That’s what Brian Cashman said on the radio the other day in discussing his plans for next year and he is absolutely right. There are some obvious moves to achieve this and some tough ones. In our 2010 planning, let’s start with the Yankees who will become free agents and what they should do with each one. By my count, the Yankees have seven potential free agents: Pettitte, Damon, Matsui, Hinske, Hairston, Molina and Nady.
Start with Pettitte, who gave the Yankees 194 innings with a 4.16 ERA in 2009. If Andy wants to come back, and I am not sure he does, the Yankees should definitely offer him another one-year deal. Pettitte sounded like he was on the fence after the World Series, recognizing that this would be a pretty good way to end a career. But, he also sounded like someone who still had the fire to pitch. Ultimately, I think it comes down to his family and what they want. With Pettitte, the Yankees have three definite starters in 2010 (I am not counting Joba right now) so the Yankees should lure him back. By my math, he ended up with $10.5 million for his efforts in 2010, a similar one-year deal, maybe $8 million base and incentives, seems about right.
Molina and Hairston are players the Yankees could easily let go and get younger. Molina is a great catcher, but a lousy hitter. While Cervelli isn’t a good hitter either, he is a pretty good catcher, is only 23 and costs a lot less. Swapping him for Molina seems like a no-brainer.
The Yankees have Pena, who is a reasonable facsimile to Hairston. Pena is a great glove and he has started to learn the outfield spots. He is much younger and again cheaper, it seems like another no-brainer to choose him over Hairston.
Eric Hinske had some big hits for the Yankees and he actually hit lefties well in 2009, something he had not done well in his career. He can play the corners of the infield and the outfield, so if he would take one year and $1 million or so, I would bring him back.
And that brings us to the final three players, Damon, Matsui and Nady. I love Matsui, he is a great player and he certainly rises to the occasion as he showed this week, but you simply can’t bring him back. Matsui can’t run and he can’t play the field. His knees are a major liability and the Yankees would be wise to part ways with him now.
Part of the reason you have to say goodbye to Matsui is the need to free up the DH slot in 2010. Posada is going to see some games there, A-Rod, Jeter should as well. But one guy who should spend a fair amount of time there, if he comes back, is Johnny Damon. There were two instances in the playoffs that really highlighted where Damon is as a player. The first was the throw he made from shallow leftfield against the Angels that wasn’t even close to getting the runner. The second was the AB against Brad Lidge in Game 4 and the steals of 2nd and 3rd. Damon is not someone you want to see in the outfield on a regular basis, but he is still a dangerous hitter and runner. His bat is good enough that you could put him at DH without any problems. I would offer him arbitration and hope you can bring hm back for one more year where you put him in left when you want to DH some of the older guys and DH him the rest of the time.
Along with that move, I would offer Xavier Nady an incentive-based deal to come back and play left field fairly regularly next year. Nady is not a star, but his career rates of .280/.335/.458 are right in line with the average AL leftfielder (.267/.338/.442) He is a solid defender and the Yankees could give him a one-year deal with incentives that would also give him the chance to reestablish his value as a free agent. He is about to turn 31, so he is young enough that you aren’t taking a big risk bringing him back for a season.
Now some people will argue the Yankees should sign Bay or Holliday, but I disagree. Those guys are going to require huge deals and they will both be over 30 when the season starts. The Yankees should bid up the prices, but leave them for other teams to scoop up. Besides, if the Yankees are going to bid on a free agent, I want a pitcher, but we will get to that.
Bringing back Nady and Damon allows you to keep Austin Jackson in the minors as well. Jackson had a solid year in Scranton, but he didn’t hit for power. (.405 slugging) That would translate to an abysmal slugging in the majors and he needs to show some power before you can consider putting him in the everyday big league lineup.
So, bring back Damon, Nady, Hinske and Pettitte if they all agree to one-year deals and say good-bye to Matsui, Molina and Hairston. You get a bit younger, subtracting while retaining flexibility for later years.