Yankees 2009 Off Season Moves – Part One: PITCHING

So, I suppose an introduction is in order. My name is Jason and my most meaningful occupation is that of significant other aka SO, to the host of this blog, my darling Lisa. She’d commented recently on having not given much attention to the baseball aspect she intended to include in this blog and she’s asked me if I wouldn’t mind writing up a little something about the Yankees offseason to this point. She and I seldom completely agree on anything related to the Yanks, but I agreed to throw my opinions out there all the same.

First off, lets review the players that have departed the Yankees since the end of last season:

Bobby Abreu (RF), Jason Giambi (1B/DH), Carl Pavano (SP), Mike Mussina (SP), Sidney Ponson (SP), Ivan Rodriguez (C), Chad Moeller (C), Darrell Rasner (SP/RP), Justin Christian (OF), Chris Britton (RP), Richie Sexson (1B), Billy Traber (RP), and Wilson Betemit (IF)

All of these players have left the Yankees via free agency, trade, or release since the end of the 2008 season. This of course left many holes to fill as well as a large portion of payroll flexibility with which to make improvements. The major losses are of course Mussina (who won 20 games in 2008), Abreu (a perrenial .300 .avg/ 100 RBI hitter), and Giambi (30+ HR in any healthy year). So an offense that underperformed loses some pop and a rotation that limped along loses it’s best component; let the makeover begin.

It’s been no secret that the Yankees pitching has impressed no one over the last several years. The bullpen seemed to stabilize fairly well last year and could even have been considered one of the team’s strengths at certain points if not throughout the entire season. That leaves the starting rotation which has been a near constant disappointment since the 2004 season at the least. The Yankees have been in sore need of a true ace pitcher to lead their rotation, and after deciding against making a trade last offseason to acquire Johan Santana, they were dead set on spending whatever it took to bring one home to New York this year.

Enter C.C. Sabathia. He is exactly the pitcher the Yankees have been looking for. He’s young (28 yrs old), Left-handed, and chews up both innings and opposing hitters. He’s a proven stud pitcher with no real injury history and the apparent character make-up to withstand the New York pressure. The Yankees pinpointed him as their number one offseason prize, making no secret of their desire to do anything it took to sign him. They were rewarded for their straightforward approach and persistence (as well as their open wallet) when Sabathia signed a 7 year $161 million dollar contract to join the Yankees roster. This was the one move the Yankees most desperately needed to make. My personal belief is that Sabathia will live up to his billing and provide the strength at the front of the rotation that the team has been lacking for so long. I fully expect him to win in the neighborhood of 20 games every single season for the Yanks. High expectations, I realize, but this is exactly the kind of player to fullfill those expectations. There is the matter of the opt out clause in the contract. It allows Sabathia to become a free agent after three years if he so chooses. I actually think this could be a good thing for the Yankees. If Sabathia exercises the opt out, it will be for one of two reasons:

  1. He hates it in NY, isn’t performing as well as he hoped, and the media is eating him alive.
  2. He’s been fantastic and thinks he’s worth even more.

In the first case, the Yanks will be just as well off letting him go and reinvesting in one of the many other pitchers available that offseason. In the second case, if he’s been that good here in New York, the Yanks will be happy to renegotiate another deal with him to keep him where he is. Likely, the only way he won’t excercise the opt out is if he’s hurt the prior year, in which case the Yanks still own a young ace who would very likely bounce back. All in all, I think this is a fantastic signing by the Yankees and this alone would have made the offseason a success in my book.

The Sabathia signing left the Yankee starting rotation looking like this: Sabathia, Chien-Ming Wang (2 time 19 game winner), Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy. The top two starters could match up with pretty much any team in the league, but the bottom of the rotation was thin. The Yankees had tested Hughes and Kennedy as big league starters last season and were sorely dissapointed to find out that neither was quite as ready as they had hoped. That test was partly to blame for the team missing the playoffs for the first time in 13 years and there was no chance of the Yankees making the same mistake twice. The team officials still believe that Hughes (and probably to a lesser extent, Kennedy) will be a big contributer for them in the future, but adding a more reliable free agent starter would provide not only stability, but much needed depth.

