What’s Left?

As we head into 2009, the Yankees have done the heavy lifting of their offseason, but they have some remaining concerns to address.  Here are the reamining items on my "To Do" list. 

1- Settle on a fifth starter.  The key ingredient to me is innings, a guy who can pitch 180 innings would be perfect for this role.  Is that Phil Hughes?  Based on his history, absolutely not.  Maybe it’s Randy Wolf, but he probably costs more than Pettitte.   It could simply be a combination of Hughes, Aceves and Kennedy, that would be ok with me too.  But, let’s pretend A.J. Burnett gets hurt (hard to do, I know) and Hughes is in the rotation already. Do you have enough depth when you consider that Hughes/Joba may need some rest along the way?  

 

2- Find a real backup catcher.  We can continually sing Jose Molina’s praises for defense, but he is an absolute zero with the bat.  Let me rephrase that, in 2008 AL catchers hit .258/.322/.393 so Molina’s line of .216/.263/.313 is actually less than zero and the Yankees suffered through 268 AB’s of it.  The Yankees can say that Posada’s shoulder is better all they want, but do they really know for sure until he plays in games?  If you want to know why the Yankees were so bad on offense last year consider that 20% of their AB’s went to Molina, Melky, Moeller, I-Rod, Gardner, Ensberg and Duncan.  Of those seven, Melky had the highest slugging % at .341 while Moeller took the OBP crown with a .311 mark.  Which leads me to my last point…

 

3- Upgrade the bench.  The Yankees have spent too many years neglecting the guys riding the pine.  That has to stop now.  Ideally, the Yankees will use the same lineup every day, but I would peg the chances of that happening at about 0%.  Players are going to get hurt.  Posada, as I mentioned above, is my chief worry, but Jeter is older.  Matsui is coming off of an injury and most of the guys in the lineup are on the wrong side of 30.  Other than Teixeira, Cano and whoever gets the nod in center, how many guys can the Yankees expect to play 155 games in the field?  Not many at all and that is one of the reasons I would not quickly trade Swisher or Nady just yet.  Having those guys on the team provides depth, now the Yankees need to find someone who can step in and play the middle infield.  (And no, I just don’t but Cody Ransom as that guy)

4- Work on translating pitching depth in the minors into a more balanced approach.  The Yankees have a lot of valuable arms at the top of their minor leagues, but apart from Austin Jackson, very few bats.  Trading pitchers for hitters is usually a winning move, the Yankees should look into it.  

Boomerang

This is probably old news to most of you by now, but MLBTradeRumors.com via SI.com said the Red Sox tried to re-acquire Florida Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez.

Ramirez has obviously proven to be a tremendous chip to give up in acquiring Josh Beckett and given the Red Sox desire to boost the offense, he’d be an amazing addition.

Disclaimer:  When the Beckett deal was made, I was not that high on Hanley Ramirez and wondered in a post or 2 just what was it people saw in him.  His OBP in the minors wasn’t great and he certainly had documented attitude issues.  Fortunately for me, those posts have yet to be brought back on-line since we switched providers.

That said, Ramirez has been an offensive force hitting for average, power, getting on base and stealing.  What is most amazing to me is that he walked 92 times in 2008.  That’s 36 more times than at any other level of baseball.  His .400 OBP was 10th best in baseball last year.

While SI.com didn’t talk about specific offers, they did suggest that "Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz were among those mentioned in a potential package for Ramirez."

While having to trade to get Hanley back would be painful, he certainly would be an offensive upgrade whether he played SS or was moved to CF.  SI reports the talks for Ramirez actually happened a few weeks prior to Teixeira moving to New York.

My take?  Given Ramirez’s performance so far and the fact he just signed a 6-year, $70mm deal, I would go pick up Ellsbury and Buchholz and drive them to the Marlins front door.  My guess is that the Red Sox were ok dealing those 2 guys, but balked when the Marlins, and rightfully so, asked for more.

