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Posts Tagged ‘Carl Crawford’

The season is now ten days old and Mr. Mailbag’s inbox is filling up. While Mr. Mailbag never pretends that the sky is falling when the season is less than two weeks old and the Yankees have a winning record, there sure are a lot of pessimistic Yankee fans out there. So here are the four most often asked questions I’ve received:

  1. Have Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada reached the end of the line? I hope not, but both players are aging and not necessarily gracefully. As of tonight’s game, Jeter is batting only .206 with one extra base hit in nine games. He’s abandoned the new stance and looks slow on fastballs. If you’ve watched the games, you can see Jeter is back where we left off last year – getting beat on fastballs inside, fishing for slow stuff outside and hitting weak grounders at the middle infielders. Were he playing stellar defense, you could overlook the slow start offensively. But in the field, he’s been caught cheating either in the hole or up the middle in an attempt to make up for his diminished range. That combination of range and cheating has resulted in 5 or 6 hits so far that most shortstops would have cut off. Unfortunately, DH isn’t a real possible position switch because Jorge Posada is sitting in that spot. Posada, other than a two-day power surge, has been even more atrocious than Jeter so far, hitting a mere .138. Take away those days and Jorge is hitting .048 with no extra base hits and 9 strike outs. (At least he’s been consistent). As much as we love these guys as fans and respect their past glories, the fact remains: both look old, slow and overmatched. For the Yankees to contend, both of these old warriors need to turn it up a few notches.
  2. What happened to Phil Hughesfastball? For all the questions about the starting rotation, Hughes wasn’t supposed to be one of them. Yet, over his first two starts, Hughes has thrown 6 innings, allowing 12 hits and 11 runs, while walking 4 and watching three of his pitches sail into orbit. What’s more, for a strike-out pitcher, he’s only managed to sit down 1 of 33 batters faced so far. The reason seems to be a general loss of velocity. Everyone in the Yankee brass insists that Hughes is physically fine, but the sudden case of Javier Vazquez-itis has to trouble everyone. If Hughes’ next start on Wednesday is as bad as his first two, it is officially time to swap spots with Bartolo Colonwhile Hughes gets himself straightened out.
  3. How will Freddy Garcia pitch this year? We’ll get our first glimpse on Friday,when Garcia finally gets his chance to shine. Unfortunately for Garcia and the Yankees, that start will come against the Rangers, a team that is scoring at will so far this year. But right now there can be little doubt that the team needs a strong start from Garcia. Otherwise, the bullpen and CC Sabathia will collapse from overwork before we get to May.
  4. When is the 8th inning not the 8th inning? The Yanks head into tonight’s tilt with the Orioles (weather permitting – it looks pretty nasty right now) with a 5-4 record and at least one of those losses can be hung directly on the shoulders of one Joe Girardi. That loss was the extra-innings tilt against the Twins, when Clueless Joe inserted Rafael Soriano into the game in the eighth inning with the Yanks leading 4-0. Never mind Soriano’s history of awful performances with both Tampa Bay and Atlanta when there isn’t a save situation, it was the eighth, so in went Soriano. 6 batters later, it was David Robertson being asked to bail out the team. He almost did, but a blooper tied the game and sealed the Yanks fate. After the game, Joe insisted on using some type of convoluted logic for using Soriano in the game. Here’s hoping he learned that just because you signed a guy to pitch the eighth inning doesn’t mean he always has to pitch the eighth inning.
  5. Where has Nick Swisher gone? For this, I have no answer. There’s certainly a guy in right field wearing #33 that looks like Nick Swisher. And some dude calling himself Nick Swisher has been showing up around town, handing out tickets. But I strongly suspect that a deranged Red Sox fan has kidnapped Swish and replaced him with a robot that can’t hit and can’t field. I am hereby calling for his immediate release.

In exchange, I’ll return the real Carl Crawford. :)

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There can be no doubt that the American League East is easily the best division in baseball. In fact, this year could wind up being historic in terms of division play, as my projections show 4 of the 5 teams capable of winning 90+ games this season – a feat that’s never been accomplished before. Is the talent level in the East really that much better than the rest of the AL? In a word, YES.

