Lee + Dunn = 28

Let me preface this by saying that I have zero expectation that the Yankees will sign Adam Dunn. Many have been expecting the Yankees to keep the DH slot open with the idea of rotating catchers Jorge Posada and Jesus Montero through it, along with whichever other aging superstars (cough, Alex Rodriguez, cough) may need a half day off here and there, although according to Mark Feinsand the team may be leaning more toward slotting Jorge in as DH full-time and making Montero the team’s starting catcher.

However, regardless of whether or not one believes the rotating DH to be a sound plan — not to mention the fact that, if the Yankees are indeed holding true to the company line of not increasing payroll, they won’t have money for anyone else after re-signing Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte and (hopefully) bringing Cliff Lee aboard — or if you’re interested in Jorge Posada as the full-time DH, this is the offseason, a time of year full of rampant speculation and irresponsible rumormongering, and I’m not going to let little things like DH rotations, hypothetical payroll limitations and a 38-year-old catcher stop me from continuing to salivate over the thought of Dunn in pinstripes.

Longtime readers are well aware of my Adam Dunn fixation. I’ve been calling for the Yankees to reel the Big Donkey in for two years now, and though they didn’t heed my cry back in the 2008-2009 offseason, the fire was re-lit when several reports linked the team to Dunn leading up to the trade deadline last July. The Yankee ultimately determined that whatever the Washington Nationals were asking for was too cost-prohibitive, and they ended up landing Lance Berkman instead. Big Puma was adequate at DH — though his power mostly evaporated — and the Yankees aren’t expected to bring Fat Elvis back after declining his $15 million option. But we’ll get back to designated hitter momentarily.

As we all know, the Yankees’ primary offseason target is Cliff Lee. We’ve spent so much time talking about Lee this season that at this point I’m not sure what else there is to say other than I really hope the Yankees get him. As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, Lee has a pretty good case for having been the best pitcher in baseball during the last three seasons, and basically every stat on his ledger is utterly eye-popping. Just for fun, here’s what the presumed 2011 Yankee rotation would look like with Cliff Lee in it:

Pretty, ain’t it? Teaming CC Sabathia at the top of the Yankee rotation with Lee might be the closest thing anyone’s come to the Randy Johnson-Curt Schilling two-headed monster of the 2001 Diamondbacks, and we all remember how that went down.

If the Yankees don’t sign Lee, I’m not really sure I want to even think about an alternative, unless it includes giving Joba Chamberlain another shot in the rotation, which at this point is less likely than the Royals winning the World Series next season. In any event, Lee is quite possibly the most “must-sign” free agent I can ever recall thinking the Yankees needed.

Incredibly, I didn’t feel quite the same way about Sabathia two years ago. Coming off the brutal pitching performances of the Yankees’ 2008 rotation I have no idea what I was thinking, but I distinctly remember feeling that the Yankees would be OK without CC. Holy heck was I wrong. This time I won’t make the same mistake twice: quite simply, they have to sign Cliff Lee if they want to return to the World Series in 2011, and I don’t care how much money or years it takes. I would not be surprised at all if the Yankees ended up giving Lee something like a 6-year, $150 million contract ($25M AAV). And it’ll be worth every penny if they do, as Lee’s been worth an average of $30 million a year during the last three years. Pay the man.

Getti
ng back to the DH, this is the one area the team can make a significant upgrade on offense without having to bestow yet another $100 million contract. Forget about Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth — the Yankees’ outfield was worth 13.1 fWAR, and Brett Gardner (a season worth $21.6M per Fangraphs), Curtis Granderson ($14.3M, worth $0.3M more than Mark Teixeira‘s 2010 season) and Nick Swisher ($16.4M) all provided more value than they were paid. Sure, wondering whether Brett Gardner has another season like 2010 in him is a legitimate concern, but he more than quelled my doubts and I’m comfortable giving him another year as the starting left-fielder. I’d expect Granderson to be much better in 2011, and while Swisher probably won’t have another career year, I’d still expect him to be good for no worse than a mid-.360s wOBA.

