The New York Yankees, much like their fans, would like to forget 2011 and look forward to the promise 2012 brings. With that promise the Yankees have made a couple of moves to improve the team and let’s assess those moves and how they will impact the team.
JONESING FOR A RIGHTY
The Yankees on Friday signed Andruw Jones to a one-year, $2 million contract that includes $1.4 million in performance incentives, CBSSports.com reported. The 34-year-old outfielder will have to undergo a physical in order for the deal to be made official.
This is very good news for the Yankees because Jones filled a very important role as the team’s only right-handed hitting outfielder. Starters Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner hit left-handed and Nick Swisher is a switch-hitter. Jones batted .247 with 13 home runs and 33 RBis in 77 games last season. More importantly, he batted .286 off left-handers.
Jones began the season as a fourth outfielder and pinch-hitter but later replaced Jorge Posada as the designated hitter against lefties. Manager Joe Girardi also used Jones to sit Gardner against some left-handers. Jones could be used in that role again in 2012 because Gardner hit only .233 against left-handers in 2011.
If the reports are true, the Yankees also prevented the Boston Red Sox from signing Jones away from the Yankees. Jones is eighth on the active home run list with 420 and he also is among just four major leaguers who have 400 home runs and 10 Gold Gloves along with Ken Griffey Jr., Willie Mays and Mike Schmidt.
The Yankees also added to their bullpen mix for spring training another left-handed reliever.
On Wednesday, the Yankees agreed on the terms of minor-league contract with former Red Sox lefty Hideki Okajima.
Okajima, 36, was an integral part of the Red Sox bullpen for his first three seasons in the majors. But he fell out favor with then-manager Terry Francona the past two seasons and spent most of the 2011 season at the team’s Triple-A franchise Pawtucket.
Okajima pitched in only seven games for the Red Sox in 2011 and was 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA in 8 1/3 innings of work. At Pawtucket, Okajima fashioned a 2.29 ERA in 34 innings over 51 appearances for the PawSox.
In his five seasons with the Red Sox, Okajima was 17-8 with six saves and 3.11 ERA in 261 appearances. During that span he held left-handers to a .218 batting average.
Okajima will have a chance in spring training to claim the team’s bullpen spot as the lefty specialist. He will compete with another former Red Sox left-hander in 22-year-old Cesar Cabral, who the Yankees acquired from the Royals for cash considerations after the Royals selected Cabral in the Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings.
For the past two seasons, the Yankees have relied on Boone Logan as their lone left-hander out of the bullpen and Logan, 27, has been miscast in the role of lefty specialist. Logan was 5-3 with a 3.46 ERA over 64 games and 41 2/3 innings. Left-handers hit .260 against him last season while right-handers hit .262.
If Okajima or Cabral win a job in the bullpen, Logan will revert to a middle-inning reliever and he has been much more effective in that role.
Okajima’s best pitch is his change-up, which Francona termed the “Okie Doke.” But he is going to have to earn his role with the Yankees because in the 8 1/3 innings he pitched last season, left-handers hit .364 off him and he recorded an ERA of 11.57 against them. So his “Okie Doke” better be more than just OK this spring.
TICK, TICK, TICK
The Yankees have until Jan. 6 to sign Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nikajima, who they won the rights to sign by posting a $2.5 million bid in early December.
Nikajima, 29,is primarily a shortstop but he also can play some second and third base. He hit .297 with 16 home runs and 100 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 144 games with the Seibu Lions last season.
If the Yankees fail to sign Nikajima to a contract by Jan. 6, he will remain with Seibu for the 2012 season and the $2.5 million posting fee will be returned to the Yankees. That also would open the door for the Yankees to re-sign free agent infielder Eric Chavez.
Chavez, 34, played first and third base for the Yankees in 2011 and he hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games. The Yankees will not negotiate with Chavez’s agent unless they fail to sign Nikajima.
The Yankees also have Eduardo Nunez, Ramiro Pena and Brandon Laird on the 40-man roster to compete for a backup infield role this spring. Nunez, 24, is favored to win one of the two spots unless he is used in a trade for a starting pitcher before the season begins.
