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AL is Loaded

Despite the National League winning the last two championships, the American League has always been considered the dominant league. That gap has widened even further this offseason. Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, two of the NL’s biggest slugger’s, have gone over to the AL and will make the competition ever fiercer. Also, the Yankees got what most people would consider a number two starter in Michael Pineda to further bolster the team that led the AL in wins last year.  There are likely six teams that will fight for four playoff spots, without considering a surprise team cropping up.  With the addition of the second wild card team winning the division will be of utmost importance for the Yankees.

The battle for the Yankees to get into the playoff will probably come down to five teams for three spots as I see the Tigers as a virtual lock to win the AL Central. They won it by 15 games last year and that was without Prince Fielder. In fact if you asked me right now I would say they are the team to beat in the entire AL. I know they will have issues on defense, but when Fielder and Miguel Cabrera hit over .310, with about 35 HR’s, and about 115 RBI each it will not matter as much. They also have a very nice top of the rotation in Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, and Max Scherzer and a very good back end of the bullpen.

The Yankees will in all likelihood be battling the Rays, Red Sox, Rangers, and Angels for the other 3 playoff spots. Right now I would consider the Yankees the favorite in the AL East.  They won it last year with 97 wins and improved more than the Red Sox or the Rays did with the addition of Michael Pineda. I would consider the Rays a close 2nd and the Red Sox 3rd. The Sox have issues all over the diamond right now. Their outfield is a mess right now as Carl Crawford might not be ready to start the year and they still have a hole in RF, even though they signed Cody Ross.  I do not understand them replacing Marco Scutaro with Mike Aviles at SS. They still have issues at the backend of the rotation as nobody knows how Daniel Bard will transform to the rotation.  Their backend of the bullpen is also completely new and will have to prove themselves. Meanwhile, the Rays might have the best rotation in MLB and I like the acquisition of Carlos Pena to provide more power to their offense.  But, the Yankees definitely have the edge over the Rays in offense and bullpen and they are not that far off in the rotation, which I think puts them over the top.                                

If the Yankees were to not win the AL East they will face a stiff competition for the wild card spots and not just from the AL East. Whoever doesn’t win the AL West between the Angels and Rangers will be battling for the wild card spots. The Angels greatly improved themselves with the additions of C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols. They also have one of the best rotations in the MLB led by Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson, and Ervin Santana.  The Rangers have one of the best offenses in MLB led by Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Mike Napoli, Adrian Beltre, and Elvis Andrus. Yu Darvish will try to replace Wilson in the rotation and Neftali Feliz will make an interesting jump to the rotation. Both of these teams are legitimate threats to the Yankees.

As you can see the AL will be an absolute dogfight this year with all of these talented teams. All of this is subject to change of course with injuries and trades. You also know their will be a surprise team that will compete who I did not talk about. The Yankees have their work cut out for them in the AL this year, but if they play to their potential they should not have much of a problem.

Angels a better fit than Yanks for Wilson


C.J. Wilson had an interest in the New York Yankees, if not for nothing more than to drive up his price. Wilson tried to set up a meeting with the Yankees, but the Yankees denied him.  As a result, the market for Wilson was not as good as he probably anticipated.Wilson ended up signing a 5 yr, 77 million dollar contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Yankees were wise to lay off him, but I do feel as though he is a pretty good fit for the Angels.

I felt as though C.J. Wilson would be vastly overpaid by somebody due to the fact that he was the best pitcher in an extremely weak starting pitching market.  However, his awful postseason hurt him in a major way.Wilson was 0-3 with a 6.82 ERA despite the Rangers making the World Series. I see him more as a number 3 pitcher which is exactly why he was a good fit for the Angels and not the Yankees. With the Angels, Wilson can slide nicely behind Jered Weaver and Dan Haren.  That should limit the pressure on him along with Albert Pujols taking a lot of it.  With the Yankees Wilson would be forced into a pressurized situation as the number 2 starter. He showed last year in the postseason that he may not be able to live up to that. He is not the guy the Yankees are looking for in my opinion, so they made the right decision in not paying a guy they are not sure about into his mid 30s.