Both the Boston Red Sox and Yankees look to be the class of baseball this year. I project both teams to win 105 games this year and finish tied for the division crown. How evenly matched are the two juggernauts? The projections also have them splitting the season series, 9-9. Many prognosticators are giving the edge to the Red Sox this year, based on their starting rotation of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz. While the Yankees rotation is known to be unsettled, relying on a return to form by AJ Burnett, Phil Hughes avoiding regression from his 18-8 2010 season, and a collection of rookies and reclamation projects to fill the 4 & 5 spots, the Sox rotation also has question marks. Can Lackey reclaim his form? Can Beckett come back from an injury plagued season? Will Buchholz ever deliver on his promise? Can Matsuzaka come back from injuries and inconsistency? In short, both teams could have excellent rotations – or horrible ones, once you get past the aces. But offensively, both squads are loaded 1 – 9. The Yankees projected line-up of Derek Jeter, Nick SwisherMark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada, Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin and Brett Gardner may actually be better than the team that led the league in runs scored last season. Boston counters with Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, JD Drew, Marco Scutaro, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jacoby Ellsbury. Both line-ups are capable of scoring 1,000 runs. The real differentiators between the teams are in the bullpens and on the bench. The Yanks have a slight edge in the bullpen, with the 1 – 1a tandem of Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano. The Sox have a slight edge on the bench.

As for the rest of the division, Tampa Bay suffered some tremendous free-agent losses. Despite that, they come into the season with their only real question being the strength of the bullpen, where the oft-traveled Kyle Farnsworth heads a makeshift relief corps. The additions of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, along with new shortstop Reid Brignac and rookie Desmond Jennings, should actually make the offense better. And Tampa’s rotation remains one of the game’s best, led by David Price. But while good enough to win pretty much any other division in the game, this year’s Rays aren’t in the same class as either New York or Boston.

The same goes for the Orioles, although Baltimore may have the most improved team in the league. The infield was completely remade, as Mark Reynolds, Derek Lee and JJ Hardy join Brian Roberts. The O’s also brought in veteran slugger Vladimir Guerrero and closer Kevin Gregg. Add in what looks to be the league’s best young rotation and proven winner (and old friend) Buck Showalter as manager, and Baltimore is poised to shock people the same way Toronto did last year.

As for the Blue Jays, this team lost too much – and replaced those parts with questionable signings – from last year’s overachieving squad to compete this year. They’ve brought in pitching guru John Farrell to lead the team, but this team will suffer from losing Cito Gastons “let-’em-fly” attitude on offense. Include a rookie catcher, changes at 1st, 3rd and all three OF spots and it will prove to be too much turnover to overcome. One bright spot for the Jays this year could be rookie starter Kyle Drabek, one of the game’s more hyped young pitchers.

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The Yankees have been busy since Cliff Lee stunned the baseball world and retreated to the quiet confines of Citizen’s Bank Park, home of those welcoming Philadelphia types. (Unless you happen to be Santa Clause, that is). After devoting the entire offseason plan to signing Lee, you couldn’t really blame Brian Cashman and company if they didn’t have a plan B. But, much to my amazement and joy, they did! And they didn’t waste any time whatsoever in implementing it!

It seems plan B consists of signing every retread and injury-prone player still available. First, they landed their big-name pitcher in Mark Prior. Who cares if Prior hasn’t thrown a ML pitch in 4 years and has a history of shoulder ailments dating back 7 seasons? He was once one of the best right-handed starters in the majors. Then, virtually in tandem with signing Prior, the Yankees swooped in and grabbed C Russell Martin. Who cares if Jesus Montero is waiting in the wings to prove why he’s one of the 5 best prospects in MLB? The Yankees just signed a catcher who lost 1/2 of 2010 to hip surgery; a guy who once was an All-Star for the Dodgers but had played so well over the past three seasons that they flat out released him. To address a leaky bullpen, today the Yanks signed Pedro Feliciano, formerly of the Mets. Ok, so, he’s thrown in a ML leading 408 games over the past 5 years, but he’s only 34. Oh…right.

