Andy Pettitte's franchise-crushing decision to retire has solidified the Yankees' place atop our list of winter non-winners (sounds nicer than losers, doesn't it?), a rare spot for a team that usually heads the winter winners list.
The Yankees haven't gotten to spend their full $200 million budget, so they still have significant room to add talent. But on whom? They are in a serious rotation deficit at the moment, with no real palatable options remaining.
They surely wouldn't even want to imagine things without Rafael Soriano, perhaps the most controversial signing of the winter. But thanks to that $35 million outlay for a setup man, against general manager Brian Cashman's wishes, at least they have a lockdown back-end of the bullpen. And they're going to need it.
But the Yankees have been left with their iffiest rotation in years after Pettitte called club owner Hal Steinbrenner with the news that he had decided to retire after 16 marvelous seasons. Pettitte will be recalled as one of the most consistent (he's the only pitcher ever to throw in at least 16 seasons without a losing year) and clutch (his 19 postseason victories are a record) pitchers ever.
He will also be remembered, at least in the near-term, as the man who left the Yankees with a rotation that is extremely questionable beyond ace CC Sabathia and up-and-comer Phil Hughes. A.J. Burnett, who seemed out of sorts most of last year, will be given one spot, thanks to his supreme talent (not to mention the nearly $50 million remaining on his contract), while Freddy Garcia, Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon and Sergio Mitre are in the mix for the final two spots, unless the Yankees can somehow land a premium starter.
To do so, they will have to show patience, that new trait of theirs that didn't pay off this winter. First they waited on Cliff Lee, and then on Pettitte. And they came up 0-for-2. The Yanks thought they had a good shot at both, but Lee waited on the Phillies until they came through with a $120 million, five-year deal, which represented a record-setting annual salary but still $28 million less than the Yankees guaranteed in their $148 million, seven-year offer. Then Pettitte left a $12 million offer on the table after deciding that while he felt well enough physically to pitch, he simply didn't want to go through the grind again.
And yet, Pettitte very likely has more left than some of the Yankees' winter pickups, who seem like reaches, including Colon and Mark Prior. If this were 2003, this would have been a bang-up winter performance. At least one very veteran former star, Andruw Jones, should play a useful role, as the right-handed-hitting fourth outfielder that the Yankees sought.
The roster didn't get any younger when they brought back 41-year-old superman closer Mariano Rivera and 36-year-old iconic shortstop Derek Jeter, and Jeter's return was preceded by a testy negotiation that included public put-downs by overreacting part-owner Hank Steinbrenner and a challenge by Cashman himself -- all of which seemed to annoy the very private Jeter.
The real issue, though, remains starting pitching, and Kevin Millwood is the only viable name left on the free-agent market. He's certainly a consideration, a solid veteran with a decent track record within the division despite a 4-16 record with Baltimore last year, when a groin injury plagued him. New York could also consider the trade market, which includes the overpriced Joe Blanton and the underpriced Fausto Carmona. But ultimately, the Yankees need another real marquee man. The Great Felix Hernandez heads their wish list, though the Mariners are saying for now that he isn't going anywhere.
As for where the current Yankees may be headed, if they don't improve their starting pitching situation, some wonder if their usual October trip will be scrapped.
The winners of the winter appeared in this space last week, but now is the time for more non-winners ...
• Angels. One of baseball's model franchises took a surprising turn off the tracks this offseason. After owner Arte Moreno promised to spare no expense to improve the team, they were outbid by a large margin for top target Carl Crawford, then failed to take advantage of a hometown edge for Adrian Beltre (he lives in Los Angeles) as he went to the rival Rangers. The Angels overpaid for Vernon Wells, taking all but $5 million of the $86 million remaining on one of the most absurd contracts in baseball in a deal for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera. While Wells helps, they still haven't filled their need for a leadoff man or a closer, though they did add useful relievers Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi. On the bright side, they have an improved middle of the order, they still have a very good pitching rotation and maybe the game's best manager in Mike Scioscia.
