I was going to wait until the off-season to write about this, but with the way the Yanks have been playing and with the recent talk of 2009, let's delve into it early. The following are only a small range of topics we could discuss, but I'm on vacation and in no mood to write a novel.
What to do about right-field?
Should the Yankees re-sign Bobby Abreu, or let him walk and make Xavier Nady the everyday right-fielder? That would make Damon the everyday left or center-fielder. And what about Manny? He's going to be a free agent, but is looking for a multi-year deal.
Watching Melky struggle mightily, center-field becomes a legitimate concern. Since April, Melky has hit .230/.278/.298. In fact, Melky is one of the worst outfielders in all of baseball this year. I'm beginning to think Brett Gardner is a better option. At least he walks and steals bases. He had five in 17 games while Melky has just nine in 114 games. What about Austin Jackson? As far as I'm concerned, he doesn't enter the equation for an everyday job until 2010. He's having a solid year in Trenton, but will probably stay there the rest of the year. He'll move to Scranton in 2009, but it would be nice to finally allow a top prospect time to adjust to Triple-A before throwing him into the fire (ahem, Hughes, Joba, Kennedy).
- Scenario 1: Do nothing
Let Abreu walk, make Nady the right-fielder, let Damon/Matsui man left-field, and Melky/Gardner remain in center. This probably gives us the best overall defense but sub par offense. Then we can hope that Ajax forces his way onto the big league club to provide better offense than Melky/Gardner.
- Scenario 2: Abreu
Re-sign Abreu (which would probably require at least a two-year deal). Leave him in right and Nady in left. Basically the same situation as this year, only everyone is another year older (and in the cases of Nady, Damon, Matsui and Abreu, a year farther from their prime).
- Scenario 3: Manny
Sign Manny Ramirez. I know about the problems but he's still a crusher. He's the second best hitting outfielder over the last 3 years (trailing just Matt Holliday), and the third best hitter over the last 10 years (behind some guys named Bonds and Pujols). The Stadium's spacious left-field wouldn't help his already poor defense. Let him take right which would hide his D. Nady and Damon have played center, so I'd feel comfortable enough with one of them. Nady/Damon in center, Damon/Matsui in left, Manny in right. This would provide the best offensive outfield. Manny would also DH on occasion, allowing Melky/Gardner to take over CF, pushing Nady and Damon to the corners. Rumor has it though that the Mets and Phils are interested in Manny, and more desperate, so they might be willing to go to three years.
The more I think about this option, the more I like it. It allows Ajax to take his time and pushes the anemic Melky to the 4th outfielder/late-inning defensive replacement/pinch runner spot. It also makes the probable losses of Damon and Matsui in 2010 far more palatable, at least in terms of offense, but it would make the lineup heavily right-handed (assuming we lose Abreu and Giambi).
- Scenario 4: Dunn
Let Abreu walk, sign Adam Dunn to play right-field. Dunn is a very good hitter, but not in the class of Manny. On the other hand, he's a slightly better defender and is going to be just 29 (Manny's turning 37). A lefty in the 3 or 5-hole would provide a nice 1-2 punch with Arod's right-handed bat. It also makes the loss of other lefties (Giambi, Abreu) easier.
It depends a lot on whether the Yankees (specifically Cash Money) think Abreu will continue declining and whether Nady will continue improving.
How Yu doing?
I've read (and seen) a lot about the newest Japanese phenom. There's a small chance he'll be posted (ala Ichiro, Igawa, Matsuzaka, etc.) in the coming off-season. Before I go into detail about him, let me say that I highly doubt he will actually get posted. He's the Michael Jordan of NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball), and Japan is struggling through a time when most of it's best players are leaving for (literally) greener pastures in MLB. I can't see them letting another superstar leave the country.
That said, he would be a great asset to the future of the Yankees. He's doing things at 21 that Dice-K hasn't ever done (like post an ERA under 2.00). His stuff (in the video) looks as good as Dice-K's and is just as much the star and innings-eater Dice-K was. He has improved by leaps and bounds since he joined the Fighters as a 19-year-old. The reason (I believe) he'll be better than Dice-K is his age - he turns 22 in a week, so if the Yanks acquire him, it'll be virtually the same as drafting a college pitcher. That allows far more time to develop him into a good long term pitcher, not just a 1-2 year wonder (like Nomo, Irabu, Ishii, Ohka, Dice-K). And for those wondering if Darvish pitches in the DH league (like Dice-K did), the answer is yes.
If he's treated as a college pitcher (e.g. start at Tampa, looking to promote quickly), it should ensure a much better long term pitcher than a guy who goes straight to MLB from NPB; so when Dice-K's deception isn't fooling hitters anymore (like Nomo), Darvish will succeed because he'll have a lot more than deception.
I've heard NPB is at a level between Triple-A and MLB (no wonder Igawa's good down in Scranton), so imagine having a pitcher in Triple-A putting up the numbers that Darvish is - we'd be (rightfully) ecstatic.
Then the question becomes: is it worth it to spend $100+ million on a AAAA pitcher, or about $5 million on a first round draftee? Both have about the same chance at long term success. Going by value, it makes almost no sense to splurge on the Japanese import - but we're the Yankees, what the hell; we've got a new stadium opening and a ton coming off the payroll.
Still, CC Sabathia should be the top off-season priority. A hard-throwing, big-bodied southpaw? We haven't had one of those since... (well, I was going to write Ron Guidry, but he doesn't exactly fit the 'big-bodied' part) never.