In defense of the signings, each does bring something positive – Martin does have a history of throwing out runners (2nd best percentage in baseball since he broke in). Prior is one of those low-risk, high-reward types; if he can throw effectively and recapture some of his early magic, he beats anything the Yankees currently have lined up for the end of the rotation. And Feliciano is a lefty-specialist who was put into bad situations over the past two years by Jerry Manuel. Nobody has been better at keeping LH hitters off base over the past three seasons.

But each also brings questions, and not just about durability. Can Martin still move behind the plate to be an effective defensive catcher? And potentially relegating Montero to the bench certainly won’t endear him to many who bleed Pinstripes – after all, we’ve been salivating at the thought of watching him launch moonshots for 3 years now. Will Feliciano be nearly as effective in the AL East, particularly against the likes of Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz, Nick Markakis and Carl Crawford?

In the meantime, the biggest questions surrounding the 2011 Yankees have yet to be addressed: starting pitching, a quality set-up reliever, outfield and infield depth.

Plenty of rumours continue to swirl around the team, especially when it comes to starters. Zach GreinkeFausto CarmonaCarlos Zambrano and Felix Hernandez have all been mentioned as potential trade targets. Greinke and Carmona are probably far-fetched possibilities; both have team friendly contracts with teams that are looking to bring in an entire farm system in return. While Jack Zduriencek is known for trading, you can reasonably expect that he’ll want a kings ransom in return for King Felix (after all, he did just win a Cy Young for a last place team). Zambrano may be easier to get, but his temper amy be more destructive than his ability to win 20 games. And of course, we all wait on Andy Pettitte’s decision on whether or not to come back for a 17th season.

Infield rumors were centered on Bill Hall and Jeff Keppinger. There are reports that Hall just signed with Houston, which would seemingly make Keppinger an easier get. But really, is Keppinger that much of an upgrade over Ramiro Pena? Certainly not defensively – and his bat doesn’t make up the difference. As far as RH relievers and OF go, there hasn’t been any action to speak of. On the relief front, time is getting short. With Bobby Jenks, Matt  Guerrier, Jesse Crain, J.J. Putz, Matt Albers, Kerry Wood and Joaquin Benoit already signing elsewhere, there aren’t many proven relievers left on the market. Thus far, nobody has even whispered what the Yankees plan to give their OF some depth. MLBTR has a listing of the available free agents here: there are some intriguing names on the list (including old friends Eric Hinske, Austin Kearns and Johnny Damon).

It’s only December, so Cashman gets an incomplete on this years offseason. But March is coming quickly and the most glaring problems – the ones that sent the Yankees home to watch this year’s World Series – remain, while players who could fill those voids are signing elsewhere. Heck, it was even reported that the Yankees no longer have the game’s highest payroll, a testament not only to Boston’s spending but to Cashman’s not spending.

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According to George King, Derek Jeter and the Yankees have agreed to a three year contract valued at up to $51 million:

The Yankees and Derek Jeter will finalize a three-year deal today after hammering out the final details on a contract that will pay the captain between $15 million and $17 million a year, according to a person briefed on the situation.

The contract includes a tricky option for a fourth season, neither a vesting situation nor a club option. It is linked to what happens across the three guaranteed years.

The deal with the 36-year-old shortstop ends a month of negotiations that at times became strained, smothered the Yankees’ universe, and divided the fan base.

 

So, with Derek and Mo now happily back in the fold, Brian Cashman can focus on getting Cliff Lee’s name on a contract and potentially adding another bat, perhaps Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth. One of the keys to both Yankee greats contracts is that they agreed to defer money – which figures to help Cashman immensely by giving him even deeper pockets as heads to the Winter Meetings on Monday.

