Evaluating The Offseason

With pitchers and catchers reporting , we can look back and evaluate the moves the Yankees have made to prepare for the 2013 season. For me, the frustration of this offseason is that the Yankees seemed to try and thread the needle between two different goals. The first goal is the desire to get to a payroll of $189 million in 2014. The second goal is to win the World Series. Now, I don’t believe those two goals are mutually exclusive, but there is not a lot of overlap between the two of them because of the way the Yankees are currently constructed.

The Yankees made some curious choices in their approach to achieving both goals. They let Russell Martin leave for Pittsburgh because they didn’t want to give him a two-year deal and then turned around and gave a two-year deal to a 39-year old outfielder. They let Eric Chavez sign with Arizona for a paltry $3 million and then gave Kevin Youkilis $12 million to play third. Without breaking down each deal, I think it is fair to say the Yankees aren’t better than they were at the end of 2012, but I am not sure that they are as bad as a lot of people think. (A healthy Brett Gardner is a very under-appreciated asset.)

The problem is, they will be very hard to project. If they stay healthy (a big if) and find reasonable solutions to their catching and right-handed outfield needs, I could see them winning 90 games. But, if the older guys show their age and they don’t figure out how to plug those holes, I could see things going the other way and a sub.500 finish being the result.

So what are the big questions heading into camp? Here are my top-3.

1- Who is the starting catcher? From everything I read, Yankee decision makers think Romine is ready for the bigs from a glove standpoint. If that is true, I would make him the starter because the other options have very little upside offensively and Romine just might hit. One thing to keep in mind, Francisco Cervelli still has an option, so he can be sent to the minors.

2- Who is the 5th starter? Barring injury, we know that the Yankees’ rotation will be Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte and Hughes, but the fifth starter is probably a two-man race between Nova and Phelps. Based on 2012, Phelps should win this in a laugher, but I think the Yankees will give Nova every chance to win the job.

3- What is the bench? This is a really easy one to predict by role, but very hard to predict by name. We know there will be a backup catcher, right-handed outfielder, backup infielder and one other player on the bench. My early guesses would be Stewart, Diaz, Nix and Nunez, but I think this is a wide-open competition. Stewart makes sense, assuming he is not the starting catcher, as he did it in 2012. Diaz is my early pick over Juan Rivera, but I am hoping the Yankees find some other players for this competition. I think Nix’s versatility earns him a role as the Yankees will need someone who can fill multiple positions. Nunez is an utter guess because I just don’t understand what the Yankees are doing with him. Is he really only a shortstop? Even if he is, there would be value is carrying him on the roster as a SS/DH/PH. He could play a fair amount of short against LHP, moving Jeter to DH. He could also provide a runner off the bench.

These next seven weeks will answer a lot of questions.


More Fun With Alex

Just when you thought Alex Rodriguez couldn’t get more interesting, here’s a new PED story linking him and other athletes to an outfit in Miami. It was back in early 2009, ironically during his last hip surgery recovery, that A-Rod admitted to using steroids during a three-year period. The Yankees stood by Alex and supported him at his press conference where he supposedly came clean.

But, that was a different A-Rod.  That guy had won a MVP in 2007 and he hit .302/.392/.573 in 2008. The Yankees needed that player to be productive and their faith was rewarded with a championship in 2009 that would not have been won without Alex. Now, things are very, very different.

Let’s start with the obvious, this isn’t the same player. Rodriguez just had surgery on his other hip. He has not hit .300 since 2008 and his OPS has declined every year since 2007. He has hit 34 homers over the last two seasons and has appeared in only 221 games during that period. Couple that with his contract which has 5 years and $114-million left on it before incentives (we will get to those) and I think it is fair to say that the Yankees won’t be as supportive this time around if these allegations prove to be true.

And this is the where the biggest change from 2009 comes in, the quest to get a payroll below $189-million in 2014. I’ve detailed how hard it will be to accomplish, but if the Yankees somehow could subtract the $27.5 AAV of Alex’s contract, it becomes a lot easier to achieve. Now, I don’t see any way that is possible, but I do think the Yankees will have an argument to make against Alex’s contract incentives.

Alex gets $6-million each time he hits a milestone home run which are defined as home run #660, 714, 755, 762 and 763.  And those bonuses will count against the Yankees’ payroll when they are earned. So, with Alex out until July,  currently hitting a home run about once every 6.5 games and sitting at 647 career homers, there is a very real chance that he won’t hit #660 until 2014. And that would cost the Yankees an extra $6-million in payroll which could completely obliterate their quest to get under $189 million.

So, I expect the Yankees to attack those incentive clauses. A-Rod has already admitted to using PED’s from 2001-2003 when he hit 156 homers. The Yankees could use that and these latest allegations to try and invalidate his 660th homer, arguing that his real total would be less without the use of PED’s. I imagine the Yankees are thinking over their options very carefully right now.  And, at the very least, I imagine Hal has given Hank a huge wedgie, at least I hope he has.