So far this offseason I have promoted an idea for a total rebuild of the Yankees and an idea for a spending spree, so there is logically one more place to go, the middle ground.
In the middle ground we will try and use the farm system, but also supplement it with some spending. I think it is probably the most likely approach the Yankees will take, but it requires two admissions. First, for everyone who thinks the offense will be fine next year consider the following. Everyone is a year older and with the exceptions of Cano and Cabrera that isn’t a good thing. Two, the Yankees do not have any hitting prospects that you can project as major league starters in the next two years.
The age is a very important factor because it is reasonable to assume that most of the regulars will not improve on their 2007 numbers and some of them will see declines. You can expect Cano to improve and maybe Melky (more on him later) but the net effect of all of this means the offense should be weaker than the one that scored 968 runs last year. How much weaker is the key question because you can create doomsday projections (Posada breaks major bone, Jeter jailed for failure to pay taxes) or you can just generally say “weaker” and realize what that means.
And what that means is barring the addition of another bat, the Yankees need to give up less runs in 2008 than they did in 2007 to offset the runs they won’t score. Luckily, that seems like a reasonable proposition right now because the Yankees have a lot of young pitchers and one would expect 30 starts from Phil Hughes in 2008 will be better than the 30 starts the Yankees got in 2007 from the combination of Igawa, Rasner, DeSalvo and Clippard.
But, the work isn’t done just by writing in Hughes, Joba and Kennedy into the 2008 rotation. You still don’t have Andy Pettitte and the Yankees need to account for that. Without Pettitte and his 215 innings, the Yankees have a big hole in their rotation. Considering the work that Kennedy, Hughes and Joba did in 2007, you probably should not expect the Yankees to let any of them pitch 180 innings, and I think 160 or so would be a good guess. That means they are either going to be skipped in the rotation or pulled out of games earlier. I favor the prior approach if the Yankees have Andy back because you can go to a quasi six-man rotation with Mike Mussina from time to time. If Pettitte doesn’t return, Mussina is your fifth starter and if that is the case, I think you go to free agency and add a starter. I don’t want to add a big contract, but someone who could give me some innings and isn’t going to look for a huge deal. I think Job Lieber would be a guy who makes sense.
And, you have to address the bullpen on some level. Rivera’s back (reportedly) which is good, but he is going to need some help. Farnsworth may be getting a new manager who might believe in him, but I don’t. The Yankees can bring Vizcaino back, but I view him as more of complementary piece. Edwar Ramirez seems to me to be a one-trick pony and that trick fails too much for me to trust him in big spots. I think Ohlendorf has potential, but he is untested. I put him in the 2008 pen, but I still want someone else in there to help get the ball to Mo. In addition, I want a lefty in the pen just not a Myers-type. Two guys who I would contact are Kerry Wood and Eddie Guardado. Both are coming back from injuries and both might not want to come to New York, but I am going to try and sign them to incentive-loaded deals.
Now that the pitching is squared away, let’s look at the hitting. I am willing to take a flier on a Duncan/Betemit platoon at first mainly because I don’t see any good free agents out there. I will say it one last time, Hideki Matsui should pick up a first baseman’s glove and learn the position. The Yankees can make noise about putting Giambi there, but he is almost guaranteed to break down if they try that. I can’t really think of a realistic trade target, so internal will be the way I go here.
And that brings me to Melky. I like Melky, I like watching Melky, but I am not sure if he is the solution in center going forward. Yes, he just turned 23, but his season numbers of .273/.327/.391 are a disappointment. Melky has shown flashes, but he regressed in 2007. I am not saying you run him out of town, but considering the free agents available who can play center right now, I wouldn’t hold up a trade over Melky either. (As and aside, Rowand would be my choice of the three)
For the bench I am willing to go with youth as well. It sounds like Molina is back and we know Duncan and Betemit will be there in some role and of course there is Giambi. Assuming the Yankees don’t try and go with 12 pitchers again (please) that leaves one spot and I give that to either Gardner or Gonzalez. Gonzalez probably makes more sense as an infielder, but Gardner would give you speed on the bench. Neither one is going to dazzle with the bat, but the Yankees have Giambi, Duncan and Betemit to pinch hit most days.
So, there you have it the moderate plan. Supplement the roster with some free agent signings, but nothing huge. Mix some more veterans in and some rookies and see how that goes.