Enter A.J. Burnett. The Yankees didn’t just go out and add a reliable number 4 or 5 starter, they added a potential ace. They signed Burnett to a 5 year $82.5 million dollar contract, beating out the Atlanta Braves for his services. Burnett Has “stuff” as nasty and dominant as any pitcher in the game. He throws the fastball at speeds up to 100 mph, he has a curveball that buckles the knees of the most discerning hitter and he (like Sabathia) doesn’t just pitch well, he misses bats. Strikeout pitchers keep the ball from being put into play as often, thus decreasing the likelihood of a ball finding a hole in the defense, or of the defensive players having any chance to make an error. Burnett also seems to have a psychological make-up that should play well in New York. His numbers suggest that he gets extra pumped up (putting up his best performances) when it matters most, or when he is being showcased on a big stage. It’s been reported that a number of the Yankees players lobbied for the team to sign Burnett based on this, as well as the fact that he absolutely owned the Yankees nearly every time he faced them. The players know how tough he is to hit, and they’re excited to have him on the hill for them rather than against them.

The downside to Burnett is that he has had some injury history. He’s only been completely healthy for about half of his time in the Majors and his overall statistics are only slightly above average, his best years coming conspicuously just before free agency. My personal belief is that he is a pitcher that requires the spotlight and the big game in order to be his best, and I think he will shine as a member of the Yankees. Being a big gun on a big team is exactly what this guy has been looking for and I believe his talent will amaze the New York fans. He was a very easy opponent to hate, and he’ll be just as easy to love as one of our own (unless he gets hurt again, lol).  Note by Lisa – I HATE the Burnett signing.  He has a career 5.67 ERA against every team NOT named the NY Yankees or Boston Red Sox!  I would have rather they signed Ben Sheets!

Adding both Sabathia and Burnett to the front of the rotation and bumping former ace Chien Ming Wang to the #3 starter role was a massive improvement, but the Yanks weren’t done yet. They wanted another veteran arm in the rotation to eat up 200 innings and keep Hughes in the minors, giving him time to mature and to provide that ever elusive pitching depth that tends to evaporate in front our eyes every season.

Enter Andy Pettitte. Or re-enter in Andy’s case. The Yankees knew all along that they wanted to fill their #4 starter role with a veteran pitcher that could give them innings, and quality innings at that. What they didn’t know, was if that veteran could be Mike Mussina or not. It was made known to the team that Andy Pettite wanted to return for another season to usher in the next era of Yankee baseball with the opening of the new Yankee Stadium, but the team wasn’t certain it was going to have a role for him. They were going to have one spot open, and if Mussina wanted it, it would have been his. After reinventing himself the previous year and winning 20 games for the Yankees, he had but to say that he wanted to return and something would have been worked out. Mussina, however, had already determined that he would be retiring after the 2008 season and thus saved the Yankees from having to make a tough choice. Once Mussina’s announcement was official, the Yanks turned their attention to re-signing Pettite. Although it took much longer than most expected, Pettite eventually signed a $5.5million dollar contract (with incentives that could raise the payout to as high as $12 million) to pitch 1 more year in pinstripes.

Now boasting a rotation of Sabathia, Burnett, Wang, Pettitte, and Chamberlain with Hughes, Kennedy, Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke and a host of other talented young arms waiting in the wings(they also added Jason Johnson on a minor league deal); the Yanks can feel more confident than they have for quite some time that their starting pitching can match if not exceed that of any opponent. Sure, there are no guarantees. Sabathia could falter, Burnett could get hurt, Chamberlain may not be ready to live up to the massive expectations put upon him, but every team has their share of what if’s. All that aside, the potential is here, and if the Yanks avoid any abundance of bad luck, the success should follow. Fix the pitching rotation? Mission accomplished!

