With the clock finally having run out on the Yankees in their effort to sign Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima it is now becoming obvious the the team will enter the 2012 season with virtually their entire roster from 2011 back.
The Yankees seemed shocked when their $2.5 million bid for Nakajima was the winning bid and they dealt with the 29-year-old Seibu Lions star as if he were just going to be paid as a backup infielder, which is, of course, what he was going to be.
But Nakajima was not happy with that offer and the 5 p.m. deadline came and went without a contract. As a result, the Yankees keep their $2.5 million posting and Nakajima returns to play out his contract with Seibu in Japan.
The Yankees, meanwhile, are now free to make an offer to bring back backup first and third baseman Eric Chavez, who hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees last season. Chavez, who has been hampered by injuries for the past five seasons, missed just over two months of the 2011 season due to a fractured bone in his left foot.
But the Yankees can use Chavez, 34, and his left-handed bat as a backup to Alex Rodriguez at third base, to Mark Teixeira at first base and as possible designated hitter or a power bat off the bench.
If Chavez does re-sign with the Yankees he will join outfielder Andrew Jones, infielder Eduardo Nunez and catcher Francisco Cervelli as the same members of the Yankees’ 2011 bench. However, Cervelli would have to win the backup catching job he has held for the past two seasons from rookie Austin Romine in spring training.
The only change in the Yankees’ 13 position players appears to be rookie Jesus Montero, who figures to be the primary DH and third catcher, replacing longtime veteran Jorge Posada.
The Yankees also re-signed Freddy Garcia to a contract this winter, which means the Yankees rotation of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett and Garcia figures to return in 2012. Of course, the Yankees are in pursuit of one additional starting pitcher that would allow the team to perhaps unload Burnett and the two years and $33 million owed on his contract.
The Yankees have avoided getting into a bidding war for free-agent pitchers C.J. Wilson and Mark Buerhle and they only made a token bid for Japanese star Yu Darvish. They also have balked at trades for pitchers such as John Danks, Gio Gonzalez, Jair Jurrgens and Matt Garza because teams have asked for top prospects such as Montero, pitchers Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances and outfielder Mason Williams in return.
The Yankees have had discussions with Scott Boras, the agent for right-hander Edwin Jackson, who was 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 32 games (31 starts) for the world-champion St. Louis Cardinals last season. However, the Yankees are not likely to pay the $15 million to $17 million per season over four years that Boras is seeking for the 28-year-old right-hander.
The Yankees are looking to bring Jackson’s price down some or they may take a pass on him as well. General manager Brian Cashman said he would like to avoid making a long-term commitment to a pitcher like he did with Burnett, a pitcher who may end up being a mistake in the long run.
The Yankees also might have interest in free-agent left-hander Hiroki Kuroda.
The bullpen, with Rafael Soriano opting to stay with the Yankees, also will return pretty much the same nucleus from last season. Soriano and David Robertson will set up the legend of all closers in Mariano Rivera in 2012. Left-hander Boone Logan and right-hander Corey Wade also are back.
Joba Chamberlain is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and he hopes to be ready when spring training begins. However, the Yankees intend to bring the 26-year-old right-hander along slowly and he may not see action until July.
So that means the Yankees will be looking for two pitchers for the bullpen. One likely will be a left-hander to replace Logan as the lefty specialist. The Yankees signed for former Red Sox lefty Hideki Okajima to a minor-league contract. He will compete this spring with Cesar Cabral, who the Royals sent to the Yankees for cash considerations after they selected him from the Red Sox in the Rule 5 draft in December.
The other spot could go to Hector Noesi, who filled that role for portions of last season. But the Yankees have said they consider him a starter and they do not want to use him a long man in 2012 if they can help it.
But, here again, the stand-pat nature of the Yankees may be reaffirmed. The Yankees also have said they would not mind having 38-year-old right-hander Bartolo Colon back as a long man out of the bullpen. Colon was 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA but actually pitched much better than the his record indicated.
Colon was actually 8-6 with a 3.31 on Aug. 11 before going 0-4 with four no-decisions and an ERA of 4.93 down the stretch. He was not even placed on the team’s postseason roster for the American League Division Series. The Yankees believe Colon is better suited as a long man and spot starter and they would offer him a contract to return to the team only in that role because they no longer think he can make 33 starts at his age.
Should the Yankees re-sign Colon that means the only change in the pen could be Okajima or Cabral as a second left-hander replacing right-hander Luis Ayala, who was allowed to become a free agent after going 2-2 with a 2.09 ERA last season.
I can’t recall a season in which the Yankees had less turnover on their roster. It is very odd, indeed, for a team that has prided itself in having the winning tradition, the facilities and the cash to get just about any player they could want in the George Steinbrenner era.
However, Hal and Hank Steinbrenner are at the helm of the ship now and they seem to have a tighter lid on the cash flow. Cashman has been forced to do more with less since the Yankees made their huge splash in 2009 with the free-agent signings of Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira, which led to their 27th world championship that October.
Of course, the team did win 97 games in 2o11 and had the best record in the American League. They did it without significant contributions from Rodriguez, Chamberlain and Hughes and off years from players like Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher.
Perhaps the addition of the powerful bat of Montero, a second lefty in the bullpen and healthy seasons from A-Rod, Joba and Hughes will be enough to carry the Yankees to another A.L. East title and the playoffs. The concern then turns to how well the starting pitchers stack up heading into the playoffs.
Do not forget that there are a few very good pitchers who will be free agents in 2013 and teams might be looking to unload them before the July 31 trade deadline. One is right-hander Matt Cain of the Giants and another is lefty Cole Hamels of the Phillies. Cashman has the patience and the dearth of young prospects to pull off a deal to bolster the staff at any point this season.
