By Neil Keefe
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And Sweeny Murti
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Instead of worrying about the Giants on Wednesday night in San Francisco, the Yankees now have to worry about new deals for Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Joe Girardi and trying to find out if Andy Pettitte will return in 2011. There is the need for an upgrade in the rotation and to make the bench stronger with the aging starters, and there is the catching dilemma that will consume the offseason.
The Yankees will have a handful of new faces when they return in the spring, and for the first time in a while there is the opportunity for some minor league talent to make a run at a starting job in 2011 at catcher. It will be an exciting winter, and trying to sign Cliff Lee or make a deal for another elite starter will highlight the hot stove.
Like we did so many times during the regular season, Sweeny Murti and I talked Yankees baseball. This time we looked back at the season and what went wrong in the playoffs in our final discussion about the 2010 Yankees.
Keefe: That wasn’t exactly how I thought the season was going to end. To think that the Yankees lost in six games to the Rangers and Cliff Lee only pitched once is pretty remarkable.
When it comes down to it, the untimely injury to Andy Pettitte that we are just finding out about and the two eggs Phil Hughes dropped in Games 2 and 6 ended up being the difference in the series. CC Sabathia wasn’t great, but the Yankees did win both of his starts. And A.J. Burnett allowed five runs in six innings, but it’s not like we didn’t see that coming and no one really could have believed he was going to go out there and put up zeroes.
I tried my best to divide up the blame on the team, and I thought Phil Hughes’ poor pitching was the biggest disappointment and most to blame for the series loss.
Murti: I’d have to say the biggest disappointment was the lineup that only scored 14 runs in 52 innings (minus the five runs in the eighth inning of Game 1). Take out Robinson Cano’s four home runs and this becomes even worse.
In retrospect, did we all underestimate the Rangers pitching? They had the lowest ERA of any Rangers team in 20 years, and that had almost nothing to do with Cliff Lee, who pitched in only 15 of the Rangers 162 regular season games. I thought Tommy Hunter and Colby Lewis and C.J. Wilson had to prove they could beat the Yankees. Guess what, they did!
That old thing about good pitching and good hitting and blah, blah, blah … turns out it’s really true. We’ve seen many times over the years, the Yankees offense – no matter how good it is – can be shut down in October. The Yankees have built a great offensive team, and this isn’t to say they need to build a different type of offense. You’d take your chances with that lineup every day, but you don’t expect them to score six runs a game like they do in the regular season. The key is to pitch well enough to stay in the game and get big hits late in the game. Sounds hard? It is. That’s why the same team doesn’t win the World Series every year.
Keefe: You told Mike Francesa that the Yankees’ sweep of the Twins made everyone temporarily forget about the problems the Yankees experienced for the entire second half. When the Rangers dominated the Yankees, people began to question what was wrong with the Yankees, but in reality the Yankees’ problems were the same they had for half a season, they just didn’t appear in the ALDS.
The 2010 Yankees will be remembered as a team that came within two wins of the World Series, but I will remember them as a team that wasn’t the best team in baseball (though I tricked myself into believe they had enough to repeat as champions). Most organizations would be happy with a trip to the ALCS and coming within two wins of the World Series, but around here winning the World Series is the only way to be considered successful, and I believe in that. What will the Yankees take away from the way their season ended despite the fact that they just didn’t have enough pitching?
Murti: I think the problem is that they didn’t have enough pitching, and that wasn’t the plan going in. Andy Pettitte’s injury coincided with the Yanks fall to mediocrity because it also came at the same time Javier Vazquez slipped again (remember, he did have a very good run in June and July) and 24-year-old Phil Hughes was getting through the second half of his longest season ever, and oh yes, A.J. Burnett never did get it turned around. CC is a big man that can carry a big load, but that’s too big a load for anyone to carry.
Still, this is still a team that returns CC, Pettitte (most likely) and Hughes. If they add Cliff Lee, there isn’t a better four in baseball. Yet, I’m sure in February I will be answering questions from you, Neil, about the Yankees fifth starter.
The other part of the Yanks’ problems became hitting with runners in scoring position. It seems in hindsight that a lot of that had to do with an older team that was wearing down while even the younger guys were getting hurt (Teixeira, Gardner, Swisher). We talk a lot about the Yankees bench in the offseason and near the trading deadline. Those players generally haven’t been as important as people want to believe, because the Yankees have a lot of stars who play every day, and when those guys get a day off, everyone wants to know why. This time I think the Yankees will need to have a stronger bench than they have in years and rely on a backup infielder to spell A-Rod and Jeter.
But the everyday lineup also features Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano in their primes, exciting potential from Curtis Granderson, and the continued improvement of Brett Gardner.
