Saturday, November 25, 2006

Looking Ahead: New York Yankees

A few quick free agent notes:
  • The big news is that the Astros signed free agent slugger Carlos Lee to a 6-year, $100 million contract. It's very hard to judge relative value in an offseason where the market is in constant flux. My instinct here is that the Astros are overpaying Lee, but not so much to get too upset about. Lee's deal is much fairer than those given to Soriano, Gary Matthews, and Juan Pierre. Lee's contract is heavily back-loaded, so he should be a good bargain in the first two years but quickly turn into a liability the last four years of the deal, when he'll be making $18.5 million per year. As Keith Law pointed out in his blog, Lee's not the type of player who ages well, so the Astros are gambling a lot by committing so much money to his declining years.
    On the plus side, though, the Astros did at least address what was their biggest weakness: offense. Lee's addition is a significant upgrade to the Houston lineup and improves their 2007 chances by a good margin. They overpaid to get him, but not nearly as much as everyone else is overpaying these days.
  • As mentioned above, Gary Matthews, Jr. signed a 5-year, $50 million with the Angels. This is a terrible move for Los Angeles, who can't afford to have any more expensive old guys clogging up the lineup. Matthews' 2006 was a major fluke (313/371/495 compared to a career 263/336/419), and he's not likely to match that production at age 32. This is a big stinker of a contract or a team that can't afford any. The Angels have money to spend, but they won't be able to score any runs if they keep spending it on the likes of Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad, Steve Finley, and Matthews.
  • The Diamondbacks traded catcher Johnny Estrada and two pitchers (Greg Aquino and Claudio Vargas)to the Brewers for starting pitcher Doug Davis, relief pitcher Dana Eveland, and outfielder Dave Krynzel. I mentioned before that the D-Backs would be looking to trade Estrada, now that young Miguel Montero looks ready. They addressed their pitching problems, but I'm not sure that they're that much better off. Davis is a better bet than Vargas, but not by that much. Eveland has shown some promise out of the bullpen, and Krynzel is a fourth-outfielder type who could hold down an everyday job if his hitting improves.
    From the Brewers standpoint, this isn't a bad trade. You get a good upgrade at catcher, with Estrada replacing Damian Miller. You also have a younger catcher, with Miller now possible trade bait. The Davis-for-Vargas switch is probably a net loss, but not by too much. Whether the deal works out or not depends a lot upon what (if anything) the Brewers get for Miller.
    This isn't a real winner of a trade for either team, but neither does it especially hurt them.
  • There's nothing else of news over this holiday weekend. We may have reached a temporary cooling off period, as teams look back at what it left and reexamine their strategy.

And now, the Yankees:
2006 W-L Record: 97-65
2006 pW-pL Record: 95-67
Runs Scored: 930 (1st in AL -- by far)
Runs Allowed: 767 (4th in AL)
Free Agents: Octavio Dotel, Sidney Ponson, Tanyon Sturtze, Ron Villone, Bernie Williams, Craig Wilson

2007 Projected Lineup:
1B -- Andy Phillips?
2B -- Robinson Cano
SS -- Derek Jeter
3B -- Alex Rodriguez
LF -- Hideki Matsui
CF -- Johnny Damon
RF -- Bobby Abreu
C -- Jorge Posada
DH -- Jason Giambi

2007 Proj. Rotation:
Chien-Ming Wang
Mike Mussina
Randy Johnson
Philip Hughes?
Carl Pavano?!

2007 Proj. Closer: Mariano Rivera

Offense & Defense:
The offense is doing JUST fine, thank you very much. It's still an old bunch, but GM Brian Cashman has done a good job of mix-and-match to keep from putting all of his eggs in one basket. The addition of Bobby Abreu gives the team a more athletic outlook, as does the accession of second baseman Robinson Cano. This is not and was not the greatest lineup ever assembled -- but it was damn good and will be for a few more years, at least.
The only hole the Yankees have is at first base. They would prefer Iron Glove Giambi to move to DH and get someone to play at first. Since they've got such a glut of offense from the rest of the lineup, the Yanks don't have to get a star to play first base. There are a few options that Yanks could use as a short-term fix. The free agent market isn't too promising, although Shea Hillenbrand or Scott Hatteberg wouldn't be a bad short-term fix. They could get creative and re-sign Craig Wilson, or look to convert an outfielder to the position. But the Yanks don't need to start the season with Andy Phillips as the everyday first baseman.

The Yankees finished 4th in the league in pitching last year, which is pretty amazing considering the failures and injuries they had to tolerate from a pretty sorry lot of hurlers. Things don't get a lot better this year, as everyone is just a year older (that's especially dangerous for Randy Johnson). So long as Mariano Rivera stays healthy, the Yankees should be able to get at least average work from their bullpen.
The starting rotation is the question. With Randy Johnson a big question mark, Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina are the only reliable guys the Yankees have. And neither of them are going to be Cy Young contenders. Behind those three, the Yankees still have some holes to fill, either through free agency or a trade.
The Yanks do have big-time pitching prospect Phillip Hughes, but it's doubtful that Hughes will start 2007 in the majors, unless the Yanks are really desperate. Because behind him, all you've got is Carl Pavano, and the Yanks aren't counting on him for anything. I may sound like a broken recordto say so, but as their pitching goes, so go the Yankees.

Off-season Game Plan:
Look for a creative solution at first base -- one that doesn't require a zillion-dollar investment. You'd like to get an improvement over Andy Phillips, but it's not worth paying free agent prices to get it.
Pitching-wise, set your sights on mid-level pitching help. From what I've heard, the Yankees aren't pursuing big-ticket free agents like Barry Zito or Jason Schmidt. While I can understand the fiscal realities behind that, the Yanks also need to realize that their pitching staff is not built for the long-term, and they need to have somebody left when Johnson, Mussina, and Rivera retire.
But under the circumstances, the Yanks would do well to secure someone like Ted Lilly. That would give them a solid (if unspectacular) front four with the possible addition of Phillip Hughes later in the season. It may not sound like much, but with their offense, it doesn't have to be.
The Yankees look like the favorites to repeat in the AL East. Let's just hope they don't trade A-Rod and blow the whole thing to hell.

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