The End of the Bench

With the word that that Yankees have signed Raul Ibanez, the Yankees have essentially filled 12 of the 13 offensive spots. We know the defensive starters are Martin Teixeira, Cano, Jeter, A-Rod, Gardner, Granderson and Swisher and behind them we now have Nunez, Jones, Ibanez and almost certainly Cervelli. (I saw “almost certainly” because I guess Romine could win the spot, but I think the Yankees would much prefer to let him play a year at AAA) That leaves one spot and the suggestion is that Eric Chavez might get it, but should he?

Let’s start with the Ibanez signing. He can’t hit lefties anymore, which means he is a good pairing with Andruw Jones who can’t really hit righties. Platoons can be very potent tools, but they are harder to execute in these days when teams carry small benches. The plan seems to be that the Yankees will put Jones in left when a lefty starts and give A-Rod or Jeter a half day off at DH with Nunez starting at third or short. Conversely, when a righty starts, Ibanez gets the DH spot and the rest of the regulars are normally used. The problem with this alignment is when Nunez is in the field, the Yankees don’t have anyone on the bench who can play the middle infield. Furthermore, all of this is predicated on the idea that Ibanez isn’t finished as a hitter, something I am not sure about. At least the contract is very expendable.

So, ideally the Yankees would give the final bench spot to someone who could cover multiple positions. That’s where I wonder if they are better off just using Ramiro Pena at this point over Chavez? Sure, Pena can’t hit. But, he can play anywhere in the infield and he can even play the corners in the outfield in a pinch. He also can run a little bit, something that could come in handy. Eric Chavez hit .256/.320/.356 last year for the Yankees. Against righties he put up a nearly-identical line of .255/.322/.365. That was his best season since 2007. If Chavez can’t hit, what value does he add to the team that Pena doesn’t?

Rather than sign Chavez and potentially throw away a million or more, why not just wait and see how camp shakes out? Maybe Bill Hall, a guy who can play multiple positions, hits enough to justify a roster spot. Maybe someone who is out of options doesn’t make a big league club. The Yankees have players like Chris Dickerson and Justin Maxwell who are also out of options, maybe they could net something in a trade. The Yankees have been patient all winter, why change now?

Happy Retirement Wake

Just thought I would hijack the Red Sox side of this blog to wish Tim Wakefield a happy retirement. (Who am I kidding, Andy has entered the witness protection program and left all of you Red Sox fans in my clutches. Well maybe it just seems that way.)

I have a bit of a connection with Wakefield as I got to meet him because his wife and my wife both gave birth in the same hospital at the same time. He was a nothing but gracious with all the admirers I saw try and get his autograph when all he really wanted to do was see his newborn baby. That was 2004 and I guess we can all agree that he had a really good year that year.

Personally, I wanted to see him keep pitching. After all, Jamie Moyer is still active! Now here’s my question to you, Red Sox fans. Wakefield is third in franchise history for wins, behind only Cy Young and Roger Clemens. Does that merit his number being retired? I know he won’t make the Hall of Fame, but does he rank up there with someone like Johnny Pesky?

On a separate note, Wakefield’s retirement makes Mariano Rivera the oldest player in the AL.

And Now What?

Reports are the AJ Burnett deal is done. The Yankees will get $13 million of salary relief and two “prospects”. I put that last part in quotes because one of the names mentioned, Diego Moreno, can hardly be considered a prospect. We will have to wait and see who the other prospect is, but the players are not the point of this deal. The point was to clear some of AJ’s salary and clear up the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation.

The big question is what are the Yankees going to do with the $6.5 million of salary relief. The rumors are they will use it to sign Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez. I’m not a fan of either move. Of the two, Chavez makes more sense at this point because the Yankees could use the depth at third and there are very few alternatives out there. However, Ibanez still makes no sense to me, especially with Damon or Matsui, still available.

As for the fifth spot in the rotation, it seems to be a pretty simple calculation to me. If the Yankees still believe in Phil Hughes’ long term viability as a starter, he has to get the job. Freddy Garcia is a nice player and he certainly did well for the Yankees last year, but he isn’t the future and Hughes is. Now, if the Yankees feel that Hughes is better suited to relief, then he ends up in the bullpen, but that seems like a waste to me when you already have Robertson and Soriano out there to set up for Mariano. Part of me wonders if this fifth starter competition will be similar to the 2009 one where Hughes basically had the job from day 1.

Final note, word is the second prospect from Pittsburgh is Exicardo Cayones. He is actually more of a prospect. Just 20, he has hit .272/.372/.380 in 558 plate appearances. The OBP is an encouraging sign and if he could develop some power, he might turn into a viable prospect, but he is clearly a long way off.

