2011

The beauty of baseball is that you just never know what will happen. Entering the 2011 season, almost everyone predicted that the Red Sox and Phillies would meet in the World Series and that the Cardinals were not going to do much after losing their ace to injury. Yet, the Cardinals walked away with the hardware in 2011, giving the National League its first consecutive titles since 1982.

Some fans view the 2011 Yankees as failures, but I don’t. Perhaps it was the fact that I came of age in the fallow period of Yankee history, but anytime the Yankees win the division, I view it as a successful season. Brian Cashman gambled on a suspect pitching staff and he drew an inside straight. I never thought we would see another Aaron Small-type season, but Bartolo Colon’s 2011 came close. And while Colon faded down the stretch and the starting pitching wasn’t much behind Sabathia and Nova, it’s worth remembering that in the end the offense cost the Yankees a chance to move on.

And what will 2012 bring to Yankees’ fans? It’s foolish to try and predict things when the roster is still in flux, but one thing I can almost guarantee is to expect lots of surprises. Cashman has stood by this offseason and watched the top free agents (except for Fielder) come off the board and the top pitchers in the trade market go elsewhere. It seems that it is all part of his plan to make the Yankees younger and less expensive, but I wouldn’t mistake his inactivity for complacency. If I had to guess, here are five moves we might see occur in 2012.

1- Yankees trade a bunch of prospects for a premium starter. This is hardly going out on a limb, but it remains the most obvious need.

2- Russel Martin get signed to a three-year deal. Again, not a shocker, except for the length of the deal. But, the Yankees have become a very statistically-oriented team and Martin’s defense is superb. Throw in a better than average bat for a catcher and I think they keep him around while they try and develop Montero into a catcher.

3- The closer torch is passed to David Robertson. You read the reported quotes about Mariano wanting to play until he is 50, but I don’t buy it. I think Mo is far too smart to hang around and let age rob him of his abilities and he is also a man who has lots of interests outside of baseball. I think 2012 will be it for him.

4- The Yankees make a trade for a young outfielder. I love Nick Swisher, but let’s face it, he isn’t going to be a Yankee in 2013. The Swisher trade could go down as Brian Cashman’s greatest coup. He got one of the best rightfielders in the game for Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez. But, he is 31 and has Scott Boras as an agent. He will be seeking a big deal in the offseason and the Yankees won’t give it to him. The Yankees don’t have an obvious in-house candidate to replace him in 2013, so I think they go outside the organization and find a replacement.

5- Derek Jeter hits 8th in 2012. I don’t think it will happen right away, but at some point in 2012 it is inevitable in my mind that Jeter drops from the top of the lineup. I would bet that the Yankees start the year with Jeter only leading off against lefties, like they did in 2011, but start moving him down against righties by May.

Those are my five, how about yours?

Finally a big thanks to all the readers out there for a wonderful 2011. It’s all of you that make this a fun endeavor. I hope you all have a Happy New Year and please come back in 2012!

-Peter

A Few More Small Moves

According to John Heyman, the Yankees have reached a deal to bring back Andruw Jones to the Bronx. Jones will make the same base $2 million he did last year, but it sounds like his incentives could equal another $1.5 million.

Jones had a rough first half (.635ops) but he rebounded with an enormous second half (1.028ops) and punished lefties to the tune of ..286/.384/.540. With Brett Gardner not able to do much against lefty pitching (.233/.345/.272) this is a smart move to bring Jones back.

And I like the other move they made, signing Hideki Okajimi to a minor league deal with an invite to camp. They essentially get a free look at a guy who used to be very tough on lefties, though I won’t enjoy watching him look like he is going to break his neck every time he throws the ball. Maybe Okajima rediscovers his effectiveness and becomes the second lefty in the pen. Maybe he doesn’t, it won’t cost the Yankees much to find out.

I’ll be back tomorrow to say goodbye to 2011.

The Old Savings and Loan

Just in time for the holidays, the Red Sox have acquired George Bailey from grumpy old Mr. Potter.

Check that, the Sox acquired Andrew Bailey from the A’s and have apparently found their new closer. Which also means Mark Melancon will be the set-up man and Daniel Bard will really be in the rotation. The Sox also received Ryan Sweeney along with Bailey in exchange for Josh Reddick, Miles Head and Raul Alcantara.

A good addition. Now the Red Sox need one more starter and a few depth signings for AAA are all that is needed. That and some good luck.

Use Them or Lose Them

Philosophically, I have no problem with Brian Cashman holding onto the Yankees’ prospects. In fact, I prefer it. Usually, it is a lot more fun to root for guys who grew up in the system than to root for imports. This fall/winter we have seen the big pitching names go off the board through free agency, posting, extensions and trades. Apart from a guy like Kuroda, there is very little left out there that you could see helping the Yankees in 2012. So, I think it is fair to say that Brian Cashman has decided to use his farm system instead of his pocket book to improve the Yankees this offseason. I am 100% on board with this plan, but now Brian has to be as well.

