With the disappointing loss to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Divisional Series a distant bad memory, the New York Yankees will look to reconstruct a championship caliber team for the 2012 season. To that end let’s look at what possible moves the Yankees might make to improve their roster. It might seem like a daunting task. But it sure could be worse. Think how tough a time the Boston Red Sox will have rebuilding without general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona.
NEXT: PART 3 – STARTING LINEUP
PRIORITY NO. 2 – Will the Yankees keep the same starters in 2012?
The simple answer to the question is yes.
What is odd about the answer is that it totally ignores the fact that the Yankees suffered a lot of defeats, including their devastating loss in Game 5 to the Tigers, due to an inconsistent offense rather than the starting pitching.
If you are wondering why the offense was inconsistent the answer is easily discernible when you look at what the Yankee starters’ established norms in their previous three seasons and what they produced in 2011. Most of their overall numbers were down and that is the reason the Yankees did not hit well with runners in scoring position. It actually lost them games all season. Ultimately, it was what eliminated them from the playoffs.
Here are the 2011 starters’ established norms and the number of seasons they have put up those numbers. For comparison, look at their 2011 numbers:
DEREK JETER – 102 Runs, 13 Home Runs, 67 RBIs, .301 Average (3-year average) 2011 Stats: 84 Runs, 6 Home Runs, 61 RBIs, .297 Average
CURTIS GRANDERSON – 108 Runs, 25 Home Runs, 70 RBIs, .277 Average (3-year average) 2011 Stats: 136 Runs, 41 Home Runs, 119 RBIs, .262 Average
MARK TEIXEIRA – 106 Runs, 35 Home Runs, 117 RBIs, .285 Average (3-year average) 2011 Stats: 90 Runs, 39 Home Runs, 111 RBIs, .248 Average
ALEX RODRIGUEZ – He has not played more than 138 games since 2007. We will discuss him later in this post.
ROBINSON CANO – 103 Runs, 27 Home Runs, 97 RBIs, .320 Average (2-year average) 2011 Stats: 104 Runs, 28 Home Runs, 118 RBIs, .302 Average
NICK SWISHER – 88 Runs, 29 Home Runs, 86 RBIs, .270 Average (2-year average) 2011 Stats: 81 Runs, 23 Home Runs, 85 RBIs, .260 Average
DH – This spot was rotated between mostly Andruw Jones and Jorge Posada. We will discuss this later in this post.
RUSSELL MARTIN – 87 Runs, 16 Home Runs, 78 RBIs, .286 Average (2-year average) 2011 Stats: 57 Runs, 18 Home Runs, 65 RBIs, .237 Average
BRETT GARDNER – 97 Runs, 5 Home Runs, 47 RBIs, .277 Average (1-year total) 2011 Stats: 87 Runs, 7 Home Runs, 36 RBIs, .259 Average
If you look at the established norms and compare them to the 2011 statistics and assign a minus for each number lower and a plus for each number higher you get a good idea about how effective the Yankees’ offense was in 2011. There were 19 minuses on this list as opposed to nine pluses. Six of the nine pluses came from Granderson and Cano and you can make the case they were the only two Yankees starters who had anything special to say about their seasons.
Can a team win a World Series with an offense where so many elements had down seasons? I don’t think so.
Yet general manager Brian Cashman is telling reporters that he is not looking to add any “big-ticket” free agents like Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder. The reason is two-fold.
One, is the Yankees already are committed to a lot of dollars to Rodriguez, Jeter, Teixeira and Cano (through a contract option) and they already absorbed the contracts of Swisher and Granderson. They already were pretty much committed to re-signing Martin with a nice bump in his $4 million salary from 2011.
So where would Pujols or Fielder play? Not first base. Not likely as expensive DHs. Maybe left field but I don’t think Pujols or Fielder would sign to embarrass themselves out there.
The second reason is that the Yankees are still over the established salary limit in which they have to pay the luxury tax and Cashman has been told to reduce it or keep it level without hurting the club he puts on the field. Cashman has actually done this over the past few years. Adding Pujols or Fielder would put a huge hole in that plan and the Yankees are just not going to do it.
So the Yankees, instead, will look to 2012 to get improved production from their starting lineup.
Jeter’s second-half re-emergence was encouraging. There is no reason Granderson, barring injury, can’t continue his new-found ability to hit lefties and hit for greater power. Cano is simply the best hitter the Yankees have and looks as if he will bat in the No. 3 spot from the beginning of 2012, which is where he belonged for a long time.
Swisher looked like he never played baseball before the way he hit in April and May, but his 2011 numbers were very close his norms. That is why the Yankees picked up his option and Yankee fans can forget the Yankees looking to sign Carlos Beltran to replace him. That is not likely.
