Jobu continues his plan for the Yankees 2012 season, this time with the offense!
In my last post, I broke down my plans for the pitching rotation and the bullpen. The most risky suggestion I made was to try to find some way to get someone to take A.J. Burnett off our hands, or just cut ties with him and eat $32 MM over the next two years. My plans for the offense are a little less drastic, but do involve one major change, and a couple of smaller ones. I fully expect my right field plan to meet with some resistance, but we’ll discuss that a little further down the line.
Overall, I wouldn’t plan on too many changes this season from the Yankees, starting with the catcher position. The Yankees have to decide if they want to bring back Russell Martin by offering him a contract or non-tendering him like the Dodgers did after last season (thanks, LA). The Yankees brought Martin on for the 2011 season for $4MM, expecting him to be an all glove, no stick type of catcher. They figured their offense would be good enough to carry Martin’s bat, as long as he threw out base runners and called a good game. Not only did Martin help guide a patchwork pitching staff to 97 wins, he also hit 18 home runs and drove in 65 runs, mostly batting in the bottom of the order. Bringing Martin back will probably cost the Yankees around $6MM, which makes it a no brainer, since neither Austin Romine nor Jesús Montero will be ready to be an every day catcher in 2012. Plus, Russell Martin has two middle names, and one of them is Coltrane… gotta bring him back!
The rest of the infield is pretty much set, and it will be for another few years at least. Mark Teixeira (.248, 39 HR, 111 RBI) and his suddenly .250s batting average are installed at 1B until after the 2016 season. At least he still plays incredible defense, and hits home runs, right? Continuing around the base paths, Robinson Canó (.302, 28 HR, 118 RBI) is probably in line for another contract extension, considering he’s probably the best offensive and defensive second baseman in the league, and has contended for the MVP two years in a row.
The left side of the infield is where it gets tricky, and potentially depressing for the Yankees for the next few seasons. Shortstop Derek Jeter looked all but done in the first 62 games of 2011 (.260, 2HR, 20 RBI), and then he injured his calf. After Jeter came back, he was like a completely different player, hitting .331 with 4 HR and 41 RBI in just 69 games. The Yankees hope to get a couple more years of production somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. He’s basically just a singles hitter now, but if he can hit .300 and get on base, that will do just fine. Third baseman Álex Rodríguez is a little bit of a different story though. Like Jeter, he’s getting older, but he’s been far less reliable of late, not managing to play more than 138 games since 2007. In 2011, he played in a career low 99 games (since he became a starter), and only managed 16 homers and 62 RBI. Rodríguez is signed through 2017 (for $144MM more), so this could turn into one of the worst contracts of all time if he can’t stay on the field or produce with his typical thump. At this point, he’ll probably get a lot of DH at bats in an attempt to stay healthy enough to play his 120 games, but I don’t expect much more than that.
With Jeter and A-Rod getting older, that’s going to create a lot of playing time for the young utility man, Eduardo Núñez. Núñez was called upon a lot in 2011 because of the aforementioned injuries to A-Rod and Jeter, and he held his own. While he struggled mightily with his defense at the beginning of the season (he ended up with 20 errors overall), he kind of got it together as the season progressed, and contributed enough with his bat and legs to cover up his defensive shortcomings. In all, Núñez played in 112 games, hit .265 with 5 HR, 30 RBI and 22 SB, but he really showed what he could do during the series at Citi (don’t call it shitty) Field, when he played two games, and went 7-8 with 4 extra-base hits. Losing A-Rod and Jeter for some time here and there might not be as bad as it would seem if Núñez can put up similar numbers again.
The Outfield is also mostly set up for next season too. Brett Gardner is one of the best defensive left fielders in the game, and one of the favorites to win the gold glove this year. His bat isn’t too shabby either. While a September slump lowered his average to .259, Gardner still hit 7 HR and stole 49 bases, both a career highs. He also came up huge in the Yankees truncated playoff run, hitting .412 against the Tigers while getting big clutch hits when it seemed no one else could. Center field is manned by the Yankees’ other MVP candidate, Curtis Granderson, so that’s all set too. Granderson simply electrified Yankees fans this season. While he only hit .264, he led the league in runs (136) and RBI (119), while mashing 41 home runs and stealing 25 bases. He also played very underrated defense this season, and even helped the Yankees win game four of the ALDS with two sparkling catches that probably saved five runs.
With those two positions set, its time to figure out what to do with right field. Nick Swisher, a crowd and clubhouse favorite, has patrolled right field for the last three seasons, hitting .267 with 81 HR and 256 RBI in that time. The Yankees hold a $10.5 MM option for Swisher’s services in 2012, and it would seem like a wise idea to pick it up (where else are you going to get 27 HR and 85 RBI for $10.5 MM), but it’s not the only option. Once again, Swisher’s bat disappeared in October. While he did hit a home run in the series, he only hit .211, and it seemed like he was striking out with the bases loaded every other at bat. This continues a history of poor October play for Swisher (.169/.295/.323), which is pretty unacceptable when you play in New York. It saddens me to say this, but I think it’s time for a change.
So who is the answer in right field for the 2012? Originally I was going to propose a bad contract for bad contract trade scenario that would send Burnett to the Mets in exchange for Jason Bay. My hopes were that a change of scenery would help both players resurrect their careers. The problem with that is, while Bay only has two guaranteed years left on his contract (for the same amount as Burnett), he has a third year option that vests with either 500 ABs in both 2012 and 2013, or just 600 ABs in 2013. If Bay is going to resurrect his career, the odds that that option will vest are pretty high, and the Yankees will owe him $17 MM in 2014. After giving it some thought, I really didn’t want the Yankees crippled by yet another huge contract for an unproductive 36 year old.
