- Wallace Matthews, ESPNNewYork.com
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For the Yankees, the games might be over but the season is just beginning.
The offseason, that is. Winter in Yankeeland is the same as spring on the rest of planet Earth, a time of renewal and replenishment, and as we all know, the Yankees will need plenty of both if they hope to improve on the disappointment of 2011 in 2012.
There is no single pending drama on their winter agenda, no Derek Jeter negotiation or Cliff Lee courtship, but there are still plenty of chores for the Sons of the Boss, Hal and Hank Steinbrenner, to attend to between now and the day pitchers and catchers report to spring training.
For want of a better term, here is the Dirty Dozen of things to be done between now and Valentine's Day:
1. Re-sign Brian Cashman
This is the first order of business, because without a GM, nothing else can get done. Unless, of course, you are the Mets and are paying five GMs while allowing the owner's kid to make all the baseball decisions.
That is not the case here, however, and no matter how the season ended, it is hard to fault Cashman because truly, without the moves he made and didn't make last offseason, maybe the Yankees don't even get to the playoffs.
Cashman took a chance on Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, both of whom gave back more than they received before inevitably running out of steam at the end of the season. The signings of Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez were worth the gamble, even if neither did much more most days than provide a threat off the bench.
And refusing to part with Ivan Nova, Jesus Montero and Eduardo Nunez now looks like a master stroke. It's hard to imagine a better GM for the Yankees than Cashman, who understands the area, the fan base, the media and, most of all, the mission statement of a franchise for which the only acceptable result is a World Series championship.
2. Play tough with CC
There's little doubt CC Sabathia will exercise the opt-out clause in his contract; after all, if you aren't going to use it, why insist on having it included in the contract in the first place? And if you don't use it after a Cy Young-caliber season -- 19-8 and a 3.00 ERA -- when do you?
The issue is not whether CC will opt out; it is what the Yankees will do in response. It might seem like a tough decision, but in reality, it isn't, and the Alex Rodriguez case of 2007 should serve as a model of what not to do.
It really is simple: If Sabathia merely demands some more money on his exisiting deal, find a number you are comfortable with and make it happen. If he wants an extension to a deal that already has four more seasons to run, it's CC, see ya later.
Sabathia is already 31 years old, has worked an average of 240 innings a year for each of the past five years, throws in the area of 3,500 to 4,000 pitches a season, had knee surgery last year and has a lifelong weight problem that giving up Cap'n Crunch simply will not solve.
Is it really wise to commit that much money and time to a pitcher who might be 38 or older when the contract ends? The Yankees will already have way too much dead money on the books in a couple of years, between A-Rod's contract and Mark Teixeira's. No need to add another. More money? Si. More years? See ya.
3. Bye-bye, Jorge
If only they all were this easy. Jorge Posada is a revered member of the Yankees' Core Four, now down to the We Three, but his time here is up. The Yankees should consider his excellent American League Divsion Series a last hurrah and remember him that way, not as the player who had just six hits off lefties all season, an .092 batting average. He was better against righties (.269 BA, 14 home runs, 41 RBIs) but still not great, and Jesus Montero's upside is many times higher. No doubt, Posada still wants to play and might catch on as a part-time DH with someone, but it shouldn't be the Yankees.
4. Rebuild the pitching staff
Don't stop me if you've heard this before, because I know you have, but restocking the starting rotation is a yearly event around here. Neither Garcia nor Colon is likely to be back, and no one is quite sure anymore what Phil Hughes really is -- starter, reliever or one-year wonder. Assuming the Yankees can re-sign Sabathia, the rotation next year will be CC, Nova and yes, A.J. Burnett, and two pitchers to be named later.
There's no Cliff Lee on the market this year, but there could be second-tier guys such as C.J. Wilson, Brandon Webb, Hiroki Kuroda and Kyle Dempster, and maybe even the likes of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Plus, the Yankees have Hector Noesi as well as prospects such as Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, Adam Warren, David Phelps and Andrew Brackman who can either compete for a spot or be used as trade bait. Cashman, or whoever succeeds him, will have to work long and hard to determine what is the best fit for his club, but they were able to do it satisfactorily this season.
5. Bring back Russell Martin
After a hot start, he didn't do very much in the regular season and only got worse in the playoffs -- .176 with no RBIs and just one extra-base hit -- but the Yankees have plenty of offense, even if they didn't show much in Game 5. Martin's real value is behind the plate and in his handling of the pitching staff, and he excelled in both areas. Joe Girardi, perhaps because he was a no-hit, all- glove catcher, values defense in his catchers above all else, so he is likely to endorse the retaining of Martin, and so long as Martin's demands aren't ridiculous -- he was paid $4 million in 2011 -- so should the Steinbrenners and Cashman.