On another pitching note, the Yankees also re-signed relief pitcher Damaso Marte to a 3 year deal (I think it was $12 million) with an option for a 4th year. I don’t hate this signing but I’m not excited about it either. Marte has been one of the better lefty relievers in baseball but he failed to make much of an impact in New York last year after he was traded from the Pirates. I expect him to be better this year, but I think the length of the contract as well as the dollar amount, was excessive given the market for relievers. This isn’t a signing that will hang on the team’s neck like an albatross (Farnsworth!), but I don’t think the Yanks were particularly shrewd here. My only guess is that they were desperate not to go through another drought of lefty relievers of quality, as they had suffered through over the past several seasons.

Next up;  Part Two: POSITION PLAYERS, coming soon.

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10 Responses to Yankees 2009 Off Season Moves – Part One: PITCHING

  1. Benton says:

    Nice outline of the offseason. I agree that our pitching is looking pretty good..but I’d prefer Joba in the bullpen.

  2. A&N says:

    Nice post Jason! I was a regular visitor to this blog because not many combine Yankees and food, things that I LOVE! I guess I have been a bit lazy as far as blogging and reading blogs are concerned but this post certainly caught my eye 🙂

    I guess as far as this offseason goes, CC was the best pitcher available. I was a bit surprised that they lured him from his whole “staying in California” obsession. I am not a huge fan of the length of the contract/salary because for some reason if he doesnt perform well AND if he doesnt opt out to be a free agent, there is a problem. But I guess such numbers are essential these days to lure big name free agents. Pardon my slight pessimism here but in my opinion, the Yankees have done a horrible job of signing starters (via free agency, trades) since the dawn of this millennium.

    I like Burnett over Sheets. First of all, Sheets pitches in one of the more weaker divisions in baseball and he is also injury prone.

    Looking stats, over the last 4 years, Sheets has pitched 602.3 innings (average of ~150) and hasnt had a single season where he’s pitched over 200 innings. AJ has pitched 731.7 innings (average~183) and has had two seasons of over 200 IP. I dont think comparing ERAs is meaningful simply because the offense that Sheets faces on an average is far poorer than what AJ has to deal with in the AL 😉 Also, AJ would be more familiar with the AL hitters, particularly the divisional foes. Thats why I like him over Sheets.

    But he is a gamble because he hasnt fared well with several AL teams such as the O’s and the Tigers. And in NY, he’ll understand the meaning of the word pressure! But hopefully, with a good offense to back him up, he’ll do well.

    I dont know about you but I would LOVE to see Joba out of the pen. With Mo getting old, I have no idea who will replace him eventually! And honestly, Joba has that nasty stuff in him to fill those shoes. He energizes the stadium every time he enters and is already quite a force in his relatively early stage of his career!

    I have huge expectations from Hughes. When I saw him replace Roger Clemens in the playoffs against the Indians a couple of years ago and pitch several shutout innings, I was greatly impressed! I hope he is healthy and does well.

    With CC, Wang, AJ, Hughes and Andy thats a great rotation! A good balance of lefties and righties, power pitchers and groundball pitchers as well as youngsters and veterans. With Tex finally bringing some defense at the 1B and some good hitting, I am looking forward to this season. Besides, A-Rod has fared extremely well in alternate years since he’s donned pinstripes. Going by that trend, he should do well this year 🙂

    Lets see how this season shapes out. I know this is a food blog but please keep the baseball coming. I am glad that there are blogs where people can have ‘sane’ discussions about the Yankees 🙂

    Go Yankees!

  3. SP says:

    Hi Jason, that was a very interesting analysis. I’m not sure Giambi will be missed though…not one bit…you’d mentioned figured of a healthy Giambi…I don’t think you’ll get those stats from a healthy Giambi now…he’s getting to old and slow and he’s a liability at first base. I couldn’t WAIT to see him go.

    Nevertheless, this was all about pitching. The CC signing was great (you think he and Joba could straighten out their caps though??) but not without risk. I hope his weight isn’t an issue, and that his arm holds out. We’ll see what kind of stopper he can be. To me the “ace” is the guy you want out there in the midst of a losing streak and I hope he does that.

    May have to agree with Lisa on Burnett. I have concerns he will deliver what you (and I of course) hope he will. I just hope it’s not “Pavano II: Return to the DL”. I don’t think the Yankees were ever going to, and still don’t, expect much from Kennedy at this point. I will be looking at all those young arms with great interest and hope a gem is among them. The potential is certainly there.

