Let’s take a break for a moment from bemoaning the evilness of the Yankee purse and their ability to sign Sabathia, Burnett, Teixeira, and possibly more in a single offseason, and instead take a look at some of their vulnerabilities; weaknesses that aren’t going to just go away.
There’s currently an army of bloggers and columnists proclaiming you can’t just give the Yankees the championship right now, because anything can happen. And those people are right. However, right now I will just give the Yankees the division title. This is a team that won 89 games last season despite being plagued by injuries and marching out a starting rotation built on ductape. Now give that team the best young hitter in the game in Mark Teixeira, the stuff of CC Sabathia and a semi-healthy AJ Burnett, and the return of Chen-Mien Wang (sp?), and they should easily win an additional 10 games this season. That will mean a division title for New York, and it’ll set up an interesting Wild Card battle for the Red Sox with an ever-improving Tampa Bay team – a team adding David Price to their rotation, featuring the improving bats of BJ Upton and Evan Longoria, and remember their ace Scott Kazmir was sub-par last season. It should all make for an interesting 2009.
But while the Yankees look imposing and should certainly capture the division crown, even on paper they have deep flaws that could expose them to failure come October.
- Derek Jeter. Before I bash Jeter, let me first say I think he is a hell of a player. Jeter has “it”; he has that same competitive fire and passion that guys like Larry Bird and Lance Armstrong have; that willingness to go all out and come up big when it counts most. We’ve seen it in his legendary play against the A’s; we saw it when he went into the stands to make a catch against the Sox (the same game Nomar sat pouting on the bench). But despite that, Jeter has always been overrated. He has passion; but even in his prime his numbers weren’t overly impressive compared to second-tier shortstops, and his defense was average. Now he’s going to be 35 this season — an ancient age for shortstops. His defense is already a liability. When offensively-gifted shortstops get old, they usually get moved to thirdbase or firstbase. But with ARod and Teixeira in place for the next decade, Jeter won’t be moving to those spots. And you don’t want an aged former shortstop suddenly trying to run around the outfield. The Yanks are stuck with Jeter at short, and that could be a problem for years to come.
- Jorge Posada. Prior to last season, I said Posada’s new contract was a bad deal of monumental proportions. Thanks, Jorge, for proving me right in 2008. Anticipate him being dead weight the rest of that contract too. Take away his suspiciously-good 2007 contract-year campaign, and Posada has never been an exceedingly great hitter. And his catching abilities have many Yankee pitchers grumbling. By this mid-season, it will be apparent to Cashman and diehard Yank fans they need to address the catching issue. Don’t be surprised if they get in on Saltalamacchia or other young prospect discussions. But until then, we’ll watch Jorge drag the Yanks down.
- Crowded Outfield. To fill their three outfield positions and the DH spot, the Yanks have Matsui, Damon, Swisher, Cabrera and Nady. Matsui and Damon are both years passed their prime, have seen their numbers drop, and have been recently plagued by injuries. Maybe Matsui can bounce back, but given his age and injuries, expect him to drop off. At this point in his career, Damon is a shell of himself. Speed was his game, and now it is gone, making him slower on the basepaths and a liability on defense. Nady is good. But Swisher and his .220 average make Dave Kingman look like Rod Carew. (Although, with Swisher being cut from my fantasy baseball team, expect him to have a career year in 2009.) Cabrera is a wildcard — a moderately-talented player with the personal makeup the Yanks are desperate to ship out of town. In the outfield/DH department, both the Sox and Rays have the advantage over The Bombers.
- Starting Pitching. Despite signing Sabathia and Burnett, the dependability of the Yankee starting pitching staff is far from a sure thing. While I’ve often said that, given his size and number of innings pitched, Sabathia will eventually break down, that probably won’t happen this year. It could, but anyone could get injured. And its a safer bet to expect Sabathia to be Sabathia in 2009. That being said, its also a safe bet to expect Burnett to get injured and log under 25 starts. And,even when healthy, Burnett is touchable. Wang is good, but isn’t a top-tier starting pitcher. And while he’s been great at times, he’s also gone through stretches of being very vulnerable. Even if they are all healthy, the Yankee Top 3 aren’t any better than the Top 3 pitchers for the Sox or Rays. After that, the young arms of Chamberlain, Kennedy and Hughes are a wildcard. They all have talent, but given the way the Yankees have mismanaged their development into the bigs, there’s no way to know how they’ll react this season.
