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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

Related Content:  Yankees,  The Who

13 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Ray Whatley

Rewarding Jeter for his past performances??? Was't that what his $189 million contract was for going forward? He's already been rewarded.

Oct 27, 2010 09:17 AM
rating: 4

Now the awkward years begin. Posada is the biggest problem. He's a liability behind the plate and is not quite good enough at hitting to be a DH on a championship team. To complement Montero, the Yankees need a strong defensive catcher and neither Posada nor Cervelli measures up. Jeter is the next biggest problem because he is rapidly turning into a 4th outfielder yet must be treated as a superstar. The day of reckoning for him is approaching uncomfortably quickly. The Yankees also need a backup plan at closer because Rivera cannot go on forever. At SP, Vazquez, Hughes and Burnett all spit the bit. This was the last hurrah for this edition of the Yankee Dynasty. They got unbelievable mileage from Jeter, Pettitte, Rivera and Posada, but those guys will be role players, at best, on #28.

Oct 27, 2010 09:37 AM
rating: 0
Brian Kopec

Yes, Phil Hughes 'spit the bit.' By all means, dump that bum.

29 other GMs

Oct 27, 2010 12:07 PM
rating: 4

You're right. Pencil him back in as the #4 starter.

Oct 27, 2010 12:19 PM
rating: -1

The Yankees never re-load, but if they were to do so, here are my suggestions:

1. Seriously work to trade A-Rod. I think he would welcome a trade to LAD, which would give him a new lease on life, and a broader "canvas" than New York. He would feast on NL pitching, at least for a year or two, postponing the real onset of his decline. For the right deal, he will waive his no-trade clause. For LAD it's a relatively painless way to keep the seats full in Chavez Ravine. It will also be attractive to the new LAD team ownership that is inevitable, once the terms of the divorce emerge.
2. Move Jeter to 3B, where his problems with range and going to his right are minimized. For SS, with this lineup, any kid with a great glove will do.
3. With part of the money freed up from A-Rod's contract, go after Kurt Suzuki for catcher. Billy will make a deal, which probably will involve giving up Montero (let it happen) or Cervelli. Use the balance of the savings to restock the rotation after Sabathia and Hughes. (Assume Pettite does not return, or if he does, it will be for a max of a year. There are still plenty of possibilities- call Tampa Bay!- use your dollar firepower.
4. Your outfield is fine- don't trade Swisher- he is your clubhouse, is finally comfortable in New Yankee Stadium, and should produce a .280-.290 TAV with power for at least two more years.
5. If Montero not traded to get Suzuki, he becomes a DH, buys a first basemen's glove and gets close to Texeira.
6. Tell Chamberlain he is the successor to Rivera and instruct Girardi to start behaving like it.

Oct 27, 2010 11:10 AM
rating: -3

The Yankees have the answer to their catching problem in Gary Sanchez. The only problem is that he won't be ready until 2013 at the earliest. There's no need to give up a bunch to get a catcher. Montero will be a great DH.

Oct 27, 2010 12:13 PM
rating: 0

Almost forgot. Your A-Rod to LA with Jeter moving to 3B is even more daft than the Montero for Suzuki idea. A-Rod is declining but he still hit 30 HR. Jeter cannot touch A-Rods' offensive production yet you want to install him at 3B and put some generic glove man (presumably with even less offensive production than Jeter) at SS. Neither "this lineup" nor any other lineup can afford such a loss of offensive production. Slumps and injuries happen sometimes to several guys at once which means there will be other holes in the lineup appearing in addition to the ones you're already planning on.

Oct 27, 2010 20:36 PM
rating: 0

Ooops - this is a reply to PeterBNYC - not HeavyHitter.

Oct 27, 2010 20:37 PM
rating: 0

Trade Montero for Kurt Suzuki? Are you daft man? What's even sillier is that you say that the Yanks should trade either Montero or Cervelli in this deal as if they have equal value. Montero's upside is Edgar Martinez or even Albert Pujols (at least at the plate). Cervelli will be a LI Duck or Newark Bear inside of two years.

The outfield is not fine. The continuing delusion that Brett Gardner is an every-day major league player continues with most fans and many sports writers. This guys is a powder puff hitter who stuck out over 100 times and depended on walks and infield hits to get on base. No one is going to keep walking a guy who can't hurt them with the bat and is willing to look at a lot of third strikes. And did you notice how the infield hits kind of stopped coming in the second half as pitchers and defenses adjusted?

Gardner is set for a a major decline from his early success in the first half of 2010. That was apparent in the latter parts of the season and I fail to see how a player with such a limited skill set as a hitter can respond.

Oct 27, 2010 20:29 PM
rating: -1

Fangraphs has Gardner as the 9th most valuable outfielder in baseball. That sounds like an every-day player to me unless you're expecting huge amounts of regression, and it's not clear why you would. His hitting seemed to suffer in the 2nd half because of his wrist injury, as he started hitting fewer line drives and more ground balls, at least that was my assessment, I'm not sure where you can find monthly splits for things like that.
I'm surprised that even in the sabr community many Yankees fans seem to dislike Gardner. No matter how much they preach the value of defense and obp in the abstract, when they have that player they just want a guy who hits line drives.

Oct 28, 2010 07:15 AM
rating: 0

Repeat after me: "Montero is a prospect. Montero is a prospect. Montero is a prospect." He has, at the moment, no field position in which a major league team could safely employ him. A promotion to the majors as a full time DH simply is not in the cards. When has that ever happened? In my (fantasy) deal for Suzuki, for Montero you ride the hype for at least one 3rd starter- for Cervelli, you get as well, maybe, a bullpen arm. And I respect your opinion on Cervelli's skills, but tell me how, granted the current state of catching generally, he doesn't have a shot at, say, Brad Ausmus' or Gerald Laird's career? Someone will always want the guy.

Oct 28, 2010 11:17 AM
rating: 0

Crawford is much younger than Lee? Not to be nit-picky here, but Crawford is going to turn 30 during the middle of next season, while Lee is going to be 33. Not THAT much of a difference. Crawford might be younger, yes, but would it be smart of the Yanks to make a huge investment on a 30-year-old player who derives so much of his talent from his legs? One fluke hamstring injury, and that contract could quickly become an anchor for years.

Oct 27, 2010 12:18 PM
rating: 1

I have to disagree on these two points.

(1) In baseball, the difference of a player's performance between 27 and 30 is somewhat significant and the difference of performance between 30 and 33 is even more significant.

(2) Players whose primary asset is speed tend to retain their effectiveness as they get older better than players whose primary asset is power.

As for the Yankees' needs, I, for one, am tired of hearing how the big, bad bombers are going to spend $220 million from their vast local media revenue on their yearly payroll. I know that Yankee fans are tired of hearing of this point but, believe me, you cannot imagine how tired the rest of us are of hearing about the never ending Yankee soap opera/spending binge. And, boy howdy, are most baseball fans west of the Hudson River incredibly tired of hearing the ESPN baseball yahoos drone on endlessly about the poor Yankees.

Thank goodness for MLB Baseball network.

Oct 28, 2010 00:47 AM
rating: 0
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