Bomber Bites with Billy Brost: The Yankees STILL Aren’t A Playoff Team
By Billy Brost
Since the New York Yankees were mathematically eliminated by the Baltimore Orioles during the last week of the 2014 regular season, speculation has run rampant about what the Bombers will do to rectify the situation. I’m going to be the first to tell you, unless the underperforming rostered players do a complete 180-degree turnaround, along with some improvement in the starting rotation, we are going to be having this same conversation a year from now.
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The real question is, why was Brian Cashman given a new contract after two seasons of dumpster-fire type results? Why does Joe Girardi still have his job? Obviously the Steinbrenners believed some changes had to be made, otherwise Kevin Long and Mick Kelleher would still be employed, and the front office wouldn’t have had several moves made over the past two weeks. That is all without laying one ounce of blame on where it truly belongs: the players.
Mandatory Credit: Chad R. MacDonald.
As exciting as it was to sign Jacoby Ellsbury away from the Boston Red Sox, he did not replace Robinson Cano. Say what you will about Nick Swisher and his inability to hit in October, at least he got there. Carlos Beltran looked old, and disinterested at times. Mark Teixeira will never be the guy the Yankees signed in 2009. He’s too brittle, too pull happy, and even his glove is beginning to slip a little. And he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Brian McCann, for all of the criticisms he took because he didn’t hit 40 home runs, is probably the one reason the starting pitching staff stayed consistent. He didn’t let his struggles at the plate affect his defense or handling of a game.
As for that pitching staff. Can Michael Pineda please stay healthy for more than five minutes without hurting himself? Don’t get me wrong, he has ace stuff. Hard to be an ace when you’ve spent the majority of your career rehabbing or resting. Enough is enough already with this guy. How many of you saw the C.C. Sabathia disaster coming a mile away when he threatened to opt-out of his original contract if the Yankees didn’t pony up more cabbage? I compare his current deal to the nightmare that is Alex Rodriguez‘s contract.
So let’s look at the realistic options that the Yankees have before them heading into this off-season, as the World Series heads down the final stretch. Let’s start at the left side of the infield and move around the diamond. While Chase Headley played solid defense, his bat was mostly non-existent. The Yankees need a run-producer, and already have A-Rod under contract, so whomever the Yankees choose to move forward with, will have to share some time with the beleaguered slugger. I suppose you could break the bank on Pablo Sandoval, and while he is one of the better hitters in the game at third base, the elephant in the room has to be his weight, and his ability to stay healthy down the road.
Hanley Ramirez is probably better suited to play the hot corner at this point in his career than he is shortstop, but his attitude is that he IS a shortstop. Steer clear if you’re the Bombers, not only for the attitude, but the money he’ll command. My guess, is that Brian Cashman is going to have to attempt to explore a trade, or resign Headley, who enjoyed his time in the Bronx. Ugh.
Continuing forward, the replacement for Derek Jeter. We’ve discussed Ramirez, and I’m not keen on that idea. That leaves Stephen Drew, Jed Lowrie, or Asdrubal Cabrera. The Yankees obviously had to be disappointed when J.J. Hardy didn’t even hit the open market, but rather chose to stay with a winning program in Baltimore. There is always the option of Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang. According to scouts, the kid can rake, but how does his bat translate to the big leagues? From what I’ve heard, the KBO is basically the Pacific Coast League…EVERYONE RAKES. The trade market has two targets: Troy Tulowitzski and Jose Reyes. The Yankees have enough speed, they need boppers. So, with that in mind, it’s either Tulo or Kang. This team has to score runs next season.
Second base has handled itself. If the Yankees want to go the route of youth, then Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder will platoon, both gaining excellent experience while injecting some much-needed energy into the fold. Refsnyder can also play some right field, which was his natural position prior to his switch to second. The veteran of course, is Martin Prado. If I’m Joe Girardi, Prado remains my super-utility guy, playing almost every day, but at a different position, keeping his teammates fresh in the process.
