Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Yankees Off-Season Review (So Far)

It looks like the Yankees are mostly done with their off-season transactions, barring a minor move here and there so it seems like a good time to recap what has happened so far.

The Trades

Yankees Acquire: Curtis Granderson
Yankees Lose: Austin Jackson, Phil Coke, Ian Kennedy

First of all, I agree with the consensus that this is a great trade for the Yankees. However, I think most people are actually underrating exactly how much it helps the team. Granderson is a solid player, he is not the star he appeared to be in 2007 but it doesn't change the fact that he is a vast upgrade from whoever the Yankees have had in centerfield since Bernie Williams' prime.

Granderson is an absolutely perfect fit for the Yankees. Take a look at his home run chart courtesy of hittracker.com. Essentially all of his home run power is to the pull side, and those seats located only 314 feet away at the stadium are ready to welcome his fly balls with open arms.

Although Granderson's defense has occasionally been called into question, particularly the routes he took to fly balls, nearly every defensive metric I can find thinks that he is at worst average. Fangraphs.com's UZR has him at being a little over 21 runs above average in a massive 5500+ inning sample size. If that is not enough convincing, remember that the Yankees still have Brett Gardner, an elite defender, and can shift Granderson over to left field if they really want to focus on defense.

Finally I also think that Granderson's personality will be a great fit in New York. He has always struck the perfect balance between being willing to talk to the media and never appearing to be a glory hog. I have no doubt the New York reporters will find him enjoyable to talk to and quotable, something that will make him all the more endearing to the fans. This is a player that will not get melt under the magnifying glass of the big apple.

So what exactly did the Yankees give up to acquire Granderson? Not much to be honest. The only real interesting player is Jackson, who was once thought of as having superstar potential. However, he has not shown the tools the Yankees thought they were getting for many years now. He spent all of 2009 in AAA as a 22-year-old, but managed only four home runs and a 3:1 K:BB ratio. At this point he projects as a solid player, probably a poor man's Mike Cameron. In other words, somebody useful but hardly untouchable.

Ian Kennedy and Phil Coke are very similar players. They are both strike throwers with average stuff. Because the Yankees have the ability to throw money around on free-agents they have little interest in pitchers that just "get by." The Yankees are in the market for stars or players who could potentially be stars, and that is not Coke or Kennedy at all. Kennedy could thrive in the NL West (he ended up on Arizona) where a lot of the long flies he gives up are swallowed up by huge outfields, and there are no DH's to pray on his high-80s fastball. Similarly Coke looks like a serviceable middle reliever, but because his slider is fringy he will never evolve into even a good lefty-specialist. Essentially both of these players are much like Jackson, useful but ultimately tradeable.

This is exactly the kind of trade the Yankees should be making. They acquired a young, high-upside player who is not even that expensive while only giving up three middling players.

Yankees Acquire: Javier Vazquez, Boone Logan
Yankees Lose: Melky Cabrera, Arodys Vizcaino, Mike Dunn

I find myself more conflicted with this trade. Obviously, Javier Vazquez is an upgrade over the Wang/Mitre/Gaudin group that soaked up 24 starts last year. However, Vazquez is the opposite of Granderson. He is an excellent pitcher who is a horrible fit for the Yankees. Vazquez' greatest weakness is giving up home runs, particularly to left-handed batters; well he is now going to deal with a park that rewards left-handed fly ball hitters more than any other. Make no mistake, I think Vazquez is an upgrade. He is probably the most durable pitcher in baseball, and given the Yankees history with pitchers getting injured that does matter. I'm just not jumping up and down as much with this trade as I am with the previous one, and a large part of that has to do with what they gave up.

The most important player the Yankees are losing is Arodys Vizcaino. While I would not have rated him the Yankees top pitching prospect like Baseball America did, he probably had the highest ceiling of anyone in the system. This is the type of pitching prospect the Yankees should try and hold on to, boom or bust guys that have a chance to anchor the staff down the road. I would have rather seen them trade someone like Zach McAllister or Manny Banuelos who are more polished but do not offer the same upside. If push came to shove though, I would have been willing to give up Vizcaino for Vazquez, so I totally understand his inclusion in the deal if the Braves insisted on it.

Melky Cabrera is barely a loss for the Yankees. He was superfluous with Granderson around and I think Gardner is the more valuable bench player because you can use him as a pinch runner/defensive replacement. The Yankees also acquired Jamie Hoffman who is a very similar player to Cabrera anyway, making him even less needed. Cabrera is a nice player, but it is unlikely he'll ever be anything more than a league average center fielder, if he ever even becomes that. In that way Cabrera is similar to Kennedy and Coke, a nice player but easily replaced.