    Interested in seeing your bit on the offense. This ragtag pitching staff of 2008 actually gave up 50 fewer runs than the 2007 staff. It was scoring 200 less runs than 2007 that ultimately did us in. Agree we may miss Abreu more than we thought…the question is the “incremental” value Teixeira brings, and whether Posada and Matsui can stay healthy and give us the numbers from them that we need.

    Nice job!

  4. 7Yank7 says:

    Hi Jason,
    I just wanted to tell you nice job! I agree with everything you said and couldn’t have done better. Yes Lisa, I even agree on Burnett over Sheets because Sheets is even more fragile than Burnett. I also think what was missing for Burnett in Toronto was pitching in meaningful games. Judging by his record against the Yankees and Red Sox AJ loves rising to a good challenge and in NY he gets that every night out. You can’t argue with his stuff, just ask the Yankee hitters he’s been making look foolish. My only worry about any of these moves is of course the length of the contracts.

    P.S.
    Take care of Lisa, Jason. She’s a favorite among Yankee fans. But try to get her to be a little kinder to Cashman. : )

  5. ingrid says:

    Great job on the review! I can’t wait to have my twin boys (12yrs old) read your take on things. They especially Devon, is a HUGE Yankee fan and keeps up with everything. I, on the other hand while a fan don’t. I do though need silence when watching them. I have a hater in the house, by way of my Honey. He’s from Baltimore, yeah, I know. 🙂

    I’ll be back for the next installment.

    Hi, Lisa! Hope you’re movin’ around a little better.
    ~ingrid

  6. Jason says:

    Thank you all for the great comments! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the overview to this point. The second half should be up very soon 🙂

    A&N, I agree with your points about Burnett over Sheets. Also, Sheets’ medical reports must be pretty bad seeing as he’s sent out two seperate versions and only one team (the Rangers) has shown significant interest in him. Everyone knows he’s a great pitcher, if they thought he was healthy he’d have been signed by now.

    As for Sabathia and his “staying in Cali” deal, I think Cashman really won him over by dropping everything at the winter meetings and heading to Sabathia’s house per request to meet his wife and family and talk to them all about New York. Sabathia has always presented himself as a family man first and I think he was impressed that Cashman and the Yankees seemed to take that seriously and wanted to do whatever they could to make the entire family comfortable.

    SP, I’m prettyconfident that Sabathia will be the stopper you’ve been looking for. People criticize his weight, etc. but I think his body structure is actually a benefit to him. If he was a tiny little guy, I’d be worried about his arm after the work load he endured for the Brewers down the stretch. Since his work load has primarily involved more innings and more pitches, rather than pushing his arm for higher velocity or odd arm slots, I think his body mass helps him endure it well. As for the discussions about the offense, wait for part two, lol.

    7Yank7, I’m glad to have another voice championing Burnett, although Lisa will still never buy it, lol.

    Ingrid, I hope Devon makes his way to the site here, as I’d love to hear his comments! 🙂

    -and since several of you mentioned the whole Joba starter/bullpen thing:

    I like him as a starter for this year. We all know he’d be great out of the pen. Yes it would shorten the game, yes he could be the next Mariano, etc. What we don’t know, is if he could be even better as a starter. His talent is incredible. If that can be harnessed over a longer stretch of innings, if he can withstand the format without injury, he’d be more valuable that way. Now is the time to find out because we still have Mo! If Joba isn’t great as a starter over the next two years, you’ll see him back in the pen as the closer; but for now, it’s time to find out if he can be even more than that.

  7. Georgi says:

    Hi Jason and Lisa!

    Great job with the off season analysis. Regarding position players what are your thoughts on Manny? Personally, I think anyone that gives him a 2 year deal hasn’t been paying attention. And imho, I hope the Yankees don’t even go there! lol

    Lisa.. I heard you had surgery and I just wanted to drop you a get well hug. I also wanted to thank you for that pie crust recipe… I used it over the holidays and it’s perfection!!! Please take care and get better soon!!

