The latest chapter in the A-Rod/MLB saga stole the show yesterday and with good reason. When something this big reaches the level of absurdity that it did and when Mike Francesa gets added to the mix, that's a situation that deserves everyone's full attention. But if in the wave of A-Rod reports you happened to miss the start of the IIATMS/TYA "Project 189" series yesterday, please stop reading this immediately, scroll down the page a bit, and catch up on that because you're missing out if you don't. The series is the brainchild of Michael Eder, who wanted to know what kind of team that Yankees could go out and build while still trying to stay under the luxury tax threshold if they didn't have A-Rod's salary on the books next year. That looks like an even greater possibility than it already did after yesterday's events, and Mike kicked off Project 189 yesterday by setting the bar pretty high.
MIke's version of the 2014 roster had power, lineup balance, and probably the best team defense that the Yankees have had in a long, long time. Today it's my turn to follow that up and offer my version of Project 189. Remember, the point of these posts is not to make predictions on what we at IIATMS/TYA think the Yankees will do but rather to examine all the possibilities and stimulate some thought and discussion about what they could do. And another reminder that the salary and arbitration numbers being used in these posts are from MLBTR's free agent profiles. We're aware that the actual numbers might come out differently, but for the purposes of standardization in the series it's what we chose to work with.
Without further ado, my Project 189 roster.
1) C- Francisco Cervelli (Arb 1) $1.000M 2) 1B- Mark Teixeira (8/$180M) $22.500M 3) 2B- Robinson Cano (8/$180M) $22.5000M 4) 3B- Mark Reynolds (1/$4M) $4.000M 5) SS- Derek Jeter (1/$12.81M + 7M Bonuses) $19.810M 6) LF- Alfonso Soriano (8/$136M) $17.000M 7) CF- Brett Gardner (Arb 3) $4.000M 8) RF- Shin-Soo Choo (6/$100M) $16.667M 9) DH- Corey Hart (1/$8M) $8.000M
19) BP- David Robertson (Arb 3) $5.500M 20) BP- Jesse Crain (1/$3.5M) $3.500M 21) BP- Shawn Kelley (Arb 2) $1.500M 22) BP- Cesar Cabral (Min) $0.511M 23) BP- Dellin Betances (Min) $0.511M 24) BP- David Phelps (Min) $0.511M 25) BP- Adam Warren (Min) $0.511M
26) 3B- David Adams (Min) $0.080M 27) 2B- Corban Joseph (Min) $0.080M 27) RHSP- Bryan Mitchell (Min) $0.040M 28) C- J.R. Murphy (Min) $0.080M 29) OF- Zoilo Almonte (Min) $0.080M 30) C- Gary Sanchez (Min) $0.040M 31) OF- Slade Heathcott (Min) $0.040M 32) OF- Ramon Flores (Min) $0.040M 33) RHRP- Preston Claiborne (Min) $0.080M 34) LHSP- Vidal Nuno (Min) $0.080M 35) LHSP- Manny Banuelos (Min) $0.040M 36) RHSP- Brett Marshall (Min) $0.040M 37) LHSP- Nik Turley (Min) $0.040M 38) RHSP- Jose Ramirez (Min) $0.040M 39) RHRP- Chase Whitley (Min) $0.040M 40) RHSP- Shane Greene (Min) $0.040M
Total Roster Owed- $183.388M Salary Relief- -$13M (from Cubs for Soriano) Player Benefits- $12M Cushion for Non-25 Man Players- $3.5M
Current Budget Owed- $185.888M Current Budget Remaining- $3.112M
My main focus for this project was upgrading the 2 biggest areas of weakness the Yankees have right now, the starting lineup and the starting rotation. I know, it's a groundbreaking idea.
If we're working under the assumption that A-Rod's salary is off the books, it only made sense to me to assume the Yankees are planning on spending accordingly to make an honest effort at achieving their constantly stated goal of building a championship-caliber team for $189 million. They saw how well their plan to do that in 2013 worked. It didn't. And while there are plenty of young homegrown players capable of being valuable contributing pieces to a contender, none of them have distinguished themselves as capable of being MAJOR contributors to that effort. If the Yankees want to contend next year, they need to spend to fill the major holes on their roster.
To that point, my belief is that there are more holes on the current roster than 1 or 2 or even 3 big signings can fill. The Yankees need help everywhere. There aren't a combination of 2 or 3 players who are getting them back to the World Series and the roster I constructed was put together with that in mind. I think Brian McCann is an almost perfect fit for this team, but his mileage and the hint of some early decline setting in scare me. Committing $16 million to him takes away from the opportunity to fortify other parts of the roster and so with that big picture goal in mind, I made the tough decision to let McCann sign elsewhere and go with the 2 cheap, homegrown catchers.
Now for the players I did add. I wanted to bring back the power and patience that last year's lineup severely lacked and I think I've done that. Robinson Cano returning is a no-brainer. There's no scenario I can think of where he doesn't end up in pinstripes for the rest of his career. Shin-Soo Choo is a safer long-term investment than Beltran and the type of player whose power can and should play up hitting in YS3. His on-base skills also make him the type of player who can be expected to regress more gracefully as he moves towards the end of his deal, and he offers the flexibility to be used at the top or in the middle of the lineup. While he's not better defensively at third than ... well, anybody, Mark Reynolds is a legit 30+ HR threat every year and he did enough in his 2013 audition to convince me to take a shot on him. I'll live with the strikeouts and the defensive hit at the hot corner if I can get 30 dingers for 4 mil.