I do believe Wilson will have success for the Angels because the fit is a lot better for him.  Some players are not right for the Yankees, but are right for a lot of other places. Brian Cashman has chosen to not to throw out money this offseason and so far he has done a nice job of being patient. Cole Hamels and Matt Cain are much better free agent options next offseason. Cashman does still need to improve the rotation and it will be interesting to see what he does.

Dan Haren Speculation

 

Brian Cashman has done a great job recently of avoiding the temptation to trade his best prospects for pitchers who were not worth the price. However, in hindsight, one error he did make was not completing a deal for Dan Haren when Arizona traded him. He reportedly would not give up Dellin Betances, Joba Chamberlain, and Hector Noesi for Haren at the July trading deadline last year. Haren is the number two starter the Yankees are looking for, and getting him without having to give up Jesus Montero or Manny Banuelos is a no brainer in my mind. It is obviously easy to say after Joba’s injury but he was not being used as a starter in 2010, and a bullpen arm is not valuable enough to stop you from acquiring a pitcher like Haren. Maybe Cashman will get another chance to redeem himself, but it would cost him a lot more than it reportedly would have before.

The Angels and Yankees do match up pretty nicely as trade partners. The Yankees can help fill the Angels major needs at third base and catcher, where they do not have MLB quality players currently on their roster, and nobody ready in the minors. The top of the Angels rotation is great, but if they lose Haren their rotation would be a little thin. Here are two packages I find to be fair: Jesus Montero, Dellin Betances, Brandon Laird, and a lower level prospect for Haren, or Montero, Eduardo Nunez, Hector Noesi, and David Phelps for Haren. The Angels could want a stronger pitcher back in Betances, or a stronger third basemen back in Nunez. I find the first package to be stronger, but maybe the Angels would think differently. Haren would be exactly the kind of pitcher the Yankees want to put behind CC Sabathia.  He had an excellent year last year going 16-10, with a 3.17 ERA, 192 strikeouts, and a 1.02 WHIP. Haren also only walked an astonishing 1.25 batters per 9 innings last year.  His arsenal of pitches is outstanding with a four seam fastball, a two seam fastball, splitter, cutter and a spiked curve.  Haren does not throw especially hard but still has racked up at least 190 strikeouts in the last 5 years. The downfall is that he is already 31 with a lot of innings under his belt.  The Yankees may fear giving him a long term deal.  He does have team options in his contract for the next two years. A rotation of Sabathia, Haren, Nova, Hughes, and Burnett certainly looks appealing though.

I personally doubt the Angels would trade Haren unless they acquired C.J. Wilson, who they are rumored to be interested in. Haren is still under team control for the next two years, and the Angels are not a small market team, so they can afford him. However, if they got Wilson, they would feel comfortable with a Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, and Ervin Santana top three, and may want to improve their offense. Montero would be an instant middle of the lineup hitter for them, which they definitely need.  I would love for Cashman to be able to make up for an error in judgment and go get Haren. However, the Angels will ask for more than the Diamondbacks did and Cashman wasn’t willing to pay that price, so one would wonder if he would in fact pay more. I think he would be willing to because he can undo his previous mishap with Haren. Also it helps that Haren is a proven, elite pitcher. If the Angels will listen, the Yankees should consider Haren for sure because I think he would be an excellent fit for them.

Several Interesting Rumors: Cain, Garcia, Wilson, Haren

Yesterday, Mike Silva’s New York Baseball Digest dished out some pretty interesting rumors regarding the Yankees. I’ll recap them in this post. Now, I’m really not sure about the overall reliability of these rumors. However if they are true, then they are very interesting. I did look through the comments at River Ave. Blues, and Steve S. of The Yankee Analysts was adamant that the author, Frank Russo, has always had a rock solid source, “very tied in to baseball matters with the Yanks.” Keeping that in mind, here we go…

— Russo wrote that the Yankees made an offer of four players for Matt Cain of the Giants, that included at least 1 position player and several minor-league pitchers. The deal was quickly turned down. Some of the names that were reportedly tossed around were: Jesus Montero, Nick Swisher, Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, David Phelps, and Hector Noesi.

