I’m going to refract my mind’s trajectory to talk about the Yankees, since so much in the world right now–important to discuss and understand though it may be–is just an outright downer for me right now.
Buster Olney wrote on Thursday that the interest in Pettite pitching for the Yankees in 2009 appears mutual. After going 14-14 with a 4.54 ERA on an arm that eroded as the season wound down, I am unsure how much more the Yankees could reasonably expect from him. It could well be that, if healthy, Pettite has a bounce-back season not unlike Mussina’s sterling 2008, though hoping for Lefty to emulate Moose’s 20-9, 3.37 ERA would be asking too much. But 16-11, 4.20 ERA (which just so happens to be remarkably similar to his 16-11, 4.24 ERA of 1998), if healthy? I’d take that in a second, with a condition or two. If Pettite were willing to come back for one year at $16 million before, he should hopefully be willing to come back at one year for less, or at the very most two but for no more than Mussina’s recent two-year, $23 million deal. As it was, and it’s worth remembering, Mussina’s deal was itself a product of the Yankees’ rejecting his $17 million option and essentially agreeing to rework that previous structure into a short-term, more moderate but still very handsome contract. If Pettite were to come back, I’d want it to be somewhere around one year, $10-12 million, or two years, $20 million.
I’d rather the Yankees look elsewhere to round out the starting rotation, honestly, but the more I think about it, the more my gut tells me Pettite will be better in 2009 than he was in 2008, should he return. Perhaps more importantly, I increasingly have questions that the Yankees will be able to get top-of-the-line free agents or acquisitions for the rotation, might otherwise be left in a scramble and quite possibly reliant upon some pitchers who in fairness to them need more work (Hughes, Kennedy, and to a degree Aceves). To break this down part by part, there certainly are quality free agent pitchers available–Sabathia, Burnett, Sheets, Dempster, Lowe, Penny (if the Dodgers decline his option), Garland, Oliver Perez, and others such as Peavy and Greinke who might be available via trade. Yet initial impressions are that many in the NL such as Sabathia, Peavy, and Dempster would prefer to stay there, Sheets was yet again hurt at the end of the year, Burnett is hurt every year, Penny missed considerable time, leaving others such as Lowe and Garland who are not bad options, but not front-line pitchers, either. I’m OK with that, with either filling in middle spots in the rotation. Barring some change in players’ sentiments, that may be who the Yanks are left with. Clearly, Sabathia is high on my and everyone’s wish list. I’m not willing to hold my breath for him, however. He doesn’t seem eager to leave the NL. Nor does Jake Peavy, according to Ed Price of The Star-Ledger, with five NL teams including the Astros, Cubs, Dodgers, Braves, and Cardinals on his short trade list, according to Olney. Peavy is excellent and, at 8-8 with a 3.29 ERA in interleague play, he seems quite capable of jumping leagues. Yet I’m not eager to give away a lot, including prospects, for a guy who’d prefer to stay in the NL and, according to Pete Abraham, possibly only on the condition of an expensive extension. Wish list considerations are fine and fun. However, high-end pitching acquisitions may not be as realistic as we’d like this off-season. If they happen, great. At what cost? While I’d be more willing to trade Kennedy and to a lesser degree Hughes this off-season than last, the price tag for a potentially pouty player can’t be too high. While he frosted me last year, Cano should be considerably better than his 2008 (14 HRs 72 RBIs, .271/.305), making me hesitant to dump him quite yet. The Yanks really need to rebuild the starting staff. But do they need two aces, or two pretty good pitchers? More directly, can they make do with two pretty good pitchers? If it’s the case that the Yanks don’t acquire Sabathia, Peavy, or any top-flight starter, Pettite’s return becomes likelier. If it’s Wang, Joba, Lowe, Lefty, that leaves one spot for maybe Burnett (who has ace stuff when healthy, but isn’t healthy nearly to anyone’s liking), or Mussina’s return (presuming he doesn’t retire, and though Mussina’s apparent “three years or none” stance makes me very wary, for I wouldn’t grant him three years even after his great 2008), or an opportunity for Hughes, Aceves, Kennedy (I suppose, though he’s one guy because of his attitude I wouldn’t mind seeing dealt), or Coke if the Yankees want him to start (though he was terrific out of the bullpen down the stretch). The Yankees seem to love Burnett’s stuff–who doesn’t?–but the cost and the injury problems should make anyone wary. Burnett is a dangling carrot, but one I wish the team wouldn’t chase.
Should that be the case–getting one or two pretty good pitchers instead of Sabathia, the weight shifts (no pun intended) to acquiring a front-line position player such as Teixeira. The two biggest team needs are starting pitching and a good, two-way first baseman. Getting Teixeira will be somewhat contingent upon what decisions the Angels make, for they have big free agent questions themselves–K-Rod, Teixeira, Anderson, Garland, Vlad’s $15 million option (which seems a gimmee, but makes everything more expensive for the Angels), Figgins, Weaver, Kendrick, plus supplemental players Quinlan, Izturis, and Rivera. The younger players are restricted but likely to get raises, while the older, more experienced players will be challenges to keep without drastically driving up the payroll. Should the Angels want to keep many including K-Rod, that may make Teixeira more available to the Yanks. If the Yanks really want Teixeira, I’d make a hard sell early to show strong interest, but also to force the Angels’ hand–to make them respond early and reveal their priorities. Should they hesitate, maybe Teixeira would embrace a hard sell from the Yanks. If Sabathia and other front-line starters aren’t available, Teixeira may get a fat contract, an already high payroll notwithstanding. The team could use his offense and defense (5 errors last year), too. Oh yeah, Teixeira was .308 with RISP, .303 with runners on last year, .324 with RISP and .298 with runners on in his career. In a strong lineup, he’ll mash. He would make the Yankees stronger, and vice versa. He was a monster for the Angels after the trade–13 HR, 43 RBI, .358/.449/.632. But can they get him? That is, might the Angels change course somewhat and emphasize a more powerful offense by keeping Teixeira? Can they possibly replace K-Rod? I have the sense the Angels will push hard to keep Teixeira, but they have a ton of needs to meet, and maybe in a brief period of optimism, the Yanks can slip in and acquire him–at heavy cost.
We’ll see. I see the Yankees landing at least a couple good players, but am unsure which, if any, top-flight new player dons pinstripes in 2009.