The key to this revamped lineup, however, is Corey Hart. That may sound strange but hear me out. In Hart, you've got a guy with a .276/.334/.491 career batting line who has 30 HR power at best and 20 HR power at worst. Because he's coming off a major injury he really doesn't have any negotiating leverage to seek a deal matching his career production. He's a textbook example of a player looking to rebuild his market value with a good season, the same type of player many thought Curtis Granderson would be, and joining the Yankees gives him the perfect opportunity to do that.
I've got him penciled in as the starting DH on days where Jeter is playing short, but there are plenty of opportunities to get his bat in the lineup when that spot is needed for Jeter. He can be Choo's right field platoon partner against left-handed pitching, which he hits at a .300/.369/.526 career clip. He can be Teix's backup at first base for when Teix needs a day off or a turn at DH. He can be a late-game pinch hitting option for any bottom-of-the-order bat on days where he isn't in the starting lineup. The concerns about his knees and ability to play the outfield are legitimate, but Hart has said the knees feel good and he's looking to show that he can still be a versatile position player. On a 1-year deal, with the production ceiling he brings to the table, why not use him that way?
Moving to the rotation, Cash said he's looking for 400 innings and he gets that in Tanaka and Kazmir. For as much time as the Yankees have put into scouting Tanaka, it would be stupid to not go in big with the highest posting fee and win the rights to work out a deal. At age 25 and with his makeup, he's everything the Yankees have failed to develop and everything their rotation needs. Kazmir might be a bit of a gamble, but given what he showed last year it's a gamble worth taking at that price. He's healthy again, he's still in his physical prime, and he's reinvented himself as a pitcher who succeeds on the strength of his 4-pitch mix and command. Not to suggest that it's an accurate or fair comparison, but didn't the Yankees just lose a lefty starter with a similar profile?
With Kazmir in the mix, the Yankees would have a solid top 4 evenly balanced with righties and lefties. This leaves the final rotation spot up for grabs and sets low expectations for Pineda who, despite all the drama with the shoulder, could still be capable of being a top-of-the-rotation starter. It's been a while since the Yankees have been able to say that about their 5th starter. If anything doesn't work out with he or Kazmir, or injuries strike other guys, the Yankees are still covered with Phelps and Warren on ready five in the 'pen and Nuno, Marshall, and ManBan behind the emergency glass in Triple-A.
Admittedly, the bench and bullpen on this team are pretty weak. Ryan is what he is as a defensive caddy to Jeter, ditto Nunez as a defensive nightmare backing up third base and second in a pinch. Romine didn't show much this season, but he was starting to come around with the bat before suffering that concussion and I'm willing to give him another look. Ichiro gets relegated to 4th outfield duty, more like 5th with my plan to platoon Hart with Choo, and would be used sparingly as a situational base runner and defensive replacement.
D-Rob would handle the closing duties in the 'pen and he'd have Jesse Crain as his setup man. Crain is a pretty serious injury risk too, but like Hart he's shown he can be a well above-average player when he's healthy. With a full offseason to rest and hopefully strengthen that shoulder, he'd be perfect for the 8th inning and a potential steal on a 1-year contract. Preston Claiborne ends up the tough luck loser here because of Betances' lack of options and higher upside. Should Betances fall apart, however, I'd have no problem DFA'ing him and replacing him with Claiborne.
While the number 1 goal of this team would be to contend in 2014, I did try to keep an eye towards the future as well. Except for Cano and Choo, all the players I would add this offseason would come on 1 or 2-year deals, keeping the option of future payroll flexibility in play and giving the Yankees the chance to stay aggressive during next year's offseason. There might even be an opportunity to turn these signings into more future draft picks if players like Hart and Kazmir stay healthy and perform well enough to warrant a qualifying offer. In theory, the Yankees would be primed to contend in 2014 and beyond, they would be positioned to maintain a level of financial flexibility and smart spending that Hal appears to value now, and they'd still be able to work towards beefing up their farm system. The balance that they've struggled to achieve as an organization would finally be in the works and the product on the field would be a helluva lot better than it was in 2013.
For S's and G's, here's what my Opening Day lineup would look like:
1) Brett Gardner- CF 2) Derek Jeter- SS 3) Shin-Soo Choo- RF 4) Robinson Cano- 2B 5) Mark Teixeira- 1B 6) Alfonso Soriano- LF 7) Corey Hart- DH 8) Mark Reynolds- 3B 9) Francisco Cervelli- C
P.S.- If you're wondering why I don't have Vernon Wells on my roster, it's because Vernon Wells sucks at baseball now and should be outright released as soon as possible. The Angels are covering his entire salary next season and if he doesn't count towards the payroll number there's no reason to waste a roster spot on him. Same deal with Stewart and Nix. Players with production ceilings that low who are due to make 7 figures are easy non-tender candidates for a club on a budget.