The Yanks will still be a very good team, but it will take all of the six-month regular season to determine if they are a great team.
Keefe: Dave Eiland is no longer a Yankee and no one knows why. Brian Cashman says it isn’t because of the way the season ended, but I think maybe it has to do with the fact that Dave Eiland just isn’t a good pitching coach.
A.J. Burnett wasn’t that good before he was a Yankee, so it’s not like Eiland ruined him, but he shouldn’t be losing 15 games on this team. Javier Vazquez had an atrocious year, and Eiland wasn’t able to fix him and find out what went right for Vazquez in Atlanta in 2009 and continue it in 2010. I know the NL is easier to pitch in than the AL, but I don’t think it should be that much of a difference.
I could never understand why the Yankees decided to go away from Ron Guidry in the first place. It might be too early to predict who will be the pitching coach, but who is your best guess?
Murti: Eiland’s success varied as much as any pitching coach. He’s been instrumental in Phil Hughes’s development, did help turn Javier Vazquez around for a little while this year, helped make Boone Logan a reliable reliever in the second half of the season and even helped find the small flaw in Mariano Rivera’s delivery in September (in all honesty, that probably would have been fixed eventually, but hey, Eiland is the one who found it).
Eiland also has Burnett on his watch, as well as Joba Chamberlain – two guys he couldn’t fix belong on his resume along with the guys he could — but there’s only so much a pitching coach can do sometimes. You’ve heard the old saying about chicken salad.
A pitching coach has to have a particular work ethic and Eiland had a very strong one. The video and mechanical analysis is something Eiland loved to do. Sometimes he would find things that helped fix problems, other times he didn’t. But the pitchers have to take some of that blame too.
Guidry relied a lot on personal experience and talking through situations, but he wasn’t diligent enough in the type of work that goes into being hitting or pitching coaches these days.
Two examples of Eiland’s positive reach: Helping Mike Mussina adjust his style and turn a 1-3 start into the first 20-win season of his career. And, believe it or not, helping Nick Swisher alter his throwing motion in 2009, making for stronger and more accurate throws from the outfield.
The Yankees have two candidates in-house with experience as major league pitching coaches, Nardi Contreras (roving pitching instructor) and Greg Pavlick (pitching coach at Single-A Tampa). Neither one has been a major league pitching coach in over a decade.
Orioles pitching coach Rick Kranitz has to be considered a strong candidate. He was Joe Girardi’s pitching coach in Florida in 2006 and goes back to the 1980’s with Girardi in the Cubs organization.
Keefe: Brian Cashman admitted that he didn’t make the best moves this winter and he took responsibility for his bad decisions. The trade to bring Curtis Granderson to the Yankees turned out to be a great move, but the trade for Javier Vazquez was a disaster and the signing of Nick Johnson was just as bad.
It almost seems like Cashman tried to be too smart in the offseason with what would have been described as low-risk, high-reward moves instead of just making the right moves. But in the end they were actually big risks and might have cost the Yankees a second straight championship since their starting rotation turned into shambles and the DH spot became a revolving door while Johnny Damon (I know Granderson technically replaced him, but he could have been an OF/DH), Hideki Matsui and Vladimir Guerrero were all better candidates that were passed over.
Cashman seemed to make all the right moves last offseason with the signings of Sabathia, Teixeira and Burnett and you can’t make all the right moves and signings all the time, but I think he is right to take responsibility for the team he built, and I respect him for taking being accountable for building a team that couldn’t win two more games in the ALCS.
Murti: Well, we’ve dissected these moves for much of the year. Several of these moves didn’t work out, but I can’t believe we still come back to Johnny Damon and believe that the Yankees didn’t do enough to bring him back. They made a two-year offer, which nobody else did. By the time they said goodbye and went on to Nick Johnson, the two sides were only $6 million dollars apart. That the gap couldn’t be bridged is a fault attributable to both sides.
When you play in the free-agent market as often as the Yankees do, and you play on the high end as much as the Yankees do, there are bound to be major disappointments. Cashman admits when they don’t work out well, as he should.
Keefe: On Monday on Twitter, I said that I wouldn’t be sad if Nick Swisher wasn’t a Yankee in 2011, and no one was really a fan of my opinion.
I don’t know what the right answer would be in right field if the Yankees decided to move Swisher, and I wouldn’t mind if he stayed, I’m just saying I wouldn’t be that mad if he was gone. I don’t know if Jayson Werth would be the right answer either, but maybe there is a move to be made for Swisher now that his stock is the highest it’s been in a while, and the Yankees rarely have a player worth trading that isn’t a prospect.