Alex Rodriguez, taking advice from Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, traveled to Germany this month to have an experimental medical procedure performed to help his ailing left shoulder and right knee.
With the Yankees’ approval, Dr. Peter Wehling performed what is termed an Orthokine procedure in Dusseldorf in early December. Bryant claimed the Orthokine procedure on his right knee and left ankle helped him recover movement and relieve pain enough so that he could return to the court with the Lakers.
Rodriguez, 36, took the experimental procedure to the Yankees and team doctor Chris Ahmad and the Yankees checked with the Lakers and with Major League Baseball on Wehling and the legality of the procedure. They then gave Rodriguez the permission to have it done.
The procedure calls for the taking of blood from an arm vein, incubating it and spinning it in centrifuge to isolate protective proteins. The proteins are then injected into the affected areas once or twice a week.
The procedure is said to have anti-inflammatory, pain-reducing and cartilage-protecting effects but not much is known about its long-term implications.
Rodriguez played in a career-low 99 games last season and in some of those games he was playing at less than 100 percent. He hit .276 with only 16 home runs and 62 RBIs.
Rodriguez missed more than a month after undergoing surgery on his right knee in July. In his first game back from the disabled list on Aug. 21, Rodriguez suffered a sprained left thumb, which affected the third baseman’s swing the rest of the season.
He hit only .191 after returning from the injury and he hit just .111 in the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers.
If this procedure helps Rodriguez, the Yankees might consider seeking out an experimental procedure for command-challenged right-hander A.J. Burnett.
Perhaps a doctor can come up with a procedure to inject power-steering fluid in Burnett’s right elbow to ensure he might actually come closer to hitting the strike zone with his pitches.
General manager Brian Cashman enters January with the “open for business” sign out on improving the starting rotation. This despite the fact that the Yankees have acted like they are the cash-strapped Kansas City Royals over the winter free-agent signing season.
The Yankees, hamstrung to a great degree by the lavish long-term contracts already laid out to CC Sabathia, Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Burnett, have been spending pennies while other teams have been waving $100 bills.
Cashman would like to add a starter to the rotation and perhaps unload Burnett. But the costs of free agents like C.J. Wilson, Mark Buerhle and Japan’s Yu Darvish have been higher than their actual worth, according to Cashman. Meanwhile, trade avenues have been blocked by other teams’ insistence the Yankees cough up the jewels of the Yankees’ farm system in Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Mason Williams.
Cashman continues to say no to those deals because he does not want to short-circuit the Yankees’ future for a short-term fix.
So the Yankees have struck out on deals for pitchers such as John Danks, Gio Gonzlaez, Matt Garza, Jair Jurrgens and Jonathan Niese.
For now, the Yankees seem to be counting on a return to form of Phil Hughes, who suffered through an injury-plagued 2011 campaign after winning 18 games in 2010. They also do not believe that rookie right-hander Ivan Nova’s 16-win season was a fluke.
The re-signing of 34-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia, who was a respectable 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA, means the only really Yankee concern is Burnett, who was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA last season.
The truth is Cashman, Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild are at their wits’ end trying to figure out what is wrong with Burnett. They seem to agree a change of scenery is in order. But with two years and $33 million still owed to the enigma wrapped inside a conundrum would seem to make dumping him a big problem.
The Yankees have offered to pay $7 million of Burnett’s contract but still have no takers. They might have to offer at least $15 million if they are serious about being rid of him. Of course, the Yankees would seem to be better off adding a starter before making a deal for Burnett because dumping Burnett would likely increase the cost of starter to replace him.
Adding a starting pitcher would be the only major task left for Cashman but he states he is no hurry because the Yankees do have six potential young starters waiting in the wings: Banuelos, Betances, Hector Noesi, David Phelps, Adam Warren and D.J. Mitchell. Any of those six could contribute either as starters or relievers to the Yankees in 2012.
But Cashman is aware that adding an established starter to what the Yankees have would be preferable. So he is pursuing that avenue first. If the pursuit stretches to the trade deadline in July the Yankees might find the asking price of some of starters they like may drop. Cashman is exercising and preaching at the same time for patience.
So like good little Yankee fans we are. We will have to trust him and take him at his word.