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.