To be honest, I feel that it was based on need more so than anything else. The Red Sox had sizable holes to fill with the departures of Martinez and Beltre (their two best players in 2010). They also had to look forward to Drew and Cameron reaching free agency at the end of 2011. While such circumstances may not necessarily call for the acquisitions of the best of the best available ... such is life with the big market teams. I suspect the Yankees would have been all-in on Crawford had Gardner not performed so ably in 2010, for what it's worth.
For the Yankees, the holes, though substantial, were limited almost exclusively to the rotation. I don't see what else Cashman could have done with Lee, so it's difficult for me to be angry in the slightest. I would have liked to see more of a contingency plan beyond praying for Andy Pettitte to return, and I think that's where the Red Sox aggressive approach hurt the most - the Yankees were content to wait, and I don't think that's a good strategy when there are legitimate needs. That being said, I don't think Garza or Marcum were real possibilities (as Anthopoulos and Friedman would have jacked-up their prices), and Greinke would have required a veritable gutting of the system. The free agent market for pitching wasn't too hot, and most of the better options (Lilly, Kuroda, Westbrook - I'm already stretching it) signed pretty quickly.
In all of the Albert Pujols rumors I have heard no talk of the Royals making a play for him. Is it really that crazy?
As much as Pujols makes sense for the Royals - hometown guy, stealing the Cardinals' thunder, making a real splash - I just don't see that happening. The Royals have been all about 'The Process' over the past couple of seasons, and a great deal of their talent is in the 1B/DH area (Hosmer, Moustakas, Butler, Ka'aihue). I suppose they could always go all-in, sign Pujols, deal some of that enviable farm depth for studs ... but that would be a dramatical reversal for Moore and the Royals.
How many sure things do the Yankees have in the rotation?
One - CC Sabathia. That's it.
Burnett has very good stuff, but his career has been defined by inconsistency. At 34, it wouldn't be that surprising if the bad outweighs the good going forward - though, I do have faith in Rothschild, whose specialty seems to be pitchers of Burnett's ilk.
Hughes was great in April and May ... but that's about it. In 319.2 IP as a starter, Hughes has a 4.76 ERA, 4.50 FIP, and a 4.48 xFIP - that's below average, and there's really no way around that. His stellar ten-start stretch to begin 2011 certainly demonstrated that he could be a fine starter ... but that was followed by 112.2 IP with a 5.11 ERA and a 5.18 FIP (indicating that there wasn't too much bad luck there). I believe in his potential, but he's far from a sure thing.
I don't really have the want, desire, or stomach to address Nova and Garcia. Suffice it to say that I believe they could both put up 150 IP of league-averagish production - but that would be their ceiling. Is that terrible? No. Is that enough? I don't think so.
Any thoughts on how Girardi should handle the bullpen against a lefty-heavy lineup?
I think the benefit of having Feliciano (eventually) and Logan is that Girardi won't have to worry about having a LOOGY struggle against a righty. Oftentimes, you'll see a team like the Twins have Mauer and Morneau separated by Cuddyer - someone that murders left-handed pitching. With two lefites, Girardi has the luxury of utilizing Robertson or Chamberlain against that tough righty, without having to necessarily worry about a powerful lefty. While a ton of pitching changes can be bothersome, I'm all for leveraging the team's relievers to the best of their abilities.
The Yanks obviously don't really view Nunez as a future shortstop if he's sitting on the bench in the majors instead of getting at-bats in AAA, right?
While I won't claim that I'm an expert on this sort of thing, and I'm very open to corrections, I cannot recall a shortstop sitting on the bench then transitioning to a full-time player. Andrus was handed the job in Texas. Escobar was handed the job in Milwaukee. Castro was handed the job in Chicago. Ramirez was handed the job in the other Chicago. Jeter was handed the job in New York way back when. Some in Boston claim that Lowrie - who has apprenticed as a bench player - is the shortstop of the future in Fenway ... but their best prospect is a shortstop, and Scutaro doesn't appear to be going anywhere.
What does all this rambling mean? In short ... I agree. If the Yankees were serious about Nunez having the potential to take over for Jeter in a year or three, I think it would behoove them to let him get regular reps in Triple-A - sitting on the bench won't improve his glovework or plate discipline.
Which of the Yankees bigger prospects (Banny, Brackman, Betances, Montero, Romine, etc.) do you think is most ready to contribute?
That's sort of difficult to answer.
Montero tore apart Triple-A pitching from June forward, but his slow start is something that could be endemic - he certainly didn't look ready in Spring Training, though that's not a terribly strong indicator or anything. I'd much rather see him get regular at-bats and squats in Triple-A, and I think the Yankees share that mindset. Gun to my head, though - I think his bat's as ready as it's going to be.
Of the pitchers, I think Brackman is the closest (despite being generally viewed as the weakest of the B's). He could probably toss around 180 IP this season, he looked quite good in Double-A last season in a fairly large sample, and he's kicking of this season with Scranton. He's also the oldest of the three, and the furthest removed from injury - Banuelos' wasn't baseball-related, but he still went under the knife and missed a decent chunk of 2010. Brackman also generates a great deal of groundballs, which is a skill that tends to follow pitchers, and portends at least some success in the Majors. Conversely, I'd say Betances is the least ready.