It’s January 5th and the Yankees have yet to do anything of significance to improve the current roster. Perhaps now that the holiday season has come and gone, things can get moving again so bloggers like us can resume publishing currently relevant content. Instead, today we offer something different that stems from a Twitter discussion yesterday.
Thought exercise: You can pick one former Yankee (must be retired, not just on another team) and one year of his career (must be a year on the Yankees) and assign it to the 2021 team. Based on NEED, not just who had the best year, who do you pick and why? Post-integration, pls.— Views from 314ft (@ViewsFrom314ft) January 4, 2021
The four of us (Randy, Matt, Bobby, and Derek) are doing a quick draft based on this question with a couple of additional stipulations. One, we’re whittling in down to players in our lifetimes. Additionally, it’s a one year assignment, so whoever we pick has no bearing on the Yankees in 2022 and beyond. With that, let’s get to the draft.
Randy: 2011 CC Sabathia
Heading into the 2021 season, starting rotation depth is the Yankees’ most significant area of need. At its best, I believe the rotation’s current iteration can make substantial contributions to a title run. There is certainly room for improvement. An old friend comes to the rescue.
With the first pick in the Yankees Alum Draft, I select the 2011 CC Sabathia season. The player is prominent, but the season may not be the first one we think of when it comes to the former Yankees ace. CC won a title in 2009 and followed it up with a great campaign in 2010. His best season in pinstripes may have come in 2011. Sabathia finished that season with a 71 DRA-, a 2.91 FIP, and the second-highest K/9 of his Yankees career at 8.7. He did this over 237.1 innings.
CC would provide the 2021 Yankees with elite-level performance with an incredible work rate. He is the perfect left-handed compliment to Gerrit Cole and allows the team time to ease Luis Severino back into the rotation. CC also takes a considerable burden off the bullpen. Imagine a playoff scenario where Chad Green, Zack Britton, and Aroldis Chapman could pitch virtually every game because the rotation’s front end saved them innings. A Cole/CC rotation would be devastating.
I was very close to choosing 2002 Jason Giambi. Despite many fans (and seemingly the team) wanting to downplay its importance, this Yankees core’s playoff history desperately calls for a power lefty bat. Giambi would fit the bill perfectly. He posted a 165 DRC+ with 41 home runs. I would gladly take that performance into a deep playoff run. I usually cringe at the question, “well, where would X player play?” It is an inquiry that doesn’t acknowledge the natural attrition of a baseball season. Depth is key. But for the sake of this exercise, we have to assume health, so it’s hard to see Giambi getting close to 700 plate appearances like he did in 2002. — Randy
Matt: 1999 Derek Jeter
If you’ve followed this site and/or the podcast, you know that something we’ve harped on for a long time the Yankees; lack of middle-infield depth. That demon is about to rear its ugly head in 2021 if the Yankees don’t re-sign DJ LeMahieu. Gleyber Torres is likely a lot better than he as in 2020–on both sides of the ball–but staring down the barrel of a “Starting Second Baseman Tyler Wade” gun is not palatable in the least. With that in mind, I went against my initial instincts which told me to pick a pitcher, mainly any of CC Sabathia’s 2009-12 seasons or Mike Mussina’s 2001 or Andy Pettitte’s 1997. Instead, I went with a middle infielder: Derek Jeter and his 1999 season.
What Jeter did that year would’ve been great for any position, let alone a shortstop. He set career highs in…just about everything, hitting an absurd .348/.439/.552/.989, good for a 153 OPS+ and a .428 wOBA/156 wRC+. Inside of all that, he walked 91 times, socked 24 homers, and drove in 102. For good measure, he also added 9 triples. And despite less-than-favorable defensive numbers, he managed 8.0 bWAR and 7.4 fWAR. Pretty damn good! I wonder how long it’ll be before we see a Yankee shortstop match those numbers (2021, please, Gleyber?)
For a team that has a (slight) question mark at short and a cringy option at second, an all-time great middle infield season would help relieve a lot of pressure by solidifying shortstop, moving Torres to second, and Wade to the bench. Yeah, Jeets. — Matt
Bobby: 1997 Andy Pettitte
This was tougher than I expected it to be, but ultimately it came down to two options: Andy Pettitte’s 1997 season or Mike Mussina’s 2001 campaign. Both were phenomenal, for slightly different reasons. (In a distant third was Jorge Posada’s 2007…but while a guaranteed 154 wRC+ from the catcher position was tantalizing, it wasn’t enough to overcome the pitching need.) I chose Pettitte.
The Yankee southpaw posted a 2.88 ERA (2.96 FIP) in 240.1 innings in his third full season as a professional. His strikeout rate (16.8%) was below average for the era, but everything else would translate to 2021: low walks, soft contact, and absolutely no home runs. He allowed just 7 home runs in 240.1 innings pitched, a huge reason why he posted the best season of his career. The game has changed since then, sure, but this is nonetheless an astounding achievement in the steroid-era American League.
It’s easy to imagine how far the Yankees would go in 2021 if they had a lefty counterpart to Gerrit Cole with that sort of season. That sort of effectiveness saves the bullpen and provides another ace atop the rotation. It’s enough to carry the Yankees back to a socially distanced Canyon of Heroes. — Bobby
Derek: 2001 Mike Mussina
I think there are two clear needs for the 2021 team: starting pitching and another middle infielder. And while I’m not keen on Tyler Wade as the team’s starting second baseman (for the moment), shoring up the team’s rotation is pivotal. And don’t get me wrong, I do like the young arms the team has internally already. But there just isn’t enough certainty with the pitching staff, so my pick raises the floor significantly behind Gerrit Cole.
Even with CC and Pettitte off the board, I’m left with a pretty good option in Moose. His first season with the Yankees proved to be his best in pinstripes, though he certainly had other good years for the team. In 2001, Mussina made 34 starts and recorded a 3.15 ERA and 2.92 FIP in 228.2 innings. All that was good for fifth place in American League Cy Young voting. Yeah, that’ll play in this year’s rotation.
I also considered 2012 Robinson Canó here, though the need for pitching obviously won out. Robbie would fit in just fine as LeMahieu’s replacement at second base while offering lefty lineup balance to boot. That year, Canó batted .313/.379/.550 (149 wRC+) with 33 homers and strong glovework. He finished fourth in MVP voting and won a Gold Glove. — Derek