Yankees Face Obstacles To Unloading Burnett

MLB WINTER MEETINGS

DAY THREE

Though the New York Yankees have not created any shockwaves at the Hotel Anatole in Dallas in baseball’s annual Winter Meetings they are beginning to send out some tremors of where they are heading in 2012.

As manager Joe Girardi arrived in Dallas on Tuesday to join general manager Brian Cashman, it has become very obvious that the Yankees want to divest themselves of enigmatic right-hander A.J. Burnett. This confirms what I had posted on Nov. 11 when the Yankees chose to re-sign veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia.

The Garcia signing gave the Yankees five starting pitchers available to them in 2012, including Burnett, Garcia, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and the ace CC Sabathia, who signed a lucrative extension rather than opt out of his contract. With Cashman testing the pulse of other clubs for trades of starting pitchers such as John Danks, Gio Gonzalez, Matt Garza and Jair Jurrgens and looking at free agents such as Mark Buerhle, Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda it seems obvious the Yankees are not completely satisfied with those five starters.

The Yankees do have six pitchers who are 24 years old or less in the minor-league system who can help next season, including Hector Noesi and the Yankees’ top two young pitching prospects in Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos.

But it seems obvious the Yankees are looking to make a deal to add a potential No. 2 or No. 3 starter to allow themselves the luxury of being able to dump Burnett and the two years on his contract that will pay him $33 million. The Yankees have offered to pay $8 million of that contract if there is any team interested in the 34-year-old right-hander, according to the New York Post.

But, at this point, there have been no takers. Burnett was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA in 32 starts last season.

Moving Burnett does have some obstacles. For one, Burnett does have a partial no-trade clause which limits the Yankees’ potential trade partners. A second issue is that the Yankees likely would like to have the deal for  that additional No. 2 or No. 3 starter in place before making a trade shipping Burnett to another team. Finally, the Yankees might to have to sweeten any potential deal for Burnett by offering to pay more than the roughly 25% percent they are offering. A fairer number may be closer to 50% if they truly want to be rid of Burnett.

Burnett does have value to the Yankees, according to Cashman, because he is capable of pitching 200 innings. However, the issue has never been the innings Burnett can pitch; it has been the quality of those innings. Burnett has logged two consecutive seasons with ERAs over 5.00 and he is always among the league leaders in wild pitches and batters hit by pitch. His lack of control does not make him a good option to shift to the bullpen. So Burnett limits the Yankees’ choices.

Despite the fact that Burnett did pitch well in Game 4 of the American League Division Series with Detroit, Yankee fans have pretty much gotten tired of his act on the mound and seek a more stable pitcher in the rotation. Cashman obviously agrees but he also knows it could be difficult to unload Burnett this winter.

Meanwhile, the Yankees did have one bit of news on Wednesday.

The Yankees have won the rights to negotiate with Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima, a source confirmed.

Nakajima, 29, was a memeber of the Seibu Lions and is a career .300 hitter since his debut in 2002. The right-handed hitting Nakajima would be a potential backup to Derek Jeter.

According to CBSSports.com the Yankees winning bid to the rights to sign Nakajima was $2 million. Nakajima batted .314 with 20 home runs, 93 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 130 games with the Lions this season.

You can also read this potential signing as another clue as to where the Yankees might be headed in 2012.

Last season, Eduardo Nunez hit .265 with five home runs, 30 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 112 games mostly as backup at shortstop, second base and third base. At age 24, Nunez has his future progress with the Yankees blocked by Jeter, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez.

The Mariners sought Nunez (in addition to Nova and Jesus Montero) in a trade for Cliff Lee in July 2010, which Cashman rejected because he did not want to part with Nunez. Teams this winter have inquired about his availability in trade and Cashman would the flexibility to deal Nunez once the Yankees are able to sign Nakajima.

The Yankees also have reserve infielder Ramiro Pena on the roster. Pena lost the reserve infielder spot to Nunez in spring training last season but did hit .100 with one home run and four RBIs in 23 games with the Yankees in 2011. Though Nunez is the better athlete, has better speed and a better bat, Pena is much more reliable in the field and he is the team’s best bunter.

So if the Yankees do sign Nakajima and they have Pena on the roster it is pretty clear the Yankees would be willing to trade Nunez as part of a package to obtain a starting pitcher. This is no real secret but the Nakajima signing makes it obvious the Yankees are willing to go through with the move if the Yankees can get a good starting pitcher in return.

The Nakajima bid also may be revealing one other even more important point. The Yankees might be setting the stage for a bid for Japanese pitching star Yu Darvish of the Nippon Ham Fighters.

What better way to make Darvish’s transition to American baseball smoother than by giving him another player on the roster to translate, room with and adapt to the major leagues. I could be reading too much into this but I do not see it as that far-fetched the Yankees might be thinking this way.

Darvish, 25, is a 6-foot-5, 187-pound right-hander who was 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA for the Ham Fighters in 2011. He also struck out 276 batters in 232 innings. Unlike countryman Daisuke Matzusaka, Darvish has a mid-90s fastball and he attacks the strike zone rather than relying on his breaking stuff to fool hitters into swinging at pitches out of the strike zone.

If Darvish is posted, as the owner of the Nippon franchise has promised Darvish he would, the Yankees could make an all-out effort to sign him.

The Yankees have had only lukewarm interest in Rangers left-hander C.J. Wilson, who is considered the top free-agent pitcher available this winter, because he is seeking $20 million per season. The Yankees believe Wilson projects as a No. 3 starter, at best, and they do not seem willing to invest that much money in him.

Darvish, however, could be a different story. The posting fee for him does not count against the payroll cap and Darvish is young enough that the Yankees could structure a long-term deal that would pay him considerably less than $20 million a season and scouts believe Darvish has a far superior upside than the 31-year-old Wilson.

So the bid for the rights to sign Nakajima may not seem so insignificant if you dig beneath the surface a bit.

Girardi, meanwhile, on Wednesday was making the case for the return of the Yankees’ two senior bench player sin 2011: Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez.

Girardi signaled to the players’ agents that the Yankees would be interested in keeping them both.

Jones, 33, played in the outfield and also was a part-time designated hitter. The right-handed hitting Jones batted .247 with 13 home runs and 33 RBIs in 77 games and hit .286 against left-handed pitching.

Chavez, 33, missed 2 1/2 months of the season with a fractured bone in his left foot and hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games. He started 33 games at third base, two first base and five at DH.

Girardi said with the veteran club the Yankees have, he would like to have Chavez and Jones back in order to give regular days off to his veteran starters, He was happy with what Jones and Chavez contributed to the club last season.

However, Cashman said the bench will have to take a back seat until the Yankees look at all their options with filling out their pitching needs this winter.

There is just one more day left for these meetings in Dallas. So far, it seems the Yankees have been one of the most obvious wallflowers in the grand ballroom. But sometimes the tempo needs to be set for the real dance to begin.

It looks like Cashman will be doing most of his waltzing in January.

 

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