— He says that in Tampa, the word on the street is that Freddy Garcia will not be the only starting pitching acquisition, and that it wasn’t really a “value signing”. Russo says that Garcia could be utilized both as a starter or a long reliever. “They also love his clubhouse presence as he was a mentor to Ivan Nova.”

— Russo states that although there have been no numbers tossed around, the Yankees “could” offer CJ Wilson one of two types: (1) a 5 year contract with an opt-out option, (2) a 4 year contract with several vesting option years. They reportedly feel their main competition for Wilson is the Angels’ aggressive GM, Jerry DiPoto.

— He mentions that rumors are starting up that the Angels may make Dan Haren available. Russo says the Yankees would really like to acquire him, but “the belief down in Tampa is that DiPoto will only trade Haren to the Yankees for several ‘top tier’ prospects, (think Montero/Romine and Betances/Warren).”

State of the Yankees Rotation

The much maligned 2011 New York Yankees starting rotation exceeded all expectations. It was the reason most prognosticators picked the Boston Red Sox to win the AL East. However, nobody expected a rookie of the year campaign for Ivan Nova, or renaissance years from Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. The Yankees finished a very respectable 4th in the AL in team ERA, with a 3.73 team ERA.   The starting rotation also pitched well in October, with the notable exception of CC Sabathia, and once again was not the reason the Yankees went home early. Yet, Brian Cashman has gone into this offseason, like last offseason, looking to improve the starting rotation.

In my opinion, I think we can expect a pretty similar rotation to last year’s.  This year’s crop of free agents is extremely weak.  The Yankees already got their main job done by extending CC Sabathia’s contract. Sabathia did the Yankees a favor by not going to free agency, and potentially getting a 7 year offer that Cashman would have been hesitant to match.  Sabathia vowed to come to spring training in better shape, so he does not falter down the stretch again. Ivan Nova stepped up and proved to be a capable number two starter.  Nova had a sparkling rookie year going 16-4, with a 3.70 ERA, and a 1.33 WHIP.  The development of Nova’s slider as a put away pitch catapulted him down the stretch. However, in a perfect world, the Yankees would find a starter to slide in between Sabathia and Nova. That pitcher is not a free agent right now, unless the Yankees see Japanese star Yu Darvish as that guy. However, that guy may be available at the trade deadline, or in next year’s free agency class. Cole Hamels and Matt Cain are ideal candidates.  Dan Haren and James Shields would also make great candidates if their team options are not picked up.

Now that we have dealt with the top of the rotation we will move onto the bottom. This is where you will probably see the Yankees add a starting pitcher. The Yankees have been linked to Edwin Jackson, Mark Buehrle, and Hiroki Kuroda already, but it is was too early to get a sense of what Cashman will do. The Yankees and Freddy Garcia also seem to have a mutual interest in putting a deal together to resign Garcia for next year.  I would have no issue with Garcia returning as a back of the rotation pitcher. Garcia can get by on his smarts and guile alone, especially against young and free swinging teams.  It is when he faces the patient teams that will make him throw strikes, is when you are worried.  If Garcia could repeat his year of 12-8, with a 3.62 ERA, and a 1.34 WHIP the Yankees would love it. Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett are two Yankees who can help the rotation if they can pitch to their capabilities.  Hughes will have to earn his spot in spring training, especially since the Yankees will probably bring in at least one pitcher via free agency or trade, other than Freddy Garcia.  Hughes struggled with injuries, fastball velocity, and putting hitters away in 2011. However, he did have his best stuff in the playoffs. so perhaps that can carry over. Like it or not, A.J. Burnett will more than likely have a spot in next year’s rotation based on his contract.  Burnett’s last two years have been brutal, posting ERA’s over 5.00 in each of them, and walking what seems like a village per start. Burnett does have two shining moments in his Yankees career. He did pitch the biggest game in the 2009 World Series by getting the Yankees a split at home. If he stinks up the joint there, the Yankees are probably still searching for their first title since 2000. Also, Burnett came through big time by extending the Yankees’ season in game 4 of the ALDS last year. One can only hope that will give him some confidence going into next year, but unfortunately that is probably wishful thinking.