 


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One of the highlights of the early off-season is MLB’s handing out of various post-season awards. This year, several Yankees have taken home some hardware. Robinson Cano, as befitting his MVP candidate status, laid claim to his first Gold Glove and second Silver Slugger awards. Joining Robbie as Gold Glove recipients for 2010 are Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira. It’s Jeter’s fifth selection and Tex’s fourth.

As usually happens when these things are handed out, there’s been quite a bit of hew and cry that these are merely fan favorite awards and don’t really represent the best player at that position. I have to admit, as much as I love Jeter, his Gold Glove award this year surprised me. I certainly didn’t think Jeter had his best year defensively, nor did I think he was the best defender I saw during the course of the season. But these awards are voted on by managers and coaches, so…

Is there a chance the voters got this wrong? Unfortunately, baseball hasn’t really come up with a defensive metric that can really measure a player’s defensive contributions. UZR comes close, but it takes 3 seasons to come up with an accurate measurement – sort of a rolling measurement that is useless in determining a single-season award. Old school fans still cling to fielding percentage, even though it cannot account for a player’s range. For infielders, FP cannot account for errant throws that are converted into outs by an exemplary first baseman. So, a player like Jeter gets a big lift – while Cesar Izturis of the Orioles gets penalized for playing on a bad team with a substitute first sacker for most of the year.

Perhaps the best defensive metric we can use is the defensive portion of WAR – Wins Above Replacement. The theory is this: a player’s true value is best measured by comparing him to the mythical league average player and determining how many wins (or losses) his individual effort contributed. As part of the calculation, a player’s defensive statistics are measured, not only fielding percentage, but also things like range factor and runs prevented, then compared to the league averages in each category. (You can read much more about the calculation process here). Is it perfect? No, but it may be the most accurate method for determining defensive ability in a given season.

So I charted the defensive WAR for players at each position. I specifically selected players with a minimum of 1000 innings played at that position, which works out to 8 innings over 125 games (I dropped the innings requirement to 960 for catchers, or 120 games). I did this to avoid the Alvaro Espinoza syndrome (before you ask, Espinoza was a defensive whiz who turned that ability into a 13 year career, but was only a full time starter on 3 really awful Yankee teams in the late 80’s). Here’s the results for the top 5 at each position:

Catcher

First Base

Second Base

Name dWAR   Name dWAR   Name dWAR
Wieters (Bal)

0.7

  Barton (Oak)

1

  Cano (NYY)

0.8

Mauer (Min)

0.4

  Teixeira (NYY)

0.7

  Hill (Tor)

0.4

Kendall (KC)

0.3

  Overbay (Tor)

0.7

  Hudson (Min)

0.2

Pierzynski (ChW)

0.1

  Butler (KC)

0.1

  Kendrick (LAA)

-0.4

Buck (Tor)

0.1

Konerko (ChW)

-0.4

Figgins (Sea)

-0.7

               
Shortstop*

Third Base

Outfield**

Name dWAR   Name dWAR   Name dWAR
Pennington (Oak)

1.2

  J. Lopez (Sea)

1.8

  Pierre (ChW)

1.9

Al. Ramirez (ChW)

0.9

  Longoria (TB)

1.5

  Gutierrez (Sea)

1.6

Izturis (Bal)

0.6

  Inge (Det)

0.8

  Choo (Cle)

1.5

Andrus (Tex)

0.2

  Beltre (Bos)

0.6

  Gardner (NYY)

1.4

Scutaro (Bos)

0.1

Kouzmanoff (Oak)

0.5

Ichiro (Sea)