So Bay is out, but maybe his former teammate could help. In July, the Mets traded Carlos Beltrán to the San Francisco Giants, who were desperate for an offensive spark to add to their playoff push. Although the trade didn’t win them the division, Beltrán did pretty well for himself in his time in San Fran. In 44 games, Carlos hit .323 with 7 home runs and 18 RBI. The low RBI total can be blamed on the fact that no one else in the lineup actually owned a bat, which made it hard to drive in runners. The .323 average can not be ignored. Although he battled an injury and missed some time after the trade, Beltrán played 142 games overall in 2011. This was his highest total (and the first time he played over 81 games) since 2008. That’s the one risk with signing Beltrán. If he stays on the field, he’s a switch hitting right fielder with considerable power, but he’s bound to miss a little time with injury. This does not scare me as much as it might others. For one, Beltrán played center field in 2009 and 2010, which is a lot more strenuous than right field. In the less demanding position, he mostly stayed healthy and had a great year (.300, 22HR, 84 RBI overall). Secondly, his age (35) and his injury history, will probably limit his ability to get the lengthy contract that I am sure he will be seeking at the start of free agency. If they can get Beltrán on two year, $14 MM deal like they offered Johnny Damon in 2010 (Damon was a year older, but coming off a slightly better season), then he could potentially be a tremendous addition to this team. Beyond his regular season potential, Beltrán also brings with him a pretty impressive track record in the playoffs. In his two post seasons, he has hit .366 with 11 home runs and 19 RBI in just 22 games. The Yankees should have signed him back in 2005 when he went to the Mets, so here’s their chance to rectify that. It could be a relatively low risk and high reward type of contract.
That rounds out the infield and the outfield, which leaves the designated hitter and the bench. I’m going to go ahead and address the 40-year-old elephant in the room. Jorge Posada, despite his playoff performance and his nearly twenty years of service, needs to go. Hopefully he retires and walks away with his dignity, but if he wants to keep playing, it needs to be somewhere else. The Yankees will need that DH spot to rest their aging infield from time to time, but more importantly, to unleash Jesús Montero to feast on American League pitching. This kid is the future of this lineup, and the future should start full-time in 2012. Montero had a great audition as a September call up for the Yankees in 2011, ending the year with a .328/.406/.590 slash line, 4 home runs and 12 RBI in just 18 games. He was used mostly as the DH against lefties, but ended up hitting all four of his home runs off righties. Jesús is our savior, and he will rise in 2012.
With twelve pitchers (5 startes, 7 relievers), eight position players and a DH already accounted for, this leaves us with four open spots on the bench. As we mentioned before, Eduardo Núñez will get one of those spots, so that leaves three. I think it’s risky to only carry Montero as the backup catcher if he’s going to be the designated hitter nearly every day, so we’re going to need a backup catcher. I think Francisco Cervelli has earned the right to the position for the 2012 season. He’s done a great job as a backup the last couple of seasons. The pitchers like pitching to him, he comes up with big hits (50 RBI in 394 ABs), and he even improved his defense in 2011. Austin Romine should get a full season at AAA if he’s going to be the man behind the plate for years to come, and he should do that next year.
The rest of the bench is where it gets a little tricky. Ideally, you’d want to have two backup outfielders and another backup infielder, but that would leave us with 26 men instead of 25. Luckily for the Yankees, they’ve been teaching Núñez to play the outfield a bit too, so he becomes the ideal super utility man. This means the Yankees will have to find a backup corner infielder, and a right handed, power hitting outfielder. Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones played those roles perfectly this past season. If Jones (.247/.356/.495 and 13 HR) hasn’t priced himself out of the Yankees range, they should do what they can to bring him back. If his salary proves too much to spend on a bench role, I wouldn’t mind the Yankees bringing back a guy like Juan Rivera to play that role for a year. I would also prefer that the Yankees bring back Chavez, but his rumored retirement might make that impossible. This spot could be filled with the lefty hitting Greg Dobbs (.275/.311/.389, 8 HR), or by maybe bringing back another former Yankee like Wilson Betemit (.285/.343/.452). Eventually, at some point, I’d like to see minor leagues like Jorge Vazquez (.262, 32 HR 93 RBI in AAA) and Corban Joseph (.277/.353/.415 in AA) take those bench spots, but they might not be quite ready for prime time just yet.
That pretty much covers everything. 2012 should be another great season for the Yankees, especially if they are able to nail down the players I would like them to sign. If they do, and they win… does that make Jobu a genius? Anyway, here’s the offensive lineup and bench breakdowns.
1. Derek Jeter (SS)
2. Curtis Granderson (CF)
3. Robinson Canó (2B)
4. Álex Rodríguez (3B) (for as long as he’s productive and healthy)
5. Mark Teixeira (1B)
6. Carlos Beltrán (RF)
7. Jesús Montero (DH) (release the kracken!)
8. Russell Martin (C)
9. Brett Gardner (LF)
C – Francisco Cervelli
1B/3B – Wilson Betemit/Greg Dobbs
OF – Andruw Jones/Juan Rivera
UTL – Eduardo Núñez
Granderson courtesy of: http://www.upi.com/
Jeter and Rodríguez image courtesy of: Kathy Kmonicek/Newsday/MCT
Beltrán image courtesy of: http://blog.kelleylcox.com
Montero image courtesy of: http://www.ongo.com
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