Everyone Is Free!

Last night at midnight marked five full days since the end of the World Series and that means every free agent is now eligible to move to a new team. It’s a rule change MLB made last year and I really like it as it gets the hot stove burning a little bit sooner.

The question for the Yankees is, will they participate in free agency at all this year? They probably will sign or re-sign some smaller free agents, but there is a very good chance they do absolutely nothing of note.

I imagine the most likely free agent signing the Yankees will make is to bring back Andruw Jones. Jones got off to a slow start, but he finished with a big second half to put up a line of .286/.384/.540 against LHP. Considering two-thirds of the Yankee outfield is lefthanded and the lack of an obvious replacement in the minors, he should be brought back.

But the Yankees have eight other free agents, let’s look at them as well.

Eric Chavez had a great first month, but he broke his foot and put up an awful line of .252/.294/.339 when he returned. He didn’t do very much against righties and while Eduardo Nunez wasn’t great, he did enough with the bat to make Chavez a luxury. The Yankees would be smart to move on.

Bartolo Colon was the surprise of the year. Who could ever have predicted that he would pitch like that? But, we saw him wear down in the second half and when you consider his age and girth, I think the Yankees should take a pass here as well.

Freddy Garcia doesn’t fall too far behind Colon on the surprise meter. But, he is also a Type B free agent, which means the Yankees should offer him arbitration and hope he doesn’t accept it. Even if he does, the financial cost won’t be too burdensome and the Yankees
Luis Ayala had a nice and unexpected year out of the bullpen. At 34, he is not a prospect and the odds of him repeating it are low. Best to let him go and try one of the plethora of arms they have in the minors in his role.

Damaso Marte will always have those big outs in the 2009 playoffs. If he will take an invite to camp, do it, but the Yankees have already wasted too much money on him.

Sergio Mitre is going to come back. We all know it. The bigger question is why?

I would like to see the Yankees bring Andrew Brackman back on a minor league deal. The potential is there, but harnessing it seems like a long shot at this point.

And that leaves us with the saddest decision the Yankees have to make, saying goodbye to Jorge Posada.

We all know in our hearts that this is the right move, but it doesn’t make it any easier. Posada was a wonderful player for many, many years and nobody should wear #20 well into the next decade. But sentimentality doesn’t win you rings and Posada can’t help this club anymore. He can’t catch and his bat only really works against righties. If he could catch and play first, you could make an argument to squeeze him on the roster, but the Yankees need to give his AB’s to younger players.

That may mean seeing Jorge in another uniform next year. That would be odd, but Yogi did it in 1965, so Posada can too. What the Yankees should make clear to him is that a job is waiting in the organization whenever he wants it.

Shocked!

So Brian Cashman had the audacity to say that AJ Burnett would be in the rotation next year “if he’s with us”? You mean the Yankees might actually explore trading a guy who has put up a career record of 34-35 with a 4.79 ERA in pinstripes and will be 35? How could we ever part with our #2 starter?

Ok, sarcasm aside, I was thrilled by Cashman’s comments. I have said it numerous times, but the only reason AJ Burnett is pitching in the rotation is the contract he signed. If his name had been Nova, Hughes or Noesi last year, he would have been in the bullpen or the minors. It is stupid to pretend that AJ is going to get better at this point. We have all seen the body of work in a Yankee uniform, the aforementioned numbers, which were compiled over 584 innings. He is also 35 and his fastball has slowed down from an average of 94.2mph when he arrived in 2009 to 92.7mph this past season. Finally, we know he is not a guy who can “figure it out” on the mound.

The Yankees would be very, very wise to dangle him out there this winter and see what they can get. The Braves just did a similar thing with Derek Lowe and they pulled off a decent trade. They still pay Lowe $10 million, but that is a sunk cost, it would have happened anyway. They also got a 23-year old pitcher who is in the low minors, but projects as a lefty arm out of the pen. Most importantly, they clear a spot in the rotation for someone from the minors to step in and they have several candidates.

The Yankees are in the same boat with AJ, they just have more dollars to eat. He is going to earn $33 million over the next two seasons and there is nothing they can do about that. They have plenty of options in the minors who could probably at least equal AJ’s performance. (Remember his 4.79 ERA as a Yankee is mostly due to his 4.04 ERA in 2009, the last two year’s have been over 5). Give the ball to Adam Warren and see what he does. Move on to David Phelps if Warren can’t do it. How about Noesi in the rotation? Really anything is preferable to another year of AJ. And don’t forget, before AJ got here, he was incredibly fragile. How will the Yankees feel if he gets hurt this year and then they can’t trade him?

If the Yankees could get a similar deal to the one the Braves got ($5 million per year of salary relief and a decent prospect) they should jump at the chance. Don’t get hung up on the $23 million they will have to pay AJ to NOT pitch for them. The sad fact is that it is still better than paying him $33 million TO pitch for them.

Bye-Bye Brackman

The Yankees closed the book, at least for now, on former first round pick Andrew Brackman today when they decided not to exercise their option on his contract. Considering that Brackman did his best to impersonate Nuke LaLoosh in the minors this year, it’s not a shock. Brackman pitched 96 innings and managed to walk 75 guys, the same number he struck out. He was moved from the rotation, to the bullpen, where he pitched better and he even made three appearances out of the big league pen in September, but it is hard to say he is a prospect anymore at 26 with no control.

I didn’t mind it then, so I won’t pretend to mind the risk the Yankees took on Brackman now. It was a huge miss on their part, but consider this quote from Brian Cashman about Brackman made shortly after the 2007 draft

“On our draft board, and I think on most people’s draft board before the season, he was No. 1 or No. 2 with David Price.”

We all know who David Price is and the Yankees are never going to have a shot at guys like him, unless they lose a lot more than they have. That requires them to take bigger risks in the draft to make up for poor draft position. Brackman was that type of risk.

Look at the guy they picked in the first round of 2008, Gerrit Cole. Does the name ring a bell? That’s probably because he was the #1 pick overall in the 2011 draft because he didn’t sign with the Yankees and became the best pitcher in the nation at UCLA. Unlike with Brackman, they were right about the talent, they just couldn’t execute the signing.

Where the Yankees have been very successful is with international signings. Montero, Banuelos, Betances, Sanchez, Cano, Soriano, Rivera…they have used their money well in this arena. But, if MLB creates a worldwide draft, as some have speculated, the Yankees won’t be able to do that anymore. Then we would really see a different approach from Brian Cashman and his lieutenants.