Earlier. we reviewed the Yankees seven free agents and assessed whether they would likely be kept or not. Another aspect that could determine their fate is whether the Yankees intend to shop seriously in the free-agent market to patch holes or replace what they are losing. Last season, General Manager Brian Cashman jumped in with both feet and came up with two starters and a first baseman. Will he do it again or will he just dip his toe in the water? Let”s see what is out there.
There are only three potential outfielders in whom the Yankees might have an interest: Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. You could plug in Chone Figgins here also because he can play the outfield as well as the infield.
Holliday is considered the cream of the crop. After having two monster seasons with the Colorado Rockies in 2006 and 2007, Holliday’s numbers slipped in 2008 (25 HRs, 88 RBIs, .321 average). Knowing his free agent season was looming, the Rockies dealt him to the Oakland A’s and Holliday’s stock dropped even further.
Though Holliday was surrounded by non-power hitters like Orlando Cabrera and Kurt Suzuki in a punchless A’s’ lineup, he did himself no favors by hitting .286 with 11 HRs and 54 RBIs in 93 games before the A’s traded him to the Cardinals.
Holliday then became a beast again, pounding 13 home runs, driving in 55 runs and batting .313 hitting behind Albert Pujols. He helped lead the Cardinals to the Central Division championship, though his horrific error in leftfield cost the Cardinals dearly in the playoffs.
The Cardinals would love to have him stay and they do have enough Budweiser dollars to keep him. But the Cardinals have made it clear they will not get in a bidding war with the Yankees or Red Sox. The Red Sox would seem to have the most interest because they are not sure they can sign Bay and Holliday is a better player in their view.
The Yankees could sit it out entirely if they plan to re-sign Johnny Damon and/or Hideki Matsui. But I do think that Cashman will at least take a pulse on what Holliday is looking for in terms of dollars and years and see if the Yankees can make a reasonable bid. But it stands to reason that if the Yankees do land Holliday, Damon and Matsui are gone.
Holliday would give the Yankees another strong right-hand bat. The Yankees likely would bat Alex Rodriguez third, Mark Teixeira fourth and Holliday fifth and Holliday’s presence would certainly give the Yankees a true Murderer’ Row in the power slots.
Signing Bay would accomplish two things: It gives the Yankees another powerful right-hand bat to replace Matsui and it creates a big hole in the Red Sox outfield if they can’t sign Holliday to replace him.
Bay, who came to the Red Sox in midseason trade from the Pirates to replace Manny Ramirez, had 36 home runs and 119 RBIs and hit .267 in 2009. Though the Red Sox would love for him to return, Bay has a chance to cash in on a huge payday because he and Holliday are the only true power hitters in this year’s free-agent crop.
Because the Red Sox also have so many other spots on their roster to fill, Bay or Holliday could drive up their payroll for 2010 considerably. There are also other teams in the mix who have the money to make a run at the two outfielders.
The Mets, the Cubs and the Angels certainly have the resources to sign either one. The Yankees interest in Bay will only come if (1) Holliday signs elsewhere and (2) they have decided not to make an effort to keep Damon and Matsui.
Figgins might be an interesting signing for the Yankees. No. 1, Figgins is a very talented and versatile player. The Angels played him at third base out of necessity but Figgins has also played second base, shortstop and in the outfield.
Last season he raised his on-base percentage to a sparkling .395 by drawing a career-high 101 walks. He batted .298 with five home runs and 54 RBIs and he stole 42 bases and scored 114 runs. His horrible postseason aside, Figgins has been a thorn in the Yankees’ side for years at the plate, in the field and on the bases.
He could solve the Damon “problem” by taking over in either left or centerfield for Damon and batting leadoff ahead of Derek Jeter. The captain has distinguished himself in both spots and really would not care if he hit second again.
Figgins is 31, which is usually when the wheels starting slowing down some. But, make no mistake, Figgins would be the best speed player the Yankees have had since the days of Rickey Henderson and manager Joe Girardi likes the speed game to go along with the power game.
Of course, any signing of any of these players would not only be bad news to Damon and Matsui, they also would be bad news for Brett Gardner and Austin Jackson — young players who will be trying to take starting jobs in the next two seasons.
Gardner’s stock has fallen some since he did not play well after he came back from a broken thumb that shelved him for two months. He enters 2010 as a backup outfielder. Jackson is considered two years away from helping the Yankees but is the best outfield prospect the Yankees have had since Bernie Williams.
There is only one real big fish swimming the free-agent stream and that is righthander John Lackey, the ace of the Angels with a 102-71 record and a 3.81 ERA in eight major-league seasons. Lackey shook off early elbow problems to post an 11-8 record and a 3.83 ERA this season.
The Angels would love to have him back, but because Lackey is the only real Type A starter this winter, he is going to reap a big bonanza in contract offers. Teams all over baseball need pitching and Lackey could be a No. 1 starter for most teams.
The Yankees are going to have an interest. A real interest.
For one reason, they are unsure if Andy Pettitte will return for another season. If he retires, they lose 14 regular season wins and a bulldog in the playoffs. Lackey would not be a bad replacement because he has 12 career postseason starts and he is 3-4 with a 3.12 ERA in those outings.
Another reason Lackey would make sense to sign is that, even if Pettitte decides to return, he can be a great fourth starter and allow the Yankees to shift Joba Chamberlain back to his former eighth inning bullpen role. Comparing Chamberlain’s stats as a starter to what he did in the bullpen in the postseason is no contest.
Chamberlain is better suited to be a reliever despite Cashman’s claims that he is a starter. We all know plans can change. Just ask Phil Hughes.
Speaking of Hughes, he will enter 2010 as a starter again, but he will be restricted to about 130 innings pitched. The likely scenario will be that Hughes will start the season in the rotation and shift to the bullpen in favor of swingman Chad Gaudin at about the All-Star break to keep his innings down.
That is all the more reason to h
ave Lackey in the fold.
It also stands to reason the Yankees would like to have four pitchers they can count on in the playoffs. Though the three-man rotation ended up with the Yankees winning a championship, neither CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett or Pettitte pitched “lights-out” baseball in their second World Series starts. Lackey’s presence would mean the Yankees would not have to use that tactic again.
Finally, the Yankees are not sure what they have in Chien-Ming Wang. First, they are not sure they will re-sign him. They may choose to let him go and try to re-sign him for less money. Coming off serious shoulder surgery, it is unclear when Wang will be able to pitch. In addition, it is unknown if he will regain his 19-win form.
Lackey will draw interest from a number of teams, including the Cubs, Mets, Red Sox and the Rangers. But the Yankees do have the money to pony up to bring him to the Bronx. My guess is he is the No. 1 player on Cashman’s list of free agents.
The only other Type A starter is veteran lefty Randy Wolf and I do not think the Yankees will have much interest in him.
I think Cashman will pull out all the stops to sign Lackey and he likely will pass on Bay and Holliday unless another depressed market drives down their prices. But also do not be surprised if Cashman makes a run at the cheaper option of Figgins to replace Damon and the Yankees decide to bring Matsui back.
Those moves would make the Yankees stronger for a run at championship No. 28 in 2010.