Sabbathia, Swisher and stumbling into Free Agency

This is e talking to start with based on the first couple of weeks of speculation, since there haven’t been too many big moves made…for my Yanks they have theoretically five positions to fill… Starting pitcher, 1B, Starting pitcher, OF (prob LF/CF), Util IF (pref, 2B strong, or 2B/1B/OF psuedo combo)… if there is a need after that some extra BP arms

The obvious element of the team to fill is Startning Pitching, so the obvious place to being is where they theoritically ended… To me, the five core guys from this years staff are all question marks. Moose and Pettite aren’t locks to come back. If neither does that’s two big holes to fill. Wang is slated to return ,but remember, before he got injured he was struggling with some of his control, now, having to recover from the injury and the time off, for a control pitcher, there’s gotta be a question mark. Then there’s the kids, Hughes who is brilliant sometimes and terrible others and seems to have bad luck injuries and Chamberlain who is an emotional rollercoaster and no one knows how he’ll really convert as a starter. Even in a best case scenario with those five, it’s probably not the staff the Yankees are hoping to open a new stadium with, hence the need to get arms outside the organization.

The focus seems to be on bringing an Ace to the team to head up the rotation. A big power arm would fit the bill for most teams. For the Yanks though, the answer might lie deeper than just getting a hard throwing dominant guy. What made their successful staffs in the past was the diversity of the arms, the consistency of how they all threw and the way they really worked to mentor one another and develop as a staff. Under the new regime, after last years too old-meets-too young experiment, they seem to want to move away from both that and the word balance and get a name, perhaps to complete with the big names the BoSox and Mets have. Which, of course, bring CC into the mix.

That being said CC would be good for what, about 35 starts. If he wins 18-20 of them on his own and the pen picks up another 5-10, that’s still at max 30 wins out of a a 162 game season. They need to still find at least 60 more wins to even think about making the playoffs, realistically more since 90 wins in the AL-E is probably only pushing 3rd. Therefore, the rest of the entire pitching staff is responsible for cobbling together a combine 60-67 record, probably about 12-15 wins per starter. Not an impossibility, especially if the weight is not just on the starters, but the relief staff can pull their weight and there is timely hitting.

They would, however, be locked into the ace role with him for sure to get those 30 wins out of his starts. This doesn’t leave them a lot of flexibility in building the rest of the staff. Between the money they will have to spend on him, in combination with focusing on landing him and not being able to field any of the other top guys in free agency, it puts the pressure on him to succeed. Part of that will be a transition back to the American League, which traditionally throws pitchers off their mark, and on top of that to the AL-E which is easily the most difficult division to pitch in. Plus, there’s the transition from small town franchises like Cleveland and Milwaukee to the spotlight of the New York and the additional saddle of learning to pitch as a Yankee. We need not go over all the failed attempts of the past. If, god forbid, anything went wrong with either him, or the staff itself suffered another injury plagued season like the last few, the investment would quickly become a wash.

Let’s imagine however, CC had the season of the new millennium and pitched say 25 victories against 3 losses (matching Ron Guidery’s unthinkable 25-3 record in 78) and the pen pulled in improbable 10 more wins against 0 losses for him on a 38 start year, that’s 35 wins. Granted, the rest of the staff can now pull a loosing record of paltry 55-69, with each starting pulling between 11-14 wins to get to a mere 90 wins. Although the second part isn’t unreasonable or even unlikely, the first might be.

Remember, for a pitcher, it’s not about stats like strikeouts or era, it’s about games won and lost. Granted, guys who have the stats usually have the wins that back them up, but the reality of building a pitching rotation is about maximizing the potential number of wins. riding the back of one pitcher will not necessarily maximize the true number of wins.

Now, the other option is go after two other guys in tandem (my initial thoughts were Burnett and either Lowe or Mussina or take a chance on someone like Sheets or maybe Perez, etc). Figure each guy gives more likely 32 starts and wins between 15-18 a piece with the pen picking up between 3-5 a piece, the worst case scenario is 30 wins on the starters alone, 10 more than a 20 game winner in CC and include the pen wins and it’s even more glaring, and with a best case scenario of at least one of them stepping into an ace role (after all Burnett is an ace in his own right) that could be 40 wins between the two. This is a much more doable setup, providing two arms to a staff that desperately needs depth, moreso than a single ace.

