30 Teams in 30 Days: New York Yankees Roundtable

Yankees

Our guest bloggers are Matt Seybold from The Sporting Hippeaux, Greg Fertel from Pending Pinstripes, Gregg Snyder from Double G Sports, and Lisa Swan from Subway Squawkers.

Question 1 – Who has more upside: Joba or Hughes?
Jeff: Personally, I think Chamberlain has the greater upside, but his stardom should be as a closer. I think he makes a perfect successor to Mo and could anchor that bullpen for years as an elite relief pitcher. Hughes, on the other hand, looks like a middle-of-the-rotation guy whose peak might be a #2.

Gregg: It depends how you look at it. Both have great upside; it’s a matter of their roles. Chamberlain needs to go back to the bullpen and get that mentality back. He has the stuff to be a shut down reliever and successor to Rivera. He could dominate the late innings for the Yankees for years to come. Hughes has the stuff to be a top to middle of the rotation guy. If he can stop the injuries, he has the potential to be very good. Hughes has the better upside as a starting pitcher, Chamberlain as a reliever.

Russ: I completely agree. Over the past few years we have watched Joba in both roles. He has the makeup and mindset to be a closer.

Hughes needs to stay healthy and not have anymore arm injuries so that he can finally build his arm strength and take the spot in the rotation after Pettite retires.

Matt: I’d like to point out that both Joba and Hughes have had real success only as relievers. It is only because Hughes was so dominant in the bullpen last year that Yankees fans are now excited about him entering the rotation. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if come mid-season, assuming he wins the job, he is having just as much trouble as Joba did last year.

I’d like to see the Yankees stick with Joba in the rotation, to see if he can build off the lesson he learned in ’08 and ’09. I think he has the better arm of the two. It is quite possible that both will eventually be competent starters. It is also quite possible that the future for each lies at the backend of the bullpen.

Gregg: I completely disagree. I don’t see how you can say Hughes has only had success as a reliever. He was no-hitting the Rangers until injuring his hamstring. Then, last season when called up, he pitched well except for one horrible outing against the Orioles. If you take that game away, his numbers in the other games he started last season are pretty good.

Greg: In that case, I don’t think you can say Joba has only had success as a reliever either. In 2008, his ERA as a starter was 2.76 in 65 innings. The fact is, both these guys have the ability to be capable starters and they each deserve much more of a chance to succeed starting before they are relegated to relief work.

Matt: Greg is exactly right. Give a small sample size or a single outing (remember Bud Smith’s no-hitter) you can argue the effectiveness of any pitcher. My point is that in 28 career starts Hughes has a 5.22 ERA (while he has a 1.40 ERA as a reliever). So, no, he hasn’t succeeded as a starter…yet. I’m not saying he can’t, I’m merely saying that Joba has at the very least an equally promising track record (12-7, 4.18 ERA in 43 career starts). I think that considering they are both the same age, Joba’s experience should weigh heavily in the matter. He’s thrown a lot more innings in the major leagues, which makes him more likely to make a significant step forward. Given another year, there’s a strong chance they will both belong in the rotation.

Lisa: I would give Joba a slight edge, pitching-wise, and Phil Hughes a slightly bigger edge, maturity-wise. As for where they fit in the Yankees’ future, I think Joba will be replacing Mariano Rivera one day (If the Yanks don’t get Jonathan Papelbon, that is!) And Phil Hughes will be a Yankee rotation fixture of the future.

Daniels: You’d only ask this question if you don’t live in the NY Metro area, because this discussion has gone on ad infinitum for almost two years now. Largely, I say it doesn’t matter anyway. There is no possible way next year that both guys aren’t in the bullpen next season. With Josh Beckett, Cliff Lee, and a host of other free agent pitchers available next year — neither guy will make the rotation.

Question 2 – Will the team re-sign Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera? Predictions on the contracts?
Russ: Yes and yes.

Jeter- 5 years $110 million
Rivera – 2 years $26 million, options for a 3rd year

Gregg: Yes both players will be re-signed after this season. Jeter will likely get a 5 year deal, worth somewhere between $105 – 115 million. Rivera is likely to get a two year deal. I could also see Rivera retiring after this season, but if he wants to play, he will play for the Yankees again.

Matt: Rivera and Jeter will be Yankees for as long as they want to be. At some point Jeter may finally have to resign himself to a position switch, but last year he proved to his haters (myself included) that if he re-dedicated himself to defense, he could still handle shortstop, at least for a couple more years.

Rivera looks to me like one of those ageless pitchers. I don’t see why he would retire.

Unless something surprising happens this season, I think both will be extended at essentially their current price per season, but for slightly shorter contracts. Maybe 2 yrs./$30 Mil. for Mo and 4 yrs./$80 Mil. for Jeter, both with some sort of option package. I don’t think the Yanks will extend Jeter past 40-years-old at $20 Mil./Yr., but they’ll include either a vesting option based on production or a mutual option (something like Varitek had) for the fifth year. Jeter won’t ever leave New York, but if he chooses to keep playing into his forties, in order to pursue 4000 hits, the Yanks will probably renew his contract yearly at a progressively declining rate and he may eventually assume a utility/player-coach role.

