MLB WINTER MEETINGS
DAY FOUR – FAREWELL
Pardon me for having a vision of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman ending up in a long, unproductive discussion with a Hotel Anatole bellhop on the best way to turn in his room key. It has just been the way it has gone for Cashman since he arrived on Monday: Long and unproductive.
But to be fair to Cashman, it was exactly what he predicted would happen before he ever stepped foot in the hotel lobby.
While the Miami Marlins were shopping at Tiffany’s the Yankees were checking the clearance racks at JC Penney’s.
The Yankees came into the MLB Winter Meetings with a very short shopping list of parts that could make a team that won 97 games last season just a bit better. The starting lineup remains the same, the Yankees have five starting pitchers with which they can start the season, they boast a deep bullpen and have just a few spots to fill on the bench – though the Yankees would even like to bring back veterans Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones.
So the Yankees used these meetings to kick the tires on potential trades for a starting pitcher, they won the right to negotiate with a Japanese infielder and they selected two players in the Rule 5 draft on Thursday that could have an impact on their bullpen this spring.
The moves won’t spur much of a surge of season ticket sales but Cashman hopes the seeds sown here will lead to something more fruitful down the road.
First, let’s look at the two additions to the pitching staff:
The Kansas City Royals used the fifth pick in the draft to select left-handed reliever Cesar Cabral from the Red Sox and then traded him to the Yankees for cash considerations. Cabral, 22, will be given a look this spring as a potential second left-hander in the bullpen to go along with Boone Logan.
Cabral was 3-4 with a 2.95 ERA in 36 combined appearances with Class A Salem and Double-A Portland last season. He struck out 70 batters in 55 innings and Cashman likes his 94-mph velocity and the fact he can get left-handers out consistently.
Cabral was selected in the 2010 Rule 5 draft by the Rays but later was returned to the Red Sox.
With the 29th pick in the draft, the Yankees selected right-handed starter Brad Meyers from the Washington Nationals.
Meyers, 26, was a combined 9-7 with a 3.18 ERA in 25 games (24 starts) in stops at Class A Salem, Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse last season. He struck out 116 batters in 132 2/3 innings and walked just 15. In 2009, the 6-foot-5 hurler was named the Nationals’ Minor-League Pitcher of the Year.
Though Meyers is a starting pitcher, the Yankees will look at Meyers as a potential long reliever because the team intends to use Hector Noesi as a starter this season.
The Yankees entered the draft with 39 players on their 40-man roster. The addition of Cabral and Meyers meant that the Yankees had to release 26-year-old outfielder Greg Golson. Golson hit .195 with no home runs and two RBis in 40 games over four seasons with the Phillies, Rangers and the Yankees.
The Yankees might add some depth to their bench by obtaining the right to sign 29-year-old infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima of the Seibu Lions in Japan. Nakajima is primarily a shortstop but he also can play second and third base. He hit .314 with 20 home runs and 93 RBIs in 130 games in Japan last season.
The Yankees posted a bid of $2 million for Nakajima and now the Yankees have until Jan. 6 to reach contract agreement or the $2 million fee is returned to them.
The Yankees are saying Nakajima would give the Yankees some options if Chavez does not re-sign. But it also gives the Yankees the option of trading Eduardo Nunez for a starting pitcher because the Yankees also have backup infielder Ramiro Pena on the 40-man roster.
As for the search for starting pitching, Cashman made it clear he believed that clubs were not going to overpay for free-agent pitchers such as C.J. Wilson, Edwin Jackson, Mark Buerhle and Roy Oswalt. So Cashman has been seeking out possible trades for pitchers like John Danks of the White Sox, Matt Garza of the Cubs, Jair Jurrgens of the Braves and Gio Gonzalez of the Athletics.
Late Wednesday, the Yankees even inquired about Jonathan Niese of the Mets.
The problems Cashman has had in making a potential deal for any of these pitchers is teams are asking for the Yankees’ best prospects in catcher Jesus Montero, pitchers Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos and veterans like Brett Gardner, Ivan Nova, David Robertson and Phil Hughes in return. These are players Cashman does not want to trade.
But with the free-agent signing season in full swing, there is likely to be teams with changing circumstances, agents who might have to lower their price for some free agents and trade demands get lowered as spring training approaches. Cashman sees this period in January as an window of opportunity that may allow the Yankees to get a No. 2 or No. 3 starter via trade or free agency.
