Okay, so were at home watching the Tigers take out the A’s. Maybe the Tigers were for real? I guess we won’t know for a little while longer, but while were watching teams other than our Yankees, I thought it might be time to address some key questions the Yankees should address during the off season, heading into the winter meetings and spring training. And boy do we have some questions to answer.
First and foremost the issue of Joe Torre has already been resolved. George Steinbrenner cooled his jets and will give Torre one more year. I think this is a fair response and given the abundency of issues Torre has had to face the past couple of years, he has earned one more year. While I have already talked about this issue in my previous post, I think this is clearly a good sign of how things have changed during the past few years and the "right" direction the Yankees as an organization are moving forward.
Like I said, there are some key issues to deal with. Some of the suggestions may be fairly realistic, some may be considered a nice wish list. The point in either case is to offer up some ideas in the hopes this time next year we will be cheering the Yankees onto their 27th world championship. So without further delay…
Suggestions for 2007
First and foremost the Yankees must address the pitching, both the starting rotation and the bullpen. The past couple of years, the importance of having a solid starting rotation and bullpen has been quite clear. The Yankees seems to have had half the picture in place with the other half being a horror show waiting to happen. This year, Wang has clearly demonstrated even though he dosen’t have the over powering, blow you away fastball, he is clearly a winner going 19-6 with a 3.63 era. After two years in the bigs, Wang has an impressive record of 27-11 and a 3.77 era pitching 334.1 innings. After Wang, Mussina clearly showed he deserves to have his contract extension picked up. His record of 15-7 with a 3.51 era was impressive and when given a little rest, can still be quite effective. Mussina could also be considered the elder statesman of the team.
After Wang and Mussina, things get a little fuzzy. Sure Johnson won 17 games this year and flirted with a no hitter on several occasions. However, Johnson also sported a hefty 5.00 era which is the highest of his career since 1989 with the Expos. Johnson has also been one of my favorite pitchers, but in 2007 he will be approaching 44 years of age, no knees and a bad back that has now been reported to need surgery. Sure he can be effective… at times. But, he also ineffective nearly half the time. If I were the Yankees, it would be time to sit down with Johnson and talk about retirement.
Except we still have three openings in the rotation after Wang and Mussina and Johnsons retirement. Cory Lidle should be the 5th starter in the rotation. His numbers have never been impressive, but he can put in a good game and eat up innings. Though, he should be warned if his numbers dont improve, we have another option (discussed in a moment). The next suggestion is to go after Barry Zito who is a free agent when the A’s finish their season. This year Zito went 16-10 with a 3.83 era. More importantly Zito’s career record is 102-63 and an era of just 3.55. He also has pitched over 200 innings since 2001. He has never missed a start and will only be turning 29 next year and is in his prime. Zito is as about as sure as you can get now days.
After Zito, its time to bring the Yankees number prospect up and into the bigs full time. Of course were talking Phillip Hughes. He has dominated at every level in the minors, sports amazing control and three strong pitches. With the Yankees scoring behind him Hughes should have a pretty strong rookie year. Its time. So the starting rotation would look like this:
What about Pavano? He hasn’t played in over 18 months and sports more injuries than a punching bag. Pavano, lets face it has been a major bust of prolific portions. Who knows if he will be back next year, I wouldn’t count on it. Dotel who had Tommy John surgery can back faster than Pavano. The other suggestions is to work Steve White and Tyler Clippard into the rotation here and there. These two have done nearly as well as Hughes in the minors with Clippard even throwing a no-hitter. Its time to get their feet wet.
Ah, the bullpen. Rivera is good as gold, but he is getting a little older and could use a little more rest now days. The problem has been having somebody strong enough to get through the 8th without having to bring Rivera in to clean up the mess. Farnsworth is a hit or miss guy and this year he was 3-6 with 6 saves and sported a not to clean 4.36 era. Though, I think Farnsworth and Dotel splitting time working the 8th inning would be a fairly good option. Don’t look at Dotel’s numbers this year and frown, he was just coming back from Tommy John surgery and it takes time to get your groove back, plus I got the feeling the Yankees were being very cautious this year in the games he did appear in.
