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More reinforcements required for '09

The Yankees cannot rely solely on pitching to contend
11/25/2008 5:56 PM ET
By Steven Goldman / Special to YESNetwork.com

Phil Hughes dominated in the International League playoffs and the Arizona Fall League, and still has the potential to be a top Major League starter. (AP)
MUTINY!
In an article published in the New York Times today, Tyler Kepner had some interesting quotes from Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long and Brian Cashman. A lot of the article is devoted to downplaying the idea that the Yankees are going to add offensive help this offseason, banking instead on resurgent seasons from Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez. Here's the money quote:

Cashman said he did not think Canó, Melky Cabrera or [Nick] Swisher could play worse than they did last season, adding that catcher Jorge Posada and designated hitter Hideki Matsui should be recovered from injuries. The idea of signing a marquee hitter like Mark Teixeira or Manny Ramírez — in addition to CC Sabathia and another top starter — seems far-fetched.

"Generally, the stuff that's been talked about has been fantasy world," Cashman said. "We've got work to do, and there's no doubt we have money being taken off. But there's a lot of stuff that's not even close to being realistic."

Sadly, the main thing that is "not even close to being realistic" was anticipating that the Yankees would take a measured approach to fixing up their team this winter. Clearly, the Yankees have to make additions to the starting rotation. For all the discussion of adding pitchers, as things stand today, the only members of the rotation of which we can be certain are Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain.

Two down, three to go. They have at least three in-house candidates, Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves and Ian Kennedy. They should probably be considered in that order. Yes, two of the three looked bad last year, but Hughes had a great Minor League playoff season and Arizona Fall League, and if he can stay healthy he's going to be something. Aceves rose like a rocket but his strikeout rate in the Majors was a bit troubling. I don't think anyone knows what to make out of Kennedy. He handled the Cuban Missile Crisis and Angie Dickinson well, but Major League control and press relations were problematic.

Note that in Hughes' last 11 appearances, which include two starts in the International League playoffs, two September starts for the Yankees, and seven short starts in the Arizona Fall League, Hughes has pitched 55 innings, allowed 15 runs (2.45 runs allowed per nine), and struck out 73. If anyone is ready to cut bait on this fellow, they are way premature.

Part of the problem here is that the Yankees need depth, hence the scramble to acquire two or three starters on the free agent market. No argument there, nor the desire to buy the top car on the market in CC Sabathia. The question is, given financial limitations that are apparently striking even the Yankees at this point, should all their dollars be put in this one basket after Sabathia (or whoever is behind Door No. 2). Last season, American League starters allowed 4.86 runs per nine innings. Yankees starters averaged 4.94. Healthy, complete seasons from Joba and Wang are going to knock that number back down under the average, assuming "healthy and complete" is something those two are capable of. Throw in Sabathia or Door No. 2, plus a maturing Hughes, and the Yankees should (always "should") have an above-average rotation. At that point, even if Hughes isn't healthy, you're mixing and matching with part-time work in the fourth and fifth spots, and few teams go that deep in the rotation anyway.

But! But, but, but, but, but, but: you can sign Cy Young, Lefty Grove, Superman, Krypto, and Abraham Lincoln to pitch for you and they're not going to perform up to capabilities if you don't support them with an adequate defense. I realize I've been saying this since the season ended, and I don't mean to keep playing a tune that clearly isn't catching on, but this is the key to the Yankees' offseason. It's the reason why Mark Teixeira's salary should be viewed as paying for two players, not one — the slugger at the plate, and coequal with him, the glove man on the fielding job.

In the piece cited above, the Yankees say that Robinson Cano is now in better physical shape, which I suppose is a reference to his in-and-out approach to fielding, not to his hitting. I can't figure out how being fat, which he wasn't, would force a player to pop out to left field 300 times. It's not like he couldn't see the strike zone over his massive gut. Heck, Babe Ruth couldn't see the strike zone (among other things) over his massive gut and his pop-ups tended to fly over the fences. It is stipulated too that Alex Rodriguez is now a happier camper as well. No doubt this is true, but even if Rodriguez is better, he won't be that much better. Nor does a happier Rodriguez and a slimmer Cano make Derek Jeter a rangier fielder. It also doesn't make Xavier Nady or Johnny Damon less likely to backslide, nor does it make Jorge Posada younger, or the current crew of center fielders more likely to contribute much to the offense.

In short, if Cashman is not correct in most or all of his expectations, there isn't enough offense in a resurgent Cano and a reasonably projected A-Rod to make up for the shortfall, and the defense is still likely to be problematic. Along those lines, to return to the pitching for a moment, we should also mark that an improved defense will make all of the pitchers better, in-house pitchers, young, old, lefty, righty, free agent, domestic, international, living or dead — and improved offense allows the pitchers more room for error. In that sense, Teixeira is not only a better hitter than Nick Swisher, he's a better pitcher, too.

Cashman is wise enough to know these things, so I have to admit to being a bit confused about what we're seeing unfold this winter.

MORE FROM ME
Since last time at Wholesome Reading: The Right to Arm Bears and more to come. Warning, fearless adventurers: Politics!

Steven Goldman's Pinstriped Bible appears weekly on YESNetwork.com. "Forging Genius," Steve's biography of Casey Stengel is available at Amazon.com and a bookstore near you, as is "Mind Game," about the intellectual conflict between the Yankees and the Red Sox. Steve's Pinstriped Blog is available weekdays on YESNetwork.com, and more Steve can be found at Baseball Prospectus Web site. Your questions, comments, suggestions welcomed at oldprofessor@wholesomereading.com. The opinions stated above are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to anyone connected in an official capacity with the YES Network.
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