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The Justice Column: Playing virtual GM

If I were general manger, here's how I'd reshape the Yankees for 2009
10/06/2008 10:27 AM ET
By David Justice / As told to Jon Lane

Steven Goldman says that although you may not agree with all of Brian Cashman's decisions, you have to give the Yankees general manager credit for having more 100-win seasons than most GMs. (AP)
By keeping Brian Cashman, who I think has done a great job with the amount of stress you're under as Yankees general manager, the Yankees, for starters, already know what they have. They know his personality and how he handles stress. Should they have brought in another GM, they would have had no idea about his philosophies or how he'd handle the pressure of the New York media or the Yankees' brass.

By having Cashman stay gives the Yankees a good, comfortable start, since there are changes that are going to be made. It's been a change having Hank Steinbrenner as the voice of the Yankees instead of the Boss. Even though they're both Steinbrenners, they're two different people.

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If I were general manager of the Yankees, here's what I would do to build this team for 2009:

First, I'd address the starting pitching. This depends on the Yankees' philosophy of building from within and giving their young kids an opportunity. Do you give Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes another chance? If so, instead of trying to find four or five new starters, you'll try and get one via free agency. Chien-Ming Wang is a lock. He's a No. 1 at times and no worse than a No. 2. I also want Andy Pettitte in my rotation. He may not be a No. 1 starter anymore, and I won't give him a bunch of years on his contract, but if Pettitte is willing to come back for one year at a reduced rate, he'd be huge for the rotation. He comes off a rough year, but can still give you 12-15 wins. More than that, his veteran presence is extremely valuable. He's one who can impart his knowledge to Hughes, Kennedy or any other young starter.

Then you — if you can — get CC Sabathia, a big, strong guy who's very tough and can do well in New York. I would not touch A.J. Burnett because of his injury history, but if a frontline starter can be acquired via a trade, I'd absolutely deal Robinson Cano. I can find a second baseman. That won't cost me a lot of money. But if Cano sticks around, all Joe Girardi has to do, if warranted, is sit him on the bench for a few days or let Derek Jeter get in his ear and tell him, "Look, there are certain ways you need to play. There's a Yankee way to play, and that way is HARD."

I'd also consider Derek Lowe or Oliver Perez for two of three years. I'd choose Lowe over Perez because Lowe is a sinkerball pitcher who throws a lot of strikes and ground balls, and I like those types of guys in Yankee Stadium. Furthermore, you don't know which Oliver Perez will show up. I'm not giving him a lot of money.

Lowe would be a solid No. 4 and the fifth would be whoever steps up in the spring. You can hand a rotation spot to Hughes and Kennedy IF they prove themselves in Spring Training. But if they're not ready, what is your backup plan? I'd bring in a backend veteran to compete with a Hughes or Kennedy. And through all of this, you cannot forget about Joba Chamberlain. For him, it's a matter of health. Whether he's a starter or a reliever, he must be healthy for a full season, and as a starter, he has the potential to win 20 games and really help this rotation.

A starting rotation of Joba, Pettitte, Lowe and Wang as your top four, I'm happy with, so now we have to address the bullpen. It appears as if the Yankees are set with the guys they have behind Mariano Rivera: Brian Bruney, Jose Veras, Damaso Marte, and perhaps Mark Melancon and Phil Coke. The Yankees will have to tell those youngsters, "You're on the team. This is your time now. We're going to sink or swim with you."

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Offensively, the Yankees have to decide what to do with the team. Will they try and get speed and look to do some more bunting and hitting-and-running, or remain the team that always looks for the home run?

First base
I would go get Mark Teixeira, or if I can't, I'd consider exploring a trade for Derrek Lee, whose contract expires in 2010. I would look around at all the top first baseman, even if he's under contract, but Teixeira should be the guy. He's going to save you defensively. He's a switch-hitter with pop everywhere. That's an easy decision.

Outfield
Johnny Damon is in the final year of his contract, so I'd try and trade him when you can get value for him and get any type of veteran pitcher who can give you consistency. I'd bring Bobby Abreu back because he can do a lot of things for you. He's solid enough in right and still has a good arm. He can still play and you can't rid of all your thunder. Hideki Matsui is in my starting lineup and in left field. I'd rotate him in and out of DH and left with Xavier Nady.

In center, I'd go with Melky Cabrera. Remember, he's still young (24) and he still hasn't come into his own. He has enough experience, and if he rebounds from a poor season and shows he can handle the position full-time, he's in for a breakout year. He's a switch-hitter who has a good field for the strike zone. He plays well, has a cannon for an arm, and, again, he's only twenty-four! Let him go for another full year until he really shows he cannot do it. You have to give him that opportunity.

David Justice played in six World Series, and won World Championships with the Braves (1995) and Yankees (2000).
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