For the 2011 edition of the New York Yankees to be successful, the focus will be centered around adding pitching and trying to get younger and more versatile. Really though, isn't that always the theory surrounding the Yankees as they enter each free agency period that doesn't come off a championship season?
They've already taken care of the first order of business, locking up Manager Joe Girardi for another three years. While Girardi's first three years as skipper have been more like Joe Mccarthy's than Joe Torre's, his first three years have been better on a whole than Torre's final three in pinstripes.
While I don't know how much of the decisions made down the stretch were Girardi's as opposed to the organization as a whole, one can't really argue much with the majors third best record by two games. As far as the coaching staff goes, I do believe the Yankees issues in developing pitching go way beyond the time Dave Eiland took over and this off-season Kevin Long may want to take the entire lineup down to the Dominican Republican like he did with Robinson Cano.
Looking at the roster for the 2011 Yankees, here's what they must do.
Getting Younger Means A Revolving Door At DH:
Unlike last season where the Yankees claimed to want to keep the DH spot open to rest players and instead blew their money on Nick Johnson, they'll need to use it this year to keep Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter fresh down the stretch. Last year they may not have had the bench necessary to afford keeping those three out of the lineup, but with Jesus Montero and Eduardo Nunez emerging, there's no excuses this season.
After seeing what Buster Posey did as a rookie catcher, handling that dynamic pitching staff while batting cleanup for the San Francisco Giants and considering the players the Yankees have refused to deal Montero for, if he earns a spot on this team then he should be groomed for that role starting in 2011. I know Jorge Posada is a proud player and I believe he can still pop 20 homers and knock in 80 if healthy, but just like Yogi Berra took over for Bill Dickey and Elston Howard took over for Yogi Berra, Posada has to know that on a team built for October, his value is greatest if he's able to make it there in one piece.
This plan also allows the Yankees to stay within their budget, assuming their outfield remains intact. Though if one wanted to make an argument for some bench depth, a one-year deal at a reduced price for Johnny Damon might not be a bad thing. Damon hits lefties well and when he's not at DH, against lefties he could be put out in left and the Yanks could shift Gardner to center. But how likely is Damon willing to swallow his pride at this stage of his career?
Upgrade The Pitching Staff:
Cliff Lee is the obvious target. Despite looking mortal against the Giants in the World Series, having some injury issues crop up this season and being 32, Lee is the best on the open market. Allow me to make a bad analogy for a moment, but this is almost akin to A.J. Burnett and I'll explain why.
While Lee is far more consistent than Burnett, with some of those same underlying issues the Yankees have to weigh whether or not the opportunity to grab a championship or two early in the deal warrants the potential ugliness at the back end of a five-six year deal. However looking at the rest of the rotation short term, this really is a no brainer.
I also believe signing Lee convinces Andy Pettitte to come back for one more run. Pettitte will see this as a signal as the Yankees seriousness in loading up for next season.
Besides, the best options other than Lee would likely come though seeing what that vaunted farm system could get the Yanks either in a trade or at the back end of their rotation.
Boost The Bullpen:
What has been a strength of Joe Girardi's managing style, became a weakness due to personnel issues. Girardi, never one to rely on overuse of his bullpen, didn't have either the talent or trust of his middle relief corps and pushed his starters to the brink (see A.J. Burnett Game Four ALCS). Bullpens are fickle anyhow, most of the heroes from 2009 were either traded (Phil Coke) injured (Damaso Marte, Alfredo Aceves) inconsistent (Joba Chamberlain, Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre) or slightly overtaxed (David Robertson).
They'll need to pick up another lefty such as Scott Downs. Additionally, as solid as Kerry Wood was down the stretch, if you're going to pay a guy closer money to setup, why not go after Rafael Soriano. This may sound like a typical Yankee fan playing fantasy baseball with monopoly money, but hear me out. Mariano Rivera while still the best in the game is no spring chicken. The Yankees increased reluctance to use Mo for multiple inning saves and on back to back days, why not have a solid contingency plan to share save duties in Soriano?
If they weren't actively thinking this way, then why target pitchers like Joakim Soria? Would Soriano be insulted to setup for the greatest closer ever at top closer money?
Massage The Egos Of The Core Four:
In what has become a recurring theme of this post, the Yankees and Joe Girardi must do with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, what Doc Rivers has done with his "Big Three" and the Boston Celtics. Remind them that they are important faces of the franchise, are well taken care of monetarily and if they want to go out champions in October, they need to make it there in one piece. These guys for the last 15 years have been all about winning, all about team and by making small sacrifices from April to September, the Yankees can be at their best in October.
If that means Posada and Jeter need to DH more or Pettitte skips a start here and there or Rivera is limited to one inning ever other day to keep them all healthy, then so be it. It'll help them break some of their younger players in and help them ward off nagging injuries. They have to know their legacies and stats are set and solid at this point. Sure there are still some milestones out there, but the only thing that drastically enhances that at this point is a sixth championship.