What does that mean? It means no more Sergio Mitre’s or Brian Gordon’s in 2012. Those spots don’t get wasted on other organizations retreads, they go to guys like Noesi, Warren and Phelps. It means a guy like Kevin Whelan gets to stick in the big league pen for a few weeks after dominating AAA and Jesus Montero opens the season as a regular in the lineup. Prospects are a depreciating asset. They are the opposite of a fine wine, the older the get the more they lose in value. You can only stock them in AAA for so long before they begin to become worthless. The Yankees have a ton of guys who could help the 2012 club in their system. Cashman didn’t want to trade those guys this offseason, so it is time to start using them.

Barring any Yankees news in the next few days, this will mark the start of my Christmas break. I will be back at some point next week, but until then I hope everyone enjoys the holidays.

Make The Deal

Over on his GM blog (subscription required) Jim Bowden has five trades for Gio Gonzalez. For the Yankees he has Betances, Phelps and Romine going over to Oakland. I would make that deal in a second.

There are three things you have to worry about with Gonzalez. The first is his walk totals. Now many of the reports I have seen say that he walks a lot of guys because he is afraid to give in and fall behind with the A’s anemic offense. Believe that at your own peril.

The second thing to worry about is his home and road splits. Oakland is a pitcher’s park and not surprisingly, Gonzalez’s ERA is almost a run better there than on the road. He gives up more flyballs than groundballs, so pitching in smaller parks could hurt him. Being a lefty, you would think he could neutralize left-handed batters, but they have actually hit him harder than righties in his career.

Finally, his career ERA vs. Boston is almost a six and against the Yankees it is over 7. He is clearly struggling when facing the best lineups in the league.

So with those three concerns, why would I make this trade? For two reasons. First and foremost, he is a young lefthander with very good stuff. Put him on the Yankees and he doesn’t have to be an ace, he just needs to pitch effectively. Even with the concerns I outlined above, I think he would do that.

Second, think about the pieces the Yankees would give up in this deal. They still have Montero and they still have Banuelos. Sure losing Romine hurts, but I don’t know if he will hit enough in the bigs and don’t forget that Gary Sanchez is still in the system. If the Yankees lock down Martin for a couple of years, they won’t need Romine. I think Phelps could develop into a competent back of the rotation guy, I just don’t see the Yankees giving him the chance. The have Noesi and Warren at that same level, so will Phelps even get a chance? And Betances certainly could develop into a stud pitcher, but you have to give to get and of the trio of Betances, Banuelos and Montero, he is the one I am more comfortable giving up.

Are Yu Waiting?

Get it? That was a “clever” way to remind you that the Yu Darvish decision is due tonight. Actually, it was originally due around 8pm. Then it was reported that it would come around 10pm. It’s 10:45pm now, so we may be here awhile.

Fear not, I will be with you all the way. Just a reminder, it’s a two-step process. At some point tonight, Nippon will announce that they have accepted the bid. They don’t know who made the bid, only the amount. After Nippon formally accepts the bid, MLB will announce the team that made it. Stay tuned….

UPDATE 11:06pm So there is a fake Bud Selig account on Twitter which reported that the Blue Jays had won the posting with a bid of $52 million. Considering one of the next tweets was “Report, Gary Bettman is a bigger idiot than I am” I am somewhat dismayed that more people didn’t realize this “news” was false.

UPDATE 11:08pm A seemingly more credible report was just tweeted by Jeff Passan of Yahoo sports saying the Rangers won the posting with a bid of $51.7 million.

UPDATE 11:10pm Here’s link to a Yahoo story about the report from Passan. Have to say, this is pretty curious. The Rangers wouldn’t go the distance for Cliff Lee or CJ Wilson, but they do this for a guy who has never thrown a pitch for them?

UPDATE 11:13pm Multiple sources confirming the Yahoo report.

UPDATE 11:16pm Here’s a link to the MLB twitter announcement.

UPDATE 11:25pm
While I amazed they bid that much, it is worth remembering that the CEO of the Rangers knows a thing or two about pitching.

UPDATE 11:28pm
Probably worth remembering that Dallas-Ft. Worth is the 4th-largest metropolitan area in the U.S. and the Rangers just signed a TV deal that will net them $80 million a year. This is a team that can spend with the big boys.

Well that’s it for me tonight. I imagine someone will dig up the size of the Yankees’ bid at some point, but you can’t fault them for not wanting to spend $52-million to offer Yu Darvish a contract. I imagine the resolution of the Darvish process will start the wheels moving on some other things like the Gio Gonzalez trade and Kuroda’s free agency. We will have to wait and see if the Yankees have any involvement in that.

Would You Make This Deal?

Over on ESPN’s GM’s Office (subscription required) Jim Bowden has posted five trade ideas that he sees as fair for both teams. One of them is Felix Hernandez to the Yankees for Ivan Nova, Jesus Montero and Dellin Betances. So, if you are the Yankees, do you make this trade?

Personally, I would and here’s why. I think the Yankees are selling high on Nova. Sure, he was awesome in the second half last year, but he also didn’t strike out a lot of guys. It’s very hard to be a great pitcher in this era if you don’t get your K’s and I view Nova as a nice back of the rotation guy rather than a #2 or #3. I could be very wrong about that and if he stays in the Yankees rotation I hope I am, but the jury is still out on him.

Montero is obviously the big hit in this trade, but I still don’t think the Yankees view him as a catcher. To me, the fact that they sent Romine across the country when Martin and Cervelli went down in September tells you all you need to know. And, if he can’t catch, his value to the Yankees goes way down. I should also note that I saw Brian Cashman on TV get asked about putting him in rightfield and Cashman basically said he didn’t think Montero could handle it. So, it’s catcher or bust with Jesus and unless the Yankees have had a change of thinking about his abilities there, better to trade him while the illusion that he can catch still exists.

Betances would hurt too, but of the remaining “B’” I would much prefer to hang onto Banuelos. If you got Hernandez you would have a dominant 1-2 punch to couple with Hughes, Burnett and Garcia. I think you have to do that trade if you are the Yankees.

Think About It

Let’s pretend you are the richest person at a blind envelope auction. Everyone knows you are the richest, but nobody knows who is bidding or the amount that they bid. As the richest person do you…

A- Loudly tell everyone of your interest in a particular item hoping that it scares away potential bidders?

or

B- Pretend to have little to no interest in a particular item hoping that you can use your financial might by posting a big bid stealthily?

The Yankees have done at least the first part of B with Yu Darvish and now we will await to see if they did actually make a bid. I have no idea if they did or didn’t, but I also don’t think you should read very much into their statements that they weren’t interested. To me, that was just smart poker. We know the Yankees have gobs of money and even if it requires a Matsuzaka-like posting fee, that isn’t a big deal to them. And Matsuzaka’s performance will probably help the team that wins the posting negotiate a contract with Darvish. After all, Dice-K was supposed to be a dominant force and apart from 2008, he has been mediocre at best. He signed for six years at $52 million. If you don’t think the Yankees would be willing to add that amount to their payroll, I have a bridge to sell you here in Brooklyn.

Now, the bigger question is if Darvish is worth bidding on? That’s a tough one to answer. Sure, he is supposedly better than Dice-K, but we seem to hear that each time a Japanese pitcher is posted. I don’t think anyone knows how to answer that question, but don’t just assume the Yankees passed. We will find out soon.

UPDATE 7:50pm Two tweets to pay attention to. First, Buster Olney says the Yankees did bid. Second, Danny Knobler reports that the Fighters were excited by the amount of the winning bid. We still don’t know the winning bidder, but it is morning in Japan, so we might hear something later tonight. I will update accordingly.

UPDATE 8:02pm
Jon Heyman tweets that the word is the Yankees entered only a “modest” bid for Darvish. To be honest, I don’t know if I should be happy or sad about that.

UPDATE 10:50pm
Jon Heyman tweets a rumor that one bid was north of $50 millon.

Melancon for Lowrie and Weiland

The Red Sox traded oft-injured Jed Lowrie and spot starter Kyle Weiland to the ‘Stros for former Yankee reliever Mark Melancon.

If it were up to me, I’d have Bard set-up and Melancon close, or the other way around, but I wouldn’t put Bard into the rotation. Bard has never had success at the pro level as a starter and seems to be very good at setting up/relieving, why screw around with something that works.

As for losing Weiland and Lowrie, I’m not going to cry too much. I feel badly for Weiland as he did horribly in spot duty and wasn’t alone in playing poorly towards the end of the year and would have been better served in less important situations. As for Lowrie, I think the Red Sox tried their best with him, but he just couldn’t put it together. He got off to a blazing start in 2011, but was awful the rest of the way (.962 OPS in April and then .689, .352, .655 and .562 in May, June, August and September respectively).

ESPN’s Keith Law seems to think Lowrie is a huge loss for the Red Sox and he also thinks him having a healthy year is important and if there is anything we know about Lowrie, it is highly unlikely he’ll stay healthy. Time to move on from Lowrie. I hope he does well, but if he can’t stay on the field, it doesn’t matter how good he is.

I like this move as it adds depth and options to the pitching staff. Melancon might not light it up as a closer in the Papelbon mold, but he should hold his own in set-up duty and maybe even closing duties.

Also, Nick Punto was signed which begs the question, what becomes of Mike Aviles and/or Marco Scutaro? Could this signal a trade is coming? Could Hanley Ramirez be coming to Boston??? Sorry, got carried away there, but it could signal a trade for starting pitching or some other pieces.

Sealing the Deal

The Red Sox have signed catcher Kelly Shoppach to a 1-year, $1.35mm deal so reports ESPN.

That essentially closes the door on a return for Jason Varitek. With Jarrod Saltalamacchia set to be the everyday catcher and Ryan Lavarnway the back-up catcher/DH/1b.

Shoppach has been terrible at the plate his last 2 seasons putting up a .650 OPS in 2010 and a .607 OPS in 2011, so to me, this is an insurance signing in case Lavarnway struggles with his defense. Shoppach sadly has turned into a Kevin Cash offensively.