Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Yanks Weakening Up The Middle, Cause For Concern?

From his perch atop the baseball blogopshere, Rob Neyer wonders if the fact that the Yankees don't have any up-and-coming stars at premium defensive positions will be their fatal flaw in years to come:
Still - and I know this is a stretch, but please bear with me - if you're looking for a small chink in the Yankee armor in the coming decade, it's that Mark Teixeira might be their best player. He'll be in his 30s, and he'll be playing first base. Ideally, your best player is a bit younger, and playing in the middle of the field. Cal Ripken. Alex Rodriguez when he played shortstop. Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench.

All of those fellows were the best players in their leagues at one point or another. Is there anyone now on the Yankees' roster with a decent shot at being the best player in the American League in 2011? One of the five best players in the league? I don't think so. Which probably won't matter much. But if one or two of the veterans falls off more than expected, it would be nice if the Yankees had a young superstar ready to step into the breach.
If Albert Puljos was the Yankees' first baseman, would the fact that he was their best player still be a chink in their armor? He plays first base and just turned 30 a month ago. The point being that Teixeira's position only counts against him in so far as it affects his level above replacement. The fact that the Yanks best player is a first baseman isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Still, Neyer's point is well taken. Historically, the two most decorated positions on the Yankees are center field and catcher. With the exception of the 1920's dynasty when they had both Ruth and Gehrig, when they were at their best, the Yankees have featured great players in both positions. Dickey and DiMaggio; Berra/Howard and Mantle; Munson and Murcer; Posada and Bernie. Add to that Rizzuto and Jeter at shortstop and the Yanks have a storied history of finding excellent talent at premium defensive positions.

Like any other team, if you can get great offensive production up-the-middle, it becomes much easier to build an offensive powerhouse. You can find good hitting first baseman or left fielders on the open market a lot easier than shortstops, center fielders or catchers.

However, well-rounded second baseman are quite valuable as well. The Yankees have been lucky to have Tony Lazzeri, Jerry Coleman, Joe Gordon and Gil McDougald in the past. Neyer either forgot about Robinson Cano or chose to disregard him. I think Cano has a chance to be one of the 5 best players in the AL in 2011. Maybe he isn't one of the best 5 players in baseball now, but he's either the best or second best second baseman in the AL and he's only 27 years old. In his good years, he's an incredible hitter for his position, plays above average defense and hopefully his best seasons are ahead of him.

Furthermore, the Yanks have placed a lot of emphasis on their pitching in recent years through both free agency and the draft. Sabathia and Burnett figure to comprise a solid foundation for the rotation well into the middle of the coming decade and hopefully Hughes and/or Chamberlain will establish themselves as better than average Major League starters.

Having a solid core of talent up the middle is a surefire way to build a winning team over the long term, but there are other ways to do it. Having above average talent at basically every position, a solid defense and a top notch pitching staff can certainly work in combination as well.


  1. Didn't the Yankees just get one of the best CF's in baseball, who is about to turn 29? Not saying he's the best player in AL, but one could make the argument that he is the best all-around CF in the league.

    How much longer 'till we can buy Hanley Ramirez?

    Whatver the Yankees can't develop on their own, they can acquire in free agency or trades. Let's say the Twins lock up Mauer, then fall out of contention for a few years. BAM, payroll relief and the Yankees trade for Joe Mauer.

  2. 2011 is only one year away. Is it crazy to assume A-Rod, Jeter and/or Texeira could still be in the discussion for top 5? How many other teams will have three players that good? I agree it's important to be strong up the middle (which the Yankees are)but to say you have to one of the top five players in the league who also happen to play up the middle to be successful is wrong. Who has that? Twins? Marlins? How many WS have they won lately? Granderson and Cano are still young and there is a lot of young catching talent in the system. The biggest question mark going forward is who eventually replaces Jeter at SS but we all know that's going to be an issue and my guess is that they'll have to look externally.

  3. David - Granderson certainly isn't a weakness in CF, but a lot of his value relies on him rebounding from a sub-par campaign last year. He was the best CF in baseball in 2007 according to WAR but in the lower reaches of the Top 10 in '08 and '09.

    I wouldn't hold your breath for other teams to give up their star players via trade or free agency. Ramirez is signed through 2014 and Mauer is likely to be locked up for longer than that. The Twins' new stadium is a good indication that they won't be casting him off the boat any time soon.

    Anon - All good points. The Yanks' biggest strength is their depth of talent. They might not have someone in the top 5 but they probably have 3 or 4 in the top 15 or 20, comfortably. Almost everyone on the team last year was a better than league average hitter with the exception of Brett Gardner. You don't need a superstar when you're getting good production from everyone and have a good pitching staff to boot. Just look at the 90's dynasty.

  4. Jay - Fair enough, but would you really rather have Rajai Davis/Ryan Sweeney/Nyjer Morgan as your CF? Granderson had a down year in 2009, but those are the guys in front of him.

    Some other guys had uncharacteristically spectacular years is 2008 (Rios, Hamilton, Upton). Would you rather have any of those three than Granderson?

    Who else would really be in the discussion for the best CF in the AL? Sizemore maybe? Hunter? Gutierrez? I'd have to say that Granderson and his .849 OPS/UZR 7.0 over the last 3 years is at least in that discussion.

  5. Munson and Murcer... when did they win anything together?

  6. Why waste any time or space responding to Mr. Neyer's inane observations? He's similar to Heyman - they just throw things out there for folks to bite on.

  7. David - I wasn't trying to say that I'd rather have Davis, Sweeny or Morgan. Granderson is obviously in the discussion for the best CF in the AL, but he's coming off a rough year and his past three UZRs in center are 12.9, -9.4 and 1.6 making him much closer to neutral than +7. (I think you might have been counting that -9.4 as a positive).

    He's certainly an asset but let's see if he regains his form before putting him at the top of the heap going forward.

    6:27 Anon - Yeah, they didn't win a World Series together but Murcer left just before they went to three straight World Series and won two. If Munson hadn't passed away, maybe he would have put them over the top when Murcer came back in '80 and '81. They were a good tandem regardless.

    6:32 Anon - Rob Neyer is far from Jon Heyman. He's consistently level-headed and makes good points but I happened to disagree with what he was saying here. Heyman, on the other hand, is more of a reporter and gets in over his skis when trying to do analysis.

  8. this may be one of the best infields of all time when its all said and done

  9. Hey there everyone, I actually sat down and interviewed Derek this past Saturday, check it out on my blog for some interesting info. Maybe a few things you haven't heard him say before too.