Finally we have Mike Dunn, a converted position player with a big time fastball. Dunn is interesting because he can routinely pop mid 90s fastballs from the left side, but he is a 24-year-old reliever with no legitimate secondary pitches and 30 command. Yankees fans should probably think of him as a left-handed Brian Bruney. Boone Logan, who the Yankees acquired, is a pretty similar type of pitcher albeit with a little less velocity in exchange for a better slider. If Dunn can iron out his rough edges he might turn into a quality setup man, but that is a big if. He is more of a loss than Coke was in my opinion, but Logan is not much worse than him so it is practically a wash.

This trade makes the Yankees considerably better in 2010, but losing someone with the potential of Vizcaino could hurt them down the road. Would I have pulled the trigger on this trade if I was Brian Cashman? Yes. However, I would have tried really hard to give up someone other than Vizcaino (and maybe Cashman did do this, we have no way of knowing).

The Signings

Nick Johnson

Johnson was signed to essentially replace Hideki Matsui as the Yankees DH. Call me crazy, but I think this is an upgrade. Johnson doesn't have Matsui's power but he more than makes up for that with his ability to get on base. Neither of them can run at all and both have a lot of health issues, but I'm optimistic about Johnson staying healthy since he will rarely, if ever, be in the field. I'm not sure how the Yankees plan on putting their lineup together at this point, but Johnson would look pretty good in the two spot behind Jeter in my opinion. I also think Granderson makes more sense down in the order a bit, maybe behind Posada at six. Even the 5.5 million dollars Johnson will be paid is totally reasonable. If he stays healthy I don't see anyway he wouldn't be worth double that.

Andy Pettitte

Pettitte was a rock for the Yankees last year, just like he had been almost every year of his career. Even though he is getting up there in years and got a good sized raise from last season, it is hard to be displeased with bringing him back. He's still an above average, durable, reliable, starting pitcher and I can think of 29 other teams that would love to have more guys like that.

Not Signing Holliday/Bay/Any Other Expensive player

Good. This was a bad year for free-agents and none of the big name guys were all that appealing. Holliday and Bay each have plenty of warts and Lackey is a number two starter whose health is trending in the wrong direction. I'm sure they'll all be fine players, but would I want them at the price the other teams paid for them? Absolutely not. For once the Yankees used some discretion and chose to hold back and bring in new players via trades and it was the right move. Good job Cashman.

Not Bringing Back Damon

Considering how his price has plummeted recently I do not think it is a given that he will be in another uniform in 2010. I feel like the Yankees should try and sign a cheap corner outfielder if one falls into their laps and that could still happen with Damon. Although with Gardner around, it might make sense to instead sign a right-handed batter as a platoon partner (Xavier Nady?) Regardless the Yankees refused to give in to Damon's hefty demands and that was the prudent move; now it seems like he will struggle to get a two year deal from anyone.

Not Bringing Back Wang or Hairston

Here is where I think the Yankees may have goofed a little. Wang was not going to be expensive because of how terrible/injured he has been lately and watching him walk away for nothing just does not seem like maximizing your resources to me. Similarly, Hairston looked to really enjoy his time in New York as a backup last year. He's also a solid player who can provide decent production at many different positions. In other words, he's the perfect bench player, why would they let him walk away so easily?


Overall I think this was a great off-season for the Yankees. Coming off a year where they won the World Series it is hard to believe it, but on paper I think their 2010 roster is even stronger. They have replaced Cabrera, Damon, Matsui and the Wang/Mitre/Gaudin group with Granderson, Johnson, Vazquez and either Gardner for free agent to be determined. Overall I think that is a win, and a strong one. It will be interesting how the team decides to try and use Hughes and Chamberlain, but at least now they have enough pitching that they are not dependent on either. Considering how much the Red Sox reshaped their roster and how good Tampa Bay still looks, it seems like a real possibility that the AL East may end up boasting the three best teams in baseball.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

cashman is overrated. he makes 5 bad moves for every one good move.

vasquez had a great 2009, but his AL stats are UGLY. His stats as a Yankee are even UGLIER. i agree though, this trade had to be made.

on the flip side, Johnson wasnt/isnt worth $5.5MM and Wynn is def not worth $2MM. Cashman should've offered Damon a 1 yr deal @ $8MM - $10MM. Damon couldve been the Yanks' full time DH and played a little LF if need be. He was clutch for the yanks and his game is built for that stadium.