The New York Yankees brain trust is scheduled to meet today to formulate the organization's offseason strategy. That makes today the perfect time to look at the Yankees' offseason priorities. So, we will use this week's SB Nation New York Top 5 to do exactly that.
So, let's take a look. What, exactly, are the five things the Yankees have to take care of this winter in order to return to title contention in 2011? Following are my thoughts on that question.
1. Re-sign Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Of course these two iconic Yankee players will be re-signed. The only question is for how much? Rivera, 40, should not be difficult although there are some whispers that the great closer might want a two-year deal. A one-year deal with a mutual option for a second season, probably at roughly the same $15 million Rivera made for the past three seasons should get that done. Jeter will be trickier. His 10-year, $189 million deal is up, and it is unlikely the Yankees will pony up $18 million to 19 million annually for a player who will be 37 years old.
Coming off a season in which he had the worst batting average (.270), on-base percentage (.340), slugging percentage (.370) and OPS (.710) of his career, and facing an eventual position change, this will be difficult. How will the Yankees honor what Jeter has done while acknowledging that the most productive part of his career is in the rearview mirror? The other issue with Jeter is how to tell him he needs to hit toward the bottom of the batting order. This one will not be easy.
2. Reinforce the starting pitching. Part 1 of this is simple -- how much do you offer free-agent left-hander Cliff Lee? More than CC Sabathia's 7-year, $161 million? Less? The same? Fixing the rotation is not just about throwing money at Lee, however. Can the Yankees convince Andy Pettitte to, once again, forsake retirement for one more season in the Bronx? Pettitte, 38, talks about retiring after every season. One of these years he is actually going to do it.
Oh, and what if the Yankees don't get Lee? Is there anyone else on the free-agent market worth pursuing? Is there a top of the rotation starter available worth trading, say, Joba Chamberlain and a prospect or two for?
Can whoever the new pitching coach is get inside A.J. Burnett's head and turn him around after a miserable 10-15 season?
The Yankees can't simply re-sign Pettitte and say, "Okay, we're done here."
3. Decide what they will do at catcher. This is another tricky situation for Joe Girardi, one that is sure to test his skills at handling the ego of a fading star. Jorge Posada, who will turn 40 before next season ends, is obviously no longer an everyday catcher. He only threw out 15% of potential base-stealers, and in 83 starts behind home plate he allowed eight passed balls and 32 wild pitches. He just does not move well enough back there anymore to catch regularly.
The first problem, though, is that Posada has not yet been willing to recognize his declining skills. He still believes he belongs behind the plate every day. The second problem is, who catches if Posada does not. Francisco Cervelli hit .271, but had no home runs in 266 at-bats. He also threw out only 14% of would-be base stealers. He is not an everyday catcher.
So, the question becomes whether the Yankees think prized prospect Jesus Montero is ready, especially defensively where there are huge questions about him, to handle a lot of the catching duty in 2011? If he isn't do they just live with Posada and Cervelli? Do they go out and look for a veteran catcher as a one year stopgap while Montero and Austin Romine develop for another season? A tough call for Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman.
4. What to do about the outfield. There have been whispers that the Yankees will pursue a bat in the free-agent market, and the names heard most often are outfielders Carl Crawford of Tampa Bay as first priority and Jayson Werth of Philadelphia as second priority.
Do the Yankees need a bat? It certainly can't hurt with Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Posada a year older in 2011. If they bring in an outfielder like Crawford which current starting outfielder gets bumped to the bench or traded? You can argue that all three 2010 starting outfielders -- Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher -- deserve to stay in the lineup. There are also equally compelling arguments why each should be traded.
The speedy Gardner brings excellent defense to either left field or center field, stole 47 bases and hit .277 with an on-base percentage of .383. He is a good player, but if the Yankees think that is the best the 26-year-old will do now might be a good time to see what he would bring in return.
Granderson hit just .247 with 24 home runs and 67 RBI. He showed improvement the last couple of months after some work with hitting coach Kevin Long, but this is still three straight seasons in which his batting average has gone down. He is a good center fielder, but Gardner could slide into center field and play it just as well -- probably better. So, maybe Granderson would be the guy to move.
Swisher made the All-Star team and hit a career-high .289 along with a career-best .511 slugging percentage. He hit 29 home runs and drove in 89 runs. Swisher will be 30 next season, and had never hit above .262 or had a slugging percentage above .498 previously. It is likely 2010 was a career year for the popular Swisher and, like Gardner, this might be the time to explore the market for him.
A very tough call for Cashman.
5. Find a new pitching coach. This was necessitated when Dave Eiland was surprisingly fired at the end of the season. There are lots of candidates. Internally, Mike Harkey has been Girardi's bullpen coach for two seasons. He is a former big-league pitcher who filled in for Eiland when he took a month-long leave of absence this season. Former Atlanta pitching coach Leo Mazzone has expressed interest. Baltimore's Rick Kranitz might be on his way out there, and was Girardi's pitching coach in Florida. Former Oakland's Curt Young is highly regarded and is looking for a new employer. AAA pitching coach Scott Aldred might merit consideration.