You’ve heard what Boston Jerry would do to fix the Red Sox, this week, Jobu’s gonna tell you how he’d get the Yankees back on top in 2012.
I know what you guys are thinking. In 2011, the Yankees won 97 games and finished atop the toughest division in baseball… What could they possibly need help with? In my opinion, the Yankees offense carried an overachieving pitching staff further than the team should have gotten this past season, and steps must be taken to solidify the rotation. If you had told me in April that a starting rotation that included Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colón and Freddy García for most of the season would lead the Yankees to a division title and 97 wins, I would have said that you were crazed (that’s how I talk). So what’s there to fix and what should the Yankees do to ensure a World Series title in 2012? Sit back and I’ll tell you.
Before I begin, I have to say that I am not one of those guys that calls WFAN and says that the Yankees should trade Eduardo Núñez for Johan Santana. What you are about to read is something I would like to ideally see happen, but I understand it’s probably a dream scenario. The things I suggest are realistic enough that they might be possible, and they might not, but this is my blog, so I can express my opinions. OK there is your disclaimer, now let’s get to the meat and potatoes.
The first thing the Yankees have to do is figure out the General Manager situation. Brian Cashman’s contract is up, and the team needs to decide if they want him back or not, sign him, or let him go and choose someone else very quickly. As I’m writing this blog, it appears that the two sides are having productive negotiations and Cashman should be back at the helm and ready to make some moves to improve the team sooner rather than later. I really think bringing him back is the best option. Cashman has been with the organization since 1986, and he’s been building the team himself since the 1998 off-season (2005 without the undermining from Tampa). While he might not always make the moves for the players the fans want, every move he makes (and doesn’t make) are for the good of the team. He was highly criticized this off-season for allowing Andy Pettitte to walk away and not getting Cliff Lee, but he offered Lee more years and more money than the Phillies, so what’s he supposed to do? People also wanted him to overpay for Ubaldo Jimenez in July, but he wasn’t very good for the Indians when they got him instead. Anyway… once the front office is settled, it’s time to fix the pitching staff.
Pitching wins ballgames, and that’s a concept the Yankees are very familiar with. Cashman has already stated that his goal this off-season will be to solidify the rotation. This year’s starting rotation was a bit of a patchwork of cagey veterans, surprise rookies and stem cell infused old guys. While this rotation helped them to the playoffs, I don’t think the Yankees will be able to count on having these guys all back, let alone being as effective as they were this year. Priority number one is going to be figuring out what C.C. Sabathia is doing. Sabathia has an opt out clause in his contract, and I think he will probably exercise it. That being said, I fully expect C.C. to be back in pinstripes in 2012. My guess is that the Yankees will tack on a couple of years and about $45 MM more to the end of his current deal, and he’ll be on the mound on opening day. I do believe, however, that if C.C. gets too greedy, the Yankees need to cut him loose. There’s other pitching on the market, and you don’t want to get stuck with a 39-year-old, 300 lb pitcher making $25 MM dollars just to have a few more successful prime seasons in the short term.
Assuming C.C. does stay, he’ll need some help. In 2011, the Yankees got 311 combined innings from Bartolo Colón and Freddy García, who are a combined 73 years old. The fact that both of these men were signed during spring training to minor league deals makes what they gave the Yankees this past season damn near a miracle. Another 165.1 innings (and 16 wins) came from Iván Nova, a 24-year-old rookie whose rise to prominence was so unexpected that, two years ago, was almost given away for free to the San Diego Padres. I, for one, think Nova is the pitcher he showed us he could be in 2011 (give or take a couple of wins and about a half-run on his ERA), so that spot is settled. Of the two old men, I would only bring back one of them. I think both of them did enough in 2011 to earn major league deals, and the Yankees shouldn’t foot the bill and all the risk of bringing both on full time in 2012. Of the two, I think García’s makeup (tough as nails, throws whatever he can get outs with) is a better fit to bring back in 2012. While Colón’s fastball was electric in the first half, he started breaking down towards the end of the year, and he’s 38 years old. We thank him for his amazing work in 2011, and we move on. That settles three spots in the rotation, for about $30 MM ($23 MM for C.C., probably $5-6 MM for García and $500K for Nova).
Here’s where the fun begins. The two spots that remain open could easily be filled with another year of Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett. Hughes probably deserves a chance at a comeback after his strenuous 2011 season, but what fun would that be (more on this in a bit)? Meanwhile, Burnett is under a heavy duty contract worth $33 MM over the next two seasons. The good thing about bad contracts, is that every team has them. This means that every team would relish an opportunity to get out from under one. All the Yankees have to do (so simple, right?) is find someone willing to take on A.J.’s contract in exchange for relief from a bad contract of their own. Unfortunately I can’t even come up with a good scenario for this type of deal that doesn’t involve another pitcher for the rotation, which is what we’re trying to free up space for. Unfortunately, I think the only option is to either find someone who wants Burnett and pay them most of his salary for the next two years, or just cut him loose and eat $32 MM. If there is any team in baseball that can afford to do this, it’s the Yankees. I’d rather them do that than watch him pitch every fifth day for the next two years. So this leaves us with another free spot, and the Yankees are gonna have to go very far to fill it.
