SO WHAT NOW? The Yankees are at a pivotal stage. Their minor-league system has been very depleted due to a combination of Johnson and Rivera graduating to the majors, the failure of Marcus Thames and Drew Henson to progress, the Weaver trade and a few strategic injuries (most notably to Brandon Claussen). They need to get younger, especially in the pitching staff. Also, for the first time in a while, they're stuck with several bad contracts which they may find diffcult to get rid of due to the new collective bargaining agreement. Here's a preliminary mission statement. I'm not going to speculate on which players from other teams may be made available, with a few exceptions.
A - Pitching
1. Be stricter with pitch counts for all the starters. Under Torre, the Yankees' starters have (at least since about 1998) historically had the highest pitch counts in the league. That was partially due to the fact that they were the best in the league and thus didn't get knocked out early too often, but I think that they should be stricter so as to save pitches for the postseason. I can't find a link, but Thomas Boswell had a column in 2000 pointing to increased pitch counts early in the season for Mike Mussina as a reason for an early-season slump that year. Torre should look for opportunities to pull them early, and cut 10 pitches off the number he'd usually let them throw.
2. Don't commit big bucks for Roger Clemens. He's just not that good or physically reliable anymore, and already has $10.3 million coming to him from the Yankees due to the weird extension he signed a couple of years ago. If he wants much more than that, let him go.
3. Pick up Andy Pettite's option, assuming his elbow is OK. If so, open up talks on a reasonable extension. He's not a truly great pitcher (and his last few postseason starts should put the lie to any claims of his being a "big-game pitcher," but he's reliably above-average with the potential to have an outstanding season.
4. I know he has a no-trade, but I'd rather trade David Wells than El Duque. Wells was not nearly as good as his won-lost record would indicate, and I don't like his chances to have another big season. I think he will combust suddenly when the time comes.
5. Notwithstanding the above, I would trade El Duque if he can fetch good prospects. I doubt that he will, due to age and unreliability.
6. Make Sterling Hitchcock disappear. Please?
7. Notwithstanding the need for youth, I'd sign Greg Maddux if he can come at a reasonable price (and especially if money is cleared by numbers 2 and 6 above). I know he can't pitch too long in a game and has issues with the postseason, but he's still great, even if not as great as he once was. He'd be an improvement over Clemens, for example.
8. Only re-sign Mike Stanton if he'll come cheap.
9. Re-sign Ramiro Mendoza.
10. Look seriously at the Cuban defector, Jose Contreras, if he becomes a free agent. If he is good, he would represent improvement without having to give up players.
11. Play vulture: pluck the bones of franchises in chaos. The commissioner's office may not approve a vulture-like trade with Montreal, but look to Florida, a franchise with great young pitchers (if Jeff Torborg hasn't blown their arms out), clueless management and no money. A promising combination.
B - Lineup/Defense
1. Strongly consider moving Derek Jeter to third base. Seriously. Third base would utilize his strenghts (coming in on softly-hit ground balls, strong arm) while minimizing his serious weakness - very little range, especially to his left. I'm not sure who would replace him at short, though.
2. I have to see the final defensive numbers on Soriano before deciding whether his defense is so bad that he needs to be moved, but I know it's not good (especially on turning the double play). Have him work extensively on his defense (and plate discipline) in the off-season.
3. Sign Hideki Matsui. He's allegedly very good, and there are two more important reasons: 1) He wouldn;t cost players, and 2) since the Hideki Irabu misadventue a few years ago, the Yankees have essentially ceded the Pacific Rim to the Mariners and Dodgers. The Yankees cannot afford to write off an entire region and maintain their dominance. Signing Matsui can help, even if he's not quite as good as advertised. (See this Keith Olbermann piece
for a description of how the signing might work in a luxury-tax-friendly manner.)
4. Continue to reduce the number of games Giambi plays at first base in favor of Nick Johnson.
5. Move Bernie Williams to left field; his Gold Glove days are far beyond him. If not other moves are made, Juan Rivera can probably play a better center than Bernie at this point.
6. Make Rondell White and Raul Mondesi disappear. Pretty please? (As an aside, isn't it amusing how many people who ripped the Yankees for making the move out of "gluttony" are now falling over themselves to point out how bad Mondesi is now? If so, weren't the Yankees doing the rest of baseball a favor?)