Again, I do not see any huge changes with the Yankees starting staff heading into the year. I see Sabathia and Nova as obvious locks and Burnett is pretty close to one. Another spot I see going to a new pitcher, and the last one going to Hughes, or a resigned Freddy Garcia. I would also expect the Yankees to add that number two starter to place in between Sabathia and Nova at the trade deadline, or next year in free agency. If the starting rotation can repeat what they did last year the Yankees would almost surely sign for it.  They boast the one of the league’s top offenses and one of the top bullpens to help take the burden off the rotation.  The Yankees will rely on the continued growth of their rotation to have success in the 2012 season.

Not the offseason for change

The Yankees concluded their 2011 season in a way that is all too familiar to us. Unfortunately, we have to deal with the sting of yet another brutal first round exit from the playoffs.  This one hurts a lot because it was all lined up so perfectly. We had Mariano Rivera and David Robertson available for two innings each, and we were coming home with momentum.  All we needed was one big hit and we could not get it. That is the main difference between the Yankees dynasty of the 90s and the last decade. Those teams had players like Bernie, Brosius, Tino, O’Neill, and Jeter who raised their game from the regular season to the playoffs. The teams of the last decade have had better regular seasons than postseasons.  However, another disappointing playoff series does not mean that this team should make radical changes this off-season.

Brian Cashman has always said you cannot make decisions based solely on the postseason. He is absolutely correct. The sample size is way too small to be considered worth more than the regular season. Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez obviously were the main goats of this postseason and. The only one of those three you could do anything with is Swisher.  Let’s say hypothetically, you do not pick up Swisher’s option, and you replace him with Michael Cuddyer.  You cannot guarantee me Cuddyer, or any other replacement, would hit in the playoffs. There is no possible way of knowing. However, I do know that Swisher will produce better in the regular season based on a larger sample size. Plus his 10 million dollar option is cheap and you can go out and find somebody else next year.  As for Teixeira and Rodriguez you have to hope they dedicate themselves this off-season to get better.  Teixiera needs to improve his mechanics from the left side as his line of .218/.327/.462/.788 suggests. Rodriguez needs to develop an exercise routine that can help him stay on the field.  Signing Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder to big bucks is not the answer with all money they have tied into Teixiera and Rodriguez. Texeira and Rodriguez improving is the only option.

This is also not the off-season for radical change because of the big free agent class next year.  Matt Kemp is an elite outfielder who could potentially replace Swisher. He is a five tool player and is only 27. He makes much more sense than Pujols or Fielder would.  Stud pitchers also will be available like Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, Zack Grienke, John Danks, Shaun Marcum, and potentially Dan Haren and James Shields. Some of these guys may also be available at next year’s trade deadline. This is why the Yankees should not blow their money on C.J. Wilson or Yu Darvish this off-season. Sure they will need to sign or trade for a pitcher or two, but it does not have to be for major money. It is also why the Yankees do not have to go completely all out to extend CC Sabathia. I say 6 years at 150 million is a good meeting point. If Sabathia is dead set on 7 years letting him walk is probably the better option. The long term risk of a man who is close to 300 pounds is scary. All those innings will have to take its toll at some point right? Th St.Louis Cardinals are proved you do not need outstanding starting pitch to win a championship. You can win with clutch hitting and an outstanding bullpen. The Texas Rangers also got to the World Series without great starting pitching. So I would defiantly try to extend Sabathia, but it is not a necessity.

This Yankee team needs fine tuning this off-season and not a major overhaul. Winning 97 games in the AL East this year was a major accomplishment and should not be taken lightly. That is the sample size that you should trust more. The postseason is a complete crap shoot that can never be predicted.  However, if next year we have similar results in the postseason, we can consider more major moves because there will be elite players out there.  The outlook for the Yankees next year is bright and winning the World Series should be within our reach.