Martin’s numbers were off but he was hurt a great deal of the season and he ended up with more than 100 at-bats less than what he did when he played in 155 games and 151 games with the Dodgers in 2007 and 2008. The Yankees have to like the power and production he provides in addition to his defensive skills. So there is no buyer’s remorse with Martin.
The places where the Yankees have to look carefully at are Teixeira, Rodriguez, the DH spot and Gardner.
Teixeira and his .248 batting average have to be a major concern. In addition, he hit only .223 against right-handers. That is troublesome because of the fact there so few left-handed starters throughout baseball.
Batting coach Kevin Long will be tasked with trying to make some “Granderson-style” adjustments to Tex’s lefty stroke to improve his production in 2012. If it succeeds, the Yankees will have a productive bat in the No. 5 spot capable of 30 or more homers and 100 or more RBIs. But they also would be happier if Teixeira raised his batting average to his career average of .281 or better.
Considering that Teixeira is signed through the 2016 season the Yankees need to make sure he is back to the All-Star level player he had established himself to be.
That also will go for Rodriguez.
The Yankees have not received a full season of play from A-Rod since 2007. A series of injuries have limited Rodriguez the past four years with 2011 being his worst so far. He played in only 99 games dues to a series of injuries including a hip injury, a knee injury that required surgery and a sprained thumb.
He hit only 16 home runs, drove in 62 runs and batted .276. By the time the playoffs began, the Yankees had no idea what Rodrigue would do because he missed most of September with recurring thumb issues. He ended up hitting a weak .111 and struck out six times in 18 at-bats.
Getting the 36-year-old third baseman healthy and productive again are pretty much essential for the Yankees in 2012. But this series of injuries in a player this age is of some concern. Could this be just a coincidence? Could this be a natural aging process? Or could this be a result of A-Rod’s taking of performance-enhancing drugs?
The Yankees, who are committed to A-Rod through the 2017 season, better hope it is not the latter.
The fact is that the Yankees are going to have to rest Rodriguez and play him at DH in some games in order to keep him ready for the playoffs. That can work for the Yankees because Rodriguez can average 30-35 home runs, drive in more than 100 runs and hit around .275 playing in 140 games. But they can pretty much kiss the playoffs goodbye if the injuries continue to keep Rodriguez on the shelf for long periods of time.
Rodriguez will be watched closely and carefully in spring training.
The Yankees also need to make an effort to find out just what they have in Gardner.
There is no doubt he is fast and he did contribute 49 stolen bases last season. He also probably was robbed of a Gold Glove by Alex Gordon of the Royals. He played a quality left-field.
But there are still holes in his game. Gardner can be productive hitting .277 as he did in 2010. But he hit a disappointing .259 in 2011. There were also many times he would fall into prolonged slumps even though he did cut his strikeout total. The real issue was left-handers ate him for lunch. He hit only .233 against them last season.
The Yankees need to look at finding a right-handed hitter who do the things Gardner can do. A good example is Reed Johnson, who is free agent that played for the Cubs last season.
Johnson can play all spots in the outfield and hit .309 with five home runs with 28 RBIs and hit .309 in 248 at-bats. He hit lefties at a .305 clip and he can play a very good outfield. His only drawback is that he is not an accomplished base-stealer. He has only 39 in his career.
But would manager Joe Girardi rather have a Johnson likely to get on base against a lefty or a Gardner who likely won’t even reach to steal? Look for the Yankees to make a move to get a righty-swinging outfielder this winter to platoon with Gardner.
The final spot is the DH. With Jones and Posada gone as free agents and likely not to be re-signed, the Yankees look to be in the market for a new DH. However, the caveat is that they will likely use the spot at times to rest older regulars like Rodriguez, Jeter, Teixeira, Swisher and Granderson.
But do not be surprised if the Yankees end up using Jesus Monetro as their primary DH in 2011.
The reason is that Montero truly impressed the Yankees with his 61 at-bat audition in September. He hit .328 with 4 home runs and 12 RBIs and made the postseason roster at age 21.
Montero is a catcher but the Yankees are not sure about his defensive work behind the plate.
With Martin scheduled to start and Francisco Cervelli to back Martin up the Yankees could keep Montero on the roster as a DH and an emergency catcher and allow defensive wizard Austin Romine catch a full season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Of course, using such a young player as a DH could be a detriment if they do not plan to develop him as a catcher. But Montero promises to be such a great hitter the Yankees might just want to see what he can do next season and worry about where to play him later.
But the bottom line is the Yankees will not be looking for any help with the starting lineup. But they will have a lot of work do to making the starters they do have more productive in 2012.
The Yankees must have a productive lineup in order to have any chance of winning their 28th championship in 2012.
NEXT: PART FOUR – THE BENCH
PRIORITY NO. 1: Who will replace Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones?