Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ranking the Yankees' top FA targets

After a couple of painful months of reflection following the Yankees' first dark October since he was 13, River & Sunset returns today with a look at the free agent class of 2008. The free-agent signing period begins on Friday.

The Yankees find themselves in a precarious position as free agency begins. They have hundreds of millions of dollars burning a hole in their pocket and an especially high level of stakes. Botch these signings, and a veteran team coming off a down season could go tumbling into a steep decline. Make the right moves, and you have a World Series contender playing in your new zillion dollar stadium. It's possible that general manager Brian Cashman is going to age worse than a two-term president this winter.

Here at River & Sunset, we're not crazy about the free-agent class. Even the sure things (with one notable exception) seems to carry baggage, and the drop off to the Randy Wolf's and Jim Edmonds' of the world hits quick. It proves that the dudes that run baseball are getting smarter. If you have a stud, don't let him get near free agency. Chances are you ain't getting him back if you do. If you are a complete baseball nerd like me, check at this Yahoo! Sports article that breaks down each of the 183 free agents. Here's to hoping the sweet Lord finds it in himself to grant a roster spot to Cousin Sal Fasano (No. 177). Not on my team though.

Here's my thoughts on the Yankees' likely free-agent targets, in descending order of desire. To get you "geeked up" (you're a dork, Michael Kay), keep in mind the Yanks will probably end up landing at least two of these dudes. Who knows, maybe all of 'em.

CC Sabathia, LHP - If you think highly enough of him, he's the reason why you didn't give up Hughes to get Santana last offseason. Two things that worry me: a) His physical condition, which falls somewhere between the aforementioned Sal Fasano and that dude who had to be taken out of his house on a flatbed truck for his wedding, and b) The Brewers, perhaps irresponsibly, rode Sabathia real hard after acquiring him from the Indians on July 7. Sabathia made 17 starts for Milwaukee, going the distance in seven of them. He averaged nearly 7 2/3 innings each start he made. In 1978, those are numbers that you'd expect from your ace. But in 2008, that makes you worry. That said, he's a left-hander who was a monster with the Brewers (11-2, 1.65, 128 K/130 IP) and will be just 28 on Opening Day. As someone who always thought the Wanger to be baseball's best No. 2 starter, this would perfectly set up the rotation with a developing Joba not getting asked to carry too much of the load. Simply put, Sabathia has to be the priority.

Mark Teixeira, 1B - For all the talk about how badly the Yankees need starting pitching (which they do), it cannot be understated that their offense is in need of a serious boost as well. Teixeira, a switch-hitting, power-hitting, Gold Glove-winning, beast in his prime, is the perfect fit for this team. He is essentially a better-rounded, less steroidy and sweaty version of the player Cashman thought he was getting when the Yanks signed Jason Giambi in 2001. Think about a Bombers offense without Teixeira filling the three-hole in front of A-Rod. With Abreu in all likelihood history, your outfield would consist of Damon, Gardner/Melky and Nady, while your first baseman would be perhaps Casey Blake. Yikes. With Jeter on the downside, Posada 37 and coming off shoulder surgery and Cano standing as a huge question mark, runs could end up being at a dangerous premium in New York. The Steinbrenners are going to want fireworks in their new park, Teixeira would ensure that. While pitching conquers all, Texeira is very nearly as important to the Yankees as Sabathia.

Derek Lowe, RHP - I have always been a big Derek Lowe guy ... for several reasons. Back when I was in school in Boston, Lowe was the social heart of those crappy Red Sox teams of the early 2000s, a rabid bar fly who'd get drunk with hot blondes at Northeastern University's White Hall (the freshman dorm, natch). Beyond having sex with 18-year-olds, Lowe managed to squeeze in some good moments on the mound in Boston as well, and in his four subsequent seasons with the Dodgers he became one of baseball's most dependable starters. This is what you know you're getting from Lowe: 33-35 starts, 210-220 innings, 13-15 wins and an ERA in the 3.50 range. Like Wang, he's a sinkerball pitcher who doesn't pick up a ton of strikeouts but doesn't walk many either. He's proven he can pitch in the AL East, and at 35, probably has three more good years in him. If you're not worried about him sleeping with your sister, he's the perfect No. 3 starter for the Yanks.

A.J. Burnett, RHP - Using the Carl Pavano Corrollary here, there's no chance in hell you should go near this guy. Prior to his healthy and effective '08 season, Burnett was essentially Toronto's version of Pavano, missing large chunks of the '06 and '07 campaigns among whispers that he wasn't working hard enough to get healthy. Funny what a contract year will do for your health, however. This past season Burnett became the pitcher the Jays thought they were getting in 2006, making every start in an 18-10 season, while striking out 218 in 210 innings, killing the Yankees every chance he got along the way. Burnett likely opted out of his contract last week in part because he (or, more accurately, his agent Scott Boras) believed New York would bite hard at the chance to pry a Yankee Killer away from a division rival. My feeling is the Yanks won't gamble, especially with the $40 million sting of Pavano still fresh. That said, if the Yanks can't acquire Sabathia, everything changes.

Manny Ramirez, OF - As you may have heard, our beautiful country is in a bit of a financial crisis. It seems to have affected everybody, including the poor New York Yankees, who said today that seven of their luxury suites in the new Stadium are without a tenant. For shame! With exorbitant ticket prices, the Yanks need to field a winning team to keep that new ballpark filled in '09 and beyond. Now let me ask you this: If the Yanks were to lose out to Sabathia, and if the Angels managed to retain Teixeira, is it beyond the realm of possibility that a panicked Yankees brass may give sure Hall of Famer, known quitter Manny Ramirez the four-year, $100 million that Boras is asking for? If Boras is smart (and we know Manny isn't), they should ride this process out to see if the Yankees get desperate. As a philospher named Bono once said, "Desperation is an ugly thing." Maybe. But Manny killing the Saux in pinstripes sounds kind of beautiful, no?

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