Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ranking the Most Important Yankees From 1 to 20

Though I seem to get into periodic Twitter fights with the man over the Jets and Patriots, I quite admire Peter Abraham, the former Yankees beat writer for The Journal News who now covers the Red Sox for The Boston Globe.

In honor of PeteAbe and the superlative work he did over at the LoHud Blog and continues to do at Extra Bases, today I'm going to steal borrow one of his gimmicks and give you my list of the 20 most important Yankees in the organization today.

To qualify for the list, the individual must currently cash a paycheck with a New York Yankees insignia on the upper left-hand corner. Are you sure you don't want to be part of this club, Andy Pettitte? Anyway, onto the list and please have your say in the comments section.

1. Hal Steinbrenner: George is gone, but Hal is here, and it should be fascinating to see how he involves himself in the organization as the clear-cut central figure atop the food chain. Channeling his old man, Hal overruled Brian Cashman to bring Rafael Soriano to the Bronx. Was the move an isolated incident or a sign of The Boss 2.0?

2. Robinson Cano: The Core Four looks like it's about to become the decidedly less catchy Core Three, and Cano represents the bridge between the futures past and future. Still only 28, Cano is coming off an MVP-caliber season and figures to be in the middle of Yankee lineups for years to come.

3. Alex Rodriguez: Like Cano, A-Rod will serve as a bridge between the team's past and future, but unlike Cano, Rodriguez will do this on the wrong side of his prime. He is signed through 2017 (thanks Hank), and at 35, he showed signs of decline the past two seasons. His performance in 2011 should be a strong indicator of just how much of an albatross his massive contract will end up being.

4. Derek Jeter: The contract re-up seemed to loom over him for years, and now that it's done — however unpleasantly — the captain can go about the business of cementing his legacy in pinstripes. His value as a player is a question mark at this point — 36-year-old shortstops aren't known to be game-changers — but his role as ambassador and face of the franchise cannot be understated. Like DiMaggio before him, the end of one career will begin another as The Ultimate Yankee™.

5. Brian Cashman: The Soriano drama certainly adds intrigue to Cashman's narrative, especially as he enters the final year of his contract. The general manager since 1998, Cashman threatened to walk away from the team in 2006 when management interfered with how he built the team. Is another ultimatum on its way?

6. Mariano Rivera: The G.O.A.T. turned 41 in November, but he remains the one constant in a sea of continual change for the Yankees. Trevor Hoffman's retirement leaves Rivera just 42 saves away from the all-time record. If he chooses, he could join Jeter as an ambassador for the team after retirement. I'm just not sure if he's ever going to retire.

7. Mark Teixeira: Battling some nagging injuries, Teixeira put together one of the most unimpressive 108-RBI seasons in history then followed that up with another awful postseason that was cut short by a hamstring tear in the ALCS. Like Cano, he's a star player in the midst of his prime. The Yankees will rely on him heavily as they transition at other positions.

8. CC Sabathia: While Teixeira has left Yankees fans exasperated at times in his two years with the team, the same cannot be said for Carsten Charles, who has been as good as advertised in New York. He won 21 games last season, and could have won three more if his bullpen didn't let him down. With the back of the rotation shaping up as a patch-work mess, he will be relied on more than ever in 2011.

9. Phil Hughes: He won 18 games last year, but Hughes' first full season in the rotation felt strangely hollow if you watched him on a start-by-start basis. Like Sabathia, he'll be counted on heavily in a rotation loaded with question marks. At just 24, the best is hopefully yet to come.

10. Jesus Montero: The prize of the Yankees' farm system and ranked as the fifth-best prospect in the league by Baseball America in 2010, Montero was nearly traded away at last year's deadline for Cliff Lee. The catcher will begin the season in Trenton or Scranton, and could earn a promotion to the Bronx if he builds on the second half in Double-A last season. The signing of Russell Martin hints that the Yankees will be patient with their young stud.

11. Joe Girardi: He enters his fourth-season as Yankees manager coming off a postseason where some questionable decision-making put him in the cross hairs of the fan base. That doesn't matter much though when you have the complete backing of the front office, which seems to be the case here. He may not win any personality contests, but personality contests don't exist, so he's all cool on that front as well.

