The Yankees off-season is a lot like an AJ Burnett start. Sometimes, Burnett would do his job, keep the Yankees in the game, and show glimpses of his potential. Other times though, it would get ugly fast and before you knew it, Burnett was glowering from the dug out, after being pulled in the third innings.
If things go well, the Yankees will retain CC Sabathia, keep Jesus Montero, and add one more starter. However, the Yankees offseason plans could go awry very quickly. If Sabathia opts-out and ends up signing elsewhere, the Yankees rotation gets very shaky, very fast. Last Friday (as in eight days ago), John Harper of the Daily News addressed that what-if in an article entitled, “Prince Fielder May Become Big Apple of Yankees’ Eye if CC Sabathia Decides to Sign Elswhere.” If the Yankees lose Sabathia, Harper suggests the Yankees should go out and sign Prince Fielder, the Milwaukee Brewers first baseman. With a big hole in their starting rotation, Harper would have the Yankees trade Montero for a front-line starting pitcher.
If the Yankees are hoping to keep pace with the Rays, Red Sox, and, yes, the Blue Jays, next year Harper’s plan would ensure that the Bronx Bombers are just a more expensive version of the Texas Rangers, circa 2002. A lineup filled with mashers and a rotation filled with guys who could throw, but not pitch.
Let’s tackle the first part of Harper’s plan: signing Fielder. Without a doubt, adding Fielder to the Yankees’ lineup would turn a strong heart of the order into a terrifying one. There are two immediate problems with a Fielder signing however. First, even the Yankees don’t have an unending stream of resources and his signing would handcuff their budget. Harper wants us to believe that if the Yankees lose their ace pitcher, they should go out and grab one of two top first basemen on the free agent market with the other being Albert Pujols, a guy who can and has played multiple positions in the past. The Yankees will have re-allocated Sabathia’s contract to Fielder. Where will the money for at least one veteran starting pitcher come from, the money for someone better than Eduardo Nunez to back up A-Rod, and it wouldn’t be an off-season without the Yankees overpaying for a relief pitcher.
The second immediate issue is where would the Yankees play Fielder. The Yankees already have both a first baseman and a third baseman. And these are two guys who are making a lot of money for awhile. Alex Rodriguez is owed $143 million through 2017 when he will be 41 years old. Mark Teixeira is owed $112.5 million through 2016, when he’ll be 35 years old. Fielder will be 28 in May 2012. At the very least, his contract will run for six or seven years through 2018 or 2019. Before even considering roster implications, the Yankees could be saddled with three aging or aged former sluggers in 2016.
Rodriguez’s age and injury issues mean he is no longer an everyday third basemen. He needs spells at DH. Would Fielder ride the bench when Rodriguez gets a day at DH. What if in a year or two, Rodriguez has become a full time DH. The Yankees will have saddled themselves with two first basemen who can’t play another position and a former third basemen relegated to role of aging DH. It just seems that the Yankees would be better off spending the money to keep Sabathia, which in fairness Harper also prefers, or signing CJ Wilson or outbidding other teams for Yu Darvish’s services.
The best part of Harper’s piece is that after the Yankees go out and pick up another first basemen, he suggests they trade their best hitting prospect in years for a starting pitcher. Harper suggests that Jesus Montero should be shipped off to help cover the gaping hole in the Yankees starting rotation. The Yankees have doubts about Montero’s defensive skills, but his bat means he should be in the lineup, even at catcher. If they trade Montero, they either stick with the Russell Martin/Francisco Cervelli combo behind the plate or go out on the free agency market. Among free agents and non-tender candidates, there are a limited number of backstops who would be attractive to the Yankees.
If the Yankees lose Sabathia, they’ll have to find a way to replace his 22 quality starts. Maybe CC’s 2012 won’t be as auspicious as his previous seasons. He has logged a lot of innings. His girth has apparently become cause for concern among some in the Yankees’ front office, and guys can get unlucky or regress. But, if you were to bet on one Yankees starter to maintain his level of play in 2012, for me, it would be Sabathia. The question remains, where are those quality innings coming from? Maybe Burnett won’t be as bad as he was in 2011. Maybe Hughes will be consistent and healthy for a full season. But what about those unexpected performances from Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia? Can Ivan Nova duplicate his 2011 season? This is all to say that even with Sabathia around, the Yankees starting rotation will be in flux. Remove him from the equation and you’ve got a rotation full of question marks. An interesting fact to keep in mind, the Yankees had 84 quality starts in 2011, good for 18th place in the Majors. They were tied with the Mets.
So who could the Yankees get for Jesus Montero? No matter who it turns out to be, we all know who it won’t be – the guy the Yankees almost traded Montero and a bundle of other prospects for in 2010 – Cliff Lee. Instead, Texas scooped him up and Lee later rejected the Yankees offer in the off-season and signed with Philadelphia. Sure, it was Seattle who raised the price for Lee at the 2010 trade deadline, but that is the type of pitcher you need to get in return for Montero.
Right now, this is an exercise in the what ifs of the impending off-season. Soon, Sabathia will most likely opt out of the four years and $92 million remaining on his contract. The Yankees want to increase his yearly salary instead of adding years to this contract. In a matter of weeks, we will know if that is acceptable to Sabathia. If not, and and he signs elsewhere, the Yankees will have a a slew of decisions to make. Harper’s article is a blueprint for what not to do in that scenario.