Mark Teixeira. What can I say that hasn’t already been said. He’s not what he once was, but who of us are? One of the biggest issues the Yankees faced last season was that when Tex was hurt, they didn’t have a proven back-up on the big league roster. The answer to that sits at Triple-A, and his name is Kyle Roller. The 26-year-old power-hitting first baseman is never going to be a star in the Bronx, because circumstances will never allow that. He’s got Tex in front of him, and on-base machine Gregory Bird coming up behind him quickly. So use him while you can, and deal him for other pieces. In 104 Triple-A games, Roller had 17 home runs and 51 driven in. He had 9 more bombs and 23 additional RBI at Double-A. He’s cheap, he’s young and oh yeah, he’s left-handed. Problem solved.
Behind the plate, the Yankees need to make a decision and be done with it. We know Brian McCann is firmly entrenched as the starter, but who should his back-up be? Trade Francisco Cervelli. There will be takers. He’s too injury-prone to be relied upon. J.R. Murphy has proven his worth and should be the guy, while Austin Romine is now an afterthought, and Gary Sanchez still has a long ways to go. Murphy even has soft enough hands, that he could get some work at the hot corner during spring training. He can hit at the big league level and like Pirela, Refsnyder and Roller, would inject some youthful enthusiasm to the elderly roster.
The outfield is set. Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran, with perhaps a mix of a resigned Chris Young, Martin Prado and even rookie Rob Refsnyder getting some reps to mix things up. Let’s look at the starting rotation. Masahiro Tanaka is your clear #1, and it’s imperative he remain healthy this season. If he does, 18-22 wins isn’t out of the question for the second-year import. If and this is a big if, Michael Pineda is healthy, he slots in as your #2. Yes, he’s that good. Now, here again, the Yankees have some questions to answer. Brandon McCarthy did an outstanding job after his trade from Arizona, and Cashman should resign him. Forget about Max Scherzer and James Shields. Too many miles on both. The guy to sign is Jon Lester. If he comes on, he slots in as the #2 behind Tanaka, and splits the two righties up, bumping Pineda back to the #3, and the resigned McCarthy to the #4, which suits him perfectly. And the last rotation spot? It belongs to the former fat boy, C.C. Sabathia. That gives you two lefties, three extremely talented right-handers, and no, I haven’t forgotten about the depth.
As with any big league team, injuries happen. No, David Phelps is not a starter, no matter how much he wants to be. He’s this generation’s version of Ramiro Mendoza: the perfect swingman. Shane Greene could use more seasoning, and should get that patience at Triple-A, as he should serve in the “Break Glass In Case of Emergency” role. Youngsters Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino, and Ian Clarkin aren’t far away, but they aren’t Bronx ready either. You’ve got your rotation, and it’s solid, minus Sabathia and his loser’s limp issues.
Finally, the bullpen. I’m sorry, but I don’t bring back David Robertson, unless he accepts the qualifying, one-year offer. If he doesn’t, let him walk. The bullpen is where cost control and youth come into play. I don’t believe in free agent relievers. Don’t believe me? How did the Matt Thornton deal work out? Steve Karsay anyone? Yeah, shut up. So if D-Rob stays, Dellin Betances remains the set-up man, with the Strikeout Factory, Jacob Lindgren being the lockdown lefty, and I would like to see Tyler Webb get some love this season as well. While the Yankees minor league bullpen arms didn’t live up to expectations, youth and talent are on their side.
The aforementioned Phelps remains in the ‘pen, along with Adam Warren, and Shawn Kelley. D-Rob, Betances, Lindgren, and Webb. That is pretty solid. Waiting their turn on the farm is Danny Burawa, Mark Montgomery, Matt Daley, and Jose Ramirez among others. If Brian Cashman and the Yankees sit on their hands, and not address the glaring weaknesses that kept this team out of October baseball each of the past two seasons, don’t be shocked if come next October, it turns into a third-straight postseasonless run for the once mighty New York Yankees. The solutions are there, but the Yankees just need to take the bull by the horns and get it done. A mix of youth and SMART free agent moves, augment the existing roster and put this team back in contention next season. If not, enjoy the Royals…