This is a guest post from friend of the blog Jamal Granger, available on twitter at @JamalGR.
“I do stress Plan B is patience,” said Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman of the reaction to the second Cliff Lee non-acquisition in less than six months. As of right now, Jorge De La Rosa, Zack Greinke, Hiroki Kuroda, Lee, Ricky Nolasco and Jake Westbrook – all decent-to-great options to fill out the Yankees’ rotation – have been taken off the market by signings or trade. With such a dearth of inspiring or even adequate options on the starting pitching market, Yankees fans have seemingly been befuddled by what Cashman and the Front Office have done and what they plan to do. This is for good reason, as a 2011 swan song by Andy Pettitte would still leave this rotation in need of aid.
During the 2007-08 off-season, Johan Santana dominated the hot stove rumor mill. As the ink was drying on the Mets’ nine-figure extension of the 29-year-old lefty, many wondered how could the Yankees, a team that felt the need to pay a 44-year-old Roger Clemens a pro-rated $28MM salary just months prior, pass up an opportunity to acquire such an asset? Simple: patience. Cashman saw that he had another prime-aged southpaw ready to hit the free-agent market in a year’s time and felt waiting was the opportune course of action. Now that Lee has signed with the Phillies, the Yankees’ GM is employing a strategy well known to draft junkies: B(est)P(lan)A(vailable).
In the 2012-13 off-season, Chad Billingsley, Matt Cain, John Danks, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels and Francisco Liriano will all be free agents. Their 2013 ages, you ask? I am delighted to inform that Billingsley, Cain and Danks will be entering their age-28 campaigns and age 29 for Greinke, Hamels and Liriano. A half-dozen prime-aged aces all hitting the free-agent market at the same time. Just thinking about this makes me giddy, but as The Wolf taught us in Pulp Fiction, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. Anything from the signing of an extension (personally, I don’t expect any of the four to do so, but the possibility is not remote) to injury could put a wet blanket on this scenario in a cocaine heartbeat.
What about the 2011 and 2012 seasons, though? For argument’s sake, we will assume CC Sabathia will remain with the team, whether by not opting out or doing so and getting the Yankees to retain him. That leaves Hughes and Burnett as the only other safe bets to be in the rotation during these upcoming seasons. With a hopeful return of Pettitte in 2011 and a bushel of starting pitching prospects in the upper levels of the farm system ready to join the core of this rotation, this team can and should remain a contender for those (gasp!) bridge years. If you remember, the 2008 Yankees, despite the injuries to Joba Chamberlain, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez and Chien-Ming Wang, and off years by Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter, were three games back in the loss column to the wild-card leading Red Sox as late as August 8th of that season. Essentially, that was a playoff-caliber squad even though it was obvious to some that Cashman saw it as a transition year.
Can you deal with the Yankees merely being the wild card favorites for 2011 and possibly 2012 instead of the division favorites? These two years can be used to allow Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman to mature; Brett Marshall and Bryan Mitchell to establish themselves as legit prospects; Hughes to realize his full potential. Remember, this team still has prime-aged players in the field (Cano, Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin, Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira) and on the mound (Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, David Robertson and Sabathia) and MLB-ready prospects (Jesus Montero and Ivan Nova) that are likely to play significant roles in 2011. Right now, the Red Sox are definitely a better team in the near future, but the Yankees are definitely a better team than the Rays and everyone else in the league, making them clear contenders.
Cashman is selling patience to us once again. It was clear what the endgame was back in the winter of 2007-08; even though our patience may have to last an extra year, the endgame is just as clear: Billingsley (28), Cain (28), Danks (28), Greinke (29), Hamels (29) and Liriano (29).