Murti: Is Swisher tradable? Of course, but I can’t see it happening.
Were you asking Nick Swisher to be traded two weeks ago? You’d love for him to have better postseasons the last two years, but you still have to build your team for the 162 first. Swisher has 130 extra-base hits over the last two years. He has not been good in the postseason, but asking him to be traded off that is a little much.
Tino Martinez was 9-for-48 (.188) in the 1996 postseason and didn’t drive in a single run. Paul O’Neill was 9-for-46 (.196) in the ’96, ’98, and ’99 World Series combined! Our memories are clouded by our perception. These guys were great Yankees with multiple championship rings yet they struggled mightily in many postseason series. Even Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, was a career .227 hitter in 11 ALCS, including 2-for-16 in the 1977 ALCS. That tends to get overshadowed by his World Series performance a week later.
Pitching always dominates in the postseason and so do advanced scouting reports. Swisher, a dead fastball hitter, was exploited in the postseason in a way that just can’t be duplicated every day in a six-month season. You should always take your chances with the guys who perform over 162, and Swisher is one of them.
I think Curtis Granderson’s resurgence in the last two months of the season helped the Yankees realize they can bring back the same outfield without getting into the bidding for Crawford or Werth. That money will be better served on Cliff Lee and maybe even more pitching.
Keefe: Speaking of Cliff Lee, everyone seems to think he will be a Yankee in 2011, and I’m part of that. I know the Yankees will offer him whatever it will take to lure him away from any other team.
The story about his wife being heckled at the Stadium doesn’t seem like it will be enough to stand in the way of $25 million (or more) a year, but maybe the Rangers winning the World Series will be. I think it would be better if the Rangers lost the World Series to increase the Yankees’ chances of landing him, though maybe it won’t matter whether the Rangers win or lose because of the money the Yankees can offer.
Murti: Is there anybody that doesn’t think Lee is coming to the Yankees? That story with his wife in the stands is terrible, but I don’t think that’s enough to keep him from signing here.
The Yankees will make a huge offer. Does he want to come here? That’s the only question. Texas can make it interesting, and we keep hearing about how the new ownership will spend money to keep him. The Brewers made a very good offer to CC Sabathia (five years, $100 million). Last I checked, he turned them down. Lee is looking at elite starter money in a market where he is the only real choice. Over $20 million per on five or six years doesn’t sound impossible. Some believe it will go even higher!
Let’s put it this way, if he doesn’t come to the Yankees, I doubt it will be because they didn’t make him the highest offer. The Yanks have a way of pulling guys in like the Death Star tractor beam when they have a free agent in their sights, but that’s because they rarely have competition spending at the same level. Let’s see if Texas can stay in this game of hold ’em.
Keefe: You had the piece on Derek Jeter’s contract situation on Tuesday and it was strange to see the range of years and money between the 26 different executives.
To me, Derek Jeter is unlike any player in the entire game. He has made the Yankees and other players on the team a lot of money in his career, been part of five championship teams and helped restore the Yankees brand to the point where they are valued in the billions, including being part of the reason the team was able to build their new stadium. He is more valuable to the Yankees than any player has been in a long time and will continue to represent and be one of the faces of the franchise for the rest of his life. I am not sure how you measure those off-field values when deciding on a contract, but that is the task the Yankees are faced with.
If it was my decision, I would have no problem giving him the four-year, $100 million deal that some believe he will get. Were his numbers this year worthy of that? No. And some will say that his last contract (10 years, $189 million) paid him more than enough for what he has done over that time. I’m just not sure how you can tell the face of the franchise and the face of the game that he isn’t worth as much annually as A.J. Burnett is.
I think he gets a second $100 million deal. You shared what others believe Jeter’s new deal will be, but what do you think it will be?
Murti: I’ve said before that I think Jeter is the one guy you shouldn’t be afraid to give a four-year deal simply because if his production drops off that precipitously, he appears to me to be the guy who can step away rather than just hang on. Why do I feel that way? Well the guy’s made every right step to this point in his career. Should we really put it past him to do the right thing then too?
What I found fascinating about the results I posted was the range. I found people who wanted to base his salary on performance with a small premium for his Yankee value, based mainly on the assumption that there are no other suitors for the services of a soon to be 37-year-old shortstop whose average dropped 60 points from last season. There were others who saw it the way you do, that Jeter is the Yankees and he deserves to be paid for it.
I’m going to guess its a four-year deal worth around $80 million with clauses that will allow a personal services deal to kick in if and when he decides to retire. No matter how many years he actually plays, he will get every cent.
For what it’s worth, my wife’s guess is four years, $75 million.
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