Monday, August 2, 2010

Your 2014 New York Yankees

Over the weekend, I spoke with my longtime friend Hal Steinbrenner. We met a number of years ago, at a Mets game oddly enough. For those of you not familiar with last names, Hal Steinbrenner is the son of George, and owns the New York Yankees with his brother Hank. Before we even got into baseball, I had to offer my condolences for the loss of his father. He was quite an interesting fellow, certainly, but a good owner in the fact that he was never afraid to spend his money. That brought me to my main question for Hal. What would change now that you are in charge instead of George? Many people have hypothesized that neither Hal nor Hank 'approved' of the way George ran things. Yet these past few years, even with their father slightly out of the picture, they were afraid to step on his toes. Now with his passing, would the blueprint change? He assured me that the Yankees will still be the Yankees, yet they won't be the Yankees anymore, if I got his drift. I think I did.

The club will still be all about winning, and will not be afraid to spend some extra money to prove it. Evidence of this was seen as the 2010 trade deadline came and went, and the Yankees decided to add a few pieces and a few million to the payroll. However, the future might bring a Yankees organization that isn't afraid to be frugal at times, save prospects, and build rather than buy. Sure, as Hal put it, "we'll still try to bring in a star or two. That never hurts." But I wouldn't expect many more off-seasons like prior to the '09 campaign.

My final question to Hal was about the future look of the team. With a number of big guns reaching the final years of their contracts, what will this team look like in, say, four years? Hal didn't want to give me a straight answer. He just left me with this piece of information: "It won't be the team my dad would have built."

We said our farewells and I hung up. Yet my brain was now in motion. What did that mean and what WOULD the 2014 Yankees look like? Well, using a few nuggets from the 'new' owner, here is what it might look like:

1. Gardner, Brett - LF. Leading off will be left fielder Brett Gardner. He will not be a free agent until 2015, so bringing him back with either a new contract, or through arbitration will not be a problem. Gardner will be 30 years old, in the prime of his career. And if 2010 is any indication, he should be a star by then. In only his second full season, Brett is already a guaranteed 40 steals player from here forward. He also has a .300 batting average and .400 on-base percentage. With just under 50 walks already, and two months still to go in the season, his mixture of speed and getting on base makes him the ultimate lead-off hitter. Gardner won't challenge Rickey Henderson's lead-off home run record, but the Yankees don't need him to.

2. Kemp, Matt - CF. The Dodgers were already feeling out the trade market for Kemp in 2010. Come 2011, they will move him. With the franchise in flux because of ownership problems, and with Kemp's up and down play in what was supposed to be a breakout season, the Dodgers will try to get more than just type A draft picks for him and the Yankees will comply. Even though he has been just plain awful stealing bases in '10, Kemp was very good the season prior and obviously has the skill. With some help from the coaching staff to straighten things out, as well as this lineup around him, Kemp should be back to all-star form in 2014.

3. Cano, Robinson - 2B. By the time 2014 rolls around, Cano will be a star, if he isn't already. His contract has a few team option years, but I figure he will be re-signed officially before then. Turning 31 at that point, Cano should see his biggest power seasons to date. Right now, as a fifth place hitter, he is already an MVP candidate. As he continues to get better, he will continue to slide up in the lineup until he settles where all the best players in the league land: batting third.

4. Teixeira, Mark - 1B. In four years, at 34 years of age, Mark will be nearing the downside of his career, yet this should not prevent him from still mashing the ball. He has never be known for any type of speed, and although his glove work will have dropped by this point, his power will not have. He's hit 30 home runs and drove in 100 RBI's every season except his rookie year. Being signed through 2016 means the Yankees don't have much to think about here and Teixeira won't have much to worry about either.

5. Montero, Jesus - DH. One trade deadline has passed with Montero remaining a Yankee and that should be the last chance he had to get moved. Come next season, Montero will be up with the big boys and hitting everyday. Four years later, at a crisp 25 years old, Jesus will be a middle of the order hitter, without a position. Being the everyday DH is not ideal, yet his bat is too good to waste. If we don't see him getting some work at the major league level by September of 2010, he will definitely make the team by the start of 2011.

6. Rodriguez, Alex - 3B. Apart from his hip problem, Alex has remained healthy his whole time in New York. Approaching 40 years old, with a contract through 2017, the Yankees will be both set and concerned. There will not be consideration to moving him, because of the contract. Yet there is not overwhelming evidence he won't still be productive in any case. During this 'off' year of 2010, Rodriguez has still knocked in 85 runs by August 2nd. As his hip heals, and he gets a day or so at DH every week, the years will be good to Alex. He will get dropped in the lineup, but that seems unavoidable.

7. Despaigne, Alfredo - RF. Predicting Cuban imports is near impossible. Yet Despaigne is one of the better young, Cuban outfielders right now. He had a disappointing World Baseball Classic in 2009, as did the Cuban team as a whole. Yet in the rest of his international competitions, Alfredo has hit the cover off the ball. In the 2008 Olympics, he had a 1.165 OPS for the tournament, while Cuba went on to win the silver medal. Since then, Despaigne won back to back league MVP awards in Serie Nacional. Who knows how likely this is. But if he manages to leave Cuba, as a power outfielder in his prime, we know the Yankees will be after him.

8. Romine, Austin - C. The second best prospect in the current Yankees farm system is also a catcher, yet, unlike the first, he can catch. Romine is much better defensively than Jesus Montero and will be the catcher of the future when Jorge Posada is forced to hang up the cleats in the next year or two. Romine won't be a big time hitter, yet he'll be better with the bat than Francisco Cervelli. Unlike Steinbrenners of the past, this franchise will no longer force itself to have power hitters at every point in the lineup in favor of defense and youthful exuberance.

9. Ramirez, Alexei - SS. Don't think just because Derek Jeter is who he is that this ownership team will give him whatever money he wants for as long he wants. By 2014, Jeter will no longer be a Yankee. I can see him getting a new, three year contract at the end of 2010, but it just isn't viable to pay him any further than that. Ramirez, on the other hand, will have only been in the majors six seasons at that point, even though he will be a bit older than a normal six year player. 2014 will be Ramirez's first year of free agency and he will most likely be looking to cash in. Although he is nothing special, Alexei is a solid player with reasonable middle infield power who should continue to improve. By 2014, look for him to be a yearly contender to make the all-star team (in place of the short stop who DID always make the all-star team.)

The starting pitcher on opening day will, again, be CC Sabathia. He will be approaching his mid-thirties, yet with that body, no one thinks he will be breaking down. Maybe his fastball won't touch 97 anymore, but Sabathia will still be a front line starter four years from now.

The closer for the 2014 New York Yankees will be none other than Phil Hughes. By this time, Mariano Rivera will finally have called it quits. Of course, if Rivera is actually not human, as it appears, maybe he will pitch into his fifties, but I suspect not. Hughes has a powerful fastball and all the makings of a successful closer. His success in the pen in 2009 proved this. His success on the mound in 2010 might make people shy away from thinking he'd make his way back to the bullpen. But the Yankees know better than anyone how important a top shelf closer can be. And the fact is, Joba Chamberlain is not that guy. The ideal situation would be for Hughes to remain in the rotation, probably as the number two starter, and have Joba move into the closer role. But not everything works out ideally.

So there you have it: the nucleus of the future Bronx Bombers. Maybe George would have extended Jeter through the 2014 season; maybe he would have traded away Montero and/or Romine; maybe he would have brought in another aging veteran, rather than take a chance on the young Cuban. But, as Hal described, these are not George's Yankees anymore.

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