Catching up with the New York Yankees: Pinstripe Alley

This off-season The Nats Blog will be conducting interviews with sites from all thirty teams. One team a week leading up to the start of the 2011 baseball season. This week I spoke with Travis Goldman from Pinstripe Alley, one of the top Yankees blogs on the net, to talk about their aging core, young prospects, and of course, Cliff Lee.

TNB: The Yankees are targeting Cliff Lee. How do you see this playing out?

Pinstripe Alley: Ultimately I see Lee signing with the Yankees. The only other serious suitor will be Texas, but when the Yankees really want a free agent, they get him. And they’ve already tipped their hand by visiting him at his home in Arkansas. If a much lesser pitcher like A.J. Burnett can get 5/83 from the Yankees, what will a bonafide ace get? It looks like 5-6 years at $20-23 million/year.

TNB: What are the chances of Andy Pettitte returning next season?

Pinstripe Alley: He says his “heart is home” [in Texas] right now, but the pull of lots of money, the sour taste of his injury-shortened 2010, and the fact that his teenage sons now think it’s “cool” to be a major leaguer, will coerce him to re-join the Yanks. However, he’s also said that if he does return, 2011 will be his last season. You never know with Andy, but the Yankees would certainly love to re-sign him and have that extra depth they lacked this year.

TNB: When will the team transition from Jorge Posada to Jesus Montero?

Pinstripe Alley: Brian Cashman has said Posada should prepare to be the everyday DH next year and that the catching spot will go to one (or more) of Francisco Cervelli, Jesus Montero and Austin Romine. Romine is the long shot, having never played above Double-A, and Cashman would love for Montero to show he’s ready for the job in Spring Training, but he’s also adamant that he ‘earn’ the spot. If he doesn’t, it will probably go to Cervelli while the Yanks look to acquire a catcher from outside the organization who can play passably until Montero or Romine is truly ready. That said, Cashman has also told Posada that he will be required to catch in case of injury or ineffectiveness.

So to answer the initial question: as early as March, but probably no later than June. What worries me is the thought of what will happen if Montero struggles behind the plate? Will he take those struggles to the plate? It took him half a year to adjust to Triple-A; will Yankee management and fans have the patience to watch him catch everyday if he’s struggling?

TNB: Despite their early differences, Derek Jeter is expected to re-sign with the Yankees. What is his true value?

Pinstripe Alley: That’s a tough question. His actual on-field value is pretty low. To be brutally honest, a 36-year old, bad defensive shortstop who OPS’ed .710 would be in danger of not having a job next year.

As Yankee fans, we know he’ll be wearing pinstripes in 2011 and will likely be (over)paid upwards of $10 million/year, but we’re all hoping he bounces back with a 2009-esque season (3rd in MVP voting). It’s not out of the realm of possibility, but baseballers (especially shortstops) tend to decline in their late 30’s, not improve.

But the real question is: what is his off-field value? Do the Yankees make more money with Jeter on the team? And if so, is it enough to make up for his salary? I have a hard time believing so. If the Yankees (any team for that matter) win, the fans and money show up. The team is more important than any single player, and Yankee management seems to realize this. The fact that we haven’t heard anything about a deal being close could indicate the difficult negotiations ahead for both sides. Jeter should not get more than three years, but he probably will. The end result might be 4/60.

TNB: The Texas Rangers had control of the ALCS throughout and won in six games. What went wrong and how do the Yankees plan to fix this?

Pinstripe Alley: Three things: Colby Lewis, Phil Hughes and the lineup. Lewis managed a 1.98 ERA in two LCS starts (I think the league will catch up to him next year), Phil Hughes disappointed with an 11.42 ERA in two starts (after a 4.19 regular season ERA), and the Yankees OPS’ed .670 in the series despite leading baseball in runs scored during the regular season.

We’ve learned from personal experience that the best teams don’t always win in the playoffs. The Yankees lost four of six several times this year to teams worse than the Rangers, but it doesn’t mean that that team was better, only that they played better over a small number of games. Even the ’27 Yankees lost four of six a few times in their historic run.

This isn’t to say the Yankees were better than the Rangers. Texas, especially after acquiring Cliff Lee, probably was the better team, but winning four of six doesn’t say much to me.

Outside of going hard after Lee, the Yankees probably won’t do much else. They might shore up the bench and bullpen a bit, and Montero will get a shot to be the everyday catcher, which should give the offense a boost, but I don’t foresee much else. The Yanks won 95 games in 2010 despite poor years from Jeter, Burnett, Vazquez and Joba Chamberlain. Vazquez is gone, so assuming regressions to the mean for the other three, the additions of Cliff Lee and Jesus Montero, and 100 wins is within reach.