"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Observations From Cooperstown: The End of the Season

In the end it wasn’t the pitching that did in the Yankees, it was the hitting. The Yankees could not even score three runs in the most important game of the season. They managed only two runs–on a total of ten hits. It wasn’t for a lack of effort, but there wasn’t a clutch hit to be found the entire night, with the exception of Jorge Posada’s fourth inning single that loaded the bases before Russell Martin and Brett “The Jet” Gardner ended the inning with back-to-back pop ups. By my count, the Yankees missed at least seven or eight down-the-middle fastballs, pitches that were hittable, but ended up as nothing more than foul balls or called strikes.

In the three losses the Yankees sustained, they scored three runs, four runs, and two runs. When the games were close, the Yankees could not score enough. They won the blowouts, but they could not win the one and two-run games that are so prevalent throughout the season, or in this case, a short playoff series.

In a way, I’m not surprised. I’ve heard out-of-town broadcasters refer to the Yankees’ offense as a “powerhouse” or as a “juggernaut” or as “relentless.” My reaction to that is this: these guys didn’t watch the Yankees play much this season. The Yankees’ offense was hardly relentless. They didn’t even finish first in the league in runs scored; they finished second to the Red Sox, whose season went up in flames largely because their pitching staff exploded. The Yankees ran hot and cold offensively, they were very good at times, and they hit a lot of home runs, but they were sporadic with runners in scoring position. They were not a powerhouse. This was not the “Big Red Machine” or “Murderers’ Row.” Not even close.

So what do the Yankees need to do elevate the offense, particularly in the postseason? It would be helpful to break up the futile threesome of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher, who once again failed to come up big in the playoffs. All of the blame tends to get put on A-Rod, but Tex has been as much of a black hole with his exaggerated uppercut and pull swing. (He needs to do some serious work with Kevin Long in the spring and get back to being the all-fields hitter he was in Texas and Anaheim.) A-Rod and Teixeira are not tradeable because of their long contracts, so it might be time to trade Swisher and make room for some new blood in right field. I like Swisher, and I love his enthusiasm, but his inability to hit in the postseason has become a problem.

It would also help the Yankees if they make Jesus Montero a featured part of their offense. There is no way that Jorge Posada will be coming back; even though he was one of the few hitters who showed up against the Tigers, he was unproductive for most of the summer and was inadequate as a DH. It’s time to get younger. Montero, who should have received more at-bats as a pinch-hitter against the Tigers, can move into the DH role and bat sixth or seventh from day one. He is the real deal offensively, a player who will hit for average and power, and it is time to stop sending him back to Scranton/Wilkes Barre. It is also time to stop shopping him for pitching. The Yankees need a better and younger offense, just like they need better pitching. They need to keep Montero.

This is not to say that the Yankees should make pitching a secondary priority. Regardless of whether CC Sabathia opts out of his contract, they need to think about free agents like C.J. Wilson and Edwin Jackson. They need to think about trading Swisher for a capable No. 4 starter and/or some left-handed help in the bullpen. And, to borrow a phrase from Bill Parcells, they need to take the Huggies off of Phil Hughes and let him pitch every fifth day and let him strengthen his arm by pitching more–not less. If the Yankees do these things, along with bringing Sabathia back, their starting pitching should be stronger in 2012.

In the meantime, we are left with a disappointing finish to a season. Unlike some, I don’t consider the season a total failure without a World Series championship. I can take some solace in Derek Jeter reaching 3,000, Mariano Rivera becoming the all-time saves leader, and the Yankees winning a division title in a year in which the Red Sox were supposed to be the team to beat.

So there is some consolation in that. I just hope that Brian Cashman and the Yankees don’t find too much consolation, because there is work that needs to be done to help the Yankees take three more steps in 2012.

Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.


1 RIYank   ~  Oct 8, 2011 10:44 am

Hm, if there were a promising outfielder in Scranton I'd agree with your Trade Swish idea, but I don't think there is. Replace him with who? (Yeah, why would you put a first baseman out there??)

CJ Wilson I could see; Edwin Jackson, eh. But I think the Red Sox will be after pitchers too. I wouldn't be upset if Cashman stayed out of the high-end pitcher FA market. How about trading Austin Romine? And is there any chance one of the Killer Bees will be ready? What about another year of Colon, planning to use him all up by the end of August and bring in Betances come September?

2 Sliced Bread   ~  Oct 8, 2011 11:01 am

I agree with every word of this, Bruce.

3 Chyll Will   ~  Oct 8, 2011 11:03 am

[1] Actually, I'd rather see Freddy back than Bartolo. Freddy is what he is, and has been for svereal years now. Bartolo seems more like the lightning-in-a-bottle type that seemed to leak out over the course of the season; I really have doubts that at his age and conditioning that he could give us any more than he did, which was move from a No. 2 to a number 4-5 by the end of the season.

As for Swish, I suggested that he and Nunez be traded for a young productive or promising outfielder stuck on a bad team that could use a boost in OBP and potential. Don't know if that can happen either, but I don't think pitching is the fix that needs to be addressed as the Yanks are stocked with young arms that should be able to give you what Bartolo and AJ have given. It's just time to open the gate and let the young bulls in. I agree with Montero, but not with trading Romine. Time to say goodnight to Frankie Brains. Not unless Gary Sanchez makes a big leap up would I think of trading Romine this soon. CJ Wilson, maybe to yes. Edwin Jackson? Nah, unless you planned on letting go of both Freddy and Bartolo.

4 Bruce Markusen   ~  Oct 8, 2011 11:33 am

RI, finding a corner outfielder is not usually that hard, particularly among the free agent crop. A platoon of Andruw Jones and a lefty acquisition might do the trick. But you have to get something good for Swisher; I'm not advocating just giving him away.