Too Far To Fail?

As we enter day 46 of the AJ Burnett trade talks, I wonder about two things. First, have we reached the point of no return? Specifically, could AJ show up at Yankees camp and be productive? Second, how did these talks become so public in the first place?

The first question is the key one to me because I do worry that the Yankees have backed themselves into a corner here. AJ has never been what you would call a mentally tough player. Through the years, the most popular comparison for him among commentators to this website has been Nuke LaLoosh. In many ways it is the perfect comparison (million dollar arm/five cent head) because the frustrating thing about watching AJ is how little he gets out of so much talent. So, what exactly happens if the trade falls through and he returns to the Bronx? Clearly he knows he wasn’t wanted, how would that affect him?

And that brings me to my second question, how did all of this become so public? One of the characteristics of the Yankees in recent years has been silence surrounding their intentions. Look at the last trade they pulled off, did anyone and I mean anyone attach the Yankees to Pineda before that trade? Yet this potential trade has been all over the internet. My only conclusion is that the Pirates are the ones leaking it.

Think about it from a Pittsburgh standpoint and it makes all the sense in the world. They know AJ will be hurt by this and they know that the public nature of these discussions will ramp up the pressure on the Yankees to do a deal. Pittsburgh seems pretty content to offer $10 million in compensation and nothing in the way of prospects because they know the Yankees are stuck between a rock and a hard place on this deal.

I imagine this will all be resolved soon. The Yankees will pull the trigger on some deal, most likely Pittsburgh’s, before camp opens on Sunday. They don’t want to have AJ show up to camp and face a million questions about how he feels about almost being traded. What will be interesting to watch is the next time they make a deal with Pittsburgh. If my suspicions about the leak on this trade are true, we may be waiting awhile.

The Finish Line?

Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman have been tweeting up a storm today about the possible AJ Burnett trade. Sherman wrote earlier today
“#Yankees know they can make AJ deal with #Pirates, still talking $ and plyrs, want to make sure nothing else available b4 pull trigger”.
He followed up with
“#Yankees hv talkes to 4 teams on AJ, w was on his 10-team no trade. Of other 3 #Pirates most aggressive. Deal very doubtful today”.

Heyman writes-
“#yankees don’t love the 2 minor leaguers #pirates offered for aj. best guess, it still gets done, with pitt paying $13-15M of aj’s $33M”

So, this could be the end of the AJ era. Followers of this space will know that I am not upset about this however the reason may surprise you. It’s not that AJ was mediocre or worse. He had his moments and we should not forget that his start in Game 2 of the 2009 Series was huge. What bothered me about AJ was that he was too high maintenance. He showed up his manager. He punched doors. He forgot to cover first. He needed his own personal catcher. The pie stuff was fun, but he provided more headaches than smiles.

Hopefully, the Yankees have learned something from all of this. First, you can’t use a small sample to make big money decisions. One of the big justifications for giving AJ a five-year/$82.5 million deal was his success against the AL East. AJ came to the Yankees with a 5-0 record against Boston and a 2.56 ERA in 56-1/3 innings. Anyone know how many times he beat Boston as a Yankee? The answer is once, on September 1st, 2011, Burnett went 5-1/3 innings while allowing 2 earned runs at Fenway for the win. In his entire Yankees’ career, AJ went 1-4 with a 7.29 ERA against Boston in 54-1/3 innings. His performances against Boston were so bad, that if you throw them out of the equation his career ERA with the Yankees drops a quarter of a run from 4.79 to 4.54. So much for basing decisions on 50-something innings of work.

I think the Yankees have learned the other lesson I want them to. That is that there are very few pitchers worthy of big-money contracts. CC Sabathia has been everything you could want him to be. Mike Mussina was a great free agent signing, but those are more the exception than the rule. From Kenny Rogers to Carl Pavano to AJ, the Yankees have thrown far too many dollars away on free agent pitchers. It’s one of the things I love about the Pineda trade. Pineda will cost the Yankees under $1 million over the next two seasons. He won’t be a free agent until 2017. If the Yankees are right about him, they will have traded for an incredible bargain.

And that’s the thing, betting on pitching is a suckers bet. The Yankees will most likely regret the extension they gave CC this offseason. Tampa has done an amazing job of developing their pitching rotation and they provide an example for the whole league. Amazingly, when James Shields makes his first start this season, it will be the first time since 2007 that Tampa has started a pitcher over the age of 30. Developing young pitching will be vital to winning in the future and the Yankees seem to have finally gotten that message.

What Are The Yankees Waiting For?

According to Jon Heyman, the Pirates are willing to pay $10 million of the $33 million left on AJ Burnett’s contract. If I am the Yankees, I would ask for a prospect in return and make the deal.

