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October 27, 2010

Kiss'Em Goodbye

New York Yankees

by Christina Kahrl, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward a potential 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.

Now, it's time to kiss the New York Yankees—the losers of the ALCS—goodbye.

The overview

The Yankees were outplayed as thoroughly by the Texas Rangers in the American League Championship Series as in any of New York's postseason series in years; the one-sided nature and lack of production was along the lines of the 1963 World Series loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Manager Joe Girardi drew criticism for several crucial decisions—most notably for leaving A.J. Burnett in deep into the sixth inning of Game 4—but all along, the Yankees operated under very little margin for error because of the stagnant offense. Some of the team's oldest stars—Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada—looked ineffective and old, especially against the younger and more vibrant Rangers.

The Yankees, though, were arguably baseball's best team for much of the summer, lifted by an offense that led the majors in runs and a rotation that began fraying only at season's end. Robinson Cano likely will finish in the top three for the American League Most Valuable Player award, and CC Sabathia will probably receive votes for the AL Cy Young Award. Mariano Rivera had one of the best regular-season performances of his career, and Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson shrugged off slumps to post good overall numbers. Rodriguez mashed his 600th career homer, and Phil Hughes became an All-Star for the first time.

The Yankees expect to retain Girardi and Rivera through seamless negotiations. The contract talks with Jeter are going to be a little more complicated, because the Yankees are expected to offer him a pay cut at age 36 and it remains to be seen whether the talks between the shortstop and the team will get ugly. The Yankees' priority will be to pursue the pitcher they have coveted for a couple of years, Cliff Lee, but already there is some sense within the organization that if the Rangers take the bidding into the $130 million-$150 million range, the Yankees might pursue another avenue for making their pitching better— by investing in the much younger Carl Crawford, a shutdown defender whose skills would fit Yankee Stadium perfectly. The Yankees may also decide to take Posada out of his role as the everyday catcher for the first time in more than a decade, instead shifting him into more of a designated hitter.—Buster Olney, ESPN Insider

Baseball Prospectus' take

What went right: They fielded the league's best lineup, posting a .273 True Average (TAv), and adding Granderson to the outfield was not just a matter of adding another salary—they also got a boost in Park Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (PADE), finishing second in the league in team defense behind the Rangers. Starring this time around in an All-Star-studded lineup was Cano, who posted career highs in homers (29) and slugging (.534), walks (57) and OBP (.381), and his first season with a TAv above .300, all in his age-27 season, smack dab in the 25-29 range when most hitters reach peak performance. The bullpen was already a strong unit before the acquisition of Kerry Wood, but adding the former Cubs star gave Rivera the set-up stud he'd lacked since Joba Chamberlain's career died its death by a thousand midge bites.

What went wrong: Javier Vazquez, the biggest of their off-season big-ticket pickups, massively disappointed expectations. But after his first failure in pinstripes in 2004, the Yankees can't pretend they didn't have previous experience with that. Moving back to the toughest division in the DH league, he posted his worst season since his first spin in the Bronx, worse even than the years in Chicago that used to drive Ozzie Guillen to distraction. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Vazquez was merely the poster boy for a disappointing rotation that, for its $64 million price tag, ranked just ninth in the league and 20th overall in support-neutral value. Signing Nick Johnson was a worthwhile risk for stocking the team's DH slot, but his latest run-in with injury left them short-handed, which trading for Lance Berkman didn't fix.

The key number: .261. Jeter's status as the greatest shortstop in Yankees history isn't in doubt, but neither is the fact that he just completed his worst season as a regular, posting a career-low .261 TAv as well as career lows in OBP (.340) and slugging (.370). He was still an offensive asset—the MLB average for shortstops in TAv was .255—but add that decline to career-long concerns about his defense, and you've got a tough call for GM Brian Cashman.

What won't happen again: Vazquez in pinstripes, and not just because he was a one-year rental who flopped, again. This creates the obvious expectation that his slot will be filled by some other major big-ticket addition. We'll have to see whether Cashman takes the direct course and starts and ends his shopping list with Lee (that's what he should do) or does as he did in acquiring Vazquez and shops around on other people's rosters.—Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus

Rumor Central: 2011 options

The Lee effect: The post-season legend of Lee went up a few notches this October and no team knows that more than the Yankees, who, barring a major change of course, will make a serious pitch for the free-agent left-hander. The seven-year, $161 million deal for Sabathia will be a benchmark for discussion, but it remains to be seen just how high the Bronx Bombers will go. Lee has kept his poker face regarding next season, so we really don't know if he is willing to give a hometown discount to stay in Texas. With Burnett's career headed south and the future of Andy Pettitte uncertain, finding a veteran starter is a necessity. If Lee goes elsewhere, a fallback option could be Jorge De La Rosa, who appears to be in no rush to re-sign with the Rockies and may be waiting to see if the Lee-to-the-Yankees talks fall apart. The willingness to give up top prospect Jesus Montero in a failed attempt to land Lee over the summer shows that the Yankees remain willing to think big under the Hal Steinbrenner regime. Signing a top-level free-agent outfielder such as Crawford would seem to be overly ambitious, but never count the Yankees out, particularly if the Red Sox are seriously involved. There is talk that the Yankees could pursue Jayson Werth if they decide to trade right fielder Nick Swisher.

The Big Three: The Yankees said in March they wouldn't discuss contract extensions with Jeter, Rivera and Girardi until after the season, and they stayed true to their word. The most fascinating of those discussions involves Jeter, whose 10-year, $189 million deal comes to a close. Jeter may be a franchise icon, but he needs the Yankees as much as the Yankees need him. He is a 36-year-old shortstop with declining offensive numbers, meaning his best offer will undoubtedly come from the Yankees, who will reward him for past performance. At some point, they must decide if Jeter will move off shortstop, but all indications are that nothing is planned for 2011. The issue is a sensitive one, to the point that Girardi would not address the issue in his season-ending news conference. As for Girardi, he lost a bulk of his negotiating leverage when the Cubs decided on Mike Quade as their new manager. The stickiest situation could be behind the plate, where Posada may be forced to share some time behind the plate as they begin to make room for Montero.—Doug Mittler, ESPN Insider

Organizational future

Some would argue that Montero is the best pure hitter in the minors, as the 20-year-old hit .351/.396/.684 during the second half of the season for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Despite his tender age, he's big-league ready, and now the question is where he'll play on the field. He's made great strides behind the plate, but the upgrade is merely from embarrassing to simply bad. Few scouts see him as an upgrade over the slow, deficient and aging Posada. No matter where Montero ends up, the bat is going to play in the middle of the order for one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball.—Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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