• Mets. They didn't spend $8.8 million too badly, and they certainly spread it around, what with 10 players coming for that low amount. But it's very hard to imagine that small expenditure making the difference for a team with significant needs. The Chris Young and Chris Capuano signings have a chance to help, and the Mets could surprise some folks. That is provided their talented core of Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Jason Bay remains healthy. But their pitching, with Mike Pelfrey the staff ace at least until Johan Santana returns, doesn't appear to give them a chance in a division headed by the loaded, pitching-rich Phillies. They have some obvious holes, included a clear need for a lefty reliever. Hiring Terry Collins, who hasn't managed in the bigs since 1999 and had bad breakups in Houston, Anaheim and Japan, is a gamble. They may improve over last year but it doesn't look like they have the stuff to knock the Madoff news off the back page.
• Indians. The Indians' market seems to be shrinking with their unwillingness to spend. With LeBron gone and the Browns abysmal, they appear to have an opportunity to regain fans. So what did they do? They passed. Having a hard time deciding which acquisition will have the biggest impact: Adam Everett, Austin Kearns or Joe Martinez?
• Rays. Andrew Friedman and Co. hustled and made the best of what promised from the start to be a rough winter. But while the double-play signing of ex-Idiots Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez should spark interest and bring some victories to a team that still sports a decent nucleus but suffered severe defections, there's no way to make up, in the short-term, for the losses of Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza. What's worse, Crawford and Soriano went to their two main AL East contenders. On the plus side, they've fortified themselves for the future by adding several prospects and enough draft choices to make a good-drafting team like them extremely dangerous down the road. They may yet be better than most suspect, as they often are. Jeremy Hellickson is one of a number of young Rays players who could be ready to make an impact. Still, it's hard to see them coming anywhere close to what they did last year, when they won baseball's best division.
• Mariners. They were apparently given a very small budget with which to improve a team that was one of the worst hitting clubs in decades, and they came up with a group of low-impact players, including Miguel Olivo, Brendan Ryan, Jack Cust and Adam Kennedy. They appear to be building something special in the minors, but it's hard to imagine where they'll get the production now. Making matters worse, the annually nutty Milton Bradley had a run-in with cops and Kennedy was nabbed for a DUI.
• Astros. They added infielder Bill Hall and Clint Barmes, inciting a resounding yawn. Thirty-four million seems a tad steep for Wandy Rodriguez, too.
• Cardinals. Their defense could be an issue after they acquired Ryan Theriot for shortstop and Lance Berkman for left field. The re-signed Jake Westbrook, who is solid but no world beater. Of course, all will be made right if they can get the Albert Pujols extension done.
• Twins. They remain a serious contender, and good for them that they brought back Carl Pavano, who fit there, plus the Cooperstown-bound Jim Thome. But they lost more than half the bullpen, with Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes and Jon Rauch all signing elsewhere. The return of closer Joe Nathan should help plenty, but that's still a lot of pen arms to lose. Tsuyoshi Nishioka could be interesting at either short or second, but the Twins may find themselves short a middle infielder after losing both J.J. Hardy and Nick Punto (Orlando Cabrera would make sense). Another issue is that both their main competitors, the White Sox and Tigers, improved considerably.
• Pirates. They look like they're headed for losing year No. 19 in a row after overpaying for Kevin Correia, Matt Diaz and Lyle Overbay. They have a few very good young players, though not enough. And where's the pitching? At this rate, they could easily get to 25 straight losing years. The hiring as manager of eternal optimist Clint Hurdle is a perfect fit, however.
• Giants. The world champions obviously know what they're doing, so it isn't easy to question them. But some wonder whether Miguel Tejada can still play shortstop, and it'll be especially interesting to see how Tejada, Pablo Sandoval and Pat Burrell cover the left side of the field. Aubrey Huff was a bit of an overpay at $22 million over two years, and they were stung to see postseason hero Juan Uribe go to the Dodgers. But with a full year for Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner ahead, don't bet against them.
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