Oh, and do not buy the Cashman party line about his mild interest in Japanese ace right-hander Yu Darvish.
The Yankees are not tipping their hand but it is a pretty good bet that Cashman and the Yankees might go all out to win the bidding when Darvish is posted. Though the posting fee will easily top the $50 million the Boston Red Sox ponied up for Daisuke Matzusaka, that posting fee does count against the team salary level.
Darvish, 25, is also young enough that the Yankees could structure a graduated long-term contract worth $120 million over eight years that could be worth $10 million the first year. That is half of the $20 million C.J. Wilson is seeking in a six-year deal. Darvish is six years younger and the Yankees believe he has a much higher ceiling than the 31-year-old Wilson.
So do not write off Cashman and the Yankees this winter based on their relative lack of activity in the winter meetings. The hares may have a nice head start for now but the tortoises are going to be coming on strong in January. Cashman just hopes that the Yankees are one of those tortoises.
With the disappointing loss to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Divisional Series a distant bad memory, the New York Yankees will look to reconstruct a championship caliber team for the 2012 season. To that end let’s look at what possible moves the Yankees might make to improve their roster. It might seem like a daunting task. But it sure could be worse. Think how tough a time the Boston Red Sox will have rebuilding without general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona.
PART FOUR – THE BENCH
PRIORITY NO. 1: Who will replace Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones?
The Yankees bench is the only place, other than the starting pitchers, where there will be a few changes. The Yankees will retain all their starters in 2012.
The bench will be a different story. starting at designated hitter.
Jesus Montero figures to be the current odds-on favorite to win that job coming off his very nice debut during the Yankees’ stretch run to the division title. Though he is only 21, Montero is showing skills with the bat that are far beyond his years.
Normally the Yankees would prefer to have a left-handed DH to take advantage of right-handed pitching and the short porch in right. But Montero has never been platooned in the minors and his power stroke is to right-center. If Montero does well in spring training it would be hard to keep him off the roster and even harder to not start him at DH.
Of course, there are those in the Yankee organization who believe Montero should develop as a catcher. But Montero’s defense behind the plate is still not as polished as it could be and the Yankees face a lot of teams like the Rays and Angels who will steal at the drop of a hat
But if Russell Martin is the starting catcher placing Montero as his backup would mean he would only start once a week and he could not DH, less the Yankees lose the DH if Martin is injutred. That is why it is more likely the Yankees will keep either Francisco Cervelli or rookie Austin Romine as the backup catcher to Martin.
Though Cervelli still needs to work on his throwing, he is still considered a very good defensive catcher who calls a good game and has the trust of the pitching staff. Likewise, both manager Joe Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena, who know a thing or two about catching believe that Romine, at age 22, is already a major-league catcher defensively.
The battle in the spring may come down to two factors:
(1) Cervelli, 25, will have to prove to the Yankees he is over the concussion that short-circuited his season in September and that he can stay healthy. Cervelli has sustained a broken wrist, various concussions and last season broke a bone in his right foot fouling off a pitch in spring training.
(2) Romine will have to prove he can improve as a hitter at the major-league level. Romine will never be the power threat Montero will become. But the Yankees would like him to at least hold his own much like Cervelli has since he has become the backup catcher.
Keeping either Cervelli or Romine will allow the Yankees to keep Montero as a DH and emergency catcher much like they had last season with Jorge Posada, though Posada was only used once in that capacity. Montero, however, could get some starts behind the plate against teams that do not steal bases. He surely will see some action behind the plate.
The only other holdover from the bench last season will be Eduardo Nunez, 24. Nunez received 309 at-bats last season as the primary infield backup in 2011. He was impressive, especially when he started at shortstop in place of an injured Derek Jeter and third base for an injured Alex Rodriguez.
Nunez hit .265 with five home runs and 30 RBIs. Nunez has the ability to drive the ball into the gaps and he also showed the ability to fly on the bases. In his 83 starts, he stole 22 bases. After that kind of rookie season, it is easy to see why general manager Brian Cashman bristled when the Seattle Mariners sought to add Nunez to a deal to bring Cliff Lee to the Yankees in 2010 that Cashman said no.
However, Nunez comes into camp with a lot of work to do on his defense. Nunez led the Yankees in errors with 20.
