Mike has already discussed his desire to see John Lackey in pinstripes, and while that would give the Yankees a very strong top three in the rotation, it also seems unlikely given Lackey's age, salary demands and the crop of free agent pitchers hitting the market one year from now (which includes one Leroy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Josh Beckett, among others).
As we all know, the Yankees' initial focus this winter is on figuring out which of their own free agents to re-sign. As long as Andy Pettitte decides to continue playing, I certainly expect to see the big Texan back in pinstripes for one more year, probably at around $10 million guaranteed.
The Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui conundrum has been a bit more vexing. My personal preference is to bring both back, although it seems the general sentiment across the Yankee blogosphere is that if the team determines it can only re-sign one, they should go with Damon, primarily due to his ability to also play the field (albeit not particularly well).
This is probably the right move, although I would have a hard time seeing Matsui in another team's uniform. Both Matsui and Damon were signed for four-year, $52 million deals prior to the 2006 season. Let's take a quick look at the value (in millions) these dual $13 million men have provided during their most recent respective Yankee contracts, as per FanGraphs.
Damon's average value during the duration of his contract was $12.4 million. Matsui's was $6.9 million. Matsui was also injured for much of the first year of his deal and missed a chunk of 2008. Bill James is projecting Damon to post a .348 wOBA next year. Damon's .376 in 2009 was the third-highest total of his career and a plateau he never even reached during his four years with the Red Sox. Matsui's wOBA was .378 in 2009; James projects less of a decline for Matsui in 2010 than Damon, at .366.
So what are Damon and Matsui's services worth to the Yankees in 2010? Given that Damon is apparently looking for Bobby Abreu money, it sounds like Johnny is probably back with the Yankees at $10 million per for two years, which will probably be a bit of an overpay, but a better deal than committing long-term money to equally terrible fielder Jason Bay, who is 31 years old and already turned down four years and $15 million from Boston.
I have been mostly dismissive of the prospect of bringing Matt Holliday in to play left, primarily due to the length and dollar amount of the contract it will require. Scott Boras is looking for Teixeira money for Holliday, which I don't see happening even if Holliday's 2009 was worth $25.6 million. I'd also been a bit of a skeptic as far as Holliday's ability to be as productive a player in the AL East, primarily due to the talent disparity between the leagues as well as the fact that I admittedly haven't really seen Holliday play all that much.
However, I've recently started to rethink my stance somewhat on Matt Holliday. Contrary to popular belief, Holliday actually wasn't terrible on the A's -- his time in Oakland was skewed by a poor April (.286 wOBA) but he ended up producing at a much more substantial rate in the ensuing months (.389 and .364 in May and June, respectively). Bill James is projecting a .396 wOBA for Holliday in 2010, which would hypothetically be the third-highest on the team after A-Rod and Tex.
There's been a lot of assumptions about what the Yankees will or will not do as far as expanding payroll, subtracting payroll, willingness to sign up yet another player long-term for a bloated contract, but the truth of the matter is, none of us really know what the team's real intentions are this offseason. Brian Cashman may tell the media the Yankees aren't seriously in on any of the major free agents, but then again we all thought Teixeira was Boston-bound last December.
If the Yankees were able to sign Holliday up at something like 5 years, $20 million per, they'd obviously do it in a heartbeat, as a 3/4/5 of Tex/A-Rod/Holliday looks pretty lethal on paper. While it seems unlikely that Boras would accept a mere $100 million package for this winter's prize client, it's hard to envision too many other teams opening up the vault and tying up a roster spot for seven-plus years for a guy who is entering his age 30 season and has never really been considered an "elite" player. The Angels have already publicly declared they will not be pursuing Holliday.
Signing Holliday would take care of left field for the forseeable future, allow Austin Jackson to continue to develop (assuming he has yet to reach his potential and that he's still with the team come spring) and more than replace Damon's offensive output. Going back to last week for a second, if the Yankees were also to pull off a trade for Curtis Granderson, how does a lineup of Jeter/Swisher/Teixeira/Rodriguez/Holliday/Matsui/Posada/Granderson/Cano sound? Pretty good, huh? Yea, that's right, I tossed Swisher in the two hole. That's some insane OBP in the first five batters right there.
Like Damon, Matsui's probably also worth about $10 million, and given his inability to exceed the average annual value of any year of his last deal, should be happy to get that number if the the Yankees offer it. While I'd welcome Matsui back with open arms, if the Yankees do decide to cut ties then they better go out and get a real DH. I can't stand this idea of "needing to keep the DH available to rest the veterans." That's pretty much the stupidest thing I've ever heard, and there's no way a team as offensively-oriented as the Yankees is going to punt a lineup slot because some people seem to think that Jeter, A-Rod or Posada -- guys who have been playing both offense and defense for their entire careers -- might need half a game off every few days.
If Matsui leaves, the best available option would be Vlad Guerrero, who the Yankees should have signed in 2004 instead of Gary Sheffield. Wanna know what the Angels got from Vlad in '04, '05 and '06? wOBAs of .414, .401 and .387. Sheffield was very good in his first two years in pinstripes (.391 and .384), but definitely not Vlad-good. While Vlad appeared to have lost a step or two this year, posting the lowest full-season wOBA of his career, he looked pretty alive in the ALCS against the Yanks, and James has him bouncing back to the tune of a .377 wOBA. I really haven't read much about Vlad so far this offseason, although supposedly the Rangers are interested. If Matsui leaves and Vlad can be had for $3-5 million plus incentives that the linked post mentions, I don't see how the Yankees could pass on Guerrero at that price.
Echoing my man Skip, the only other candidate I'd love to see at DH is Adam Dunn, but unfortunately that ship sailed last year. I was beating the drum hard for Dunn all of last winter, assuming that Matsui was washed up (happy to be wrong on that one, by the way), but most opponents of Dunn didn't think there was a place for him on the roster.
Somehow I think the Yankees could have figured out a way to get Dunn and his .394 wOBA into the lineup. The Big Donkey hit exactly 40 home runs for the fifth time in his career (and has six 40-home-run years in eight full seasons), and it's hard to imagine how gaudy that total would have looked had he played 81 games in new Yankee Stadium. I have no idea what the Nationals would want from the Yankees in a trade for Dunn, and I don't care to speculate since they could have had Dunn for just money a year ago.
In conclusion, if the Yankees re-sign Damon and Matsui, I'd expect similar $10 million salaries, and the same lineup the team featured in 2009. If they only re-up Damon, then they sure as hell better be on Vlad. If they let Damon walk but take Matsui back, they need to figure out what to do with a gaping hole in left field, because shifting Melky over and starting Gardner for all 162 games in center is not the way to repeat as World Series champions.
If the Yankees let both Damon and Matsui walk and fill their needs via the best available free agents (and upgrade their weakest position on the field via trade) we could be in for a 2010 lineup of:
That looks ridiculous, and almost certainly won't happen, but it's kinda fun to think about.