Today, I’m releasing the first installment of a new series I’ll be starting here at Fire Brand. From time to time, I’ll check in with other writers within the baseball blogosphere to discuss their team, an upcoming series with the Red Sox, or just general baseball happenings. My first guest (read: victim) will be Matt Imbrogno, the Editor-in-Chief of the outstanding site Yankee Analysts. If you don’t already read their work reguarly, I highly suggest doing so immediately. It’s one of the two or three “must read” sites for all things Yankee related. As part of the interview exchange, Matt has also agreed to ask me a five questions about the Red Sox’s offseason and my expectations for the 2012 season. To read what I had to say, click here.
Before we jump into the interview, I just wanted to thank Matt for not only approaching me about doing this, but also taking the time to answer a few questions about the Yankees.
Chip Buck: With the acquisitions of Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda, the Yankees have rebuilt their rotation with enviable depth. What are your expectations for the Yankees new additions? How do the Yankees sort out the back end of the rotation where Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett, and Freddy Garcia are all fighting it out for the fifth spot?
Matt Imbrogno: The nice thing about trading for Pineda and signing Kuroda is that it not only lengthens the rotation, but gives it some more stable talent. Going into 2012, the rotation was a bit of a mirror image of the one we see up in Boston. While the Yankees had considerable depth, there was a complete lack of upside and high-end talent in the non-CC Sabathia division, whereas the Red Sox had (have) a great top three, but lack a bit of depth. Pineda gives them supreme upside at a very controlled cost, and Kuroda is an upgrade over every pitcher not named “Sabathia” or “Pineda” in the rotation. As for expectations, I always try to temper them with anyone, especially new acquisitions. For Kuroda, I don’t expect him to rock a low 3’s ERA like he did the last two years in Los Angeles, but I expect him to be his normal self: throw 180+ innings, miss some bats, and generate some ground balls. Pineda brings a lot more talent, so naturally my expectations are a bit higher. His fly ball tendencies have me a bit worried, but not all fly balls are created equally and the fact that he misses a lot of bats allays most of my worries.
There are a few different ways they can go with the back end. If they want to go with upside, they’ll go with Hughes. His upside is surely limited at this point, but of the three options, he’s got the most, no matter how small. If they want to try to squeeze every ounce of value out of a bad contract, they’ll roll with Burnett. Ironically enough, he’s probably the safest bet to go 180+ innings and there is some value there. And if they want to go with predictability, they can roll with Garcia in the fifth spot. I’ve mostly been in the Garcia camp, but lately, I’m finding myself siding more with Hughes. Perhaps it’s prospect nostalgia, but despite the lack of consistent secondary offerings, I’m still of the mind that Phil deserves one more try as a full time starter. If that’s the way they go, I could see Garcia as the long man and Burnett as a one-inning bullpen arm, as his stuff will likely play well there (but I’d look into trading him first, just because he’d be far down the list of bullpen options).
CB: With Jorge Posada retiring and Jesus Montero being traded, the Yankees have an open spot at designated hitter. What is their plan for filling the role? Will they look to acquire a veteran player like Raul Ibanez or Jason Giambi, or will they use the DH as a rotating slot to rest veteran players?
MI: Publicly, the Yankees have said that they’re going to try and go the trade route to fill the DH hole, but I don’t think there’s much out there. Giambi probably wouldn’t cost much, but is the minimal prospect cost worth it to the Rockies? Probably not. There was a vague rumor floated around a while ago about swapping Phil Hughes and others for Billy Butler of the Royals, but that never got legs and I wouldn’t believe it anyway. Without Carlos Pena, the free agent DH market is pretty thin, with Johnny Damon and Ibanez as the best members of that club. I’m not wholly supportive of bringing either player in, but I have a feeling we’re going to see Damon back in pinstripes if they do decide to go against the rotating DH…which I hope they do. Using the DH as a “resting spot” for older players is irritating because the employment of that strategy requires the team to play an inferior bat/glove like Eduardo Nunez when either Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter gets a day off. While I don’t want it, I have a nagging fear that this is what’s going to happen. If that does happen, I’m hoping it will be temporary and the team will go shopping for a DH come trade deadline time.
