We’re doing three questions facing each of the thirty teams this offseason, playoff teams first, and so now we come to the Yankees. I don’t like this any more than you do (quite possibly much less), but nothing to be done about it:
1. Who’s going to pitch?
This is actually shaping up to be, I think, the biggest question the Yankees have faced in quite some time. Right now, the starting rotation just doesn’t look very good at all behind C.C. Sabathia. I have to assume Andy Pettitte is coming back, but he’s a huge injury risk and probably isn’t quite as good anymore as he looked last year. Phil Hughes still probably has room to grow, but despite the 18 wins and All-Star appearance and all that, was really just about average last year. A.J. Burnett, of course, was dreadful. They need to add a pitcher, and I don’t think Zack Greinke is coming through that door (though anything’s possible).
This is a team that needs Cliff Lee a lot more than I was giving them credit for. And I think they’ll get him; when the Yankees want somebody, they do tend to get him, and they’re really going to want Lee. But as I wrote last week, we really have no idea what the Rangers are willing or able to do right now, and even the Yankees have limits. If they don’t get Lee, or trade for Greinke or something equally unexpected, this is going to be a pretty damn ugly rotation behind Captain Cheeseburger. There just aren’t many other options out there. They’d almost have to actively dislike their fans to bring Carl Pavano back, and none of the other free agents are really Yankee quality.
2. Who’s the Catcher?
This is the problem with old catchers. Now 39, Jorge Posada is clearly nearing the end of his excellent, Hall-of-Fame-worthy-in-my-opinion career. He’s not healthy enough to catch every day anymore and he’s not any good when he does, and judging by his 2010, he might have finally gotten to the point where he can’t really hit enough to be a suitable DH anymore (at least not up to the Yankees’ standards). Meanwhile, the team’s top prospect, Jesus Montero, is a catcher, but is he really? Reviews on his defense are hopelessly conflicting; most people seem to think he’s significantly improved, but it’s not clear whether he can actually handle the job (but as Zach pointed out in this space just two days ago, we don’t want to get too fixated on that). The other options are Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine, who don’t seem to be all that great at either offense or defense (Romine is considered a prospect, but he sure looks like he’s a ways away from contributing).
The story right now, as IIATMS tells us, is that Montero, Romine and Cervelli will “compete for the two primary jobs,” with Posada sticking around as presumably a part-C-part-DH.
Cervelli isn’t very good, Romine doesn’t seem very good yet, and Montero certainly isn’t going to be kept in the majors as a backup. I don’t know that carrying three catchers is ever a good idea, but there you have it. I expect that Montero gets the job unless he looks really lost on either O or D in Spring Training, with Cervelli as the backup and Posada seeing less time than he’d probably like. If Montero isn’t ready, though, I think Cervelli is the de facto starter, with Montero in AAA and Posada seeing more time than the team would probably like.
3. Oh yeah, Jeter
Look, I really don’t think this is a big deal. A, because he’s absolutely 100% for sure going to come back, and two, because I’m concerned with the team’s success in 2011, not Yankee mystique or history or legacy or any of that crap, and the truth is that the Yankees might well be a better team if they just let Jeter walk (not least because another AL team might just be giving away a currently-better shortstop). He’s not a passable shortstop anymore, Gold Glove voters be damned, and if (in accord with his 2010 stats) he’s also just a slightly-above-average hitter for a shortstop now, I question whether he’s helping the team at all, let alone worth $15 million a year or so.
They’ll bring him back. They’ll spend a ton of money, orders of magnitude more than he’s worth, and they won’t even feel it. But before then, we’ll be bombarded with stories about how they’re playing hardball with him and how contentious the talks are. Yeah, have fun with that.