Y’know, the more I think about it, maybe it is too early to give the Yanks the division crown.
Unless you’re still a shameless Manny apologist — of which there are still some out there — you have to get some joy out of the latest development in the Manny Ramirez saga.
According to New York Newsday, Ramirez is unhappy at the lack of interest in his services this offseason. While guys like CC Sabathia, Mark Texeira, AJ Burnett and even Derek Lowe have received all the attention and have each received several offers, Manny has so far been just an afterthought waiting for Teixeira to get signed so he can get the leftovers.
And it has hurt his feelings.
According to the report, Manny has even told friends that he might retire if a suitable job can’t be found. It’s great to see Manny is still being Manny.
Now, we all know Manny won’t retire. And whoever doesn’t sign Teixeira will certainly make Manny a good offer. But, hopefully, not the $20 million a year he would have received with the Sox. The Dodgers pulled their original 2-year, $45 million offer off the table, and they don’t appear in any hurry to put it back out there. If there’s any justice in the world, they’ll tell Manny there has been a market correction since then, and they’ll offer him a lower price. With any luck, Manny will end up with a contract no more than three years at “just” $18 million a year.
Of course, if they Yankees don’t sign Teixeira, they’ll screw everything up and give Manny gobs of money again. He’ll get the paycheck he wants, thumb his nose at Boston, and then we can enjoy watching his diminished skills perform in pinstripes next to those of Johnny Damon.
- The Yankees have reportedly overreacted and got their man. Word is they have an agreement with LB Sabathia for 7 years, $160 million. The Yankees got played. Nobody was going to approach their original $140 million. And all the talk about Sabathia prefering the West Coast and the National League was just posturing; a way to negotiate his pricetag up since nobody was going to outbid the Yankees. Make no mistake: He was going to go with the biggest paycheck. But when he didn’t react to the Yankees $140 mill offer, and started floating reports that he wanted to be a Dodger and maybe something was wrong with the Yankee offer, Cashman and Co. overreacted and upped the price. So now they got their man — a good pitcher who is overweight at a young age and already has a lot of miles on his arm. I like this recipe.
- The Yankees might want to use some restraint with how they approach the rest of the offseason. They paid a huge price to go get Sabathia. Given that, it would seem absurd that they could also sign Burnett, Lowe and Manny Ramirez (and maybe even be players for Texeira). However, they do have more money than God, and right now they do seem to be governed more by emotional panic than cool reasoning. They have a healthy financial advantage over the rest of the league. But if they do spend an abscene amount of money to scoop a lot of these free agents (especially while other teams are being squeezed by the economy), it could lead to a clamoring for a luxurary tax with more teeth, or even a salary cap. The Yanks should be careful not to pull a Plaxico Burress and shoot themselves in the leg.
- With the Yanks apparently about to sign Derek Lowe, it looks likely that AJ Burnett could be heading to Atlanta. Should that happen, the Yanks rotation looks like it could be Sabathia, Wang (not an ace, but a good Number Two), and Lowe. They’ll likely have Pettitte back to serve as the Number Four, and then a number of question marks in their young arms. But at least those young arms have the time to work their way into the rotation instead of carry it, like Cashman expected them to do last season. I’d still give the edge in starting rotation to the Red Sox and Devil Rays (last year’s young studs plus David Price), but the Yankees would certainly be back in the mix.