1.1

*Gold Glove, Derek Jeter (NYY): dWAR -1.1

**Gold Glove, Carl Crawford (TB): dWAR 0.1

The players highlighted in gold represent the Gold Glove winners at each position. A difference under .5 between players is probably negligible, given that amounts to 3 innings over the course of the season – not likely to affect much more than a manager’s intake of Rolaids. That being said, a difference greater than 1 is significant – it means an average player at that position would have contributed at least 1 more win. In that light, the voters seem to have basically gotten things right at C, 1B, 2B and 3B. But at short and in the outfield, it seems they voted purely on reputation, since neither Jeter nor Crawford finished in the top 5 in dWAR at their respective positions. In fact, Jeter finished dead last among AL shortstops and 1.3 wins behind Cliff Pennington. Crawford finished 11th among AL outfielders, 1.8 wins behind the league leader and 1.4 behind 3rd. Ichiro’s gold glove, in fact, is borderline on reputation. It’s not that he had a bad year defensively – a dWAR of 1.1 is excellent – but he did wind up in 5th place among outfielders. Net-net: Pennington, Shin-Soo Choo and Juan Pierre fans have a good reason to wail a bit about the Gold Glove awards this year. (Personally, I really like Choo. I just have no idea where the Yanks would play him. But that’s another post for another day.)

So, what do you think? Did the voters get the Gold Gloves basically right? If not, to who would you have given the award?

By the way, Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Facebook!

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Fourth in a series

2010 was the tale of two offenses for the Yankees: there was the offense that could explode at any moment; that led the league in runs scored and struck fear into opposing teams. And then there was the offense that could go days without getting a clutch hit; that lived and died as it waited for someone to hit the mythical 5 run homer. Both offenses were evident in the 2010 ALCS. Unfortunately for the Yankees, the latter offense was the one that spent most of the time on display. Injuries to key players like Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada robbed key players of time in 2010 and 2011 doesn’t figure to offer much improvement on that front. Of the 9 projected starters, 3 (Derek Jeter, Posada and Rodriguez) are older than 35. Additionally, the only projected regulars under 30 next season are Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner. This isn’t meant to be pessimistic – the emergence of Cano as an MVP caliber player and Gardner as a solid corner outfielder were huge positives for the team in 2010. There’s also a crop of intriguing minor leaguers nearly ready for the jump to the Big Ballclub in the Bronx. Once again, players highlighted likely won’t be back in 2011.

Under Contract (9):

2B Robinson Cano, C Francisco Cervelli, LF Brett Gardner, CF Curtis Granderson, IF Ramiro Pena, C Jorge Posada, 3B Alex Rodriguez, RF Nick Swisher, 1B Mark Teixeira

Free Agents (6):

1B Lance Berkman, SS Derek Jeter, 1B Nick Johnson, OF Austin Kearns, C Chad Moeller, OF Marcus Thames

Minor Leaguers to Watch (9): Note – this group includes players who received a call-up during the 2010 season

IF Reegie Corona, OF Colin Curtis, OF Greg Golson, 3B Brandon Laird, 1B Juan Miranda, C Jesus Montero, IF Eduardo Nunez, C Austin Romine, IF/OF Kevin Russo

Infield:

Derek Jeter may be a free agent this offseason, but nobody honestly expects him to sign elsewhere. GM Brian Cashman may have pulled some idiotic maneuvers in the past, but if he fails to re-sign the Captain I would fully anticipate his head being hoisted on a pole outside gate 4. That said, all four infield starters from last year – A-Rod at 3B, Cano at 2B, Teixeira at 1B and Jeter at SS look to be back next year. The key for this group in 2011 is health, as age, injuries and lack of rest caught up to them. Jeter had what is easily the worst season of his illustrious career, and at times seemed to have a slow bat. Teixeira battled nagging injuries throughout the season, as did Rodriguez. Cano finally realized his incredible potential and had his best season ever, but tailed off towards the end of the season – although he did seem refreshed by October. Despite their troubles, the infield combined for 102 HR, 401 R and 409 RBI. Getting the regulars some rest on occasion can only help their production, especially down the stretch. To that end, the Yankees need to decide what to do about reserve infielders. Ramiro Pena has a sure, if unspectacular glove but tends to get his bat knocked out of his hands, managing a meager .504 OPS despite garnering 167 plate appearances. Eduardo Nunez got a look late in the season, but displayed shaky defense with a middling bat. Kevin Russo got a look early in the year, but proved to be another Cody Ransom. Expect Reegie Corona to get a look this spring, but I expect he’ll spend a year at Scranton as the Yanks look to see if he might be able to fill in for Jeter in 2012. Another option is the free agent market, which is loaded with career utility types. One in particular, Willie Bloomquist, has piqued the Yankees interest in the past. As for Nick Johnson, 2010’s big offseason free agent signing: I don’t think he can pack his bags fast enough for the Yankees or their fans.