So maybe this lack of turnover is not such a bad thing. The team stays strong without adding much in the way of payroll and remains flexible enough to pull off some deals to make a push in the playoffs.
I see nothing wrong with that. Some of the best deals are the ones you don’t make.
For those fans expecting Matt Garza to be modeling Yankee pinstripes in 2012, your dream is not likely to come true.
The Yankees did have an interest in the 28-year-old Chicago Cubs right-hander. But the team’s president of baseball operations Theo Epstein must have been smoking some of that fraternity stash of his lately. His asking price for Garza, who is 52-54 with a 3.83 ERA in his career, is two of the Yankees’ top three prospects.
Yes sir! Epstein and the Cubs want slugging catcher Jesus Montero and either left-hander Manny Banuelos or right-hander Dellin Betances, according to a report by Jack Curry of the YES Network.
Needless to say, Yankee general manager Brian Cashman nearly choked on his Nathan’s hotdog when he heard that request. Although the Yankees would love to obtain Garza to bolster their starting rotation, the asking price for a pitcher who was just 10-10 with a 3.32 ERA in 2011 would seem to be excessively steep.
The Cubs might as well go all the way and offer back-up outfielder Reed Johnson even up for Curtis Granderson. Or how about catcher Geovany Soto for Robinson Cano? You can criticize Epstein for a lot of things but you have to give him credit for having cojones.
This overpricing of pitching has been a trend this winter and it is one of the reasons why Cashman has had to decline big-money offers to overpriced free agents such as C.J. Wilson and Mark Buerhle. The Rangers paid $51 million just for the right to negotiate a deal with Japan’s best pitcher, Yu Darvish.
Teams like the Padres and Athletics have exacted a cartload of prospects for pitchers such as Mat Latos and Gio Gonzalez. The Cubs are trying to do the same with Garza.
But the Yankees have apparently bowed out of the sweepstakes, leaving the Blue Jays and Tigers as the players left interested in Garza unless the Cubs begin to start lowering their demands.
This is is exactly what I was predicting in my last post when I stated that Cashman should proceed with caution in talks for Garza and not succumb to desperation at the expense of the building blocks to the Yankees’ future. You have to know when to fold your hand and leave the table.
Cashman, it appears, has done just that.
Montero, 22, is simply the best power-hitting prospect the Yankees have developed since they promoted Mickey Mantle in 1951. The jury may be out on his skills to be a creditable defensive catcher but scouts have compared his ability to hit to players such as Mike Piazza and Manny Ramirez. You do not trade players with this much upside.
Banuelos, 20, is the best left-hander and the best pitching prospect in the Yankees’ organization and Betances, 23, is the second-best pitching prospect. Neither of the two have had an opportunity to show the Yankees what they can do at the major-league level. Both rose from Double-A Trenton to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season. Both project as potential top-of-the-rotation starters. The Yankees have no other starters in their farm system with that capability.
So why trade any of the three for Garza, who only is two seasons away from free agency and is likely to earn $20 million over the next two seasons in arbitration? Garza is essentially a .500 pitcher. He is not more than a No. 3 starter. If Garza was a flavor of ice cream he would be vanilla. Plain vanilla.
You don’t trade your best prospects for vanilla. You tell Epstein, “Fudge you!”
Which is exactly what Cashman has done.
With any potential deal for Gaza apparently gone, the Yankees are now looking at free-agent right-hander Edwin Jackson, according to CBSSports.com.
Jackson, 28, was 12-9 with a 3.73 ERA and 148 strikeouts for the world-champion St. Louis Cardinals last season. He reportedly is looking for a contract in the $15 million to $17 million range for 2012. The Yankees might be unwilling to go that high on the veteran right-hander, who is 60-60 a 4.86 ERA and 801 strikeouts in his career.
The Yankees are apparently trying to find a middle ground that Jackson and his agent could accept. The Yankees see Jackson as a potential reliable and durable No. 3 starter.
The Yankees already have five potential starters in CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia. They also have six potential young starters in Hector Noesi, D.J. Mitchell, Adam Warren, David Phelps, Betances and Banuelos.
But they have made no secret of the fact the would love to unload troubled right-hander Burnett and his $33 million salary paid over the next two seasons. The Yankees have reportedly offered to pay up to $7 million of that contract but have received no takers so far for Burnett.
The signing of Jackson would allow the Yankees to continue to develop their prize minor-league prospects and renew their efforts to unload Burnett.
It is looking as if the Yankees will not be signing Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima to a contract by the Friday deadline, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.
A source told the Ledger that the talks have been “slow” and the Yankees are unlikely to complete a deal for Nakajima, 29, by the 30-day deadline called for in the posting process. The Yankees wish to pay Nakajima as a backup infielder and Nakajima has been paid as a starter in Japan. So both sides are not close to a deal.
The Yankees posted a $2 million bid for Nakajima in early December and won the right to negotiate a contract. If the two sides can’t agree on a contract Nakajima’s team in Japan, the Seibu Lions, will return the $2 million to the Yankees and Nakajima will remain with the Lions.
The Yankees looked at Nakajima, who hit .297 with 16 home runs and 100 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 144 games with Seibu in 2011, as a potential backup infielder at second, third and shortstop. The negotiations for Nakajima precluded the Yankees from making a deal to re-sign 34-year-old veteran Eric Chavez.
However, if the Nakajima talks fail the Yankees could, if they wish, can contact Chavez’s agent to get the 34-year-old corner infielder back for the 2012 season. Chavez hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees in 2011. He missed two months of the season with a fractured bone in his left foot.
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.