Yankees quiet off-season no cause for concern

Mets ink Wagner to $43 million deal…Marlins ship Delgado to Mets…Red Sox land Beckett in blockbuster…Ryan signs $47 million contract with Blue Jays…Phillies, White Sox swap Thome, Rowand…Phillies eye Gordon to close…Indians pursue Hoffmann…

The off-season headlines just keep on coming, and they all have one thing in common: No mention of the Bronx Bombers’ involvement in any potential blockbuster move. Sure, Brian Giles’ name has been thrown around, but the former San Diego outfielder will probably stay on the West Coast. Outside of Hideki Matsui’s contract negotiations which ended two weeks, it’s been a quiet off season for the Yankees.

For many Yankee fans, a quiet off-season is cause for concern. The Red Sox, the panicked among us say, have loaded up on a new young arm and a third baseman. The Mets have made a ton of moves, and GM Omar Minaya has a potential trade with the Red Sox for a certain Washington Heights native on the horizon. The Blue Jays have issued a statement to the American League East and could end this off-season with A.J. Burnett and Kevin Mench joining their squad north of the border. Even the Devil Rays have gotten in on the action, signing young outfielder Rocco Baldelli to a contract extension.

Over at Bronx Banter, readers commenting to Alex Belth’s most recent post have called upon the Yankees just to do something. Trade Robinson Cano. Send Chien Ming-Wang west for Barry Zito. Say good bye to Jorge Posada. Offer Tom Gordon another year. But just do something.

I say, hold your horses. A quiet off-season while others are active is no cause for concern. And while some people are already inking in the Yankees for a third-place finish in the American League East, I say this throwing-in-the-towel mentality is utterly misguided.

First, with an offensive team like the Yankees, it’s hard to give up in the middle of November. At this point in the off-season, the Yankees still have an offense built around Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi, Robinson Cano, and Jorge Posada. While everyone will be another year older, production will hardly decline. This group, handicapped by nearly 350 Tony Womack plate appearances, was the core of an offense that scored 886 runs last year, second only to the Red Sox.

The starting rotation too is seemingly in place. The Yanks still have a rotation fronted by Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina with Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, Shawn Chacon, Chien Ming-Wang, and Aaron Small all in the wings. While those seven starters don’t exactly inspire the same confidence in a fan as, say, the White Sox starters or Yankee rotations from the late 1990s do, there’s more certainty in the Yankees’ rotation than there is in Boston where Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon, and Tim Wakefield’s 4.00+ ERA are the only sure things. How will Curt Schilling, another year older, bounce back? How was Matt Clement bounce back after taking one to the head and never being the same? Will Bronson Arroyo put it together for a season? Will the Sox let him? Will David Wells ship out to the West Coast?

Meanwhile, the Red Sox are also looking at a scenario where they are left with no Manny Ramirez whose career .314/.409/.599 make him virtually irreplaceable from anyone in the history of the game. They may not have their table setter Johnny Damon and may have to turn to a less-than-ideal situation at first base.

This is of course not to say that the Red Sox are going to be bad next year. I expect them to compete evenly with the Yanks. But one trade does not an off-season or a World Series title make.

At this point, the Yankees need to shore up their bullpen and find someone to stick in center field. I think Tom Gordon will sign with the Phillies for an inexplicable (for Philadelphia) three years to close. I have little faith in Gordon’s abilities to pitch effectively for three years and even less faith in his abilities to close. Other appealing relief options Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry have signed on with the Cubbies. So the Yanks may have to improvise and cross their fingers.

But in the end, it’s still just November and opening day is a long time away. Don’t count out the Yankees when they still have one of the game’s best offense and a deep rotation even if it’s deep with 3-4-5 hurlers instead of 1-2 starters. Rivera will still be closing games, and Derek and A-Rod will still be leading off. Things just aren’t that bad right now in Yankee-land.

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