Nunez is tall and lean and his footwork on ground balls is atrocious. That leads to a lot of fielding errors. In addition, Nunez tends to throw wildly to first when pressed by fast runners or when he has to range deep for balls. That will take a lot of work this offseason and this spring to correct. The Yankees realize he will never be Ozzie Smith. They just would like him to cut his error rate to a respectable level.
Otherwise, 26-year-old Ramiro Pena will have a shot to reclaim his old job back. Though Pena is a lot steadier in the field, he hit only .100 in 40 at-bats last season and he does not have the line-drive bat or speed that Nunez presents.
Besides Posada, to whom the Yankees will decline to offer a contract, the Yankees also will not bring back reserve outfielder Andruw Jones or reserve infielder Eric Chavez.
Jones was largely a disappointment until midseason, when he got hot and hit .291 with nine home runs and 21 RBIs. Jones, 34, finished the season with a .247 average, 13 home runs and 33 RBIs as the right-handed=hitting DH and backup outfielder.
Chavez, 34, probably would be welcomed back by the Yankees if he wanted to play for the team. But Chavez is looking to possibly signing as a free agent to resume his career as a starting third baseman.
Chavez signed with the Yankees as a backup because of a series of neck and back injuries had him shelved for the better portions of the previous four seasons. Chavez signed with the Yankees in hopes of being able to re-establish himself as a starter who can still help a club.
He failed to stay healthy with the Yankees, though, when he broke a bone in his right foot running the bases in Detroit in early May and he did not return until July. In 160 at-bats, Chavez hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs.
The Yankees would love to have his left-hand bat back as a backup to Rodriguez, who has been slowed by nagging injuries himself for the past four seasons and who is need of more rest these days at age 36. Chavez also spellled Mark Teixeira at first base and provided a veteran left-handed bat off the bench.
So now the Yankees will be looking to add a right-handed hitting outfielder and a lefty hitter who can play some first base and maybe some outfield and third.
The reason they need a right-handed hitting outfielder is because Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson are left-handed hitters and Nick Swisher is a switch-hitter who will hit primarily as lefty with the predominantly right-handed starters in baseball. It would be nice to have a right-handed hitter to spell either Gardner, Granderson and Swisher.
In addition, Gardner hit a paltry .233 against left-handers last season. It would be nice to have a free-agent outfielder like Reed Johnson, who as a right-handed hitter who batted .309 overall and .305 against left-handers in 2011. Johnson is hustling overachiever who also plays solid defense in all three outfield spots. The only thing he can’t do like Gardner is run. He has only 39 career steals.
That is the kind of cheap role player the Yankees will be looking for. The Yankees do have a lot of young outfielders in the minors such as Chris Dickerson, Greg Golson, Justin Maxwell, Colin Curtis and Melky Mesa. But Dickerson and Curtis hit left-handed and Golson and Mawelll have been disappointments as right-handed hitters. Mesa, 24, may need a year of seasoning before he is ready.
The Yankees also will be in the market for a left-handed hitting infielder who can play first, some third and perhaps the outfield. In other words, they are looking for an “Eric Hinske type.” Hinske, 34, has made a career as backup at third, first and the outfield and he has played on a lot of teams that have made the playoffs.
Last season, he hit .238 with 10 home runs and 28 RBIs in 236 at-bats with the Braves. Hinske, however, is not a free agent.
The Yankees might take a look at Russell Branyan, 36, who has hit two of the longest home runs in Yankee Stadium history. Branyan hit .197 with five home runs and 14 RBIs in 127 at-bats for the Diamondbacks and the Angels last season. Branyan can play first, third and the outfield, however, he would be a real liability in the outfield.
But Branyan can still hit for power. He has 194 career home runs and most of them have been as a bench player.
He also could help the Yankees as a lefty DH against some tough right-handers.
The Yankees do have Brandon Laird to play both first and third base. However, Laird is a right-handed hitter and the Yankees are already loaded with right-handed hitters on the bench. Laird seems more likely to be ticketed back to Triple-A or a trade to another organization with A-Rod blocking his path to the majors.
But, in any case, the Yankees are not going out of their way to sign expensive free agent hitters this winter. If Yankee fans envision a lineup of Albert Pujols batting fourth, Prince Fielder batting fifth, Rodriguez hitting sixth, Carlos Beltran hitting seventh and Nick Swisher batting eighth and Teixeira batting ninth, you can keep on dreaming. It is not going to happen.
This team is going to allocate its free-agent dollars to acquiring starting pitching, period.
