With most of the Yankees big moves (probably) out of the way, the remainder of the offseason will be spent discussing how the team should apportion its 25-man roster. It will be a boring and repetitious bit of discourse, and it will prove to be all but useless once the regular season arrives and the bullpen shuttle between Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and the Bronx gets moving. A random free agent signing or a surprise trade could throw that all into disarray and add a wrinkle of intrigue, but that remains to be seen. And that is why, for the time being at least, it isn't worth donating too much time and energy to.
That being said, the doldrums of the offseason are a breeding ground for fun exercises in fandom. In contemplating the Yankees roster, I began to wonder what their all-time team would look like. It's undoubtedly something that has been discussed before, and from various angles - but I'm not looking to construct the most talented team, regardless of fit. Rather, I'm interested to see what a modern team construction would look like on a historical scale. That doesn't mean that I won't take a Hall of Famer as a back-up ... but it does mean that I won't have a bench with three outfielders, players playing out of position, or a bullpen full of starting pitchers. I'm also only considering what these players did with the Yankees.
Let's jump in.
Catcher - Yogi Berra
No explanation necessary, right?
First Base - Lou Gehrig
Again, this goes without saying.
Second Base - Robinson Cano
Willie Randolph and Tony Lazzeri best Cano in bWAR (with the Yankees, at least), but Cano has both beat in peak production by a fairly comfortable margin.
Third Base - Alex Rodriguez
I can't be the only one that is shocked to hear that Rodriguez was a Yankee for longer than Graig Nettles, right? Nettles suited up in the pinstripes for 11 years, amassing 6248 PA, as compared to Rodriguez's 12 years (plus a lost year) and 6520 PA. Nettles is underrated historically, and has a great Hall of Fame case - but I can't take him over Rodriguez, who spent his first few years with the Yankees as the best player in the league.
Shortstop - Derek Jeter
Yet another no-brainer.
Left Field - Rickey Henderson
Did you know that Henderson played more games with the Yankees than any team this side of the A's? Or that, by bWAR, his best season came with them? I certainly didn't. He also hit .288/.395/.455 while averaging 15 home runs and 65 steals while he was here, and the notion of him and Jeter batting one and two in the lineup is wonderful.
Center Field - Mickey Mantle
Joe DiMaggio deserves credit for three seasons lost to World War II, but I've never understood those that take him over Mantle. DiMaggio's best season by bWAR was 1941, when he produced 9.1 on the strength of a .357/.440/.643 slash line with 30 HR (184 OPS+). Mantle had four seasons that were better by bWAR (including three of 10.5 or more), and five full seasons with a higher OPS+
Right Field - Babe Ruth
I considered sticking Ruth at DH, but that could be construed as him playing out of position given that he died twenty-plus years before that position existed. I'm sure that his bat could carry his glove, but he was an okay fielder in his 20s.
DH - Jason Giambi
Giambi's legacy is strange to say the least, but he's also 7th in Yankees history in OPS+. Reggie Jackson is ahead of him, but he didn't DH nearly as much as Giambi.
The modern bench is all about versatility, and Howard was a strong defender behind the plate (his primary position) and in the corner outfield spots. He was also a great hitter at his peak, including his MVP season in 1963, when he hit .287/.342/.528 with 28 HR and 85 RBI (141 OPS+).
McDougald played 284 games at short, 508 at third, and 599 at second and, if you believe the defensive metrics, was an above-average defender at all three positions. He played nearly every day, bouncing from position to position, and managed a 111 OPS+ along the way.
DiMaggio is the most overqualified bench player ever, but he's also a perfect fit as he can play all three outfield positions and he serves as an alternative against tough left-handed pitching.
This roster already has four players with experience at 1B (Gehrig, Mantle, Giambi, Howard), a third baseman that can play short (we have peak Rodriguez, after all) and a super-sub in McDougald - so why not add Mr. October off the bench?
Guidry is fourth among Yankees pitchers in bWAR, and his incredible 1978 season was the organization's best since the Deadball Era. His peak was relatively short, but it packed a punch. And, to be fair, this team doesn't have a slam dunk 'ace' to sit atop the rotation.
Pettitte might be the best starting pitcher in the team's history, when factoring in both peak and longevity. It's a toss-up with the next guy, to be sure.
Ford was never the best pitcher in baseball, but he was routinely among the best (not unlike the next guy).
Mussina's Hall of Fame case may have been doomed by the Yankees defense in the early to mid-2000s, as well as the presence of Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and other all-time greats as contemporaries. He adds some right-handed flavor to a lefty-heavy rotation.
Gomez is occasionally mentioned as a Hall of Fame mistake, but he was one of the best pitchers in the game at his peak, which included an 8.2 bWAR season in 1934, and a 9.4 bWAR effort in 1937. He was also a strikeout artist for his time, leading the league in K/9 twice and raw strikeouts three times.
I see that we're back into 'duh' territory.
Gossage averaged 86 IP and 3.1 bWAR in his first stint with the Yankees, and that doesn't include his 1.46 ERA in 24.2 playoff innings with the team.
Lyle was Gossage's predecessor as the Yankees' closer, albeit from the other side of the rubber. He broke the 100 IP barrier in five of his seven seasons with the Yankees.
Righetti was a solid starting pitcher from 1981 through 1983, but he was shifted to the bullpen in 1984 to replace Mr. Gossage. He threw 95-plus IP out of the bullpen over each of the next four seasons, and led the AL in saves in 1986.
In 2011, Robertson had a 399 ERA+. That marked his entry into the elite relievers in the game, a level that he stayed at for the next few years, prior to heading to Chicago.
Despite his up and down 2016, Betances still leads all relievers in fWAR over the last three seasons, and checks in at third in bWAR.
This is a weird inclusion, given that this group already has two lefties - but that didn't stop Girardi from having a LOOGY even with Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller in tow (and whom I left off the list due to their brief time with the Yankees). Stanton held lefties to a .157/.250/.157 slash line in 1997, and held his own against RHH at his best.
And so we have thirteen position players:
- Yogi Berra
- Robinson Cano
- Joe DiMaggio
- Lou Gehrig
- Jason Giambi
- Rickey Henderson
- Elston Howard
- Reggie Jackson
- Derek Jeter
- Mickey Mantle
- Gil McDougald
- Alex Rodriguez
- Babe Ruth
And a dozen pitchers:
- Dellin Betances
- Lefty Gomez
- Goose Gossage
- Whitey Ford
- Ron Guidry
- Sparky Lyle
- Mike Mussina
- Andy Pettitte
- Dave Righetti
- Mariano Rivera
- David Robertson
- Mike Stanton
What do you think about this group? Does it fit the modern idea of team construction? And is it as awesome as I think? Let us know in the comments.