6. Give Swish one more chance
The Yankees have to decide whether to pick up Nick Swisher's $10.25 milllion option for 2012, and if you base your decision on his ALDS performance -- .211 with one HR and one RBI -- the answer is a resounding no.
But it is foolish to judge a player by a sample of five games, and even though Swisher has yet to prove he's a good October performer -- he hit .091 in last year's ALCS and his career postseason BA is .169 -- his regular season, after a rough start, turned out to be more than acceptable, .260-23-85 with a .374 OBP.
Unless you want to bring back Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui or Johnny Damon, the 2012 free-agent outfield crop looks pretty thin. Rather than invest a bundle in a second-rate guy, the best bet is to pick up Swisher's option and look for a better replacement next winter.
7. Pick up Cano's option
Well, duhhh. Obvious no-brainer -- the Yankees have a $14 million option on Robinson Cano for 2012 and a $15 million option for 2013. They could opt instead to try to lock him up to a long-term deal, but Cano's new agent, a Mr. Scott Boras of Newport Beach, Calif., is not going to let that happen. The Yankees will be paying through the lungs for their best hitter soon enough, but for the next two years, Cano will be quite affordable.
8. Shake up the lineup
Alex Rodriguez is no longer a cleanup hitter. Period. And Mark Teixeira is no longer a No. 3 hitter. Next year, Cano should move permanently into the four-hole, and A-Rod should hit third. That way, maybe he will get some decent pitches to hit with Cano looming behind him instead of the other way around. And Curtis Granderson's big bat belongs somewhere in the middle of the order, not wasted at No. 2.
What about A-Rod third, Cano fourth, Granderson fifth and Tex sixth? No worries about back-to-back lefties; Cano and Granderson prosecuted both left-handed and right-handed pitchers with equal vigor this season.
9. Make a decision on Jesus Montero
Backup catcher or full-time DH. You want his bat in the lineup every day, but that necessitates carrying another backup catcher. That means either bringing back Francisco Cervelli, which is problematic considering both his puny offensive production and his troubling concussion history, or possibly rushing Austin Romine into service before he is ready. Then again, there are always backup catchers on the trade market. In any event, a role has to be carved out for Montero next year.
10. Restock the bench
Andruw Jones was an interesting concept but a disappointing reality. Signed as a supposed upgrade over Marcus Thames, he was really a step down, and am I the only one wondering how a guy with 10 Gold Gloves as an outfielder was taken out of every game he started for a defensive replacement? His big smile lit up the room, but his small bat dragged down the lineup.
As for Eric Chavez, he was another good idea who didn't quite work out because of his relentless and frustrating injury history. Eduardo Nunez is dynamic at the plate and speedy on the bases, but his iron glove, scatter-shot arm and questionable judgment make him suitable only for bench duty. The Yankees should hold onto him in hopes he will improve. They should scour the market to find guys who can fill these vital roles.
11. Left-handed complement
To Boone Logan, that is, who in his job as Left-Handed Specialist proved woefully inadequate at his "specialty,'' retiring left-handed batters. The Yankees caught a bad break with the injury to Pedro Feliciano and need to find another lefty out of the 'pen because to rely on Logan in a key spot is like playing Russian Roulette. Luis Ayala served his purpose as a situational righty, but it's time to move on from there as well.
12. Reprogram the manager
Joe Girardi can be robotic, even Vulcan-esque at times, but he did a masterful job of mixing and matching his pitchers for most of the season, and never better than in ALDS Game 5, in which he did everything necessary to keep the game in reach of his offense, which simply could not get it done.
But he never seemed to be able to make the tough calls, vis-à-vis Burnett or Rodriguez or Jeter, and the one time he tried to do it with Posada, the guy walked out on him and he was forced to -- or chose to -- back down.
Next year, Looseleaf Joey has got to show more flexibility, innovation and yes, toughness, when it comes to making out his lineup card. Even down to the bitter end, his stubborn loyalty to A-Rod and Teixeira kept him from shuffling a deck that kept coming up jokers for him in the ALDS. Just because A-Rod has always been a cleanup hitter doesn't mean he still is. Same goes for Tex and Jeter and Swisher.
Here's my sample lineup for Opening Day 2012:
Girardi has from now until April 6 to make it happen.
The Yankees have work to do if they hope to improve on a disappointing 2011.