12. A.J. Burnett: He had one of the worst seasons by a starter in Yankees history last year, but when you're in the middle of a five-year, $82 million contract, there's not much a team can do other than gut it out. Burnett has become an afterthought at this point, but he value remains substantial. His fortune in 2011 may mirror the team's.

13. Rafael Soriano: The Yankees gave Soriano closer money to be their setup man, an unorthodox move to say the least. Purported character issues combined with high expectations make you wonder how he'll handle the Bronx. If he thrives, he is Rivera's heir apparent in the ninth inning.

14. Brett Gardner: A GM's dream, Gardner is a low-salary, homegrown player who fills very specific needs for the lineup. Gardner came closer to realizing his potential as a evolutionary Brett Butler in 2010, batting .277 with 47 steals and a .383 on-base percentage. His growth was a primary reason the Yankees didn't chase Carl Crawford this winter.

15. Larry Rothschild: Brought in to replace the terminated Dave Eiland, Rothschild has a big job ahead of him. At the top of that list will be resurrecting the Passion of the Burnett. Cultivating Hughes and getting the most out of projected back-end starters Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova will be key as well. I hope Larry gets his sleep in the offseason.

16. Randy Levine: A loyal Boss foot soldier, Levine has been president of the Yankees since 2000. His opinion counts, and he seems to have the ear of Hal Steinbrenner. If Hal decides to take a more hands-on role in day-to-day operations, Levine's power will increase as well.

17. Curtis Granderson: Granderson's first Yankee season was a disappointment, but it's not unusual for a marquee player to struggle in his first year in New York (Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez can attest). At 30, he's a candidate for a big bounce back season in 2011.

18. Joba Chamberlain: You can make the argument he doesn't deserve to be on this list, but the one-time golden boy will get one last shot to save his Yankee career in 2011. Will the signing of Soriano signal the death knell of his confidence, or will he use the slight as a motivating force to reclaim his career? I'm as sick of him as you are, but it remains one of the season's juiciest subplots.

19. Damon Oppenheimer/Mark Newman: Oppenheimer, the scouting director, and Newman, the senior vice president of baseball operations, are the brains behind the Yankees' draft and farm strategies. As the Yankees slowly overturn a roster loaded with aging veterans, their decision-making will play a huge role in the franchise's future.

20. Hank Steinbrenner: Though he spends more time at the family's horse farm in Ocala, Fla., these days, Hank is co-chairman of the team with his brother Hal, meaning he has the power to effect the team greatly if given the opportunity. It scares me just typing that.

What are your thoughts? Did I miss anybody? Would love to hear your opinions.

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at dhanzus@gmail.com. Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.


Brian said...

Only entry I'd add, and this is more of an afterthought, is the trio of Andrew Brackman, Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances. Brackman is already on the 40 man roster, and should get more playing time in the bigs than last year (A lone appearance warming up in the bullpen, looking to take over for a woebegone Joba). Perhaps these three can one day become our Lincicum/Cain/Sanchez.

Brian said...

Oh, and Hector Noesi, coming off of Tommy John surgery. He made it to AAA last year, made an allstar game. He'll be our Bumgarner. If we could only learn to avoid our many versions of Barry Zito...*coughcoughkeiigawacoughcough*

af said...

Kinda surprising not to see Swish anywhere on this list. He's the only position player you fail to mention, besides our fading DH. Frankly, I think that when he's on, he can contribute more than Granderson.

Dan Hanzus said...

@Brian You know I wanted to head more farm prospects to the top 20, but Montero was the only one I felt truly deserved to crack it. Guess that's a clear a sign as any that this is a win-now team.

I'm going to read up on those names though. Thanks for reading.

Dan Hanzus said...

@AF: I love Swish profusely, and he'd probably be 21 or 22 on the list. To me he is a great guy to have around, and last year he took steps forward as a player. I hope he's in their longterm plans going forward, but it's hard to say.

Thanks for reading.

Brian said...

Oh, I forgot Michael Kay. LOL.

Dan Hanzus said...

Kay was disqualified because of head size. Kind of unfair, but I don't make the rules.