"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Observations From Cooperstown: Making Changes

When you play baseball in New York City, you cannot spend too much time dwelling on postseason failures. It’s simply time to move on quickly, to think about what changes need to be made to improve the team, so as to avoid future playoff disappointment. That is the situation the Yankees face these days, even as four other major league teams continue their pursuit of a world championship.

The first priority is determining the future of CC Sabathia. Everyone in the free world expects Sabathia to opt out of his current contract, which has four years remaining. The Yankees will obviously try to re-sign their ace, but they also need to be careful. Before they bestow a five or six-year deal on Sabathia, they need to remember that they are already stuck with two ridiculously long contracts in Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. Giving Sabathia more money per year would be acceptable, but lengthening the contract of a pitcher with weight problems and a recent past of postseason failure should come with several caution flags.

Sabathia is 31. A five-year contract brings him to age 36. A six-year deal extends him to age 37. I’d be very careful about going that deep with any pitcher, especially a pitcher who put on weight during the season.

If the Yankees can re-sign Sabathia at a reasonable length, they will still need to add pitching. That’s why free agent C.J. Wilson, whose outgoing personality looks to be a good fit for New York, should be the No. 1 target. If the Yankees cannot bring back Sabathia, then they really need to sign two free agent pitchers: Wilson and either the durable Mark Buehrle (with 11 straight seasons of 200-plus innings) or the underrated Edwin Jackson. The Yankees’ staff needs to become more left-handed in 2012, making Wilson and Buehrle especially appealing targets. Ideally, the Yankees’ 2012 rotation would look like this: Sabathia and Wilson followed by Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, and A.J. Burnett. As FBI Special Agent Johnson said in Die Hard, “I can live with that.” Indeed, that’s the kind of rotation that should put the Yankees back in the postseason mix.

Still, there are other areas to address. The Yankees’ offense is aging and showing some decline. The easy solution–and the sensible one at that–is to promote Jesus Montero to the DH role and let him bat behind A-Rod and Teixeira. The Yankees need to stop shopping Montero for pitching and realize what they have: a young, difference-making hitter who can change the complexion of an old lineup.

The next step is to pick up the option on Nick Swisher’s contract and then begin shopping him around both leagues. Swisher has trade value; his power, his patience, and his defensive improvement in right field make him an attractive player. A number of hitting-starved teams could use Swisher, including the Angels, the A’s (his former team), the Braves, the Cubs, the Dodgers, the Padres, and the Giants. If any of them can offer a solid No. 4 starter or a top left-handed reliever, or a couple of good prospects, then the Yankees should make the deal.

If Swisher is traded, he’ll have to be replaced. The Yankees can do that with free agents like Mike Cuddyer (a .338 hitter in the postseason) or Brooklyn native David DeJesus (a superior defender in right field). I particularly like the versatile Cuddyer, who would also give the Yankees a potential backup at third base for the increasingly fragile Rodriguez.

As with Swisher, the Yankees need to make a decision with Russell Martin, whose contract is up. Martin looked terrible at the plate in the playoff series with the Tigers, but his defensive play is just too good to surrender. He blocks everything in sight, frames pitches skillfully, throws well, and basically does everything he can to make the pitcher’s job easier. I’d like to see Martin return as the No. 1 receiver, backed up by Montero and perhaps a veteran backup from the free agent list. The Yankees shouldn’t count on Francisco Cervelli, in part because of his concussion problems and in part because he simply cannot throw out opposing baserunners.

So that’s my off-season plan for the Yankees. Like all plans, it’s one that will change based on free agent wishes and the availability of certain players in trades. But it’s a starting point for what figures to be an interesting winter of comings and goings in the Bronx.

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


1 RIYank   ~  Oct 17, 2011 10:55 am

I agree with you that the Yankees' offense is aging. But what are the "signs of decline" it is showing? Scoring more runs in 2011 than in 2010?

Also, I have to say it seems like a mistake to me to replace Nick Swisher with Michael Cuddyer. Swisher is a lot more productive (he gets on base a lot more), and Cuddyer is older.

2 ms october   ~  Oct 17, 2011 11:11 am

[1] yea i agree with you riyank.
i think the offense has a good number of players who are aging and who are in various individual states of decline but the offense as a whole is still scoring a ton of runs.

i think there is a desire to upgrade the offense somehow given that what hurt the yankees in this series was not being able to score enough runs in the losses (of course they also could have allowed fewer runs in those losses but the pitching didn't seem to be as bad as we all feared so the onus seems more on the offense than the pitching).
given the contracts and/or contributions it seems the infield has no room for changes.
so the focus is on the ourfield and given his contract and disappointing playoffs swisher seems to be the obvious target. while i would prefer someone who was a better *hitter* than him there aren't many upgrades available and i don't believe cuddyer or dejesus represent an upgrade.

one thing that i think has been discussed to a certain extent before is the yankees have a decent number of high obp guys with low averages (swisher, teix, gardner, etc) so they take a lot of walks. is this in anyway problematic in the playoffs where there are often better pitchers who might have a lower bb/9?
i know ba is subject to fluctuations but at a certain point you can say someone has the skill to hit a baseball - for example jeter for most of his career and robbie too.
would it help the yankees to have a couple more true high average guys to diversify the lineup a bit?
i don't know but this is the question i come out with after the offense gets stymied a bit in some of these post seasons.

3 Bronx Boy in NC   ~  Oct 17, 2011 11:36 am

If Montero slots in at everyday DH, the third catcher really becomes the chief BUC most days, and no one in the free agent class is melting my eyeballs.

That puts a premium on figuring out what's up with Brains, and on assessing Romine's audition, even if only as a precursor to getting someone else.

Regardless, I'll be disappointed if this all shakes out without us ever getting to see what Montero can do behind the plate. Is the potential cost of giving him a serious look too high? Scranton notwithstanding, you've gotta know what you've got.

4 a.O   ~  Oct 17, 2011 12:20 pm

[2] Good question.

5 monkeypants   ~  Oct 17, 2011 1:14 pm

1) beat me too it.

6 Marek   ~  Oct 17, 2011 8:13 pm

I'm not worried about the offense. I think it's been adequately demonstrated that there is not a better option than Swisher in RF. (Which is not to say he can't be traded, only that he's not the problem with this team... if you trade him, get value.)

Pitching is the issue this offseason, particularly if CC opts out, as seems likely. I do not think he should be offered more years. Let someone else buy his dotage; I'll take a year or two of suffering while either kids from the farm or more attractive free agents come around.

[2] I think it is worth looking into whether OBP isn't the be-all and end-all of an offense. I sure wouldn't have minded a few more balls in play against the Tigers.

But, I was glad to witness Valverde blow a few!

feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver