Gulp

At this point, Cliff Lee can just write his own Yankees’ contract. Between the news about his wife not liking how she was treated and the story that CC Sabathia needs a “minor” procedure done on his knee, Lee is becoming more valuable by the minute.

Clearly, the Yankees have a need for Lee, but the news about Sabathia should temper their desire. The fact is, pitchers break down. Now everyone is going to say that Sabathia needs his knee procedure because he is just too damn heavy. I can’t disagree with that and I hope his doctors convince him to shed some lbs this offseason. But keep in mind that Sabathia is two years younger than Lee and that while Lee is very svelte, he also had back problems this year.

If you give Lee a five-year deal, you are signing him through age 37. That’s a pretty big risk to take and the Yankees already have Sabathia signed through age 35 and AJ signed through age 36. Let’s say they give Lee the $25 million everyone seems to expect them to give him. That would mean the Yankees will be spending $64 million on three 30-something pitchers. Throw in Andy Pettitte and you might have $80 million on four.

Don’t get me wrong, adding Lee would be a wonderful move in 2011. I would love to have him, but for no more than a four-year deal. If absolutely pressed, I might go five years, but that’s it. Fastballs don’t pick up speed in your 30’s. Those creaks you felt in your late 20’s begin to become more serious, it’s a fact of life. Tying your team to too many 30+ contracts is a risky move to make. The Yankees need to tred very carefully when they sit down to negotiate with Mr. Lee.

Gotta Go To Mo

In the Fall of 2007, the Yankees resigned Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. Those two deals worked out remarkably well considering the risks the Yankees took. In inking their then 38-year old closer to a three-year deal and their then 36-year old catcher to a four-year deal, the Yankees gambled on their health and performance staying at a high level. Posada hasn’t been as healthy as you would like, but he did hit .248/.357/.454 this year. Rivera, well he just kept being Rivera.

The problem is some worrying signs developed in the 2010 version of Mo. His strikeouts are way down and his number of innings fell to only 60. The reduction in innings may be because Joe Girardi was extra careful with his closer, but it is a telling number. If Girardi only felt comfortable letting Mo pitch 60 innings at 40 years of age, what will the number be at 41 and beyond? And if his strikeout drop was not an anomaly, what will it mean if he surrenders a BABIP next season in line with his career average of .263 and not the .222 he posted this season?

Those are things to worry about, but the fact is that the Yankees don’t have an in house candidate ready to replace Mo. Joba Chamberlain did not develop as planned in 2010 and David Robertson was up and down. The Yankees do have an option on Kerry Wood, but for all the praise being heaped on Wood, it’s worth noting how lucky he was as a Yankee. Yes, he posted a 0.69ERA, but he did that while walking 18 hitters in 26 innings. Normally, that would get you killed, but Wood had the good fortune of having a BABIP of only .236. Turn some of those outs into hits and that ERA jumps dramatically.

So, Rivera is needed in 2011, just as he has been needed in the past. The thing is, the Yankees really can’t commit to him beyond 2011, because at his age you just don’t know what will happen. So, the solution in my mind is to offer him arbitration. If he accepts, he earns a raise and the Yankees get a one-year commitment. If he declines, offer him one year with an option for a second year triggered by a certain number of saves and innings pitched. Anything beyond that is insanity and the Yankees have a very good fallback argument in Andy Pettitte. Pettitte is a year-to-year guy right now and while he hasn’t meant the same thing to the Yankees that Mo has, he is certainly in the ballpark. (And obviously, the Yankees should welcome Pettitte back in 2011 if he wants to pitch.)

Having dispensed with Girardi, Jeter and Mo, we will turn our attention to the 40-man roster tomorrow.

Bring Back Jeter

The facts are simple. Derek Jeter and the Yankees need each other in 2011. The Yankees need Jeter because despite all the knocks against him, he still was offensively above-average at short in 2010 compared to the rest of the league. That, coupled with the fact that the Yankees do not have an obvious in house replacement (Nunez put up a line of .289/.340/.381 at Scranton which won’t get it done) and that the free agent market is pretty barren makes Jeter a must-have for 2011.

The problem is that after 2011, the Yankees might not need Jeter. It’s reasonable to assume that Jeter will regress further with the bat in 2011, putting him closer to, or below, the league average. It is also pretty safe to assume that he will collect his 3,000 hit in 2011, eliminating a milestone that the Yankees want to occur in pinstripes. Add in the fact that Eduardo Nunez will have another year of seasoning and Jose Reyes will be a free agent, and the Yankees could have very viable alternatives to Jeter in 2012.

That’s what makes this negotiation so difficult. The Yankees really have no reason to give Derek Jeter the player anymore than a two-year deal. Derek Jeter can point to a career of huge accomplishments and the fact that A-Rod got a 10-year deal as reasons for more years than that. Neither side is wrong, but how do they bridge the gap?

To me it comes down to money. The Yankees have plenty of it and they can afford to be a lot more generous with Jeter than any other team would be. I can’t imagine another team in the league would offer Jeter more than a two-year/$20 million deal right now. The Yankees can afford to be much more generous. How about starting with a two-year/$30 million deal? The Yankees can go up from there, but they should do everything in their power to keep the number of years of this deal down to 2. If they absolutely had to, they could add an option for the third year, maybe triggered if Jeter reaches 320 hits over 2011+12.

But that’s only part of the conversation the Yankees need to have with Derek. They need to make him aware of the chance that he will not be hitting first or second in the lineup next year and that he can expect to play more DH in the upcoming years than he has in the past. There is no reason to move Jeter to leftfield when Brett Gardner plays it at a gold glove level and had a better year with the bat than Jeter. The Yankees absolutely have to upgrade their bench this offseason and find someone who can play the leftside of the infield and hit at a level higher than Ramiro Pena. At this point the Yankees need to plan for Jeter to only be available for 140-150 games.

If Jeter wants four years or a guarantee that he will still leadoff, the Yankees need to walk away. It won’t be easy and they will be killed in the press, but it is the right baseball move to make.

Didn’t See That Coming

LoHud is reporting that the Yankees are parting ways with Dave Eiland.

I am somewhat stunned by that move for a number of reasons. Start with the fact that it seemed like Eiland and Girardi got along and worked well together. Is this a Steinbrenneresque shot across the manager’s bow?

And, Eiland is widely spoke of as the only person who can communicate with AJ Burnett. Granted, it didn’t work very well, but the Yankees still owe the guy $50 million and they are removing one of his big security blankets.

But, there are certainly some reasons not to bring him back. Joba Chamberlain has regressed under his watch. Phil Hughes started strong, but faded in 2010. Javier Vazquez completely imploded- though I am not sure we can blame that on Eiland. And, as I mentioned above, Eiland hasn’t handled AJ very well.

So the Yankees now get to add pitching coach to their “to do” list.

One last thing. There are a lot of ugly rumors out there about Eiland and where he was when he took his leave of absence in June. Brian Cashman didn’t do Eiland any favors by saying that the reason for the dismissal isn’t for performance but for “private” reasons. That will only stoke the rumor mill. I hope people remember that it is a private matter and let Eiland just focus on himself now.

Lose The Binder, Keep The Manager

The Yankees first move this offseason should be too retain their manager. Yes, Girardi drives me nuts with his binder of small sample sizes, but the fact remains that overall he has done a good job. He is very good at developing arms in the bullpen and he usually seems to have the right touch with his players. If you disagree think about this, where would David Robertson be right now under Joe Torre? Probably having arm surgery. Where would Curtis Granderson be under Joe Torre? Probably not someone who looks like he can hit 40 homers next season.

Yes, Joe goes to the binder too often and his insistence on changing his number to 28 still bugs me. But he won 89 games in 2008, when the team absolutely fell apart due to injury and he won a world championship in 2009. I firmly believe he mismanaged this team in September, but that is a mistake that didn’t prove fatal in the first round, so it is something we should all agree to forget. And apart from a miserable managerial performance in Game 4, you can’t blame him for the ALCS. The Yankees hit .201 in the series and had an ERA over 6. It’s really a miracle they won two games with those stats.

So I say bring him back, burn the binder and tell him 28 is his number for life no matter what happens. With the Cubs having filled their manager position, the Yankees don’t have to overpay or overextend themselves. The Yankees should put Joe’s salary in the three-million range and give him another three-year deal.

Once that’s done, the real work begins.

Day 1 Of A Busy Offseason

The Yankees have a lot of decisions to make about the makeup of their 2011 club and it starts at the top. First on the list is the manager. Should Joe Girardi come back in 2011 and beyond?

Right at 1A and 1B are the decisions about the offers to be made to Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.

Right below that is finding out what Andy Pettitte wants to do and deciding how the Yankees want to respond to that.

Beyond that, there are arbitration decisions, free agent decisions and trading decisions that have to be made.

As crucial as the 2008-09 offseason was to the franchise, this one could potentially be even bigger. The wrong choices with some of the older players could leave the Yankees in a bad position for a while to come.

I plan to tackle all of these issues and I am going to start tomorrow with the manager decision facing the Yankees.

