Baseball’s “hot stove” only sizzles because of the Yankees’ annual participation in the offseason craze for the big-name free agents and trade targets, and this winter should be no exception to that rule. After eight disappointing years since the 2000 World Series, the Yankees have been big players in the free agent and trade markets each and every offseason. Before the 2001 season, the Yankees signed Mike Mussina to a long term deal, and they gave Jason Giambi $120 million the following year. GM Brian Cashman traded for Javier Vazquez and Kevin Brown in 2003, and he also invested in the always reliable Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright in 2005. The list goes on and on.
Since the Yankees won their last four World Series with a team built around a deep pitching staff, many of their offseason moves since 2001 have been disasters. However, as the Yankees begin a new era at their new cathedral of baseball in April, Cashman may be facing a more difficult crisis this winter than Barack Obama. If the Yankees want to make the playoffs this year, they must be willing to put a dent in their wallet with these four actions.
1. Do not resign aging veteans: Jason Giambi, Carl Pavano, Bobby Abreu and Ivan Rodriguez all have options to play for the Yankees next season. If the Yankees decide to bring all of these players back next season, it will cost the team $52 million. None of these players deserve that kind of money and the Yankees should look elsewhere to fill their needs at first base, catcher and starting pitcher.
2. Address the pitching woes: If the Yankees decide to start the 2009 season with the players they currently have under contract, their rotation would include Chien-Ming Wang, Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves, Ian Kennedy and Kei Igawa or Darrell Rasner in the fifth spot. These pitchers have won a combined total of 72 games at the major league level, with Chien Ming Wang having 52 of those career wins. There is no doubt that this rotation would rank among the worst rotations in baseball. Just like every offseason, the Yankees are desperate for arms.
Luckily for the Bronx Bombers, many talented pitchers including CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and former Red Sox great Derek Lowe are free agents this winter, and the Yankees cannot miss out on the opportunity to acquire at least one of those big-time free agent arms this offseason.
The Yankees oddly decided not to trade for Johan Santana last offseason, and the Yankees suffered greatly this season because of this inaction. So far, Cashman’s dream team of young home grown pitchers has not become a reality. The fact is that the Yankees must sign Sabathia, two of the lower tier free agent pitchers, or all three of them. According to Peter Abraham of the Journal News, the Yankees will have $75 million of extra spending power if they choose not to re-sign their aging free agents.
If the Yankees can convince Sabathia to play in New York (which is not a sure thing anymore due to playoff failures), the Yankees will need to lure him with at least $20 million per year. But if the Yankees have plans of reaching the World Series any time soon, they need a reliable, durable and expensive ace.
3. Power outage: First base and center field:Playing center field for the New York Yankees is one of the most prestigious honors in baseball. Dating back to Mickey Mantle, Bobby Murcer, and more recently, Bernie Williams, the Yankees have prided themselves on having great center fielders. Today however, the Yankees do not have anyone capable of playing an entire season in center field. The Yankees had hoped Melky Cabrera would fill the gap between Johnny Damon and future star Austin Jackson. However, the Melk-Dud simply cannot hit. In 2009, the Yankees should move Johnny Damon to first base in order to limit his chance of injury while keeping his dependable bat in the lineup. As for this year, the Yankees could try to trade Robinson Cano for a young center fielder such as Corey Hart, Nick Swisher, or Cameron Maybin. Or, they could platoon Brett Gardner and Johnny Damon in centerfield. If all else fails, the Yankees will secure Mark Teixeira and have themselves a steady switch-hitting first baseman for many years to come.
4. Sign him, but make him shave: What worked with Johnny Damon will work with Manny Ramirez. A clean-cut Manny Ramirez will be a sight to be seen in pinstripes. Despite his peculiar idiosyncrasies, his value to a team is undeniable and he is still one of the best clutch hitters in the game. He carried the Dodgers into the NLCS and should be considered for the National League MVP this year. There is no doubt he can still hit and stay healthy. He can be inserted into the DH spot behind Alex Rodriguez in the lineup, and furthermore, Manny will behave in pinstripes because he will be so much happier than he was in Boston.