Time to blow up the Yankees
October, 20, 2012
By Jim Bowden | ESPN.com
Getty ImagesThe Yankees must resolve the Alex Rodriguez issue and upgrade over Nick Swisher.
Let’s consider these facts from ESPN’s Stats & Information department regarding the New York Yankees’ historically poor performance in the American League Championship Series:
• The Yankees' .188 batting average in the 2012 postseason is the lowest in MLB postseason history by any team that played at least seven games. They scored just 22 runs in nine games, for an average of 2.4 runs per game. That's the fourth-fewest runs per game in a single postseason by any team that played at least seven games.
• The Yankees had played 36 consecutive postseason series without being swept -- that was the longest streak in MLB history. This is the first time they've been swept in any series since the 1980 ALCS, when the Royals swept them in a best-of-five series. The last time the Yankees were swept in a best-of-seven series was in the 1976 World Series, when the Reds beat them.
• The Yankees enter an offseason filled with uncertainty. Although they're almost certain to exercise a pair of club options for 2013 on Robinson Cano ($14 million) and Curtis Granderson ($13 million), the key players who are eligible for free agency are Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Nick Swisher, Ichiro Suzuki, Hiroki Kuroda and Russell Martin.
Add the fact that Rafael Soriano also has an opt-out clause in his deal, so he is no lock to return.
With all that uncertainty on their roster and questions about things, I've come to one conclusion: It’s time to blow up the Yankees.
It’s time for the Yankees to get younger and more athletic. For this storied franchise, anything less than a World Series championship is considered a failure. The team is built to withstand a 162-game season in which an aging lineup can routinely feast on fourth and fifth starters. But in the postseason, when those same aging bats see the absolute best pitching in a short series, as the statistics above indicate, they fall short. Outside of Derek Jeter and Cano, the lineup’s holes and weaknesses were exposed.
But the only way to rebuild and win now is for Hal Steinbrenner to take a page out of his father’s strategy -- which sometimes worked, sometimes did not -- and that means spend money and trade prospects.
Start with Rodriguez
The most prudent thing to do is to try to persuade Alex Rodriguez to waive his no-trade clause. The Yankees likely would have to pay nearly all of his salary with the exception of perhaps a few million. This would come with the stipulation that the Yankees would pay only if Rodriguez plays and is on an active roster.
There’s simply no hiding or denying Rodriguez’s decline. As Dan Szymborski pointed out, it has been coming for years. Rodriguez at 37 might still be a serviceable player capable of hitting .260 with 20 home runs, but the Yankees would do well to turn the page. Ideally, it would be best to cut ties and pay his salary and move on. But if they cannot, the next move is to convert him to designated hitter.
The Yankees have a track record of leading aging sluggers out to pasture by converting them to designated hitters. In the footsteps of Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada, Rodriguez should follow suit and join Raul Ibanez in what could be turn out to be an effective lefty-righty platoon, albeit perhaps the most expensive DH combination in baseball history.
Resolving Rodriguez would free up the Yankees to chase, well, Chase Headley, the Kansas City Royals’ Mike Moustakas or Washington Nationals prospect Anthony Rendon. To acquire someone like Headley, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman will have to do that which he most despises: trade prospects.
Frankly, I say empty the farm system to get whatever pieces they need. New York's farm system took a hit this year with the poor performance of top pitching prospect Manny Banuelos, and he is going to miss the 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Still, the Yankees could get this kind of deal done if they were willing to part with outfield prospect Mason Williams and catching prospect Gary Sanchez. George Steinbrenner never had a problem sacrificing prospects, and New York needs to be aggressive.
Cashman has said repeatedly that he wants complete players, and Headley, for example, is exactly that. Even with Petco Park as his home field, switch-hitting Headley batted .286 with 31 home runs, stole 17 bases and led the NL with 115 RBIs while playing very solid defense. At 28, he enters 2013 in his prime and is about to get very expensive in arbitration. The Padres have built an incredibly deep farm system, and if they sell high on Headley, they can further fortify their farm while freeing payroll to lock up some of their top youngsters.
To get Headley, it probably will take a prospect package similar to what the Cincinnati Reds forked over to San Diego for pitcher Mat Latos in December.
Buy, buy, buy
Outfielder Josh Hamilton will be by far the biggest name on the free-agent market. Fittingly, the team in the biggest market should be the one to reel him in.
Hamilton fits Cashman’s proclivity for “complete” players, and his left-handed swing is tailor-made for Yankee Stadium. They Yankees need a better postseason hitter than Swisher, who has been exposed in October, hitting .169 in the playoffs in his career.
Likewise, the Yankees should pursue speedster Michael Bourn. Signing Bourn would free Cashman to trade or decline the club option ($2 million buyout) on Granderson and his 195 strikeouts and move Brett Gardner to left field. Bourn also would serve as the leadoff man the Yankees desperately need and, once again, add some much-needed speed.
On the mound, Pettitte will announce soon whether he will return in 2013. Outside of CC Sabathia, and perhaps Hughes, the rest of the rotation is simply not World Series caliber. Michael Pineda should be back from shoulder surgery and could be an upgrade, but there is no way the Yankees can assume he will be an impact player in 2013.
Re-signing Kuroda will help, but signing Zack Greinke or Kyle Lohse will be necessary to deepen the Yankees’ starting rotation. None of the prospects they have will do that, and the Yankees can’t afford to wait for kids.
I know there has been talk about the Yankees wanting to avoid the luxury tax, but they’re the Yankees -- they should be paying the luxury tax. And let's be honest, George Steinbrenner would have been this aggressive.
Bring back Russell Martin?
As our own Buster Olney suggests, the Yankees loved Martin’s toughness and winning attitude, but a long-term contract just wouldn’t work.
If the Yankees miss out on Hamilton or Greinke, they might think about turning to Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer. The Twins probably would love the chance to shed Mauer's huge contract, and the Yankees are one of the few teams that can afford him. As noted, the Yankees could end up clearing a lot of payroll this year if Soriano opts out, Swisher leaves and Granderson's option is declined.
As with Hamilton, Mauer’s swing is perfect for Yankee Stadium. The Twins are desperate to rebuild their pitching staff, and giving some prospects might appeal to them.
To be sure, the Yankees can't make all of these moves, but the point I'm making is that the team needs to think aggressively. The Yankees have been relatively inactive the past couple of winters, but it's time for them to channel some of The Boss' bold mentality. They are baseball’s uber-team, and they should be prepared to lose draft picks and pay the luxury tax. The Yankees have never settled for mediocrity, and they shouldn’t now. The time has come for Hal to become George for just a few years to get the Yankees back to where they belong.