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It has been 15 days since the Yankees won the World Series, which means free agency is upon us.  In less than an hour every player who filed for free agency is eligible to sign with another team.  It also means that the 40-man rosters suddenly become a bit less crowded.  For the Yankees, seven players will be subtracted from that roster and the thing we need to watch for is how many players get added back to the roster. 

The Yankees have a lot of players who could be elevated to the 40-man and therefore protected from the Rule 5 draft.  They could elevate all of them and then clear space as they sign free agents, but they are much more likely to only fill spaces they know will be empty between now and March. Who will they choose?  There will be some obvious choices, like Austin Jackson added to the 40-man and some surprises.  But, keep an eye on the 40-man roster tomorrow, the number of additions to it may give us an idea of the Yankees offseason plans.  

Kottaras Axed

The Red Sox released George Kottaras today according to ESPN.

With the return of Jason Varitek, Kottaras wasn’t deemed necessary to the big league club.  That said, I wonder if we’ll see the Red Sox try to re-sign him at some point.

At first glance, I don’t like this move.  Kottaras hasn’t been given a prolonged chance in the majors and with Victor Martinez here, things weren’t going to change, but why didn’t they try to trade him or sneak him through waivers back to the minors?  Was it out of loyalty so he could choose his destination?

I’m interested to know more about why this was done and I hope we find out.

The 2010 Rotation

Heading into the offseason we know who the top-2 pitchers in the Yankees rotation will be, but little beyond that.  Will Andy Pettitte come back?  Probably, but it’s not a definite.  Will Joba be in the rotation?  I believe so, but I also think the Yankees won’t keep him there for long if he pitches like he did in August-October.  What are they going to do with Phil Hughes?  That’s a bit trickier because Hughes only pitched 105 innings in 2009 and even less that that in 2008.  If he was a fulltime starter, the chances are we would see the "Hughes Rules" in effect in 2010. 

So, I think the sensible thing is to go and get another starter, even if Pettitte returns.  I do not advocate trading for Roy Halladay.  He is a wonderful pitcher, but the price will still be steep and when you factor in the contract extension you would need to give him, I would rather sign Lackey.  But, the Yankees may not think Lackey is a great investment.  I am sure they will check in on him, but if the price is steep they will probably pass. 

One way that the Yankees could go is ot sign Ben Sheets.  You could probably get Sheets on a one-year deal with a bunch of incentives tied to it.  Obviously, he is an injury risk, but Sheets is only 31 and he has been a very effective pitcher in the past. If he pitches up to his normal standards you would have a very good pitcher in the rotation.  If he gets hurt, the Yankees have backups in Hughes or Ian Kennedy.  (BTW- reports on Kennedy in the AFL were positive. 

Another guy who the Yankees might want to consider in the same vein is Randy Wolf.   Wolf is a little older and doesn’t have the stuff Sheets has, but 214 innings for the Dodgers in 2009.  As an added bonus, he is lefthanded. 

The Yankees also have some other internal candidates to consider.  They declined their option on Sergio Mitre, but they still can offer him arbitration.  Chad Gaudin is also under team control in 2010 and I imagine the Yankees offer both of them arbitration.  I feel that Gaudin has the higher upside, but Girardi seems to love Mitre.  That worries me, but hopefully the Yankees give Girardi enough better options that his affection for Mitre doesn’t matter.  And of course there is Chien-Ming Wang.  I don’t see how the Yankees offer him arbitration, but he could be back on a low-base deal.  The problem with Wang is that you really don’t know when he will be back and what level of performance he will provide when he comes back. 

I imagine the  Yankees will be patient, which is fine.  I just hope they come into 2010 with a new starter from outside the organization. 

Failing Grade

As the Red Sox try to plug some power into the 2010 line-up, it has become painfully clear that current management has failed at developing and retaining power through the minor leagues.  Take a look at the projected 2010 line-up (I’m not assuming anything with free agent players like Alex Gonzalez and Jason Bay):

c – V. Martinez – trade

1b – Youkilis – draft pick from prior regime

2b – Pedroia – draft pick from current regime

3b – Lowell – trade

ss – Jed Lowrie – draft pick from current regime

lf – Hermida – trade

cf – Ellsbury – draft pick from current regime

rf – Drew – free agent

dh – Ortiz – free agent

Of the above, I think there really is only one "power hitter" in that group.  You have guys like Youkilis who has hit for moderate power and plenty of production, Lowell, who’s cap is probably 20-25 home runs, Drew another 15-25 home run guy and lastly Ortiz, the who certainly has been a power hitter, but has a lot to prove in 2010.