- With Sabathia out of the picture, things are going to start getting very interesting. I expect there’ll be a lot of movement on Texeira in the coming days, with him likely joining the Red Sox by next week at this time. There’s a lot of questions, though. With K-Rod gone, can the Angels really afford to lose Texeira, and could they possibly be willing to go so far as to outspend the Red Sox? (I can’t see it.) If the Angels do lose Texeira, they have to go after Manny Ramirez. I would expect Manny to wait on Texeira, but there is already talk of the Dodgers and Yankees possibly working on him. If the Angels lose out on both Tex and Manny, what alternatives do they have? They suddenly become very vulnerable in the AL West. And with Sabathia off the board, how likely is it and how soon might it happen that the Sox look to snag an arm, Brad Penny perhaps?
- With his catching options dwindling all around him, do you think Jason Varitek might regret rejecting arbitration?
- If the Sox do snag Texeira, don’t be surprised if they keep Lowell around for awhile, and perhaps even to start the season. Once they sign Tex, there will likely be an opinion by most teams that the Sox will be over a barrel and desperate to get rid of Lowell, so other teams will try to lowball the Sox with their offers. But Theo and Co. are ever mindful of the value of players. And if fair value isn’t offered in the offseason, they’ll likely keep Lowell around through Spring Training, and will likely even be willing to keep him around throughout April. Nobody’s better at working guys into a lineup than Terry Francona. And there’s no better team player than Mike Lowell. A willingness to keep him around through April will show teams they need to come up with a real offer. There’s also the potential that another team’s third baseman will be injured in the spring or April and suddenly have a desperate need for Mike Lowell. And then the Sox can cash in.
So far, the Red Sox have taken a slow and steady approach to this offseason, and as a result they could end up reaping big rewards.
Three days into the Winter Meetings, and this long, slow Hot Stove season is only just beginning to simmer. Partially because some teams have overspent in recent years, and partially because some are wary of and feeling the effects from the struggling economy, many teams just don’t have the money to spend this offseason. And the free agent market seems to be stalling because of it. Witness K-Rod’s recent contract for just 3 years at $37 million.
Meanwhile, teams that overreacted out of the gate could end up way overspending for players. Given the market, there’s a great chance the Yankees could maybe have landed Sabathia for less than they have so far offered — at least that is if it is just about the money. They could have started out trimming a few years and few million off their initial offer, seen what the market looked like, and then upped it if need be. Instead, they have offered a bigger contract than maybe they needed to. Down in Atlanta, the Braves reacted to the potential overreaction of the Yankees on AJ Burnett, offering the oft-injured 32-year-old a four-year contract for big money. And over in Los Angeles, the 2-year contract in the mid-40-million range the Dodgers originally offered Manny hasn’t been put back on the table, even as the two sides begin talking again. Could it be the Dodgers realize they aren’t in a bidding war with anyone over Ramirez?
As all this is going on, some teams are even starting to shed payroll. The Astros are looking to dump Miguel Tejada’s salary. More are bound to start coming.
And then you have the Red Sox. They have taken their time to assess the market and haven’t overreacted and overbid on anyone. They have set their sights on Texeira, and can now go after him with a contract that reflects his value in this market. It’ll be huge; but maybe they can save $10 or $15 million over the life of an eight-year contract. That’s better than just throwing money you don’t have to at a player (CC and $140 mill). Meanwhile, they have money to spend, thanks to a passionate fanbase and good planning through integrating talented young players into their roster. Maybe they do end up benefiting from a down market to steal a talented arm or two like a Brad Penny, or even an AJ Burnett (which I still don’t see). And maybe they cash in on some of these players on teams looking to shed payroll.
Right now, the Red Sox are holding all the cards.
While we wait for the Winter Meetings and the big push to sign Mark Texeira, here are a few thoughts:
- According to the Boston Globe, there are whispers that the Red Sox might be in the mix to sign shortstop Rafael Furcal. But this is a move I’d be hesitant to make. Furcal is in the mold of an AJ Burnett or JD Drew — a oft-injured player who has never quite lived up to his physical talent. He has all the tools to be an elite shortstop, but his body is either too fragile, or he has a shortage of guts. Whatever the reason, Furcal will likely command too much money and too many years to take on that kind of injury risk. Maybe if it was a one-year deal, two max, anticipating that when Furcal goes down you’ll have Jed Lowrie to fill in and take his time to develop into a big-leaguer. But I expect Furcal will command at least three years, probably four, not to mention an annual contract north of $12 million and require the Sox to give up a draft pick (and they’ll already be giving up one should they sign Texeira). Furcal isn’t worth it.