Scott Proctor a starter turned reliever is a great 6th/7th inning guy who can also come in the 8th if Farnsworth is giving up too many homeruns. Proctor this year went 6-4 with one save and an era of 3.52 while pitching 102.1 innings. I have always liked Proctor and I think he is an essential key for the Yankees in the future in the RP role. I would also think about keeping Villone who peformed well most of the season, but worn down along with Brian Bruney who I think suprised some people this year and has a lot of great potential. Now here is the kicker, Jaret Wright should be a long relief pitcher. He was lucky to get through 5 innings this year and has been inconsistant. I don’t believe he is starter quality any longer, but would be a nice innings eater if one of the starters leave early or if you need a spot start here and there. The next thing I would do is bring up and keep on the roster Sean Henn has a long reliever and JB Cox who should start working towards being the setup man for Rivera with the thought that one day he takes over the closer role.
Defense, First Base and Sheffield
Heres the thing. How much offense does one need? It was clear despite having an all-star line-up in the playoffs, you still may not hit. One of the painful issues affecting the Yankees over the past 3-4 seasons has been defense and errors. Lets face it, Giambi can’t play 1B effectively any longer, but I like his bat. This would make him a great full-time DH canidate. So who plays 1B? Sheffield is the name people have brought up because of the Abreu trade. Sure having Sheffs bat is nice, but he is over 38 now and at $13 million would be an expensive 1B who may not be too strong in the field. Unless Sheff is willing to accept a much lower salary, I think the Yankees should let him go and work on finding a strong defensive canditate. Personally, I wouild hand the job over to Andy Phillips. He has earned it and can hit, even if he dosent match Sheffields numbers, the Yankees don’t need him too. His role will be a defensive one. The point here is, don’t worry about the offense when the defense is what is lacking right now.
ield and Bernie
Ironically, one nice problem the Yankees have is too many outfielders. Let’s be blunt, unless an unfortunate injury occurs, the starting outfield will be Mastui, Damon and Abreu. This leaves Cabrera, possibly Williams and possibly Sheffield. As I stated its time to cut the string with Sheffield. Williams is a Yankee and he was a tremendous asset for the Yankees this year. But, unfortunately years of hard playing and injuries have taken a toll on his OF abilites making him more of a liabiity than anything else. With the DH spot going to Giambi, where does Williams fit in? I say offer him another year, min salary and turn him into a player/coach. He is a great role model/teacher for Cabrera, Cano and other youngsters. Williams can spot DH and spot the OF position when needed, but his biggest role will be the coaching part.
With that I think Cabrera is your 4th outfielder who should play on a daily basis rotating between Matsui, Damon and Abreu giving them each rest. Cabrera really came through this year and has earned a full-time spot, unfortunately, their are some very talented veterens ahead of him, but that dosen’t mean his role should be dimished any. After Cabrera its time to give Kevin Thompson some time in the OF. In only 19 games, Thomson hit .300 and pulled out a HR. Another young kid who I believe has earned his shot with the big boys.
The Bench Players
The bench is nearly as important has any other position. Where the bench needs to be addressed is the infield now. I believe five players could fit this role of infield and even some of backups. Youngsters Andy Cannizaro and Nick Green both performed well when given the shot, Aaron Guiel who seem to find himself once he put on the pinstripes, Craig Wilson who can play both 1B and OF and Will Nieves at catcher. I know some will wonder about Miguel Cairo, but Miguel has never been an offensive threat and actually cost the Yankees more runs than help. I don’t believe there will be any real FA’s worth paying the money they will want who would be any better than the ones I have mentioned.
When its all said and done
I don’t think the Yankees need to rewrite the books on having a successful 2007. In fact, there are many positives from the past two years to show we are headed in the right direction. The Yankees have a lot of the right pieces to complete the championship puzzle. Primarily, the focus should be on getting younger by cutting the old weight, improving the defensive and sticking with the youngsters. If they do these simple things, the Yankees should have a great 2007 and that elusive 27th championship is all but guarenteed.