Mike Gwizdala's Blog
Pitching and defense wins championships.  Now where have I heard that before?  Oh yeah it was only the mantra of the Yankees dynasty teams of the 1990's.  So here's what the Yankees ought to do if they plan on playing deep into October in 2009.


Sign CC Sabathia.  Easier said than done right?  Yet the Yankees still don't have their "ace" and if passing on Johan Santana was done in part because of what he would've cost the Yankees in dollars, they have $88 million coming off the books so no excuses.  Granted Sabathia's arm has been taxed over the last couple of seasons and he has looked worn down come playoff time, chances of that happening with the Yankees bullpen anchored by Mariano Rivera unlike Sabathia are slim to none.  Sabathia also sports a career 21-8 record against the rest of the AL East.

Sign A.J. Burnett.  Why?  Because besides wanting an entire rotation of initialed pitchers, Burnett is a big time strikeout pitcher.  Grabbing Burnett would be a key loss for Toronto and as history has shown when the Yankees pick up ace type pitchers from the Blue Jays (Jimmy Key, David Cone, Roger Clemens) they tend to win championships.  Now Burnett does have the "Florida Marlin curse" or propensity to get hurt much like Josh Beckett, Brad Penny, Dontrelle Willis, Ryan Dempster, Carl Pavano.  However Burnett has shown that he can compete against the rugged AL East with a career mark of 20-5.

So far with this rotation, if one brings back Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte, a combined 33 wins out of your back end starters isn't too shabby.  If I'm the Yankees I make a strong push to get both of them back in the fold.  Mussina has his confidence back, has reinvented himself and could be especially driven to get to 300 wins and if he won 20 games on a 3rd place team, his prospects should only improve on a better team even if the chances of winning 20 again are almost remote.  Pettitte will no doubt be driven to prove last season was a fluke, like Mussina knows how to pitch in New York and like Mussina has the potential to have a bounce back season after everyone has all but written him off as washed up.  Even if Pettitte did win between 13-15 games next season, one could do a lot worse for a 4th starter.

Of course there are a lot of variables here: Such as how much are the Yankees willing to spend?  How many pitchers do they want to bring in and how many want to come to New York?  Will they go more long-term with guys like Sabathia and Burnett or do they go more short-term with Derek Lowe, Mussina and Pettitte?  Does Mussina want to come back and do the Yankees want Pettitte back? 

The biggest wild card so to speak is Joba Chamberlain.  The Yankees say he and Chien-Ming Wang are the only two guaranteed to be in the starting rotation, so that would likely leave out one of the aforementioned starters.  I'm a huge believer in keeping Chamberlain in the starting rotation, especially when one looks at the way Cole Hamels and Josh Beckett both carried their respective teams to championships the last two seasons.  Though one could make the arguement that with Mariano Rivera coming off of shoulder surgery and if indeed the Yankees did bring in all of the starters mentioned above, that would only make the staff that much more unstoppable.

When it comes to the Yankees defensively, even though they just picked up Nick Swisher in a trade from the Chicago White Sox, I believe they still need to go after Mark Teixeira for 1st base.  Tex is a two-time gold glove winner, has not been injury prone or linked to steroids.  At 28 he would be one of the younger Yankee regulars and would lock down 1st base for the better part of the next decade.  Tex, a switch-hitter, can absolutely mash averaging 36 HR's a season while posting a .467 batting average in the 2008 playoffs.  The Yankees just locked up A-Rod last year for 10 years at age 32, so what's the big deal with Tex for 10 years at 28?  Additionally as mentioned, they shouldn't be scared off by the deal given to Teixeira's predecessor Jason Giambi, because he just doesn't possess those same initial risks, poor defense, steroid allegations and injuries.  The Yankees shouldn't be worried about clogging up 1st for the likes of Jeter and Posada when they decline, that's what the DH is for.

If the Yankees want to make up for Derek Jeter's "declining range" at SS, perhaps signing Orlando Hudson for 2nd base would be a cure-all.  Hudson. a three time gold glover, is also spark plug in the clubhouse as opposed to Robinson Cano who can be moody at times.  The Yankees could then flip Cano for either a centerfielder, corner outfielder or a front line starter should they not be able to obtain one of their free agent targets. 

Finally I'm going to contradict myself here a bit but this is well worth the exception and I think you can tell where I'm going.  The Yankees as evidenced last season and the past few post season's have lacked that late clutch hitting with RISP and they are in need of players that have won and come up big with the game on the line.  That's why the Yankees should sign Manny Ramirez, because let's face it the guy is oblivious to pressure because half the time he can be just plain oblivious.  Manny is a flat out RBI machine, makes good teams great and great teams into champions.  In the playoffs which the Yankees are all about, Ramirez has 28 career HR's, a .286 post season average, a World Series MVP and two rings.  What more could one possibly want?  He's been on winning teams everywhere he's been, is from the Bronx and is no doubt chomping at the bit to get back at the Red Sox.  Manny is no worse defensively in the outfield than Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui (both of whom I'd think about dealing) or Bobby Abreu and you saw what he could do for David Ortiz, just imagine what he would do for A-Rod.  The Yankees should base this signing as a baseball decision and I would hope that the same team that almost gave Manny's ex-teammate Albert Belle a deal about a decade ago wouldn't get all high and mighty as if they were above it.

This is just a blueprint for where the Yankees should go as they head into 2009, while I understand and applaud the want and need to get a younger, more versatille, flexible roster and payroll, there's nothing wrong with spending large sums of money if you spend it wisely.  Besides, this is a now team that needs some upgrades to compete in the toughest division in baseball and Jeter, Rivera and Posada only have so many years left in the bank. 


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