The rest of the moves Cashman will make are small ones like adding two bench players like he did in signing Jones and Chavez last winter.
This concludes the series on potential off-season moves. I will have an update to the starting pitching search in my next post. Stay tuned!
YANKEES 4, RAYS 2
Teams are often measured by their starting lineups, their starting rotation and their bullpens. Rarely are teams judged by their bench.
But the New York Yankees broke a 2-2 tie in the eighth and beat the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday to clinch their 12th American League East title in the last 16 years largely because Jorge Posada came up with a big hit off the bench.
Posada, 40, who entered the 2011 season having lost his job as the team’s starting catcher and during the season lost his job as the team’s designated hitter, came off the bench in the eighth to deliver a one-out, bases-loaded single that scored two runs and won a division crown for a team that was not the media’s choice to do so.
Before the season began, during spring training and as the season unfolded all the Yankees heard was how deficient their starting pitching was and how old their regulars had become. Their rivals in Boston were hailed as the team to beat because they had better hitting, better starters and a tough bullpen.
But the Yankees proved to the media, to the fans and to the Red Sox that they were the superior team.
The only down note for the jubilant Yankees, who celebrated in their clubhouse by showering each other in streams of celebratory champagne, was that CC Sabathia was unable to secure his 20th victory.
The Yankees staked him to an early lead on Jeremy Hellickson and the Rays on the strength of a solo home run by Robinson Cano to open the second inning. The home run, Cano’s 27th of the season, came on a 2-1 pitch that Cano tagged and sent into the bleachers in right-center to the delight of the crowd of 45,586 at Yankee Stadium.
Two innings later, Yankee MVP candidate Curtis Granderson opened the frame with a double to right-center. Hellickson then fell behind and walked Mark Teixeira.
Rays manager Joe Maddon then elected to use some odd strategy that, at the time, seemed to have worked. He ordered Hellickson to walk Cano intentionally to load the bases with no outs so the Rays could challenge rookie DH Jesus Montero.
Montero did what the Rays might have hoped he would. He bounced into a double play. However, Granderson did score from third on the play and the Yankees had built a 2-0 lead.
Unfortunately, even though the Rays are not a power hitting team, they have a habit of breaking out the longball when Sabathia is pitching.
Kelly Shoppach connected for a solo home run deep to left with two in the fifth to halve the lead. With one out in the seventh, Sean Rodriguez clanked his drive down the left-field line off the foul pole to tie the game.
Of the 17 home runs Sabathia has given up this season, eight of them have been surrendered to the Rays.
Girardi, hoping to get Sabathia 20 victories for the second straight season, left Sabathia in for the eighth. But the left-hander ran into trouble with one out.
Desmond Jennings lined a single to center and B.J. Upton followed with a rocket that popped out of Sabathia’s glove and rolled in back of the mound for an infield single. Evan Longoria then drew a walk to load the bases and Girardi could not wait any longer. He removed Sabathia leaving him only one last start to collect No. 20.
Girardi then summoned the pitcher the Yankees call “Houdini” to get out of the mess, David Robertson.
Robertson (4-0), who entered the game with the lowest ERA among all major-league relievers at 1.12, needed only one pitch to force Ben Zobrist into hitting into an inning-ending double play.
The Yankees then mounted their division-clinching rally off reliever Jake McGee (3-2).
With one out, Girardi went to his bench and sent Nick Swisher up to bat for Brett Gardner. Swisher delivered a double into left-center.
One out later, Maddon called on right-hander Juan Cruz to face Teixeira but Cruz walked him on four straight pitches. Exit Cruz.
Left-hander Cesar Ramos came in to face Cano. But Ramos fell behind Cano 3-1 and Cano was walked intentionally to load the bases again with Montero in the on-deck circle. Exit Ramos.
The Rays then called on right-hander Brandon Gomes to pitch to Montero. But Girardi used his bench again by calling the beleaguered veteran Posada, who is in the last year of a four-year contract and likely will not return to the Yankees next season.
Posada laced a 0-1 pitch into right-field that fell in front of right-fielder Brandon Guyer. Greg Golson, who was pinch-running for Swisher scored easily and Teixeira followed him when the Rays were unable to get a relay throw back to the infield in time.
Posada pumped his fist and the Yankee faithful rose to cheer the man they always serenade with “Hip, Hip, Jorge!” every time he steps to the plate.