So if Jason Bay leaves, do the Red Sox have anything to pluck from the upper minor-leagues?  The short answer is, no.

The closest they have is Ryan Kalish, who hit 18 home runs in 2009 with a .455 slg, hardly jaw-dropping power.  Another is Lars Anderson, but he fell off in a big way in 2009.  In fact, the closest thing the entire system has to a power hitter is Yale (baseball powerhouse) grad Ryan Lavarnway who hit 21 HRs in 2009 with a .540 slg, but he is in mid-A ball playing for Greenville, South Carolina.  Another observation is perhaps they need to limit draft picks to batters named Ryan.

So what gives?  Well if you’ve read recent comments from Red Sox GM Theo Epstein saying J.D. Drew has been worth every penny, and some, of his current contract, maybe the Red Sox are avoiding the pure slugger.  But why?  I understand the focus on OBP, I really do, but don’t some players slug and get on base? Why haven’t the Red Sox stumbled on this kind of player in recent memory?  I know Albert Pujols types don’t grow on trees, but that utter lack of power raised on the Red Sox farm is amazing.

So while we lament what the Red Sox don’t have internally, we are forced to wait and hope the Red Sox can lure a slugger (or sluggers) from the free agent market or in a trade.  I appreciate that contributions of Pedroia and Ellsbury, but they are just one kind of player.

Warning:  The following statement cannot, in no way, be backed-up statistically:  The Red Sox need that boffo offensive threat that causes other managers to devote a disproportionate amount of time worrying about and gives the Red Sox some swagger.  I think the Manny Ramirez/David Ortiz combo did that but the current mix of players just doesn’t instill fear.

I got that feeling of fear last year watching the Red Sox pitch to Jeter, ARod, Teixeira (and company).  It was terrible thinking about just what that line-up could do to a team.  Think about it, the Yankees have the marque hitters in Jeter, ARod and Teixeira, but also had 5 guys slug over .500 with 2 more knocking on that door.

The Red Sox need to build their line-up back to awe-inspiring heights and the good news is they certainly have the resources to do so.  It won’t be an efficient use of $ or bodies, it never is, but the Red Sox will be a watered-down team in 2010 without some significant help.

Red Sox Rumblings

There’s been chatter that the Red Sox are looking at John Lackey. He’d be a good addition to be sure, but there also seems to be indication it was just preliminary talks, much like they do with most free agents.

Billy Wagner might just remain with the Red Sox. If they offer arbitration, Wagner would cost a team Type A compensation (1st round pick). So either he signs with another team as their closer or he can be a set-up man in Boston for very good money.  My bet is he returns to Boston.

The notion that the Red Sox are looking to deal for Adrian Gonzalez is great, but if they do consummate a deal, expect a truckload of talent to head west.  With former Asst. GM Jed Hoyer now running the show in San Diego, he has intimate knowledge of the Red Sox farm system and would likely ask for 3 or more of the best players and, to boot, would also have to get a name people have heard of to stave of criticism locally, so expect a Daniel Bard or Clay Buchholz to be in the mix.  Expensive indeed, but if they are looking to upgrade the offense, it might just be necessary.  Oh yeah, and it’s only an upgrade if they re-sign Jason Bay or sign Matt Holliday too.

Tying the Lackey/Gonzalez talk together, perhaps Lackey would ultimately be a replacement for Buchholz (I’m not judging who’s better, simply a swap of bodies).  You heard it here first.

With the new FM Sports talk station firing on all cylinders (98.5 The Sports Hub), there was an interesting question posed in yesterday’s afternoon show (Felger and Massarotti).  I’ll modify it a bit for this site and add to it to include the Yankees (condition – questions below pertain to the 2009 team):

Who is the most overrated Red Sox player?

Who is the most overrated Yankee player?

Another Name To Consider

One of the tougher decisions facing the 2010 Yankees is how to allocate AB’s to the DH spot.  If they bring back Damon, they would have four different players (Damon, A-Rod, Jeter and Posada) who could potentially get more than 10 games each at DH.  That’s one of the reasons why the Yankees should only bring back Matsui at a reduced rate and with the understanding that he may only play 80-100 games.  Will Matsui accept those terms?  Your guess is as good as mine.

But, let’s say he doesn’t.  Let’s say the Yankees lose Matsui to some other team, how will they recover his lost production?  My suggestion would be to consider giving a deal to Jim Thome.  Yes, Thome is old and can’t play in the field, but he is a reasonable match to Matsui with the bat (.249/.366/.481 for Thome ’09 .274/.367/.508 for Matsui).  Best of all, he has reached the point in his career where he just wants to win as evidenced by his acceptance of a trade to the Dodgers where he knew he wasn’t going to do anything except pinch hit. 

