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.
NEW YORK YANKEES WINTER MEETINGS PREVIEW
One person you are not likely to see much of at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas on Monday is Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.
As baseball’s 2011 Winter Meetings open, Cashman habitually spends most of his time in his suite. And it is not because he is diving into the honor bar. Cashman is in “bunker mode” hoping to make a deal or signing or two that will help the Yankees improve for the 2012 season.
Of course, Cashman has already done a few important things that will help the Yankees in the upcoming season.
The most important mission he had this offseason was keeping ace left-hander CC Sabathia from opting out of his contract and becoming a free agent. Cashman was able to get Sabathia to sign an extension through 2016 worth $122 million. So that took what would have been the most-prized pitcher off the market and kept him with the Yankees.
Determined to ensure the Yankees enter 2012 with a solid starting rotation, Cashman set the Yankees priorities as “pitching, pitching and pitching.” That is why the Yankees picked up the options on Nick Swisher and Russell Martin and is allowing Jorge Posada to go as a free agent.
The only major signing of a non-pitcher this winter was the signing of infielder Jayson Nix to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training. Nix, primarily a second baseman, can also play third base and has logged some time in the outfield.
Nix, 29, played for Toronto in 2011 and hit .169 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 136 at-bats in 46 games. He has hit .209 over the span of four major-league seasons.
Nix is an insurance policy in case reserve first baseman and third baseman Eric Chavez decides to retire or signs with another club as a free agent. The Yankees have made it clear they would love to have Chavez and free-agent outfielder Andruw Jones return to the team next season.
So when it comes to the Yankees’ starting lineup and bench, the Yankees pretty much are looking at a status quo with rookie catching prospect Jesus Montero expected to be the team’s primary designated hitter in 2012 replacing Posada.
Cashman proved how important he values pitching by re-signing Freddy Garcia to a one-year contract worth between $4 million and $5 million. Garcia, 35, was selected as a starter out of spring training after he signed $1.5 million contract over the winter. Garcia posted a 12-8 record with a 3.62 ERA in 25 starts (over 26 games).
With Garcia’s signing the Yankees rotation features Sabathia, rookie surprise Ivan Nova, a recovering Phil Hughes, enigmatic veteran A.J. Burnett and Garcia. That starting five does not exactly appear to be a championship caliber staff if you ask most Yankee fans. So the speculation has been that Cashman would dip into the Yankees’ rich financial reserves to pony up some big money for free-agent pitchers C.J. Wilson, Mark Buerhle, Roy Oswalt or Edwin Jackson.
Or Cashman might look to make a substantial posting bid for 25-year-old Japanese pitching star Yu Darvish.
The Yankees have also been linked in trade rumors for pitchers such as Matt Cain of the Giants, Jair Jurrgens of the Braves and Matt Garza of the Cubs.
Of course, Cashman has a collection of six pitchers in the organization who are currently 24 years old or less who could advance to help the major-league club as starters or relievers in 2012 including Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, D.J. Mitchell, Hector Noesi, David Phelps and Adam Warren.
Noesi compiled a 2-2 record with a 4.47 ERA in 30 games (two starts) over four separate stints with the Yankees last season. Cashman has been getting glowing reports about how Noesi is throwing this winter in the Domincan Republic and he is touting Noesi as the “next Ivan Nova.”
So the Yankees could go in a lot of directions this winter with their pitching staff: (1) they could stand pat, (2) sign a free agent, (3) trade for a starter or (4) look to shore up the staff with a young pitcher in their minor-league system.
But any addition to the staff surely would mean that one of the current five starters would either have to go to the bullpen or leave the team entirely. That will not include Sabathia, Garcia or Nova. So that means Hughes and Burnett might be in the crosshairs should the Yankees decide to add another starter.
Hughes was 5-5 with a 5.79 ERA in an injury-plagued 2011 season. However, if you throw out his first three starts when he was pitching with a weak right shoulder and two consecutive starts in August in which he gave up 12 runs in 8 1/3 innings, Hughes was 5-3 with a 3.38 ERA in his other nine starts.
What this would indicate that is if Hughes is healthy at the start if spring training there is a good possibility he could return to his 18-8 form of 2010. The Yankees have heard good reports about Hughes, 25, who is working out in his native California this offseason.
Hughes has pitched well in the bullpen before as he did in the Yankees’ championship season in 2009, however, the Yankees are stocked with right-handers Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and a recovering Joba Chamberlain. There does not seem to be much room left for Hughes here. So, for now, Hughes is a starter.
Burnett, 34, is another story altogether.
Though Burnett’s Game 4 start against the Tigers in the American League Division Series was excellent, he is coming off two seasons in which he was a combined 21-26 with a 5.20 ERA. Because the Yankees owe Burnett $65 million he has been the proverbial albatross around the Yankees necks and he possibly could remain that way for another two seasons.
The Yankees could hope that Burnett somehow finds a way to consistently put the ball in the vicinity of the plate and cuts down on his gopher balls or they could also decide – like a malignant tumor – he must be removed from the roster even if it means that the Yankees have to pick up most, if not all, of his contract to pitch for another team.
Yankee fans are certainly rooting for the latter. They have seen enough of “Bad A.J.” to know that it is time to bring the curtain down on his bad act.
Other than that potential shift in the rotation, the only other move Cashman likely could make is to add a left-hander to the bullpen.
Boone Logan, 27, has been the lone lefty in the bullpen for two seasons. Though he did OK with a 5-3 record and a 3.46 ERA in 2011, he is not, by definition, a real lefty specialist. He has been pressed into that role due to injuries to Damaso Marte and Pedro Felciiano the past two seasons.
But Marte has been released and Feliciano has undergone shoulder surgery and he won’t pitch at all under the final year of his two-year deal with the Yankees. So the Yankees do need to explore obtaining a lefty who can consistently retire left-handed batters.
Cashman could really help the Yankees out a lot by finding the one piece of the puzzle that would make the Yankees’ bullpen even better than it already is.
Also do not be surprised if Cashman comes up with a surprise or two, much like he did with Granderson deal two winters ago.
Cashman always plays his cards close to the vest and he never really signals what he is likely to do. That is why if a rumor surfaces about the Yankees interested in making a deal, I automatically discount it. Cashman does not make deals that are rumored in the press. He does it with cunning and stealth.
Although Cashman has signed disasters like Burnett and Kei Igawa, he also has made some nice deals such as the Granderson and the Swisher deals. Although it appears Cashman is likely to use a scalpel and a Band-Aid rather than a hacksaw to this winter’s roster, you never really know if players like Swisher, Eduardo Nunez, Montero or Betances could be traded in order to obtain the pitching help the Yankees seem to need.
If you do not see Cashman much in the hotel lobby you can almost be assured he is stoking the fears of his rival GMs. That is just the Cashman way.