Yankees rebuild? That's crazy
Here's a plan for the Yankees, one that will fall on owner George Steinbrenner's deaf, burning ears but would help restore sanity -- hah! -- to the Bronx:
Accept that it's over. Reduce everyone's expectations. Take a year off from unrestrained spending, then come back with a vengeance in 2005.
The Yankees haven't won the World Series since 2000, and they're not going to win it next season, either. Their core players are aging. Their farm system is weak. If they don't shift course, a full-blown crash is not out of the question.
Lest anyone forget, the Yankees went 18 years between world championships earlier in Steinbrenner's tenure, the longest such drought in their storied history. Lately, they've been making the same types of reckless mistakes they made then. Brandon Claussen for Aaron Boone. A seven-year deal for Jason Giambi. And maybe Vladimir Guerrero or Bartolo Colon next.
"You analyze your deficiencies and try to shore up your weaknesses," says general manager Brian Cashman, who could be fired or stripped of power. "We'll try to improve our defense, try to improve our success on the offensive side, and obviously now we're going to have some holes on the pitching side and the bullpen in middle relief."
That's a lot to fix after spending $180 million on this year's club. The problem is, the only short-term solution is to spend more.
Including pro-rated portions of signing bonuses, the Yankees have committed approximately $95 million to eight players next season, $93.5 million to seven players in 2005 and $80.5 million to five players in '06. As one agent says, "Even the Yankees are fast approaching the point where resources will actually matter."
Based on Steinbrenner's history, that's difficult to believe. Still, restraint is in order, especially when next year's free-agent class might be even stronger than this one. The last thing the Yankees need is another influx of players with physical questions -- Guerrero's back, Colon's weight -- who have zero experience playing in New York. Giambi isn't basking in the bright lights, that's for sure.
But Giambi, facing knee surgery, hardly is the only internal concern. Bernie Williams has been reduced to a singles hitter who no longer can play center field. Shortstop Derek Jeter is showing signs of wear and tear. Closer Mariano Rivera is brittle, entering the final year of his contract and about to turn 34.
The Yankees need to get younger, but there isn't a Josh Beckett or Miguel Cabrera in their system, and they lack the depth of prospects to deal for a Javier Vazquez. That's why the idea of trading second baseman Alfonso Soriano is ill-advised, unless the Yankees somehow can acquire a pitcher of comparable talent and service time in return. It was only a few months ago that Soriano, 25, was drawing comparisons to Guerrero. Now, all of a sudden, he stinks?
No question, Soriano was awful in the postseason, but the Yankees are batting him in the wrong spot, leadoff, and playing him at the wrong position. He should hit in a run-producing spot -- say, fifth or sixth -- and move to the outfield, where his athleticism would be less restricted. If the Yankees put Soriano in center, with Williams going to left and Hideki Matsui to right, they won't need a right fielder. Instead, they would need to find a second baseman/leadoff type who is strong defensively. Luis Castillo would be tempting, but the team also could wait for Jose Vidro to become a free agent after next season.
Third base is another trouble spot -- Boone was a disaster except for his series-clinching homer in the ALCS, and one scout refers to him disparagingly as an "East Coast Jeff Cirillo." But the Yankees need not trade Nick Johnson for, say, Mike Lowell. A year from now, Lowell, Corey Koskie, Adrian Beltre and Eric Chavez all will be free agents. The best solution might be for the Yankees to acquire an inexpensive stopgap and put most of their money into pitching, the foundation of their past success under manager Joe Torre.
Two crushing trades -- Claussen for Boone and Ted Lilly for Jeff Weaver -- cost the Yankees a pair of young lefthanded starters. Clearly, they need to keep lefthander Andy Pettitte; Roger Clemens is retiring, and David Wells also figures to be gone. Mike Mussina is the only other sure thing among a group that currently includes Jose Contreras, Jon Lieber and Weaver. Kelvim Escobar, 27, is the kind of young, hard thrower who might make sense, but only at the right price.
Again, the Yankees need not go nuts -- the free-agent class isn't that deep, and they also need to rebuild their bullpen in front of Rivera. Next year's free-agent class could include Vazquez, Kerry Wood, Matt Morris, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Russ Ortiz. Adding one member of that group to Mussina, Pettitte and an established Contreras could position the Yankees for another championship run.
The plan, then, should be obvious: Lay low in the free-agent market. Replenish the farm system. Retrench and eventually retool.
I so agree ...it will never happen ....