Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman said he wants his team to get younger. Acquiring Cardinals center fielder Colby Rasmus would be a good place to start.
“I would like to always get younger and better,” Cashman told reporters during a conference call on Friday. “That’s the double-edged sword. I don’t want to get younger and worse. I want to get younger, but while doing so, remain championship caliber. I think that’s what we’ve been trying to accomplish the last few year[s].”
Cashman is justified in claiming that he’s injected some much needed youth into the organization since an old and injury-plagued roster failed to make the playoffs in 2008. Gone from that squad are Mike Mussina, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi, to name a few increasingly ineffective veterans.
In are CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher – all of whom were 29 or younger when acquired. Those four players, coupled with some developing youngsters such as Phil Hughes and Brett Gardner, have helped make the Yankees become more athletic over the past two seasons, and many of them played a key role in New York’s 2009 World Series victory.
But despite a concerted effort to lower the average age of the players on his roster, Cashman has extended many of his veterans as well.
The four-year, $52.4 million contract extension given to Jorge Posada before the 2008 season now looks like a mistake, and Posada is essentially incapable of playing behind the plate at this point. He’s doing little aside from blocking uber-prospect Jesus Montero – who’s also limited defensively at the catching position– and will likely have to spend the majority of 2010 at DH.
Andy Pettitte has performed very well over the past two seasons, but has spent plenty of time on the disabled list, and will be 38 when next season begins. He’s contemplated retirement several times over the past three years, and this might be the off-season where he finally hangs up his pinstripes for good.
The Yankees’ most awkward situation may soon arise in dealing with the rapidly-aging Derek Jeter, who is slated to become a free agent when the World Series ends. Jeter had the worst full season of his career in 2010, and will be 37 before next season’s All-Star Game. He’s universally expected to return to the Bronx next season, but his best days are clearly behind him, and he’s likely to have to move off of shortstop within the next two seasons as well.
Alex Rodriguez will turn 35 next season as well, and although he’s unlikely to decline offensively, his age and hip injury may start to limit his effectiveness at third base.
It seems as though the only Yankee who is immune to aging is Mariano Rivera, who at 40 years old posted one of in the best seasons of his career in 2010. The future first-ballot Hall of Famer has shown no signs of slowing down, and may have as many as four or five more good seasons left in him.
So how do the Yankees get younger while many of their core players get older?
Enter Rasmus, the Cardinals’ 23-year-old center fielder who, like so many talented youngsters before him, can’t seem to get along with Cardinals’ manager Tony LaRussa.
Despite being a terrific defender and St. Louis’ best power hitter not named Albert Pujols or Matt Holliday, LaRussa was hesitant to play Rasmus on a regular basis this season. He received just 464 at-bats, and was occasionally benched for the likes of Jon Jay and Randy Winn. Rasmus still managed to hit .273 with 23 home runs and 66 RBI’s to go alongwith 12 steals despite the inconsistent playing time, but was rumored to have asked for a trade near the end of the season – a request that didn’t sit well with many of his teammates.
Rasmus had drawn the interest of several teams – most recently the White Sox – but the Cardinals have yet to find an acceptable offer to this point.
The Yankees are more than enough talent to pull off a deal, though, and Rasmus is in many ways a perfect fit for what Cashman claims he is trying to do.
Make no mistake that Rasmus would not come cheaply. Despite the dreams of delusional fans everywhere, Gardner, Ivan Nova and Francisco Cervelli are not going to get the Cardinals to give up a potential perennial all-star.
Montero is likely off limits – and rightfully so – but the Yankees have a solid core of young pitching prospects in the mid-minors who the Cardinals are likely to find attractive. If the Bronx Bombers were to offer a package centered on Gardner, Joba Chamberlain and prospect Manny Banuelos, however, the Cardinals might be inclined to seriously listen.
If the Yankees were willing to eat the majority of his contract, perhaps A.J. Burnett could be involved in the deal as well. Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan has made a career out of righting the careers of struggling veterans, and Burnett would be aided by a move out of the AL East.
That price may initially seem to be too steep. But an outfield manned by Granderson in left, Rasmus in centerand Swisher in right would be among the best in baseball, from both an offensive and defensive standpoint.
And while it’s true that Rasmus is a left-handed hitter – something the Yankees have an abundance of –Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right field would make him a perennial 30-homer threat. Plus, the Yankees have enough switch hitters to ensure that their lineup will nearly always be a balanced one.
It’s more likely that the Yankees will stick with their modus operandi and offer big bucks to free-agent outfielders Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth this offseason. They can afford any contract, and it would prevent them from dipping into their reemerging farm system.
But if Cashman truly wants to get younger, he’s going to have to give up talent to get talent, and impact players like Rasmus don’t appear on the trade market very often.
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