- I still say don’t be surprised if the Red Sox sneak in to make a major push for Jake Peavy. The Padres seem to be having a problem finding the right fit for him, and as of now it looks like deals with the Braves and Cubs have fallen through. The Sox want to acquire a starting pitcher this offseason. And they have the young pitching to deal for one of the game’s proven elite arms. Peavy is an infinitely better pitcher than Derek Lowe or AJ Burnett (I’d even take him over Sabathia), and acquiring him via trade means the Sox won’t lose a draft pick (although they’ll have to give up some good, young arms; but that’s what you do with unproven talent). And while the Sox currently aren’t on the list of teams Peavy would accept a trade to . . . well, money talks.
- The Red Sox have reportedly become involved in the LB Sabathia sweepstakes. But let’s face it: this is a very thinly-veiled attempt to drive the price up for the Yanks. During the Johan Santana saga last winter, that would have involved a trade with the Twins instead of a free agent signing, which gave the Sox an advantage over the Yanks — they could present a better package to the Twinkies. In the Sabathia chase, being a free agent means this is strictly about money, and, given how much the Yanks want him, its a chase the Sox can’t win. Not that they’d want to. Let someone else pay the steep price and long-term years of a risky contract for LB.
- Good news out of southern California. A reporter for an Orange County newspaper was speculating that the Texeira would be signing with the Red Sox in the next few weeks. His reasoning was if he was going to re-sign with the Angels, he probably would have done so by now.
- After my last post, people raised some good points about the importance of keeping Mike Lowell and having AJ Burnett as a fourth starter. However, I’m sticking by my guns. Even if he’s a fourth starter, there’s no point in paying Burnett big money if he only pitches half a season. And, unfortunately, he has a long history of that. Plus, roughly 5 years and $80 million is a steep price to pay for a Number 4 pitcher, especially one without a track record of durability and success. That money would be better spent elsewhere . . . even for trying to get a guy like Jake Peavy, someone who could be a Top 2 pitcher on your staff. Burnett just has much too much risk at such a high pricetag. Regarding Mike Lowell, he is certainly a favorite of all Red Sox fans and has done nothing but excel in his time with the Red Sox. However, the great thing about the current Sox regime is they tend to make decisions based on logic rather than emotion. And, if you want to consistently win championships, that means making emotionally tough decisions. Nobody wants to see Mike Lowell go. But it will make for a better team. Lowell’s best days are behind him, and injuries are certainly going to become more common while his production will certainly decline. His value is at an all-time high right now. Getting Texeira keeps the Sox as good (and maybe even better) defensively, while giving them a more productive lineup. And while Lowell has been a clubhouse leader, word the Sox like Texeira’s personal makeup. On top of that, Lowell should be able to fetch a good return in the trade market. It’ll be sad to see him go, but championship champagne certainly eases the sadness.
- This has nothing to do with baseball, but it is damn funny — Santa’s elves dubbed over by dialogue from the movie Full Metal Jacket. WARNING: The video features “adult” language, so don’t watch it someplace where you could get fired or scar a child’s psyche:
One week before Thanksgiving, and the hot stove is ready to cook. You can expect a flurry of offers, rumors and speculation up until Turkey Day; then a flurry of signings the week after.
WHAT I LIKE SO FAR
The Coco deal: Scoring Ramon Ramirez – a 27-year-old strikeout reliever with a sub-3.00 ERA in the American League last year – is about as much as you could expect to get for Crisp. Thankfully, Coco performed great the last two months of the season to up his trade value. If you’re not a big fan of this deal, you should be. Don’t look at the last two months of the season and think it is a sign of things to come for Coco. He played in Boston three years, and we’ve seen the player he is: A guy who is an excellent outfielder but most of the time is excruciatingly frustrating at the plate with the exception of brief flukes (August & September). Crisp will be an excellent addition to a team like the Royals, and he could very likely find himself contributing on a team that surprises people next year. Meanwhile, you can never stockpile enough relief pitching, and hopefully Ramirez can be a solid contributor out of the pen in ’09.