    And kudos on your website.. Very nicely done!

  8. A&N says:

    Hi Jason, I am not entirely sold on CC as a clutch postseason pitcher.

    I wont take much of 2008 into consideration because the Brewers flat-out overworked him. His last three regular season starts were all on 3 days rest and he averaged ~112 pitches in those starts. Even otherwise, he had 8 starts where he had 110 pitches or more. They basically burnt him! Maybe they knew that he wouldnt be staying there at the end of the season 😉 But still, he had almost a week’s rest between regular season and his first postseason start and he pretty much stank. He gave up 5 ER and didnt even get out of the fourth inning uon facing a potent Phillies line-up for the first time. I guess he could have done a little better.

    But I cant forget what happened in 2007. All his regular season starts were on ‘normal’ rest. But in the playoffs, in his very first start against the Yankees, he didnt pitch well. Of course, we also let him off the hook by not taking advantage of his walks and really wayward itching but to me, he didnt pitch well at all.

    As far as Boston goes, he never faced the Yankees in 2007 regular season but he did have a start against Boston where he went for 7 innings and gave up ust 1 run. Its a pity he lost that game, thanks to Dice-k’s gem. But coming back to the playoffs, he was awful in game one. He gave up 8 ER and couldnt even get out of the 5th inning. He got a chance to redeem himself in game 5 where he pitched (once again) on regular rest. He gave up 4 ER in 6 IP and Cleveland lost that game. I remember seeing that game and he didnt pitch all that great. For someone who won the Cy Young in the same year, I expected much more in the playoffs.

    I like to talk smack abt Beckett but when it comes to playoffs, he is on a different planet! I guess thats something Boston has done to win those 2 WS rings. Solid pitching with people who deliver when needed the most. They havent produced any Cy Young winners or MVPs from 2000-2007 but won 2 WS rings. Ironically, when the MVP came from Boston, they didnt win the WS 😉 The Yankees on the other hand, have lacked in good solid pitching, especially in the postseason or in ‘close’ games and that to me is the biggest reason why we havent won a WS ring yet……

    Apologies for the blasphemy (i.e praising a Red Sox player or two 😉 ).

  9. lisamichele says:

    Georgiegirl! – It actually took me a bit to realize it was you! Jason did do a nice job, didn’t he? I may recruit him as my permanent Yankee writer, especially with this A-Rod mess (still somewhat shocked – when are they going to name the other 102 players?? It’s NOT fair). Anyway, Jason’s position player post will be up later today. He actually wrote it along with the above post, but I didn’t want it to be too long, so I split it in half (he wasn’t happy..lol) Thanks so much for stopping by!
    ——————-
    A&N Good points. SO, how are you feeling after that nuclear bomb Saturday? BTW, I’m rescinding my desire for Ben Sheets, BUT, I still don’t like Burnett!

  10. Georgi says:

    Hi Lisa:

    I’m still in shock regarding Alex and the roids too. Call me naive, but of any player who I didn’t think needed them it was him! And no, it’s not fair that only his name was leaked, but when you’re making that kind of money, people are going to put you under a microscope every chance they can.

    I got to meet Brian Bruney a couple of weeks ago and I gave him a get well card to hand deliver to Mariano!!! I wish I had a camera for the look on his face! LOL Bruney himself, looked very svelt… Still working out and he says, his foot is good to go as his is new found attitude from last season where he wants to make a contribution.

    So, I saw him on the news the other night down at camp and I busted a gut laughing.. wondering if he brought along my card for MO!! LOL

    Oh and speaking of Mo, I almost submitted your resume last weekend when I went down to his restaurant.. The food was excellent.. Desserts to die for.. I had tiramisu and hubby had pecan pie… both of which were so light and delectable!!

    The staff were so sweet and accomdating to show us all around.. It was like a mini Hall of Fame! Honestly, if I lived closer, I would apply for a job there! LOL

    I can’t wait to see these pitchers in action and I can’t wait for the games to begin!

    Hope you’re feeling better.. Till next time, Georgi

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