After all, the market has been set by the trade the Braves pulled off for Derek Lowe. I wrote about that three months ago and the Yankees would do well to pull off a similar deal. The Braves got rid of Lowe and got $5 million of his salary off the books plus a 23-year old pitcher who could eventually become a lefty specialist. So, $10 million from the Pirates and a pitcher like the one the Braves got seems like the going rate for someone like AJ and it would allow the Yankees to plow that money into something else.

But, they aren’t biting apparently. Joel Sherman tweets, “Yankees telling Pirates absorbing $10MM of AJ’s $33MM isn’t enough, won’t do deal at that level. I’m surprised. Thought Yanks would be happy to defray any of Burnett’s $$ to move on from him.” I couldn’t agree more.

A Better Idea

Buster Olney has been reporting that the Yankees and Pirates have been talking about an AJ Burnett swap. He has also identified that the Yankees would want Garrett Jones in return for AJ. This move makes a lot more sense to me than taking a flier on Raul Ibanez.

Jones isn’t flashy but he can play right and first, which means he should be able to handle left field as well. He can hit righties very well (.275/.354/.483 in his career) but turns to dust against lefties (.199/.237/.366) A tandem of Jones and Jones would form a pretty solid platoon for the Yankees. There are however two problems with this scenario.

First, Andruw Jones is really on the roster to let Brett Gardner take the day off against lefties. Gardner had a .344 OBP against lefties last year, but his slugging and average were well below .300. For his career, he has put up a line of .243/.394/.318 against lefties, making him an ideal platoon candidate. He is 28, so there is always the chance he turns it around against lefties, but right now you probably don’t want him in the lineup when you face them and you certainly wouldn’t want Garrett Jones.

Second, Garrett Jones is arbitration eligible. He has asked for $2.5 million and the Pirates have countered with $2.25. Obviously, trading AJ creates a net savings, but Jones will be arbitration eligible for the 2013-2015 seasons. Adding him will potentially add to the 2014 payroll, though the Yankees could always non-tender him down the road.

I still think the best outcome is to trade AJ and a boatload of cash to a place like Pittsburgh and not ask for much in return. That should allow the Yankees to net out around $6 million a year in savings which they could then use a portion of to sign Damon. That would be my first choice, but this isn’t a terrible backup plan.

Bad Idea

There are reports all over the web that the Yankees are in serious talks with Raul Ibanez. This is not a good move in my mind.

Start with the obvious, Ibanez is 39 and coming off a season where he hit .245/.289/.419. Supporters will that he was weighed down by a terrible line against lefty pitchers (.211/.232/.353) but his line against righties .256/.307/.440 is not exactly setting the world on fire. Some of the more advanced stats concern me as well. Last year his line drive rate was only 16% after being above 20% for his career. His ground ball rates also increased. In short, there is little here to convince me that he isn’t someone tailing off with the bat at the end of his career. He also offers the Yankees little in the way of positional flexibility. He hasn’t played right field in years, sticking in left 99% of the time with an occasional appearance at first. To me, this move is reminiscent of the Randy Winn deal from a few years ago and I hope it doesn’t happen.

A Fine Mess

Forgive the intrusion on Super Sunday, but I feel that an important baseball matter has come to light this weekend. While I don’t normally care about the personal lives of Yankees personnel, this Brian Cashman mess has some troubling parts to it. I don’t want to moralize and I think it is important to remember that however it looks, we don’t know the reasons behind Brian Cashman’s choices. I am not excusing adultery, but it is not our place to judge Brian Cashman’s actions that don’t pertain to the Yankees.

But, there are some parts of this story that have to do with the Yankees and they aren’t great. You can read about the whole sordid mess in this piece on Deadspin, but two quotes stick out. They both are from the woman currently being held in Rikers for extorting Cashman.

First we have: “He was so pissed off when Mariano went to the press about his throat thing and didn’t run it through Yankee PR first.”

And then: “He was angry about some Puerto Rican or Dominican player. I forget his name. He was just traded to the Mariners. But Brian was frustrated because there was apparently some trouble with the player’s visa.” (Obviously, the player is Jesus Montero)

If I were Hal Steinbrenner, I would want Brian Cashman to explain to me why he is talking about Yankees players with his girlfriend. To me, it shows a huge lack of judgement and I can only hope that these were the only things he said about the team.

From reading the Deadspin story you get the sense that the woman Cashman was involved with is angry and willing to lash out at everyone even remotely associated with Cashman. If I were Brian, I would sit down and figure out all the things I said to this woman and then call the people involved. The tabloids are on this story and the details are going to come out sooner or later. Let’s hope Brian showed some discretion.