The 3 things the Yankees are counting on after the Chase Headley deal
The Yankees retained their talented third baseman because they think they can still contend. Here is what needs to happen now.
The Yankees signing a player for many years, many millions is not surprising. As a headline, “Yankees spend money in effort to get better” is spiritually related to “Report: People don’t like spiders.” The Yankees know that Alex Rodriguez is an ex-third baseman now, and that if they didn’t re-sign Chase Headley, they might be forced to rely on a dangerous shuffle of minor leaguers in the lineup. So they spent the money. The team is probably better than it would have been if they kept the money.
Is it enough, though? The Yankees finished just six games over .500, after all, and that’s ignoring that they were outscored by 31 runs on the season. Their offseason moves so far have been A) to bring back their third baseman, B) to welcome back their disgraced old third baseman and make him a DH, C) spend a record-setting amount on a setup man, and D) to replace a shortstop who couldn’t field with a shortstop who can’t hit. It’s not like there’s an easy way to find fault with any of those moves, but they aren’t exactly pushing the Vegas line. The current lineup, via Roster Resource:
- Brett Gardner – LF
- Martin Prado – 2B
- Jacoby Ellsbury – CF
- Brian McCann – C
- Carlos Beltran – RF
- Mark Teixeira – 1B
- Chase Headley – 3B
- Alex Rodriguez – DH
- Didi Gregorius – SS
And the rotation:
Every one of the first eight players in that lineup has had a four-win season or better since 2010. I’ll let you guess which way almost all of them are trending, though. Gregorius is the only one under 30, and he’s the only one whose career trajectory might possibly be pointing upward. The rotation features three injury concerns at the top and two younger pitchers who probably wouldn’t have a guaranteed spot in 25 of the rotations around baseball.
This is a compelling high-wire act, so we’ll need to figure out all of the things that need to go right for the Yankees to contend next year:
Let’s take that same list, but add in the DL days last year:
- Brett Gardner – 0
- Martin Prado – 13
- Jacoby Ellsbury – 0
- Brian McCann – 6
- Carlos Beltran – 29
- Mark Teixeira – 14
- Chase Headley – 14
- Alex Rodriguez – 0!
- Didi Gregorius – 6
- Masahiro Tanaka – 65
- CC Sabathia – 127
- Michael Pineda – 87
- David Phelps – 34
- Bryan Mitchell – 21
The first batch isn’t too unusual, especially considering the ages of the players, but it gets a little more worrisome if you add in the DL time from 2013, too. Some of those folks — Rodriguez, Teixeira, Ellsbury — have suffered significant injuries in the past few years.
Those pitchers, though. Even the younger backup plans missed a month. and each of the principals missed at least two months. With Tanaka opting for rest/rehab over surgery, he gets to come back for the start of 2015. The Yankees aren’t dealing with that Red Sox problem of too many No. 5 or No. 6 pitchers, none of whom are really good enough yet to separate themselves from their competition. No, the Yankees have a couple of those types, and they’re already in the rotation.
If the Yankees are going to do anything next year, they’ll need some permutation of Sabathia, Tanaka, and Pineda to stay healthy and effective. Just two of the three will do, considering the next thing the Yankees need to do is …
Signing or trading for another starting pitcher
The Yankees know this. It’s probably why they’re going to go bananas with Max Scherzer. They were sniffing around Jon Lester, and they’re likely going to do the same with James Shields. They let Brandon McCarthy slip away, and the mid-rotation options are looking less and less appealing by the hour, but they’ll still get someone. Knowing Brian Cashman, it will be someone good, too. The only question is if the Yankees will have to thin the farm to do it.
This part is almost certain, though. It’s not like the Yankees don’t know the precarious nature of their pitching staff, as if an assistant to an assistant GM tried to mention that every important starting pitcher was seriously injured last year, but was shouted down. They know. They’ll do their best to prepare for the storm.
If you want to know how much the Yankees like Didi Gregorius, consider that they dealt some of their precious starting pitching depth to get him. That’s the good news.
Contributions from the newly bad, formerly great
The Yankees starting lineup has combined for 33 All-Star appearances. When you consider that Gregorius was a rookie last year and that Headley has never made an All-Star Game, that’s even more impressive. The more important question, though, is how many they’ll combine for in the future. I’d set the over/under at two and think really hard about taking the under.
Or to put it another way, if the Yankees decided it was time to rebuild and traded every single starting position player, what sort of prospect haul would they get back? Even assuming they would eat scores, if not hundreds, of millions to trade all of those contracts, I’m not sure they could trade those nine players and get the kind of return that could have been turned around and forced the A’s to trade Josh Donaldson to the Yankees instead. Gardner’s a delight, and Ellsbury still has value, especially if the Yankees contributed money on his behalf, but most of the rest are aging, declining and expensive.
What needs to happen is that a couple of them get better. It sounds simple. It sounds like the hardest thing in the world. Carlos Beltran hitting again? That guy used to be awesome. I remember him hitting well just a few months ago. And then you look at the stats, the age, the video. Now you’re not so sure. Now you’re extremely pessimistic. Same goes with Teixeira, Rodriguez, McCann, and even Headley in a way. They would all be so much better if they could order a box of back-then from Amazon and have it shipped to right now.
It’s not that far-fetched. It’s not like these were all good players who fell off. Most of them were great players, and they could still have some latent greatness buried in there. A couple, if not more, of them actually need to produce, though.
Cashman might have the benefit being the GM for one of baseball’s richest teams, but that just makes him underrated as a resourceful GM, who always seems to cobble something nice from uninspiring materials. He has a lot to do before the next season starts. Headley was something of a necessity. If he’s not better this coming season, though, it’s hard to see how the Yankees climb back into the AL East race without a lot of luck and/or help.