Adam Dunn won’t be cheap — after a 2010 season worth $15.5M, he may be due for a slight raise on the two-year, $20M deal he signed with the Nats, but not much of one. For a guy who is really only a DH — despite the fact that he’s expressed a preference for staying in the NL so he can continue being the biggest butcher in the field the game of baseball has to offer — I’d have to think something in the neighborhood of two years, $24 million gets it done. The Red Sox just exercised David Ortiz‘s $12.5M option, after a year in which he was the most valuable DH in the AL putting up 3.3 fWAR (for a season worth $13.2M) and a .380 wOBA. Dunn finished with a ,379 wOBA, his lowest mark since 2006, but still a fine mark, and significantly higher than the .342 mark the Yankees got out of the position in 2010.

Again, I realize the primary counterargument against Dunn, aside from the question of whether the Yankees want to expand the payroll even further and whether a DH is even worth $12M/year, is the aforementioned desire to keep the DH slot open or give it to Posada. However, even if you stash Posada at DH for 100-120 games (with perhaps some catching duties here and there) he’s not going to produce at an Adam Dunn level. Given the Yankees’ aging core of players, even if a few players have bounceback years (Alex Rodriguez and Tex, to name two), you have to figure the players who put up out-of-this-world numbers (Robinson Cano and Swisher) — not to mention the guys who just aren’t getting any younger (Posada and Jeter) — are due for a bit of a decline. To paraphrase my dear buddy and sometime Yankeeist contributor Scott “Skip” Kutscher, signing a monster DH like Dunn would go a long way to hedging against the expected regression of a good portion of that Yankee lineup. Do you know how many Yankees put up a better wOBA than Adam Dunn in 2010? One.

Ultimately I expect the Yankees to sign Lee, and Lee only. And that will be a glorious day indeed. However, if they really want to go all out and be the prohibitive favorites for championship #28 in 2011, they’d go out and get both Lee and Dunn.

6 thoughts on “Lee + Dunn = 28

  1. Davey

    I didn't know Adam Dunn was pregnant! Mazel Tov!

  2. Dunn does have a swing made for Yankee Stadium, but the Yankees don't need more power. They just need the guys they have now to hit like they did in 2009 — including in October, Alex!

    Cliff Lee is just 26-22 the last 2 regular seasons. He's had 2 incredible seasons, and neither 2009 nor 2010 was one of them. When I was a kid (the 1980s), there was saying: "Never give up on a lefthander before he's 31." Lee is 32, and he's not going to be for anyone in 2011, or ever again, what he was for Cleveland in 2005 and 2008. Face it: The reason he was hyped so much these last 2 seasons is that he beat the Yankees in the postseason. But he was 0-2 in this year's World Series against a Giant team that, let's be honest, was very good but hardly overwhelming with the lumber.

    Better to try to talk Andy Pettitte into coming back for one more season, and getting A.J. Burnett back on track, and getting Dustin Moseley or Ivan Nova ready to fill the 5th spot that Javier Vazquez will (hopefully) never take again — or both Moseley and Nova in case either Andy doesn't come back or A.J. keeps downsliding. Then we can use the money we don't spend on Lee on the proven Yankees, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. After all, they've won several World Series. Lee has never won one.

  3. UM – "Cliff Lee is just 26-22 the last 2 regular seasons. He's had 2 incredible seasons, and neither 2009 nor 2010 was one of them."

    This is flat out incorrect. Please check out this link and review it carefully:

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/l/leecl02.shtml

    Money and duration of contract are always valid concerns. However, to question Lee's ability over the past few seasons is nonsense. The Yankees would undeniably be a better team next year with Lee than without.

  4. Anonymous

    Getting aj burnett back on track??

    That track has left the buliding…

  5. Skippy

    That Uncle Mike comment MUST be satire. Who could possibly be pro AJ Burnett and anti Cliff Lee? More, he draws incorrect conclusions from small sample sizes, refers to "proven" Yankees, and even makes time to knock a-rod's playoff hitting. It's too much, there's nobody who thinks like this in 2010. It can't be real.

  6. Anonymous

    Mark Warren,

    UM – Cliff Lee went 26-24 the past 2 regular seasons, as you kindly directly us to view via baseball-reference.com – I don't think saying "26-22" qualifies as being "flat out incorrect"

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