With Brian Cashman now signed on to run baseball operations for the ailing New York Yankees through the 2011 season, the team will now turn its attention to starting another postseason streak. Fortunately for the Yankees, they have lots of money, and the holes they most need to address can be plugged with the free-agent market.
And if they do it right, those free agents best-suited for the Yankees will make the team younger in the process.
The Yankees need to start with targeting C.C. Sabathia. New York lacks a true number-one starter, though Joba Chamberlain, who appears ticketed for the rotation, should be close if he can provide New York with 200+ innings. But Sabathia, who has topped 240 innings each of the past two years, certainly has that capacity. The Yankees have badly needed a Game 1 starter—they can get one in Sabathia without giving up any minor league talent, just a pair of draft picks. He is a must-get.
While revamping the starting rotation, the Yankees should also make a strong play for Oliver Perez. Getting the lefty with upside gives New York a starting staff of Sabathia, Chamberlain, Chien-Ming Wang and Perez, with Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy battling for the fifth spot. Not only would the group be one of the finest in the American League, check out the 2009 Opening Day ages: Sabathia 28, Chamberlain 23, Wang 29, Perez 27. That’s a foursome that could power Yankee playoff runs for years.
Another area in which the Yankees can get younger and stronger is at first base, by signing Mark Teixeira. The slugging first baseman just posted his second straight season with an OPS 50 percent better than league average, along with terrific defense at first base. He’d also be just 29 in 2009 (his birthday is in April), and provides the Yankees with an in-his-prime hitter to combine with Robinson Cano.
While these two players won’t come cheap—expect each to cost more than $20 million annually—they answer a pair of needs for the Yankees, and don’t even mean a net increase in payroll. After all, coming off the books would be Jason Giambi ($23.4 million), Andy Pettitte ($16 million), Bobby Abreu ($16 million), Mike Mussina ($11 million) and Carl Pavano ($11 million!!!). That’s $77 million right there—and even if New York brings back Abreu, which they should, that leaves $60-65 million to spend.
The rest of the team doesn’t provide much room for change. It would be foolish to trade Robinson Cano coming off of his worst year as a professional—betting on a player with his natural talent as he enters his age-26 season would be wiser. With his defense, Cano is a net plus for the Yankees even when he struggles at the plate.
Obviously, A-Rod stays at third, and though he is quickly entering Cal Ripken Icon/Albatross status, Derek Jeter is your shortstop in 2009. With no young players at the position to push him, nor any obvious free-agent alternatives, this is an obvious choice.
In the outfield, the aforementioned Abreu is still plenty productive in right field. Signing a stopgap center fielder is possible, though it makes more sense to send Melky Cabrera back out there and see if he can grow into a productive hitter—he is still just 24 years old. Either way, that player is holding the fort for the talented Austin Jackson, who should be ready in 2010. Left field should be turned over to Xavier Nady, whose offensive production and passable defense provides a good placeholder. Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon can spell Nady occasionally while providing a good bit of offense splitting time at designated hitter.
At catcher, the options are bleak. The hope has to be that Jorge Posada returns to form. A backup better than Jose Molina is a must. First choice? Javier Valentin.
As far as the bullpen goes, few changes are needed. The bullpen posted a 3.79 ERA, and much of the damage was done in the second half, when an overworked relief corps began to wear down. Should the rotation be upgraded as planned above, that fatigue should dissipate greatly. A combination of Mariano Rivera, Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, David Robertson, Phil Coke, and numerous other high-minors arms (such as Marc Melancon, who could be the eighth-inning pitcher) should be more than sufficient.
But it all depends on bringing in the three high-priced twenty-somethings: Sabathia, Perez and Teixeira. They are the infusion of youth and talent New York needs to get back on top.