SI says there is little chance the deal gets revisited.

Penny and Bard

Reports have surfaced that the Red Sox are close to signing Brad Penny and the once and former Tim Wakefield catcher, Josh Bard, to contracts.

Sean McAdam of the Boston Herald has Penny set to sign a 1-year, $5mm deal with another $3mm possible in incentive earnings.  Penny was terrible last year suffering from shoulder issues.  Speaking of shoulders, he has perhaps the widest shoulders in the history of baseball.

Penny will compete for a middle to end rotation spot.  McAdam suggests this MIGHT allow the Red Sox to keep Justin Masterson in the bullpen.  My take?  Prepare Masterson for the rotation as Penny is a huge question mark.

I’m not overly thrilled with this signing, but I suppose signing someone of Penny’s potential skill level was necessary (like Bartolo Colon).  If one of the young guys, such as Clay Buchholz or Michael Bowden can’t help, then it is nice to have a pitcher like Penny to turn to.  His health is a major concern though.

As for Josh Bard, McAdams says it is a non-guaranteed $1.6mm deal.  Many of us recall his struggles catching Tim Wakefield and the subsequent trade to re-acquire Doug Mirabelli.  Bard hit very well in 2006 (once traded to SD) and slightly less so in 2007, but regressed terribly in 2008 and was ultimately released by the San Diego Padres.  Per McAdam’s article, he is looked at as a back-up.

With Kevin Cash now a potential Yankee (minor league deal), the Red Sox had to sign someone, right?

Bard is just a glove at this point and one that can only catch conventional pitchers.  Again, I am not thrilled by this deal as the Red Sox have not really addressed the bigger need at catcher.

Penny and Bard both have major question marks and I am not expecting either to have a major or even moderate impact on the 2009 team.  To me, both represent insurance (the cheap and questionable kind, like from SBLI).

55-45 Against

Those are the odds against the Yankees signing Andy Pettitte according to a story in today’s Daliy News

I go back and forth on this one.  On one hand, I look at the Yankees rotation and other than Sabathia and Wang who else do you think will pitch 200 innings?  (Sorry, I just don’t think you can be positive Burnett will.)  Pettitte provides that at a decent ERA.  But, you also have to look at his second half (13 starts 5.35 ERA) and wonder if he has that ability in him.  And, for $10 million, couldn’t you find a cheaper alternative?

Ultimately, I think this decision rests on Phil Hughes.  The Yankees need to see what they can get out of Hughes and signing Pettitte puts him back in AAA.  Now, I would not go into 2009 without some sort of veteran backup, but I would do so by going the minor league contract route and signing a cheap veteran.  You can then take some of that $10 million and use it towards a real bench which the Yankees need to address next. 

Brush Back

Happy Holidays all.  No matter what you celebrate, I think there is always room for various feats of strength, the airing of grievances and Festivus miracles.

Having had some time with family over the past few days, I figured it a good idea to talk about the Red Sox and what happened on Tuesday.

First off, here are some of the many possible feelings once might have felt, as a Red Sox fan, over the Mark Teixeira signing:

Red Sox blew it.  They could have had Teixeira had they just bumped up their offer.  Also, they shouldn’t have placed a deadline on negotiations.  They approached and handled things all wrong.

Mark Teixeira never wanted to come to the Red Sox.  He still remembers being drafted by the Red Sox and reports out of NY say he preferred the Yankees all along.  The Red Sox were just being used as a means to increase his final contract.

The Red Sox could have matched or even exceeded the Yankees offer, but what makes you think the Yankees wouldn’t have countered?  Just what was the Yankees limit after all?  I say $180mm, you say $200mm…

This was just a normal free agent negotiation.  The player picked the team that offered the most money and/or presumably the most comfortable atmosphere, be it geography, money, pressure, uniform style, perks, etc.