Japan is the land of the rising sun and, if recent years are your only evidence, the land of over-hyped pitchers. For every Hiroki Kuroda (under the radar, very solid pitcher), there are two or three Kei Igawas. The guy everyone’s salivating over this year is Yu Darvish, a half Iranian, half Japanese hurler currently playing for the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Pacific League (that’s in Japan). So what separates Darvish from the rest? For one, Darvish doesn’t have the typical Japanese pitcher’s body. He’s tall (6’5″) and solid, and not short and dumpy like Daisuke Matsuzaka or flimsy like Kei Igawa. The 25-year-old also has better numbers than anyone who has ever come to the United States from Japan. From 2007-2010 (792.1 innings), Darvish had 58-22 record with a 1.81 ERA (1.88 his worst) and a 0.91 WHIP. His peripheral stats are equally as impressive, as he has struck out 9.9 hitters per 9 innings and only walked 2.1 (that’s a K/BB ratio of 4.72). This season’s stats were harder to find, but after much googling, I came up with the following: 27 starts, a 17-6 record, a 1.49 (1.49!) ERA, and 261 Ks in 223 innings. He has put up these incredible numbers with the help of a fastball that sits in the mid 90s (topped out at 98 during the WBC), and his allegedly elite level slider, sinker and curve balls. All of the scouting reports say that Darvish is the real deal, and from watching him pitch in the World Baseball Classic (13 innings, 20 Ks, 2.08 ERA), I’m inclined to agree. Darvish is not a free agent, but he is expected to be posted by the Nippon Ham Fighters this off-season. The Yankees will probably have to beat out the Texas Rangers for the rights to negotiate with Darvish, but if they can’t, they can always take C.J. Wilson from them (watch out for a possible Adam Wainwright option declining from St. Louis as well).
So that’s four rotation spots filled, with Phil Hughes left on the board. Hughes will probably be a fine fifth starter for this team. I, however, think that he’d be a bigger help out of the bullpen. Joba Chamberlain is coming off of Tommy John surgery, which will probably keep him on the disabled list through the first couple of months of the season. To me, the obvious replacement is Phil Hughes. I know Hughes was a solid starter for this team in 2010, but there’s no denying how impressive he was as the 8th inning guy in 2009, and even in his role out of the bullpen in the 2011 post season. Out of the bullpen, Hughes throws harder and pitches a lot more aggressively, so I put him where he thrives most. Don’t worry, I’m not gonna say that the Yankees should rush one of the Killer B’s (Manny Banuelos, Delin Betances) to the Majors to make them the 5th. My vote for 5th starter goes to free-agent-to-be Edwin Jackson, who is currently pitching in the NLCS for the St. Louis Cardinals. Jackson is your typical solid right handed pitcher. He’s still young (28) and he’s been solid while pitching in both leagues over the last four seasons (except for that half year he spent in Arizona), usually in some kind of pennant race. Overall, not counting his time in the desert, Edwin is 43-31 with a 3.86 ERA, a 1.39 WHIP and a solid 6.6 K/9 during that time. He even lowered his walk total in 2011 (career low 62), which had been one of his issues. He also has AL East experience, cutting his teeth with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2007 and 2008. He’s my guy.
With the rotation set, we turn our attention to the vaunted Yankees bullpen (one of the best in baseball), which is actually pretty much already set. I believe the Yankees will carry twelve total pitchers, leaving seven bullpen spots to fill. Right off the bat, Rafael Soriano (assuming he doesn’t opt out), David Robertson (4-0, 1.08 ERA, 13.5 K/9) and Mariano Rivera (the best ever) have the 7th, 8th and 9th innings locked down (SoRoMo), which leaves four open spots. As I mentioned before, Hughes is in there to solidify things while Joba Chamberlain recovers from Tommy John surgery. I’m hoping they bring back Boone Logan to be the LOOGY of the pen (or sign someone else cheap), which leaves two spots. I think Corey Wade did enough in 2011 (6-1, 2.04 ERA) to earn a spot in the 2012 bullpen, which leaves one final spot. That spot usually goes to a long reliever, which I think should go to one of the 2011 rookies, George Kontos or Hector Noesi, whoever performs better in Spring Training. Assuming Joba comes back at some point, I would drop either Wade or Kontos/Noesi, whoever is pitching worse at the time of his return. Bullpens are always easy to plan on paper. However, the guys in the bullpen at the beginning of the season are almost never all there at the end of the year, so I’ll be excited and curious to see who gets hurt or under-performs, and who steps up to replace them as the season progresses.
There you have it, folks. Jobu’s plan for the Yankees pitching rotation and bullpen in 2012. Here’s a breakdown of what it should look like.
1. C.C. Sabathia
2. Yu Darvish/C.J. Wilson
3. Iván Nova
4. Edwin Jackson
5. Freddy Garcia (one more year, then Banuelos or Betances in 2013)
Mariano Rivera (one more year to add to his saves record)
David Robertson (closer in 2013?)
George Kontos/Hector Noesi (until Joba is healthy)
Come back later this week, when I’ll tackle the hitters, and answer the pending right field question.
Yankees image courtesy of: http://leeloveshottrends.com
Sabathia image courtesy of: AP/Nick Wass
Darvish image courtesy of: http://www.ongo.com
Rivera image courtesy of: http://mikemccann.blogspot.com
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