The heralded off season acquisitions of Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett have answered most of the Yankees’ questions surrounding first base and starting pitching, but at least one rotation place remains available for the taking. The identity of the No. 5 starter is still unknown, pending the re-signing of Andy Pettitte or the importing of one of Milwaukee’s Best (Ben Sheets) or a Fallen Angel (Jon Garland). So what should the Yankees’ best course of action be, a proven free agent commodity, or a four-way battle of young arms Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Alfredo Aceves, and lefty Phil Coke?
When it comes to pitching, I tend to believe in the theory of excess, especially in light of the twin avalanches of injuries that have assaulted the Bronx the past two summers. I’d like to see Sheets signed to a two-year deal, or Pettitte to a one-year deal, with Garland a less expensive backup plan should those offers fall short. Signing one of those three would allow the Yankees to use Aceves as a long man in the bullpen while having Hughes and Kennedy in reserve at Scranton-Wilkes Barre. The days of getting through a season with five starters are long gone; you’d better have at least seven to eight pitchers capable of giving you a substantial number of starts and innings from April to October…
The YES Network’s Steven Goldman, often an astute observer of Yankeeland, was a thousand per cent correct this week in offering his assessment of the tenuous state of the Yankees’ catching situation. If the Yanks are not careful, they may end up with Jose Molina again doing the majority of the catching, an untenable prospect given Molina’s overall futility at the plate. (With Brett Gardner or Melky Cabrera set to play center field, the Yankees cannot afford to give away two lineup slots to defense-first players.) In the event that Jorge Posada’s surgically repaired shoulder allows him to catch no more than 80-90 games this summer, the Yankees need another catcher to share the burden. They won’t necessarily require a No. 1 catcher to fill the void, but they would need someone who is capable of splitting the load with Molina in some kind of a platoon arrangement.
Let me advocate two possibilities, one a free agent and the other on the trade market. The free agent is switch-hitting ex-Red Javier Valentin, who is decent enough with the bat to serve as a platoon partner and “designated” pinch-hitter for Molina. It isn’t that Valentin is a great offensive player, but he happens to be a much better hitter than Molina, with a career on-base percentage that’s 35 points higher. At 33 years of age, he’d be happy with a one-year deal, making him a far cheaper alternative to Jason Varitek. (That would also spare us the inevitable Varitek-Alex Rodriguez soap opera.) The other possibility is Chris Coste, now relegated to third-string catching status with the world champion Phillies, behind Carlos Ruiz and the newly acquired Ronny Paulino. Even at the age of 35, Coste has acceptable on-base skills and enough versatility to play the infield corners in the pinch. He shouldn’t cost too much in a trade either, maybe something at the level of a Chase Wright or an Alan Horne…
Last week’s election of ex-Yankee Rickey Henderson and Boston’s Big Jim Rice to the Hall of Fame figures to give the village of Cooperstown a much-needed boost in tourism this summer, especially when compared with the meager turnout for the 2008 induction. Fewer than 10,000 fans visited Cooperstown for the induction of Goose Gossage and Dick Williams, despite Gossage’s obvious connection to the Yankees from 1978 to 1983. (Perhaps Goose didn’t pitch long enough for the Yankees, or maybe he simply played too long ago, but his induction brought surprisingly few fans north from the Bronx.) This year’s induction attendance could double last year’s total of about 8,000 visitors—but not because of Henderson’s superstar presence. Henderson played only four and a half seasons with the Yankees, preventing him from developing the cult following of someone like Don Mattingly or Paul O’Neill or Bernie Williams. Given the distance between Cooperstown and Oakland, the team with which Rickey is most associated, it’s likely that few A’s fans will make the cross-country trek to Cooperstown.
So where will the attendance boost come from? There will be a large contingent of Red Sox faithful in town for the long-awaited induction of Rice, who played his entire career in Beantown. Boston is a mere four hours away from Cooperstown; the Hall of Fame is already a convenient destination for members of the dreaded Red Sox Nation, and that will only intensify during what figures to be the Summer of Rice…
Speaking of Henderson, I’d love to see the “Man of Steal” carry through with his wish of playing one final season in the major leagues. Even at 50, he’s still in prime physical condition and probably capable of filling a role as a pinch-runner and fifth outfielder. He’s also a far smarter player than most give him credit for, a student of both pitchers’ repertoires and their moves to first base. If the Yankees find themselves in a pennant race come September, why not sign Henderson as an extra body for the 40-man roster? I’d enjoy the theater of watching him enter a tie game as a pinch-runner, pawing his way off first base against a pitcher 20 years his junior. If nothing else, it would beat watching Angel Berroa under similar circumstances.
Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for MLBlogs at MLB.com.