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October 7, 2011

Kiss'Em Goodbye

New York Yankees

by Jay Jaffe, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fadewhether in September (or before), the league division series, league championship series or World Series. It combines an overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski, and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview.

Today we give a Michael Kay "see ya" to the New York Yankees, who were defeated in the ALDS by the Detroit Tigers.

Signs of hope: Curtis Granderson hit a career-high 41 home runs and emerged as an MVP candidate thanks in large part to a retooled swing that shored up his problems against lefties. Robinson Cano had a season that generated MVP discussion, hitting 28 homers to go with a .302/.349/.533. Those two helped the lineup make up for a bit of flagging production from the older players, as the offense scored 5.35 runs per game, second in the AL. Meanwhile, the team was surprisingly effective at run prevention (4.06 runs per game, third in the league) thanks to another strong year from CC Sabathia (3.00 ERA ) and the emergence of Ivan Nova (3.70 ERA).

Signs of disaster: Alex Rodriguez was limited to 99 games and 16 homers due to thumb and knee injuries, the latter of which required in-season surgery; by the time the playoffs began, he was a shadow of himself, and while he's expected to heal fully, the fact remains that the team still owes him $143 million over the next six years. Derek Jeter had a woeful first half as he reached the 3,000 hit plateau, and even with a strong second half, he is clearly a liability against righties (.277/.329/.338) better suited for the bottom third of the lineup; the Yankees still owe him a minimum of $36 million over the next two seasons. A.J. Burnett posted an ERA above 5.00 for the second season in a row, and while he found a moment of redemption in the postseason, he's owed $33 million for the next two seasons.

Signs you can ignore: Despite what was arguably Sabathia's best regular season showing with the Yankees,he Sabathia laid an egg in the postseason, posting a 6.23 ERA in three appearances. The schedule is partially to blame for that; a rain suspension limited him to two innings in Game 1of the ALDS, and his other two outings, including the first relief appearance of his career in Game 5, both came in the uncharted territory of two days' rest. The big man can opt out of his seven-year, $161 million deal this winter, and while the Yankees have a fair bit of young pitching talent on the way, they have no true ace without him and will almost certainly re-sign him if he opts out. —Jay Jaffe, Baseball Prospectus

Bowden's Bold Move
With the Yankees eliminated, their front office will have time to scout C.J. Wilson—who should be their top free-agent target—in the ALCS. Mark Buehrle and Edwin Jackson could be a back-up plan if Wilson signs elsewhere. Of course, the Yankees might have to also deal with Sabathia opting out of his deal, and if he does, that will be the Yankees' top priority.

The Yankees haven't made a real splash in free agency since signing Mark Teixeira and Sabathia before the 2009 season, but they should go hard after Wilson, who might be the best pitcher on the market (assuming Sabathia doesn't opt out). Also, Prince Fielder's left-handed power makes him the perfect fit for Yankee Stadium. The Yankees should make a strong play for him, especially given Rodriguez' decline and Teixiera's inability to produce in the post-season. I know they might need Rodriguez to DH in a couple of years, but Fielder is too good to pass up. When you're the Yankees, that's the kind of move you make. —Jim Bowden

Hopes and Fears
Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 99-63

The Yankees are always a threat to score a ton of runs and 2011 was no exception. Even Jeter's "disappointing" seasonal line of .297/.355/.388 was pretty good. The most surprising thing about the Yankees is just how few crazy offensive seasons they got from their lineup en route to finishing second in the league in runs. Due to uncertainty in the rotation, this was supposed to be a down year while the team waited for the next generation, but the Yanks got more out of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia than they had any right to. Looks to be more of the same in 2012: lots of offense, a terrific bullpen, and the hope of another starting pitcher.

Worst-case scenario: 85-77
Some teams would take this for their optimistic outlook, but this would be the Yankees' worst season since 1992 when Danny Tartabull was their big hitter and Steve Farr the closer. How would it go this bad for the Yankees? Start with a reversal of fortune in a rotation that still has question marks after CC Sabathia. Can Burnett or Phil Hughes ever be dependable again? Can Nova can continue to not allow runs with those strikeout and walk rates? Can the Yankees snag one of the few top pitchers in the FA market? If those questions turn up in the negative and a few of the older players in a generally aging lineup start to age ungracefully, suddenly the team doesn't look all that potent. But even in a bad scenario, the team has enough talent and money to stay competitive. —Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory

Organizational Future
The Yankees' season will be seen as a failure this year by many, which means they simply didn't win the World Series. Still, this is a team that shouldn't miss a beat in 2012. One of the best hitting prospects in the minors, Jesus Montero will get real at-bats next year, making that lineup all the more dangerous, while the pitching prospect duo of Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos put themselves on the brink of permanent big league roles. If there is any solace here, it's that the Red Sox don't have a Montero, or a Banuelos, or a Betances, while the Rays system finally begins to dry up a bit past future ace Matt Moore. It's hard to think about a Yankee team committing to youth, but if they do, the team will remain at or near the top of the American League East. Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

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

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay 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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