Catchers:

This was a definite weak spot for the Yankees in 2010. Neither Jorge Posada nor Francisco Cervelli proved to be worth much defensively. To make matters worse, Posada not only battled an assortment of injuries during the season, but suffered through a decidedly sub-par season offensively. Cervelli finished with decent numbers for a catcher (.694 OPS), but disappeared for the entire summer, hitting only .147 in June, July and August. Fully expect touted rookie Jesus Montero to make his Bronx debut in 2011, although that will crowd the situation behind the plate. If the Yankees do keep 11 pitchers on the roster, as is generally the case these days that only leaves room for 14 fielders – carrying three catchers is probably a luxury the Yankees can’t afford. Expect the Yankees to give Cervelli a look at third before making a final decision, to see if he can field the position defensively. Whatever the future holds for Cervelli, fully expect Posada and Montero to split the catching duties, with Montero getting the bulk of the starts behind the plate as the season progresses. The reviews on Montero’s defense have not been kind, but the Yanks hope that he can learn on the job, similar to another young, power-hitting catching prospect from 15 years ago. Some kid named Jorge Posada.

Outfield:

The Yankees seem to be set, with all three of 2010’s starters returning. But here’s the catch: there are two FA outfielders the Yanks have long coveted, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth. Should the Yankees sign one or the other, a stable outfield situation suddenly becomes crowded. Do you sit Brett Gardner, who had a very respectable .762 OPS and stole 47 bases? Do you trade Nick Swisher, who is a fan favorite in the Bronx and posted a .288/29/89 line? Do you trade Curtis Granderson, a former all-star who found his stroke towards the end of the season? The most likely scenario has the Yankees signing Crawford (.307,19 HR, 90 RBI, 47 SB), if for no other reason than to keep him away from Boston, starting him in left and sitting Gardner. Also expect the Yankees to make an effort to re-sign Thames, who proved to be a valuable bat off the bench. But since 2011 looks to offer him even fewer opportunities than 2010, Thames will likely look elsewhere first.

That means the projected opening day line-up in 2011 would be:

SS Jeter, LF Crawford, 1B Teixeira, 3B Rodriguez, 2B Cano, RF Swisher, C Posada, DH Montero, CF Granderson

Current MLB players on 40 man roster:

Position Name Age Avg OBA SLG 2010 Salary 2011 Contract
2B Robinson Cano

28

0.319

0.381

0.534

$ 9,000,000.00 $ 10,000,000.00
C Francisco Cervelli

25

0.271

0.359

0.335

$ 410,800.00 Under Team Control
LF Brett Gardner

27

0.277

0.383

0.379

$ 452,000.00 Under Team Control
CF Curtis Granderson

30

0.247

0.324

0.468

$ 5,500,000.00 $ 8,250,000.00
IF Ramiro Pena

25

0.227

0.258

0.247

$ 412,000.00 Under Team Control
C Jorge Posada

39

0.248

0.357

0.454

$ 13,100,000.00 $ 13,100,000.00
3B Alex Rodriguez

35

0.270

0.341

0.506

$ 33,000,000.00 $ 31,000,000.00
RF/1B Nick Swisher

30

0.288

0.359

0.511

$ 6,850,000.00 $ 9,000,000.00
1B Mark Teixeira

31

0.256

0.365

0.481

$ 20,625,000.00 $ 22,500,000.00
1B Lance Berkman

35

0.255

0.358

0.349

$ 15,000,000.00 Free Agent
SS Derek Jeter

37

0.270

0.340

0.370

$ 22,500,000.00 Free Agent
1B Nick Johnson

32

0.167

0.388

0.306

$ 5,500,000.00 Free Agent
OF Austin Kearns

31

0.235

0.345

0.324

$ 750,000.00 Free Agent
C Chad Moeller

36

0.214

0.267

0.429

Unknown Free Agent
OF Marcus Thames

34

0.288

0.350

0.491

$ 900,000.00 Free Agent

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Second in a series

Yesterday, I covered the current state of the Yankees front office and coaching staff. Today, let’s look at the players often referred to as the “Core Four”: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite and Jorge Posada. They’re called the Core Four for good reason. The Yankees have, over the past 15 years, won five World Series and seven AL pennants – and these players have been integral parts of all of them. Significant? Prior to the Core Four’s arrival in 1996 (Posada had a cup of coffee in ’96), the team hadn’t won anything since 1981. It’s likely that these players will go into Yankees lore alongside the great Yankee dynasties of the 20’s, 30’s 40’s and 50’s. All are aging now and three of them are free agents – but it’s almost impossible to imagine a Yankees team without them. That leaves the front office in a quandary: how to address the Core Four going forward.

Derek Jeter: The Captain is the face of the franchise. He holds the Yankee franchise record for career hits and 200 hit seasons and is on the cusp of doing something nobody has ever done in pinstripes: collect his 3,000th career hit. From the iconic dive into the stands aganst the Red Sox, to his backhanded flip to nail Jason Giambi in the 2001 Divisional Series to the improbable Jeffrey Maier home run, it seems Jeter has been a part of every Yankee memory since his arrival in 1996.

As hard as it is to fathom, Jeter is 36 and will be 37 in June. He enters free agency coming off what might be his worst all-around season in the big leagues, with career lows in batting average (.270), slugging (.370) and on-base percentage (.340). He also banged into 22 double-plays in 2010 and only stole 18 bases. In the field, Jeter logged his most innings at shortstop since 2007 – and the results weren’t pretty, with decreasing range as the months went along. While it is unfathomable that the Yankee brass would shove Jeter out the door, there are two very real issues with resigning him. The first is how much do you pay an 11 time all-star and future Hall of Famer, who has meant more to your team than any other player over the past twenty years – and how long do you pay him? Jeter is coming off a contract that paid him in excess of $120 million over the past 6 years; it seems likely he’ll see the same average annual salary, but my guess is it will only be for 3 years and with some of the money deferred. The other question is how the Yankees approach asking Jeter to give up his death grip on short – and where/when they move him. Left field seems out of the question, with Brett Gardner there now (and the very real possibility of Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth signing this offseason). Jeter has never wanted to move to second, and Robinson Cano is there, anyway. Third is manned by Alex Rodriguez. The most likely scenario has Jeter the regular shortstop through 2011 – let’s face it, there aren’t any real replacements in the system, anyway – and potentially moving to splitting time at short with a young SS and DH with Jesus Montero after that.

Mariano Rivera: Who is the greatest failed starting pitcher in major league history?

The longest tenured of the Core Four, most fans forget he came up in 1995 as a string bean skinny starting pitcher with a good fastball, but not much else. And he got hit hard, posting a 5.51 ERA that year. If for no other reason, Joe Torre
deserves to be in the Hall of Fame for moving him into the bullpen in 1996, as John Wetteland‘s set-up man. By ’97, Rivera was the closer – and the definition of the role changed forever after the move. Unlike Jeter or Posada, Mo shows few signs of slowing down or letting age affect him – other than the slightly more frequent muscle strains. He remains baseball’s ultimate weapon, since every team realizes if you let the Yankees get to the ninth with a lead, you’re done. The big questions with Rivera remain how long can he continue defy Father Time and how much longer will he want to? Rivera made $15 million last year. It seems unfathomable that any team would pay a 40 year old closer that kind of money in today’s market, but the Yankees very well might. And then cross their fingers that Mo has more Satchel Paige in him. In case you never heard of him, Paige is famous for the quote, “Never look back. They might be gaining on you” in reference to his longevity. (Although nobody knows for certain, it’s generally accepted that he pitched in the majors until he was 59).