5 monkeypants   ~  Oct 8, 2011 12:24 pm

I'm not sure trading Swisher makes much sense, unless (of course) a team can be swindled out of a much better player. He's only 30 and despite an off year still hit 117 OPS+ with a .374 OBP. Meanwhile the young Gardner is already 27 and hit 89 OPS+. I like the idea of Gardner, and I love his defense, but I wonder if trading him isn't a better idea---and given his reputation (gritty, gutty, fast, blah, blah) there is a better chance that the Yankees could get a superior player in return.

Regardless of trading Romine, Montero should be the BUC next year. The team needs to see if he can handle the position at all credibly, and his value increases dramatically if they can squeeze a few years out of him behind the plate.

All this being said, I'm not sure why there is such call for making changes. The team was second in runs scored in the league and third in runs allowed. In other words, pitching and hitting were both really very good. They slumped in the PS. That happens now and again.

6 RIYank   ~  Oct 8, 2011 1:03 pm

I agree about trading Swisher. If corner outfielders as good as him were really easy to pick up, then obviously his trade value would be very low. The way I think of it, he isn't the right kind of player for the Yankees to trade. He's more like the kind of player they trade for.

7 William J.   ~  Oct 8, 2011 1:21 pm

Don't undervalue the contribution that Swisher has made to this team. Players that him don't grow on trees. Hopefully the Yanks look at 162 and not 5.

As for the Yankees' offense not being a juggernaut, well, I am not sure that's true. This year's offense outscored the league average by over 20%, making it one of the top 3% in the game. That's not the Big Red Machine or Murder's Row, but those are two of the top-10 offenses of all time.

I am also not comfortable blaming this series on the offense. In two games the Yankees scored 9 and 10 runs. They also scored 4 runs off Verlander. In the other two, they didn't hit much, but the lack of offense wasn't systemic. I don't think this offense needs major changes, other than more depth on the bench and a plan to get Montero 500 at bats.

8 William J.   ~  Oct 8, 2011 1:22 pm

[7] And by top-3%, I mean among all teams since 1901, not this season.

9 monkeypants   ~  Oct 8, 2011 3:04 pm

[7] Agreed.

10 RIYank   ~  Oct 8, 2011 4:24 pm

[7] [9] me too. Weird feeling.

11 rbj   ~  Oct 8, 2011 5:34 pm

Apparently in all 4 LDS the losing team outscored the winning team. So I wouldn't make any moves based on the LDS. Just a weird year.

12 hiscross   ~  Oct 8, 2011 8:11 pm

The Yanks got beat by not benching arod. The guy couldn't turn on a fastball and that was that. If they played Nunez at 3base and moved Gardner to lead off or 2 spot and moved posda the 5th spot and they would have contact hitter and base runners. Just go back to the 1977 ALCS when Billy Martin benched Reggie. When he did bat him, Reggie goot a hit and the Yankees went on to win. It is all about match-ups and the Yankees didn't match up when they needed to. Swisher is an upper cut hitter so he needs to in the 6 or 7th spot. They pitch mostly fastballs in those spots which should give Swisher an edge. Nunez played well when arod was out so he would have helped.

13 William J.   ~  Oct 8, 2011 10:48 pm

[12] Benching Arod would be about the stupidest thing Girardi could have done. I hope it's a vocal minority, but all the Arod hate makes it seem as if the Yankees' fan base isn't very sharp.

14 NY15_4ever   ~  Oct 8, 2011 11:53 pm

For the Yanks to trade Swisher they would have to pick up his option first. He is due to make $10M next season. I'm not sure there are many teams out there that would be willing to absorb that salary and, if they were, we wouldn't be getting much trade value back for him.

The Yankees would be better off to decline the option and pick up a FA outfielder. Swisher has been a good player for us but he is replaceable and we could get someone with better post-season success.

That being said, I doubt the Yankees do that. Swisher is a Cashman guy so I doubt Cashman would let him walk.

15 NY15_4ever   ~  Oct 8, 2011 11:59 pm

As for A-Rod, he wasn't healthy and he was also very rusty. He really should not have played because he wasn't healthy. I guess you can credit him for giving it a go but in the long run it hurt us.

16 OldYanksFan   ~  Oct 9, 2011 1:18 am

Swisher led the Yanks in OBP this year, and was basically right up with (poor years) in SLG with ARod and Teix. Over the last 3 years, FanGraphs states his value at $47.6m. Not to mention his great attitude and love of being a Yankee. Crawford got 8/$160, and I rather have Nick.

Almost everybody 'over charges' the Yanks when talking trades. FA's, who seem to miraculously come off of career years, are almost always too expensive, especially at the end of their contracts.

While I think Cashman is a great GM under the hardest of circumstances, we need to develop more of our own talent while keeping an eye open for winning trades, like Swisher and Granderson.

I personally would much rather watch Jesus than Cliff Lee, regardless of the outcome. We can't forget that for over a decade, we rode the backs of 5 exceptional home grown players. Cashman has done well in the last few years. We need to stay on that track.

17 Bruce Markusen   ~  Oct 9, 2011 9:55 pm

I don't think that Swisher is overpriced at $10 million. I would say that is a pretty accurate gauge of what he is worth in today's game. I think you could get something pretty good in exchange for a switch-hitting outfielder with power who plays a nice right field.

18 Evil Empire   ~  Oct 10, 2011 12:07 pm

Betances threw what --- 145 innings this year? How about starting his spring training in mid may so he can throw his 175 innings (including playoffs) in the Bronx?

I think a rotation of CC, Nova, Hughes, AJ and [fill in the blank] wouldn't be bad.

How about a flier on Wang? How about making Joba a starter when he comes back?

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