Texeira Rumors: Although I still don’t count the Yankees out completely from the Mark Texeira race, I’m glad to read that most people seem to think them acquiring Nick Swisher signals they aren’t in it. But I’ll believe that once Texeira is in a Red Sox uniform. I’m happy that the Sox are considered the front-runners alongside the Angels in this race, and sound like they are positioning themselves for an aggressive run at the hitter with the most upside in this free agent class. Acquiring Texeira would give them one mighty lineup next season.
Catcher Rumors: Regardless of whether they bring back Jason Varitek, the Sox need to get themselves their catcher of the future. And it sounds like even if they do bring back Tek, the Sox are determined to get one of the young catchers from the Rangers, possibly even offensively-gifted Jason Saltalamacchia. This bodes well.
Lugo To Tigers: There’s a rumor that the Tigers might be interested in acquiring Julio Lugo and sending the Sox either Nate Robertson or Dontrelle Willis. I’d trade Lugo for a bag of balls, as I don’t think he has any trade value, so I’d love to see them get a pitcher. My one concern here is Dontrelle Willis’ contract, which I haven’t looked up. If I remember right, the Tigers signed him to a rich, long-term contract. If that’s the case, I might be scared. Maybe they take on each others’ bad contracts. And while Willis has been undependable and was downright terrible last year, his age and stuff means he still has a lot of potential upside. But at what price?
Yankees Are Still Rich But Stupid: The Yankees are poised to offer an oil tanker full of money and long-term years to C.C. (or LB) Sabathia this winter. Sabathia is a great pitcher, and he **dominated in Milwaukee this season (**=facing National League hitters). But he can be beat (see 2007 ALCS), and he can’t singlehandedly take a team to October. Plus, that kind of long-term contract for a pitcher — especially one with the girth of Sabathia — is a huge risk (Where Are They Now: Bartolo Colon). Tack on the fact that they also plan to payout big cash to get A.J. Burnett — a guy whose entire career has been marked by underachieving, injury-plagued seasons — and Derek Lowe — who last time he was seen in the American League was a headcase sporting an ERA north of 5.00 — and the Yankees could be putting themselves in a bad position for years to come. Sure, they are rich beyond belief, but even the Yankees aren’t immune from suffering the effects of numerous bad contracts. And, let’s face it, this is the same management team that thought they could win last year with three unproven rookies in Hughes, Kennedy and Chamberlain, and who brought in broken-down pitchers in Kevin Brown, Jared Wright and Randy Johnson.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
Sox In On Burnett: As I already stated, I am not a big fan of A.J. Burnett. But I know Sox owner John Henry is. So it is with a lot of concern that I’ve read the Sox are genuinely interested in Burnett. Hopefully they are just upping the price for the Yankees. If that’s the case, you can refile this in the above section. But if it isn’t, consider me even more worried about this than I was about the Sox chasing JD Drew. And you saw how that worked out . . . . . Oh, wait. Never mind.
Jake Peavy: There’s a few things I don’t like here. First, as I stated when rumors first surfaced that the Padres were dangling Peavy, I said the Sox should try to make this deal. Peavy has proven himself to be one of the game’s elite pitchers. His stuff, his track record, and his age make him a prime target to be among the game’s best for the next several years. And he doesn’t have the, ahem, “baggage” that Sabathia has. The Sox should be willing to move one of their top pitching prospects, as prospects are unproven and often don’t work out. And you always — ALWAYS — deal a prospect for an elite proven player. So I am concerned that the Sox are not involved in the Peavy bidding. Peavy can veto the trade, and right now doesn’t list the Sox as a candidate of his, but that could always be made to change, especially by the Red Sox. The other thing I really, really don’t like about this is I am now hearing the Yankees may be getting in on Peavy. Sabathia, Burnett and Lowe don’t scare me; the Yankees getting Peavy does.