The best case scenario is actually the Yanks pick up two outside pitchers and Mussina is the one who does come back (three years with the bulk in bonus structure for wins as he heads to 300, ks as he heads to i think 2000, gold gloves and playoff appearances). That’s a lock for their top four assuming Wang also comes back with his control intact. Now, that staff can go 32 starts a piece and eat up a lot of starts, plus even if they all pitch mediocre that’s 60 wins on the table, plus the pen contribution would push the reality up to about 72-75 wins, which really take the pressure off of Hughes and Chamberlain, it also means they are set up with a six man rotation giving them depth since the injuries seem to be inevitable with the staff the last couple of years.

this also means there is less of a chance Kennedy, Aceves, Sanchez and others who are in the minor league system won’t be brought up prematurely and can work out their pitching there more effectively. Kennedy is a great example of what happens when kids come up too early, and some of Hughes struggles could be blamed on that too. Heck, the reason why Chamberlain was in the pen was because he didn’t have enough innings to start and they needed that arm before it was ready too.

worse case scenario though which could be more likely, is they take CC, Pettite comes back (as he is rumored to be looking for a one-year lower cost deal to open the new stadium as a Yank) with Wang, Hughes and Chamberlain being the rest of the five man. Imagine if CC isn’t the durable monster he was this year and they don’t milk 35 starts out of him, imagine if he makes the typical 30-32 and only posts a more realistic 15-18 wins with only a couple of his starts being picked up as BP wins, Wang comes back and has an average season posting 14-16 wins and a handful get picked up by the pen, then Pettite who hasn’t posted huge numbers lately with that oft-balky arm comes up for a 12-14 win season and the pen only bails out a few extra, Hughes continues to be his streaky self and pulls about the same 12-14 wins with the pen pulling together a couple of more while Chamberlain hasthe breakout year people are expecting and comes in with 15-18 and the pen amped on his starts looks phenominal, that still would only work out to about 92 wins on the high estimate and that’ll be pushing it for a division that typically posts a 100 game winner and in a conference that will be even tighter among the top couple of teams.

Of course, this is all speculation, anyone could break down or become godly at any time, but what the Yankees really need to think about is their depth and ability to stay healthy, not just about getting an ace. in 06 and again in 07 Wang was a 19 game winner pooling together 200 innings in over 30 starts a season, against single digit losses. That win-loss ratio makes him an ace for any staff. However, looking at the build of the rest of the staff, both seasons they were thin. This became glaring in 07 when they cruised through 20 different starters over about 35 starts due to injuries and inconsistency. Similarly, last season, Mussina pulled in 20 wins against single digit losses and amassed over 200 innings over 34 starts. Again, the lack of rotation depth saw them run through 20 different starters through the season due to injury and inconstancy. It hasn’t been a matter of an ace, the Yanks have had unsung heroes the last three seasons as starters, it is about depth. One power pitcher ace is not going to make the team any better if the rest of the pitching isn’t of-caliber.

The other note in all of this is a starting pitcher is only as good as the staff that backs him up. The yanks were boom and bust hitting this past season. The need to shake up a line up of big names to find a way to string together walks and hits in order to give their pitchers something to work with.

To that end, the Yanks went after CWS Nick Swisher. He’s a util 1B / OF, they gave up a util IF for him in Wilson Betimite. It feels more like a backup plan in case they don’t win the Texeiria sweepstakes. In Swisher they have a 1B to fall back on if the don’t get Texieria, in case they don’t reup Abreu because he ends up getting a better open market deal they have the extra OF and if they need trade bait they can always move Swisher as part of a deal and keep some of the other core players intact.

He had a terrible stats last season, down on all his numbers comparred to the OAK years, and eventaully got benched. However, it’s the OAK connection is probably part of why they went after him too even if he doens’t make an even replacement for Giambi or Abreu in the lineup. Chances are he’ll bat lower in the order than 5th which was Giambi’s place. He doesn’t hit for average (.219 last season 27% strikeouts) but he does alright on the OBP (.354) and OPS (.805), but the career .450 slugging, career 20/hr seasons aren’t bad, he hits them about 5% of his ABs and his k-to-bb ratio is about 1.2. It’s something to work with, but the concern should be the consistancy not the raw numbers. His streaky nature makes him a great match for last season’s streaky Yankee lineup, which begs the question if they are trying to continue the streaky nature by inserting Swisher in the lineup.

The other question with Swisher is his ability to play in the field. He’s no replacement for Abreu on right when you consider the cannon for an arm that Abreu had as well as his range. Swisher can play the other positions and might be an upgrade on Damon or Matusi but in an already crowded OF that now includes Bret Gardner as a conder, Swisher’s more likely short term role would be replacing Giambi at first. The biggest two problems with Giambi were his range off the bag and his ability to handle the ball when turning plays off first. fortunately for Giambi he never really was tempted to overplay first and rarely got caught having to show range and there aren’t too many plays that really require a firstbaseman to do any more than recieve throws. Giambi’s unsung strength receiving from Jeter and Arod on those acrobatic cross diamond throws. Swisher lacks the range, lacks the defensive depth and will be caught flatfooted when Jeters spin throw comes across. He’s a much smaller target and doesn’t have as much experience dealing with those errant throws.

What the Yanks really needed out of a Util guy was someone who plays second base to back up Cano. Cano has had range problems in the field and his free swinging ways at the plate will only last so long if the rest of the team around him improves and he continues to lag behind and regress. Pulling a util IF that has second base skills into the fold means there will not only be pressure on Cano to improve it also means the Yanks are preparred should he stumble.

About thedoormouse

I am I. That’s all that i am. my little mousehole in cyberspace of fiction, recipes, sacrasm, op-ed on music, sports, and other notations both grand and tiny:
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