I would be willing to bet that Thome would be fairly cheap ($4 million?) and could provide a solid option if Matsui leaves.  You could DH him 80 or so games and use him as a pinch hitter when needed.  I would prefer a younger, more athletic option, but Thome wouldn’t necessarily be a bad choice.

BTW- it’s only been a week since the Yankees won, but it looks like Jeter has really let himself go.  Yikes!

Stop It!

Where do stories like this one about George Steinbrenner come from?  They come from somebody in the Yankees’ organization who wants to create the illusion that George is still a part of the team.  A better question is why does somebody want to create this illusion?

It doesn’t matter what anyone has to say about George or his health, everything you needed to know about him was revealed last Wednesday when the Yankees won the World Series and he watched from Tampa.  Healthy George is in that locker room or at least watching the game from the owner’s box.  But, the Yankees just celebrated their first World Series title since 1962 without George being part of the party and that tells me he is in a bad way.

I wrote about George at length in March 2008 and my feelings haven’t changed.  Whatever you think of him, it would be better if he were left alone to live out his life in private.  The problem is, somebody in the Yankees’ organization doesn’t want to let him do that. 

How About Plan B?

I know it’s just posturing, but with Boras trying to get Damon signed until he is 50, the Yankees need to think of some alternatives. 

One of the moves that Brian Cashman should get much more credit for last year is the trade of Betemit for Swisher.  Just to recap, Swisher hit 28 home runs for the Yankees while Betemit hit .200 and was designated for assignment in June.  The Yankees added Jeff Marquez (9.85 ERA) and Jhonny Nunez (nice numbers in AA) but received Kanekoa Teixeira who almost matched Nunez in AA.  Truly, this was one of the better heists in Yankee history, but strangely it seems to have been forgotten in the aftermath of the World Series.  

So, could the Yankees replicate or come close to replicating their success with Swisher?  I think they might if they traded for Josh Willingham. 

Willingham is not as young as Swisher (he will be 31 on opening day) but he has a lot of similar attributes.  He hit well last year .260/.367/.496, pretty close to his career rates.  He fields left well, .925 RZR, which would have been the top mark in the NL if he had qualified there. (split time between left and right in 2009)  He is fairly patient at the plate, 4.06 pitches per appearance in 2009- 4.04 in his career.  Best of all, he won’t be a free agent until 2012, meaning the Yankees can control him for the next two seasons and walk away after that.  If you want a red flag, the back injury in 2008 that caused him to miss 50 games is it.  But, he only missed time in 2009 because of the bereavement list and a viral infection.  

So why would the Nationals trade him?  Well, he made $3-million in 2009 and he is headed to arbitration.  Coming off a season where he hit 24 homers, he could see that salary potentially double.  The Nats have had a tough time in D.C., averaging only 22,716 in 2009 in attendance and ranking 29th-out-of-30 in Keith Law’s farm system rankings.  The Yankees have some interesting choices to make with their 40-man.  They also have Juan Miranda who has no real place in New York. How about using him and a pitcher or two to get Willingham?

Varitek Back for 2010

Jason Varitek exercised his player option today and will remain with the Red Sox. Based on Red Sox comments, it appears Varitek has a place in the team’s 2010 plans. Said Theo Epstein: We’re happy to have Jason back and we look forward to a good year from him in 2010. He means an awful lot to the organization on and off the field. He helps solidify our catching position also and is a big asset to the pitching staff. So catcher is set for 2010.

Jeter’s Not A Bad Choice

Derek Jeter won another Gold Glove today and people are howling in protest already about how poor his defense is.

But, if you look at RZR (Revised Zone Rating) which is basically a measure of the percentage of plays a defender turns in their own defensive zone, Jeter was #1 in the AL.  Let me repeat that, Jeter turned the highest percentage of balls hit in the shortstop zone into outs in the AL. I am not saying he is the best shortstop in the AL.  In fact if you look at plays made outside the zone, ie great plays, Jeter falls to 10th.  But unlike 2004 (9th of 11 in RZR) 2005 (8th of 10) or 2006 (8th of 11) Jeter has a claim on this award because he finished first.  Elvis Andrus probably deserved it more (.001 behind Jeter in RZR and way ahead in plays outside the zone), but Jeter isn’t a bad choice at all. 

One last thing about Jeter’s defense.  Much has been made about how he greatly improved his defense in 2009, but the numbers aren’t there.  Interestingly, Jeter’s defense took a big jump for the better after 2007 when his RZR went to .839 from .777.  So, it appears that the positioning and stretching he did in the offseason didn’t make as much a difference as we were told.