My guess is that most Red Sox fans felt the Red Sox either blew it, or Teixeira didn’t really like the idea of being a Red Sox and when the Yankees finally made an offer, he jumped.  If you are in the group that thinks the latter, you are probably wondering just what could the Red Sox have done?

It really doesn’t matter what the reason, the Yankees just upgrade themselves at 1st base by offering yet another massive contract to a free agent.  It is a double improvement b/c not only did they get him but the Red Sox did not.

Sean McAdam, now of the Herald (and ESPN), had some interesting facts on the Red Sox since Theo Epstein took over and how he believes the Red Sox will operate in the future regarding free agency.  McAdam’s take is that the Red Sox will no longer explore top (read: Type A) free agents as they:

 – Cost too much in draft compensation.  Of course, not having to pay for a 1st and 2nd round pick can be a savings in a way, but I’d like to see a study, which I’m far too lazy to undertake, that shows the success rate of players drafted in each round of the draft and what they were paid.

 – Have a history of being very, very bad ideas (Barry Zito, Carl Pavano, Matt Clement, Kevin Brown, etc.  Of course they can be good on occasion, but is a 50% or even a 75% success rate really worth dropping $100+ million George Bucks?

When you think about it, if you sign an elite free agent, your BEST-case scenario is to get full value out of the deal.  If a player is elite when you sign him, is he going to be elite and some?  That’s tough to argue, so a free agent has to be "as advertised" otherwise the signing team "overspent."

 – Cost too much in money.  Growing and developing talent versus signing big names, provides some cost certainty.  Of course high-draft picks demand top dollar, but if a MLB team scouts well enough, there are often solid values scattered throughout the draft.  Examples on the Red Sox:

 1.)  Kevin Youkilis signed for $12,000 as an 8th round draft choice.

 2.)  Reigning AL MVP Dustin Pedroia signed for $575,000 as a 2nd round draft choice.

 3.)  Jonathan (can’t we just call you Jon) Papelbon signed for $264,500 as a 4th round pick.

It’ll be interesting to see what the Red Sox do going forward.  My guess is that they have indeed grown tired of the elite free agent process.  J.D. Drew has thus far hit a $28,000,000 grand slam, but otherwise shown himself to be injured a bunch and just not a player you can count on everyday (i.e. as advertised/feared) and he never was really considered elite.

One silver lining in all of this is that AA prospect Lars Anderson (not Larz, the auto enthusiast, although I heard he had a good stroke.  In all seriousness, if you haven’t visited the Larz Anderson park and auto museum, you are really missing something) has a clearer path to Boston.  It might just end up, after all, that sticking with Lars as the future was the far cheaper/better route.

The Red Sox still need someone to catch the ball when the pitchers throw it (that’s important, right?) and could use a utility OF and IF as well as perhaps a starter.  Obviously they could put Michael Bowden or Clay Buchholz in the rotation, but my bet is they try and trade for a more certain option or even go after John Smoltz.

Jeff Bailey, who was with the club during the year, might just stick as their primary pinch-hitter and back-up at 1st, DH and perhaps the corner outfield spots too.  Bailey reminds me somewhat of a Brian Daubach type.  Too old to be considered a prospect, but someone who raked AAA pitching (.301/.405/.562 in 2008) and can play a few positions.  He is far from graceful, but has shown some sticktoitiveness and that might just count for something.

My guess is we’ll hear/read very little from now until the New Year, so Happy New Year all.

Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays!

ss!

From both of us here at the blog, we hope you and your families all have a very happy and safe holiday season.  Thank you so much for reading!

One last baseball note, interesting article by Kat O’Brien on the Teixeira negotiations.  Up until the end, Boras was playing the Yankees and the Red Sox off one another.   If you are a player, why wouldn’t you want Boras as your agent?  Look, I don’t like his methods, but he gets his clients top dollar always.  It will be interesting to see how he creates leverage for Manny Ramirez because it looks like the Dodgers are the only team left standing in that bidding.  (And yes, I would love to see Manny have to take a deal for less than the two option years he had when he sulked out of Boston.)

