December 14, 2009 could be considered Black Monday for the New York Yankees and General Manager Brian Cashman.
In the span of just about five hours, the Yankees lost Roy Halladay to the Phillies, John Lackey to the Red Sox and Hideki Matsui to the Angels. It is unclear how serious the Yankees were in trade discussions with Halladay and free-agent negotiations with Lackey. But losing both was a huge blow if the Yankees really wanted another quality starting pitcher.
The signings last week of both left-hander Randy Wolf by the Brewers and right-hander Rich Harden by the Rangers has left the Yankees looking at a smaller and less than stellar field of pitchers from which to choose.
They include former Brewers right-hander Ben Sheets, former A’s starter and reliever Justin Duchscherer, former Rockies right-hander Jason Marquis and former Cardinals right-hander Joel Pineiro. That hardly screams that the Yankees have the division locked up with a signing of any of the four.
Perhaps the deal to bring Andy Pettitte back and the trade talks obtain Curtis Granderson last week left Cashman spread too thin to pull the trigger on a deal for the quality pitchers that were available.
Neither Sheets or Duchscherer pitched in 2009.
Sheets was 13-9 with an 3.09 ERA in 2008. He was a free agent last season but did not receive any offers because he had to undergo surgery to repair his right elbow. He is apparently seeking an $11 million contract for 2010 because that was what he was earning in 2008. The Yankees may be reluctant to go that high with him because of his long injury history even at age 31.
Duchscherer, 32, was a 2005 All-Star as a reliever with the A’s and was chosen as an All-Star in 2008 as a starter. He was 10-8 with a 2.54 ERA in 22 starts. But he underwent arthroscopic elbow surgery last March and ended up missing the rest of the season due to what was diagnosed as clinical depression.
Duchscherer’s agent is allowing teams to talk with the pitcher’s therapist in order to assure teams he has overcome the problem. The advantage to signing Duchscherer is that he made $3.9 million in 2008 and would come a lot cheaper than Sheets. He also is more versatile than Sheets in that he could pitch in the bullpen, if needed.
Marquis, 31, was 15-13 with a 4.04 ERA for the Rockies last season while Pineiro, 31, was 15-12 with a 3.49 ERA with the Cardinals. The question with these two veterans is can they pitch effectively in the American League. There also is a question whether can Pineiro can duplicate his success without Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, who excels at turning reclamation projects into effective starters.
Without a deal for another starter, it would be safe to assume the Yankees will enter the 2010 season with Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes in the rotation. There were indications from some Yankee insiders that the Yankees wanted to move Chamberlain back into his setup role for Mariano Rivera based on his excellent bullpen work during the 2009 playoffs.
If that indeed was what the Yankees wanted to do and Cashman swung and missed at Halladay and Lackey, there may be criticism coming his way for not being more aggressive with the pair or with negotiations for Wolf and Harden, at the least.
Any way you slice it, Cashman is looking at long odds to get quality at the back end of the rotation now.
The Lackey signing is particularly galling because he went to the Red Sox. The Red Sox, who have so many holes to fill on their offense that it might bankrupt their operating payroll, chose instead to cement another gun in their rotation to go along with Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz. They also look to be adding insurance in case Tim Wakefield does not recover from a serious back issue.
The Matsui signing also puts Cashman in a difficult position regarding free agent Johnny Damon.
Damon and his agent, million-dollar shark Scott Boras, are seeking a four-year deal in the $48 million range. The Yankees, reluctant to commit to Damon that far at age 36, are countering with a two-year offer of about $18 million.
Boras has history on his side since the Yankees offered four-year deals to Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera two years ago. Now Cashman may have to bite the bullet and give Damon a three-year offer of $36 million or so to keep him in the fold.
The Red Sox took one of Cashman’s fallback positions away by signing outfielder Mike Cameron to a free-agent contract.
Matsui signed a one-year deal with the Angels worth a very cheap $6.5 million. I know that Cashman saw Matsui as strictly a DH but having at DH at $6.5 million would have allowed Cabrera to play left and Damon could have been left hanging to try to shop his four-year mega-payday elsewhere.
If Damon signs elsewhere, the Yankees would be forced into entering the bidding war for Jason Bay or Matt Holliday, which would really drive up the Yankees’ payroll.
Losing Matsui for a piddling $6.5 million may be a crushing blow if the Yankees don’t pony up to Damon’s demands now. All I know is that Boras is smiling because he knows he has the Yankees and Cahman by the short hairs.
That is not a good position to be in and it is all Cashman’s fault.