Because Mariano Rivera was used to save the first game of the day-night doubleheader, Girardi called upon former Rays closer Rafael Soriano to propel the Yankees to another division crown.
Despite giving up a two-out single to Casey Kotchman, Soriano struck out pinch-hitter Matt Joyce swinging to end a scoreless frame for his second save of the season.
The combination of the Yankees two victories over the Rays and the 6-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles by the severely slumping Red Sox handed the Yankees the flag. The Yankees remain five games ahead of Detroit and Texas for the best record in the American League, which assures the Yankees home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Rays were dealt a serious blow. They could not take advantage of the Red Sox careening off a cliff at home to inferior clubs like the Orioles. They have fallen into a tie with the Los Angeles Angels 3 games behind the Red Sox in the wild-card race.
- Girardi made three key moves in this game: Replacing Sabathia with Robertson, pinch-hitting Swisher for Gardner and pinch-hitting Posada for Montero. The fact that all three moves worked and led to the Yankees winning the game, Girardi deserves a lot for the credit for this game and leading this team to its second division title in his four years at the helm.
- There have been rumblings that the Yankees were considering keeping Montero on the postseason roster and leaving Posada off of it. But Posada may have redeemed himself with the division-clinching hit. With Francisco Cervelli out due to a concussion, Austin Romine will likely back up Russell Martin in the playoffs and Posada likely will remain on the roster because the Yankees need another lefty hitter off the bench besides Eric Chavez.
- Cano just keeps rolling at the plate. He now has 27 home runs and a career-best 116 RBIs. The 116 RBIs tie him with Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez and Los Angeles’ Steve Kemp for the second in the majors behind Granderson, who has 119.
An aging club of veterans added a 38-year-old and 34-year-old pitcher to their starting rotation because they could not sign Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte retired. They were without 18-game winner Phil Hughes for much of the year and A.J. Burnett and his 10-11 record and 5.28 ERA were a major headache. They lost relievers Joba Chamberlain, Pedro Feliciano and Soriano to injury. They lost Alex Rodriguez to a litany of injuries for half the season. But somehow, some way this team managed to win another division title to defy the so-called experts that said they would not. There is nothing negative about that.
An MRI taken on Phil Hughes’ aching back was negative and the Yankees believe he will be able to make one more start before the playoffs begin. Hughes was given an epidural shot to relieve pain thought to be associated with a herniated disc the pitcher suffered in 2004. Hughes felt back spasms after a bullpen session on Friday and had his start on Monday pushed back to Wednesday. But Hughes still was unable to pitch and Hector Noesi started in his place.
The Yankees have clinched a playoff spot and a division title in one day. But they still are playing to keep home field.
They can sweep the Rays on Thursday with Bartolo Colon (8-9, 3.81 ERA) on the mound. Colon gave up six runs in only four innings against the Blue Jays on Saturday. The Yankees later rallied to win the game. Colon is 7-4 with a 3.47 ERA against the Rays in his career.
The Rays are countering with prize prospect lefty Matt Moore (0-0, 6.23 ERA), who will be making his first major-league start. Moore was 12-3 with a 1.93 ERA combined between Double-A and Triple-A this season.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
- Mitre scattered three hits, walked none and fanned three batters in his first start of the spring. Mitre threw first-pitch strikes to eight of the 11 batters he faced. Mitre, who is battling for a spot in the rotation, has not surrendered a run this spring.
- Pitchers Adam Warren, Andrew Sisco, D.J. Mitchell and Ryan Pope combined to pitch six scoreless innings following Mitre. They gave up only three hots and one walk, striking out six.
- The hero of the game for the Yankees should be center-fielder Greg Golson, who threw out Mark Reynolds at home plate in the second inning after a single up the middle by Adam Jones.
- Only Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Melky Mesa and backup Damon Sublett managed to get hits. Justin Maxwell drew two of the team’s three walks. But that was it for the offense against six Oriole pitchers.
- Robinson Cano was 0-for-3 on three weak infield groundouts.
- The Yankees were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. Their best scoring opportunity came in the second inning when Alex Rodriguez singled, was erased on a Andruw Jones fielder’s choice and Maxwell drew a walk. However, Golson struck out looking and Melky Mesa flied out to end the threat. The Yankees never managed to get two runners on base at the same time for the rest of the game.
hit an uncharacteristic .237 with only three home runs and eight RBIs.