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:
- He hates it in NY, isn’t performing as well as he hoped, and the media is eating him alive.
- 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.