One last note, for the first time in years (probably 34 years) the Yankees are closing their offices between Christmas and New Year’s Day.  That’s a nice move by Hal and it also means you probably will have to wait until 2009 to see Teixeira introduced.  

 

The Beltran Factor

Nice piece by Joel Sherman where he talks about how the Yankees learned from passing on signing Carlos Beltran in 2004-05 offseason.  That was the year they added RJ, Pavano and Wright to the rotation, but decided against Beltran because Bernie Williams was making a huge salary. (Wow, can you imagine if Cashman could have a mulligan for that offseason?) 

If you look at the free agent class after 2009, there simply aren’t any impact bats out there.  (Sorry, Matt Holiday’s splits away from Coors dq him)  If the Yankees had passed on Teixeira, they would have had to trade for a bat and that isn’t always easy.  Plus, Damon, Matsui and Nady are free agents after this upcoming season as well and the Yankees probably won’t want to sign any of them. 

So, the Yankees grabbed an impact bat while they could and that is a smart thing.   

Presents Under The Tree

What’s that under the tree?  Is it a firstbaseman?  It sure sounds like it and the Yankees just improved their team by leaps and bounds.

By signing Teixeira, the Yankees now have a firstbaseman who can hit AND play defense, a stark departure from the Giambi years.  Yes, the contract is long (8 years) but Teixeira will be 36 when it is done, by no means an old player.  In short, this is a fantastic move for the Yankees.

Kudos to Brian Cashman who is truly "the silent assassin" for the way he jumps in and makes moves, this was a masterful one.  Now, it will be interesting to see what the Yankees do next.

First, do they keep their offer to Pettitte?  I wouldn’t at this point, let’s leave that spot open to Huges, Kennedy and Aceves.

Next, is Gardner the starter in center?  I would assume so and with Tex in the fold, I say why not?

And, you now have Nick Swisher and Xavier Nady to play right, which one do you trade?  (I say Nady)

For now think about this:

Damon-LF

Jeter-SS

Teixeira- 1B

A-Rod- 3B

Cano- 2B

Posada- C

Swisher/Nady- RF 

Matsui-DH

Gardner-CF

 

Mark Teixeira

SI’s Jon Heyman and ESPN’s Buster Olney are both reporting that the Yankees have agreed in principle with 1st baseman Mark Teixeira on an 8-year deal.  Heyman has it at $180mm and a full no-trade while Olney says an 8-year deal worth more than $170mm, but no mention of a full no-trade clause.

The Yankees have signed the top 3 free agents this off-season.

Decision Due?

SI.com wording is now:  "…reached an agreement in pricincple…"  

DOUBLE UPDATE:  Heyman now says the Yankees are on the verge of signing Teixeira.  He makes it sound like a virtual done deal.  8 years, $180mm with a FULL no-trade clause.  ESPN is reporting it too now, although nothing official.

UPDATE:  Jon Heyman at SI says the Yankees have entered the fray and are in deep discussions.  This could be Scott Boras using Heyman as a puppet or they are really going to make a push and commit over $400mm over the next 8 season on 3 players.  If indeed the Yankees are in the mix, a decision today would seem less likely.

Word is out that Mark Teixeira and Scott Boras will bless us all with their decision today.  Apparently it is between the Red Sox and the Nationals.

My take:  If the Red Sox land him, great, he is a welcome addition to the line-up, especially with the health of David Ortiz and Mike Lowell in question.  If he signs with the Nats, then the Red Sox probably dodged a bullet as why would anyone want to play for the Nationals?  I’m not knocking the city or the people there, just the fact that, at least in the short term, the are not going to be competitive.

If a player takes 3% or 4% more money and does care about the team, that says a bit about that player.

We shall see.