Andy Pettite: Perhaps the greatest post-season pitcher in history, this is the one member of the Core Four with the most uncertainty about his status for 2011. Will he retire or will he come back for one more hurrah? Pettite is taking some time to mull over his decision and has often said that it ultimately rests on his family. Yankee fans everywhere are hoping his Yankee family can pull him back for one more season. How good has Pettite been? He is the all-time leader in post-season wins, starts, innings and has pitched some of the most memorable games in Yankee history, including the deciding games in all three series in 2009. He is a three-time all-star and borderline Hall of Fame candidate, with 240 career wins. More importantly for 2011, the Yankees need to know if Pettite is coming back before they can finalize next year’s starting rotation. There is some concern regarding his age and injuries, since he’s missed significant time each of the past three seasons with injuries. But there is little doubt that the Yankees would be a better team with him in 2011 than without.

Jorge Posada: At 39, Posada is the only member of the Core Four signed for next season. Another borderline Hall of Famer, Posada suffered through one of his worst seasons in 2010. He drove in only 57 runs in 2010, tying with 1999 for a career low when garnering at least 400 AB’s. His .248 average was 27 points below his career average. Age is a real concern with Posada, who plays a position known for taking a toll on players. Few catchers age gracefully, and when they decline, it tends to be a rapid descent. Defensively, Jorge was never known as a smooth fielder – but this past year was painful to watch, with Posada throwing out only 15% of attempted base stealers and charged with 8 passed balls. The injuries of the past few seasons have taken their toll, and Posada no longer moves with anything resembling grace behind the plate. So the question going forward is how to begin easing him out of the regular catcher role? The team tried to insert Francisco Cervelli into more starts this year, but all that did was prove that Cervelli is likely a career backup. 2011 promises the long-awaited arrival of Jesus Montero, but all of the reports regarding Montero’s defensive prowess hardly make him out to be the next Thurman Munson. Will Posada accept more DH time and less catching time for younger version of himself? Posada has long taken pride in his defensive game and is known for stubbornness. It’s served him well in the past – but the question is, how well it serve the Yankees going forward?

Yesterday: Front Office/Management

Tomorrow: Pitchers

Thursday: Fielders

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Stop, think back 5 years, where were you, what were you doing? I’m pretty sure if you’re over the age of 25, you’ll probably remember. Now think about your favorite baseball team, can you tell me how many people that will be in the starting lineup this year that was in 2005? I bet you can’t! It just a testament on how much this is a business and we root for a uniform more than a group of people. Yes, we have personal favorites (Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, etc al), but when it comes down to it, it’s the uniform that matters. Below, I have listed the 2005 Opening Day batting order, our projected 2010 batting order and we take a stab at the 2015 batting order. Those bolded are holdovers from previous years.

2005 Opening Day Batting Order

  1. Derek Jeter, SS
  2. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
  3. Gary Sheffield, RF
  4. Ruben Sierra, DH
  5. Hideki Matsui, LF
  6. Jorge Posada, C
  7. Jason Giambi, 1B
  8. Bernie Williams, CF
  9. Tony Womack, 2B

2010 Opening Day Batting Order (likely)

  1. Derek Jeter, SS
  2. Nick Johnson, DH
  3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
  4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
  5. Curtis Granderson, CF
  6. Jorge Posada, C
  7. Nick Swisher, RF
  8. Robinson Cano, 2B
  9. Brett Gardner, LF

2015 Opening Day Batting Order (Projected)

  1. Carl Crawford, OF
  2. Curtis Granderson, OF
  3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
  4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
  5. Jesus Montero, DH
  6. Robinson Cano, 2B
  7. Slade Heathcott, OF
  8. Austin Romine, C
  9. ???, SS

Amazing how things change or will change…

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