Daniels: Not even a question regarding Jeter. I think the contracts mentioned earlier sound about right. I wondered, regarding Jeter, if they would simply sign him to four or five guaranteed years, until it kicks in to perpetual mutual options along the lines of what Tim Wakefield has in Boston. Mo’s contract will largely be based on what he does this year. Folks keep expecting him to break down and he never does.

Greg: I think it’s an absolute certainty that both players will be back next season. Predicting what type of contracts they will get is nearly impossible to do right now, though.

What each player does this season will impact the contract they receive, as will how the market shapes up next offseason. Coming off an MVP-caliber season, it’s easy to predict he’ll get an outlandish contract, but what he does in 2010 will be very important. In the end, the Yankees will probably give each player a slightly higher average annual salary and an extra year than whatever other offers are out there for the two players. I don’t think we’ll be seeing anything too out of line with market value, like some of the predictions I’ve seen.

Eugene: Do you guys think there is anything to the report that they are possibly looking at ownership opportunities as part of Jeter’s contract? I think it would be interesting to see if this were something that would appeal to Jeter and what the MLBPA and other owners would say about it.

Gregg: I can’t see that being part of the new contract. Can I see the Yankees and Jeter discussing that and making a side agreement, sure. However, I think it is against league rules to have a player have ownership interest as well. Am I wrong about that? It is possible that the Yankees could make an agreement with Jeter that goes into place once his playing days are over.

Question 3 – How much of a liability is the bench?
Daniels: Everyone has looked at the Yankees starting line-up, right? Their bench is meaningless. If they had two cataclysmic injuries, they’d still have 6 great hitters in their line-up instead of 8 great hitters and Brett Gardner. Two cataclysmic injuries give them a “normal” line-up.

Gregg: The bench is a little weak; however don’t expect it to be used very much unless an injury occurs. Outfield depth is there. Either the speedy Gardner or the veteran Winn will come off the bench, as will likely one of Jamie Hoffmann or Marcus Thames. Hoffmann would provide defense while Thames could bring power off the bench.

I expect to see Ramiro Pena as the backup utility infielder. He is a defensive wiz but nobody can expect much offensive production from him. As long as our league best infield can stay healthy, it’s no problem.

Cervelli as the backup catcher is fine. He is a guy the pitchers seem to like. Will work hard and play hard. Seems to have some surprising moments offensively.

Overall it’s not a strong bench, not a tone of depth either. If we have a couple major injuries, it could be a liability. If these players are only used as occasional fill ins for a day here and there, I don’t see that being a problem.

Matt: If the Yankees have a weakness, it is definitely the bench. New York was very fortunate last year when it came to injuries. They were the only team in baseball to get 500 plate appearances from eight players and 30+ starts from four pitchers. Considering Boston lost Dice-K, Jed Lowrie, Wakefield, Lowell, Drew, and Youkilis for extended stretches in ’09 and still finished only five games back of New York, I think the Yankees would be in great danger if they were to suffer a couple of “catastrophic” injuries to key players. There is no denying that Boston is a much deeper team (so are the Rays, for that matter), but New York puts a better team on the field Opening Day.

If the Yankees can keep most everybody healthy again (and most of their players have great track records for durability, Nick Johnson aside) they’ll be fine. The danger spots are definitely the infield (where Ramiro Pena would be a sad replacement for A-Rod, Jeter, or Cano) and the rotation, especially at the top.

Russ: Unlike many organizations, I think the Yankees have the feeling they can survive a couple of injuries, as Daniels said. Also, they will most likely accept an injury of the player will be back before the end of the season IF they know they are playoff bound. They have a serviceable bench, not a good one (I say this as a Yankees fan). I like Cervelli and Pena as young players, but I am not totally convinced I would be satisfied watching them for 2 or 3 months.

Gregg: I agree. The Yankees bench players are not guys you would want to see filling in for long stretches. They are simply role players to give guys a day off here and there.

Jeff: I believe the most important role of the Yanks bench will be to maintain team chemistry — obviously the starting 9 is amazing, and IF they need a month or two out of one of the reserves, any offensive production will be gravy — solid defense and DON’T ROCK THE BOAT — keeping the winning ways in the clubhouse can’t be underestimated during that 162-game marathon.

Question 4 – Where will the Yankees finish in the standings?
Gregg: I believe the Yankees have what it takes to repeat as AL East Champions. Unless major injury occurs, they should once again be in a battle with the Boston Red Sox for first place in the AL East.

Russ: 98 wins and the AL East title.

Matt: I believe the path won’t be nearly as easy in 2010, and they may have to hold off not only the Red Sox, but a resilient Rays club, and perhaps even a Wild Card contestant from the AL West. However, in the end, the Yankees will once again be playing baseball in October, whether as the division winner or the Wild Card.

If I had to take a stab, I’d say 93 wins.

Daniels: Probably first. Unless the injury bug moves up to the Bronx and half their roster goes on the DL.

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