2011 starts today

ALCS Over

When I was 18, my parents announced that we would be moving to Dallas, Texas. I went away to college and jobs from there, but for 15 years or so, “going home” meant going to Dallas. During that time in Texas, I developed an appreciation of the Texas Rangers. This was a time before widespread internet use and DirecTV packages that gave you baseball games from all over the country. Basically, I had one option if I wanted baseball on a summer night when I was home and that was the Rangers. I was incredibly lucky on this front for two reasons. First, the Rangers had Nolan Ryan and he was a lot of fun to watch. I tried to make as many of his starts as I could each summer and I still remember that unique “pop” I heard when the ball hit the catcher’s glove. Second, being in Texas placed me at the Ballpark in Arlington on the night of July 28th, 1994, when Kenny Rogers pitched a perfect game. Seeing one in person is sort of the equivalent of winning the baseball lottery.

I have been trying to draw on that “appreciation” of the Rangers for the last two hours to give me comfort. While I am happy for the various Texans I know who are happy right now, I am really disgusted by the Yankees’ performance in this series. Phil Hughes was atrocious in his two starts. A-Rod was invisible in the entire playoffs. When you think about it, what Yankees other than Cano and Granderson played well? Most of the team came up small and I don’t know if that should be attributed to the Rangers excellence or the Yankees mediocrity.

What seems clear in retrospect is that this team peaked too early. On September 4th they were 36 games over .500. They finished the year 9-17. They rebounded from that to sweep the Twins, but they didn’t execute the same way in the ALCS. Now they are headed home and they have a lot of questions facing them. Once again, they must get younger and once again that will be a challenge. Have we seen the last of some iconic Yankees in pinstripes? Stay tuned to what should be the most interesting offseason we have had in these parts in years.

Back To Texas

Those three runs in the second inning were an alarm bell to the crowd yesterday. Yankee Stadium was a pretty quiet place and even after the Yankees started scoring there was an uneasiness in the crowd. A couple of fans near me talked about how the Yankees could win Game 5 and Game 6, but they would still lose the series because of Cliff Lee waiting in Game 7.

It’s a popular topic on the internet today, but it is a ridiculous one. It’s ridiculous because it doesn’t matter until the Yankees win Game 6. Cliff Lee would be something to worry about if the Yankees beat the Rangers Friday. Until then, there isn’t much point in even discussing it. I will make one comment though. If the Yankees were to beat Texas tomorrow night they would be in about as good a place mentally as possible to face Lee. That could matter a little, it could matter a lot, we won’t know until we get there.

And getting there is going to be tough. Obviously, it starts with Phil Hughes pitching a lot better than he did on Saturday. Assuming that happens, the Yankees will then have to hit Colby Lewis. Lewis wasn’t great last Saturday and I wonder how he would have done if the Rangers didn’t give him a 5-0 lead? In his three career starts before the ALCS against the Yankees he was 0-2 with a 6.89 ERA.

It really comes down to Hughes. Can he be the pitcher we saw in the first half? If so, the Yankees have an excellent chance of forcing a Game 7 and having to deal with the problem of Cliff Lee.

Let’s Try This Again

Leaving soon for Game 5, hopefully this time I can bring a win. Before I depart, a few notes about last night’s game.

Joe Girardi needs to add a page to his infamous binder. A page with the unofficial rules of baseball listed. You know things like never make the third out at third base. He should then highlight the rule about never putting the go-ahead run on base. I didn’t like sticking with AJ in the sixth inning, but I can understand Girardi’s reasoning. However, once he decided that David Murphy was a bad matchup for AJ, he needed to reach for another pitcher.

Girardi would probably counter with the argument that he wanted a lefty in that situation and since he only has Boone Logan in the pen, he wanted to save him for later. That’s why the Yankees should have taken Royce Ring and not Sergio MItre. They didn’t do that in part because Girardi said he liked the way some of his righty relievers throw the ball against lefties. So where were those guys in the 6th inning then? It doesn’t add up.

Things look bleak right now, but teams have certainly come back from 3-1 before. As the cliche goes, one day at a time.

The Worst Section In Yankee Stadium

Tonight was a strange night for me. I went to the game with a buddy, ran into a relative before the game started and ended up in a section which was 90% Rangers fans. And to make matters worse, Cliff Lee destroyed the Yankees tonight.

I loved the energy in the stadium tonight. Even after Pettitte made his one mistake, the fans were into the game. But, Lee just sucked the life out of the place. It’s pathetic how happy everyone was when he finally walked a batter, spoiling the perfect game. The guy has clearly set himself up for a huge payday this offseason. I only hope the Yankees don’t give him more than 4 years.

Anyway, despite the groans I heard about AJ Burnett taking the mound tomorrow, and they are understandable, Game 4 is really about the Yankees’ offense. Tommy Hunter is not a strikeout pitcher and he has a 6.75 ERA in 2 career starts against the Yankees. If the bats can’t get it done tomorrow, they are not worthy of winning this series. And, if the Yankees win Game 4, CC takes the ball on Wednesday with the chance to pitch the Yankees to a 3-2 lead.

More tomorrow (actually, later today)