The Yanks aren't going to pick up Bobby Abreu's team option; instead shifting Xavier Nady from LF to RF (because it's more cost-effective). Pretty clean-cut here.
Center Field: The Yankees, historically, have always had very good Center Fielders... but this season they have nothing. For this reason I would really like to see them trade Robbie Cano for one of the names listed about (especially if they can't sign Mike Cameron for a few years while Austin Jackson figures things out down on the farm).
Designated Hitter: Manny Ramirez. The Yanks are going to save a lot of money when they don't get Sabathia, and they realize all the talent they can rope with their new freed-up cash (rather than spend it all on one Teixeira). Combine all this with the fact that Hankenstein wants an offensive spark in the worst way... and you're got Manny Being Manny in the new ballpark in the Bronx.
I think signing Ramirez to a 3 year deal would be well-worth the offensive presence he brings to the Yankees' line-up. If the team does this... look for a murderer's row that looks something like this:
1. Johnny Damon, 1B (lefty)
2. Derek Jeter, SS (righty)
3. Manny Ramirez, DH (righty)
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B (righty)
5. Xavier Nady, RF (righty)
6. Jorge Posada, C (switch)
7. Hideki Matsui, LF (lefty)
8. Nick Swisher, CF (switch)
9. Orlando Hudson, 2B (switch)
Combine that monstocity of a line-up with the improved pitching staff and bullpen in 2009, and I can definitely see the Yankees getting back into the play-offs in 2009.