CB: It’s been mentioned several times this winter that the Yankees core is aging. On Opening Day, Mariano Rivera will be 42, Derek Jeter will be 37, and Alex Rodriguez will be 36. What effect (if any) will this have on the Yankees ability to maintain the high level of success they’ve experienced over the past 16 years?
MI: The aging of the position players scares me than that of Rivera. If (when) Rivera retires after this year, there are plenty of guys to replace him. Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, and Joba Chamberlain could close going forward. The emotional/mental drop off from Rivera to one of those guys will be bigger than the production drop off. The aging of position players, though, is what gave me pause about the trading of Jesus Montero. Going forward, the Yankees will need young, impact bats to offset the aging/expensive bats that are in the lineup currently. But, the Yankee philosophy seems to be ‘develop pitching, buy hitting,’ even if they haven’t been so great at the first part of that in the last few years. As for the current season, I’m not terribly worried. I’ve ridden Jeter hard the last few years, but he’s still an average-or-better hitter for his position. Rodriguez’s health is always a concern, but he’s top notch when he’s out there. The lineup now, though, is less reliant on Rodriguez and Jeter than it was just a few seasons earlier. Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano provide excellent offense from premium positions and have become the offensive leaders of the team. As for Mo, I can’t remember the last time I worried about Mariano Rivera; in fact, I don’t think I ever have. Of course there is always uncertainty when looking ahead more than a season, but I think the Yankees are still in a good position to compete and succeed. If we’re talking 2012, I think they’re no worse than the third best team right now.
CB: Tell me about a few of your favorite Yankee prospects. Do you think anyone will take a huge step forward this year? Is there anyone you think might be called up later in the season to play a key role in driving the club into the playoffs?
MI: With the loss of Jesus Montero (pardon me while I go have a sobbing fit), the Yankees are left without a lot of big bats in the minors…at least ones that are close to Major League ready. Outfielder Mason Williams made a huge splash in the New York-Penn League last year, and is probably the best Yankee hitting prospect. Gary Sanchez is a catcher in the Jesus Montero mold in that he can mash, but his long term position is in doubt (he’s had some maturity issues, but is the real deal when he’s at the plate). Dante Bichette, Jr. raked in the Gulf Coast League and (sort of) answered questions about his status as a first round pick, as many thought that was an overdraft. Jose Campos, who came over from Seattle, is a pitcher we should all keep an eye on as well. The entire Charleston RiverDogs team (Low-A) should be a blast to watch in 2012.
CB: Much has been made about the Yankees desire to cut payroll enough to stay under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2013. Do think it’s necessary? Do you think that’s even possible? If so, what does Brian Cashman and the front office need to do to ensure this happens?
MI: Considering how much money the Yankees print, I mean make, going “austere” (I use the term very liberally) may not be all that necessary. But, that doesn’t mean it’s not desirable. From my understanding, they stand to get a pretty big refund from the luxury tax if they do get to that $189M mark. Getting under it might be hard, considering the crop of free agent pitcher’s that’s going to be around after this season. To get under the mark, they’ll need to be very discerning about whom to give long/big contracts to. But, more than anything, the Yankees do want to win. I think they’ll do all they can to get under $189M, even if that includes letting some players go. If there’s a player out there, though, who can make them a lot better, I think they’ll take a shot at him. I’m hoping that, regardless of this budget concern, the Yankees make a big run at Cole Hamels. Aside from him, though, I would assume the Yankees won’t be in the business of offering long term contracts to free agents. They’ll likely approach things like they did this offseason by either looking for one year deals (Kuroda) or going for controlled guys (Pineda) in trades. That’ll help them keep current costs down and will allow them to be unburdened with long term deals. Of course, if it were up to me, I’d just go ahead and sign Hamels and Zack Greinke for the hell of it.
Matt Imbrogno is a certified-but-unemployed English teacher from Greenwich, CT. He’s been writing about the Yankees since 2008 and is currently the Editor in Chief of the Yankee Analysts, and you can follow him on Twitter at @mimbro1.