Here are some random news items revolving around the New York Yankees spring camp in Tampa, FL, this week:
- CHAVEZ SIGNS: As expected the Yankees re-signed 34-year-old corner infielder Eric Chavez to a one-year, $900,000 contract with performance incentives. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported the story but the Yankees will not confirm the signing until Chavez passes a physical. Chavez hit .263 with two homers and 26 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees last season. He missed 2 1/2 months of the season after fracturing a bone in his left foot running the bases in early May. The Yankees see the lefty-hitting Chavez as a Gold Glove quality backup at third base for Alex Rodriguez and he also can sub for Mark Teixeira at first base.
- RAUL IN: The Yankees made it official by signing free-agent outfielder Raul Ibanez to a one-year, $1.1 million contract with plate-appearance incentives that could increase the deal to $4 million. Ibanez, 39, will be the Yankees’ primary designated hitter against right-hand pitching. Andruw Jones likely will handle the DH role against left-handers. Ibanez, like Jones, will also see some time in the outfield. Ibanez batted .245 with 20 home runs and 84 RBIs last season with the Philadelphia Phillies.
- SAY IT AIN’T SO, MO: Mariano Rivera is hinting that the 2012 season may be his last. He told reporters he had made up his mind two weeks ago along with his family but he has not informed the Yankees about his decision. Manager Joe Girardi and some Yankee relievers like David Robertson do not want to even contemplate what life on the Yankees would be without their Hall-of-Fame closer. Robertson said that he could “Brett Favre us.” Despite the fact Rivera turned 42 in November he is showing no signs of slowing down. He was 1-2 with a 1.91 ERA and recorded 44 saves in 49 opportunities in 2011. he is in the last season of a two-year contract worth $30 million.
- JONESING TO PLAY: After having arthroscopic surgery to repair a small meniscus tear in his left knee, Jones said he is hoping to have an expanded role in 2012 beyond being the right-handed DH. Jones, 34, would like to play more in the outfield this season. That is good to know because Brett Gardner hit only .233 against left-handers last season and if that number does not improve this season Jones could end up as a platoon left-fielder.
- SAYONARA TO NO. 18: Jones also made news by surrendering the No. 18 he wore last season with the Yankees to free-agent right-hander Hiroki Kuroda. In Japan, that number is generally reserved for the ace pitcher of the team so Jones agreed to relinquish the number to his new teammate.
- JOBA DEBUT: Joba Chamberlain will throw his first mound bullpen session on Wednesday since having Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last July. Though Chamberlain is making excellent progress in his rehab the Yankees do not expect him to be able to pitch until June or July.
- HURT LOCKER: Right-hand reliever George Kontos became the first Yankees casualty of the spring. He pulled an oblique muscle on Tuesday and he will be sidelined for at least two weeks.
- LESS CC: Bad news for teams in the American League East: CC Sabathia showed up in camp at his playing weight of 290 pounds, dropping about 15 pounds to get there. Sabathia also vowed to continue a training regimen to keep his weight steady throughout the season. Prior to Aug. 6 last season, Sabathia was 16-5 with a 2.55 ERA. After his Aug. 6 start, Sabathia was 3-3 with a 4.30 ERA. He also was 0-0 with a 6.23 ERA in his three appearances in the 2010 A.L. Division Series against the Detroit Tigers. Some in the Yankee hierarchy believe Sabathia gained a lot of weight down the stretch and it hurt his performance. Sabathia disagrees with that assessment but said he will maintain his training regimen to keep it from being raised as an issue in the future.
With A.J. Burnett just a physical and a commissioner’s approval away from a trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the New York Yankees already have agreements to sign Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez.
The Yankees attempted to acquire Pirates outfielder/first baseman Garrett Jones, Indians DH/first baseman Travis Hafner and Angels outfielder Bobby Abreu in separate deals for Burnett. However, the Pirate and Indian deals were rejected and Burnett exercised his limited no-trade clause to scuttle the Angel proposal.
So the Yankees accepted two minor leaguers and $13 million from the Pirates for Burnett and they plan to use the money they are saving on the two years and $33 million left on Bunrett’s contract to sign Ibanez and Chavez.
Ibanez, 39, hit .245 with 20 home runs and 84 RBIs with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011. Ibanez is expected to share the DH duties with outfielder Andruw Jones.
Chavez, 34, hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs with the Yankees last season. Chavez is expected to return to his role from last season as a backup at first and third base.
If Heyman’s report is correct the Yankees have chosen to sign Ibanez instead of former Yankee outfielder Johnny Damon, who said he would a “perfect fit” for the Yankees’ left-handed DH role.
But Yankees general manager Brian Cashman basically told him to peddle his talents elsewhere. Why?
I think I can answer that question by going back to spring training in 2007. The Yankees had come off a crushing loss to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series. In that series, Gary Sheffield was benched and Alex Rodriguez was dropped to the No. 8 spot by then-manager Joe Torre. In the offseason, right-handed starter Cory Lidle died when the small plane he was piloting crashed into a building in New York.
Damon left the Yankees for a period of time during the exhibition season in 2007 to go to his home in Orlando, FL, to contemplate retirement. After a few days, Damon returned to the team and he went on to have a subpar season in which he was hobbled by leg injuries. He hit .270 with only 12 home runs and 63 RBIs.
In Torre’s book “The Yankee Years” he said that teammates thought Damon’s play in 2007 showed “a lack of commitment.” Torre even quoted one player as saying “Let’s get rid of him. The guys can’t stand him.”
So when Damon’s contract expired after the 2009 season, they basically allowed Damon to walk as a free agent and they never made an effort to re-sign him. As cover, Cashman cited financial constraints as the reason Damon was not retained. But it seems clear now that the Yankees had no desire to bring Damon back because of the clubhouse turmoil he created.
Those old wounds have obviously not healed in 2012 and thus Damon was never seriously considered by Cashman.
NOT OKIE DOKEY
Left-handed reliever Hideki Okajima failed a physical with the Yankees and he will not report to spring training with the club.
Okajima, 36, signed a minor-league contract with the Yankees in December with an invitation to make the team if he could bounce back after two subpar seasons with the Red Sox.
But WFAN reported this weekend that Okajima was released from his contract and he would not participate in any workouts with the Yankees in Tampa, FL.
Okajima fell out of favor with the Red Sox after seven appearances in 2011 in which he was 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA in 8 1/3 innings. He spent the rest of the season as Triple-A Pawtucket before being released by the Red Sox despite a 2.29 ERA in 34 appearances spanning 51 innings.
The Yankees saw Okajima as a potential lefty specialist for the bullpen to tandem with fellow left-hander Boone Logan, who has been miscast in the role for the past two seasons.
Okajima signed with the Red Sox in 2007 out of Japan. He was 17-8 with six saves and a 3.11 ERA in 261 appearances, holding left-handed hitters to a .218 batting average.
With Okajima out of the picture, the Yankees’ search for a second left-hander will come down to a battle between 23-year-old Rule 5 draftee Cesar Cabral, who was selected by the Kansas City Royals from the Red Sox and sent to the Yankees for financial considerations in December, and Clay Rapada, who was signed to a minor-league deal this weekend.
Rapada, 30, was released by the Baltimore Orioles this week. Rapada was 2-0 with a 6.06 ERA in 32 appearances for the Orioles last season. He is 5-0 with a 5.13 ERA in 78 major-league appearances with the Orioles, Rangers, Tigers and Cubs.
He has held left-handers to a .153 batting average in his career, including an .090 mark the past two seasons.
Cabral was a combined 3-4 with a 2.95 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 55 innings with a Class-A Salem and Double-A Portland. If Cabral does not make the major-league roster he will have to be offered back to the Red Sox for $25,000.
PINEDA THE PINATA
Newly acquired right-hander Michael Pineda reported to the Yankees camp 10 pounds overweight and drew the ire of the team’s coaches and front office.
Pineda is listed at 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds. The former Mariner showed up weighing 270 pounds and even Pineda admitted that he needed to lose 10 pounds during spring training.
Pineda, 23, was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA for a offensively weak Mariner team in 2011, his rookie season. He was packaged along with 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos in a trade with the Yankees for catcher Jesus Montero and right-handed pitcher Hector Noesi.
Pineda is being counted upon to join a revamped – and hopefully improved – rotation that already includes ace left-hander CC Sabathia and second-year right-hander Ivan Nova. The Yankees also signed former Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million contract.
With the trade of Burnett, right-hander Phil Hughes and right-hander Freddy Garcia will battle for the team’s No. 5 spot in spring training.
Pineda said he felt good after a bullpen session on Friday and that pitching coach Larry Rothschild is already working on a new grip for his change-up. Pineda largely threw just a fastball and slider in his rookie season.
The trade talks concerning pitcher A.J. Burnett between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees are apparently continuing through the weekend, according to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The talks reportedly no longer include first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones.
The Pirates seem to be more willing to keep the 30-year-old Jones, who is projected to be their starting first baseman against right-hand pitching, and the team prefers to pay more money towards the 35-year-old Burnett’s $33 million salary over the next two seasons.
CBS Sports reported that the Pirates would be willing to assume $10 million ($5 million per season) of the $33 million Burnett is owed as part of a five-year, $82 million contract the right-hander signed with the Yankees in 2009.
That would be good news to the Yankees, who are looking to open up some salary room in order to sign a left-handed-hitting DH from among a group of free agents that includes former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui and former Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez.
The Pirates have been openly trying to add to their rotation this winter, having made a three-year contract offer to free-agent right-hander Edwin Jackson, who subsequently signed a one-year deal with the Washington Nationals.
Burnett’s role as a starter was left in question this winter when the Yankees traded with the Seattle Mariners for right-hander Michael Pineda and signed former Los Angeles Dodgers Hiroki Kuroda as a free agent.
Burnett was 11-11 with 5.15 ERA with the Yankees last season but has made at least 32 starts in each of last four seasons and he carries a career strikeout rate of 8.2 per nine innings.
The Pirates seem to be set with five starters that include former Yankee Jeff Karstens, Kevin Correia, Charlie Morton, James McDonald and newly signed left-hander Erik Bedard. However, Morton had surgery in October to repair a torn labrum in his left hip and he may not be ready for Opening Day. Karstens and Correia struggled last season with fatigue and a strained oblique, respectively.
Bedard, 32, has not started more than 28 games since the 2007 season due to a series of injuries.
Burnett does have a limited no-trade clause in his contract which precludes the Yankees from trading him to 10 teams, however, the Pirates are not among those teams.
Yankee fans might be disappointed somewhat that the Pirates are refusing to part with Jones because he could have been a valuable backup at first base and the corner outfield spots as well as been the left-hand part of platoon at DH with Andruw Jones.
However, the money the Pirates are offering would be enough for the Yankees to make an offer to sign a free agent to DH and the Yankees would be rid of Burnett, who has been unable to harness his great stuff consistently enough to be successful with the Yankees the past two seasons.