Heyman: Yankees, Chris Young have mutual interest in reunion

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees and free agent outfielder Chris Young have mutual interest in a reunion. The team views him as a fourth outfielder. Both Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are left-handed, plus Carlos Beltran has been way better from the left side of the plate these last few years, so a right-handed hitting fourth outfielder makes perfect sense.

Young, 31, hit .282/.354/.521 (146 wRC+) with three homers in 23 September games with the Yankees. He hit .205/.283/.346 (81 wRC+) with eleven homers in 111 games with the Mets before being released at midseason. Young is still an above-average defender in all three outfield spots and he’ll even steal the occasional base. Some pop, some speed, good defense checks all the necessary boxes for a fourth outfielder in my book.

Young credited departed hitting coach Kevin Long for his late-season turn around — “I’ve been able to find some things here that can carry me for years to come,” Young said to Dan Barbarisi in September — so there’s at least a chance his big September is the result of tangible improvement and not just dumb luck. A one-year deal in the $2M to $3M range, maybe with incentives based on plate appearances, makes the most sense for New York.

Report: Yankees among teams with interest in Alexei Ramirez

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Via Bruce Levine: The Yankees are one of several teams with interest in White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez. The Mets and Dodgers are also involved. Levine speculates the White Sox will want young power pitching in return, specifically right-handers. He says the Mets have been the most aggressive, and not just this offseason. They’ve been after Ramirez for the last year.

Ramirez, 33, hit .273/.305/.408 (97 wRC+) with 15 homers and his usually low strikeout rate (12.3%) this past season, making it his best offensive season in several years. His defense, which usually rates very highly, was below average in 2014 according to the various stats. Ramirez is very durable (exactly 158 games in four straight years) and he’s owed $10M in 2015 with a $10M option for 2016, so he’s reasonably priced as well. I’d prefer a younger shortstop, but Ramirez wouldn’t be a bad stopgap by any means. The only question is whether the ChiSox like New York’s young arms enough.

Ben’s obligatory offseason wish list

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

It goes without saying that, as a Yankee fan, my off-season wish list revolves around a trophy. Right now, the San Francisco Giants are in possession of that trophy, and it’s been five years since the Yanks last celebrated this item, the third-longest World Series drought of my life. I want that trophy back.

Sitting where we are, after a disappointing and often dull 84-win season, it’s hard to see a short path 2015’s trophy, and with Derek moving on, the ties to even the 2009 team are being held together by ARod for now and Francisco Cervelli, Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira, CC’s knee and current free agent David Robertson. Flags fly forever, but leave them outside long enough and they’ll start to look a little tattered.

As far as Yankee needs go, it’s hard to disagree with Joe’s and Mike’s wish lists. Even as the Yanks faded into the middle of the pack this summer, they fell only four games shy of a Wild Card berth, and as the Royals demonstrated, get there and anything goes. Of course with the way the roster currently looks, the Yanks need three infielders, a starting pitcher or two and another reliever, and those pieces aren’t coming out of Scranton in April, Rob Refsnyder notwithstanding.

But you know what the Yanks need. Your wish lists is mine: the best players yesterday and that parade down Broadway in Lower Manhattan. For my take on the offseason, I want to talk about a different kind of wish list. This is about mystique and aura, no longer appearing nightly. It’s about the team’s image — their brand, if you will. Now that Derek Jeter has retired, the Yankees need to pass the baton, but to whom? Bernie Williams and Paul O’Neill were there after Mattingly’s departure, and Jeter burst onto the scene. In 2015, the Yankees don’t really have a franchise face or up-and-coming star. It’s time to rebrand.

1. Do Something About Yankee Stadium

For better or worse — until the Yanks pull a Braves in twenty years — New Yankee Stadium is what we have, probably for most of the rest of my life. I tolerated it at first, and it helped that the Yanks won a World Series in the park’s first season. But as far as baseball stadiums go, it’s a nothing. There’s no charm or attitude to it. It’s sterile-looking with the feel of something you should look at but not touch.

In September, during Jeter’s last home stand, I went to a game with a friend of mine. We had comps — good seats in the 100s level that were supposed to be next to each other. Instead, we got to our seats to find a table in between the two of us. I have no idea why the Yankees decided they needed to remove seats to stick tables in between them. We all managed at baseball games for decades without tables. But my friend and I had a table, and we had to spend the whole game either leaning toward each other or shouting to be heard. These seats and that table seemed to be built with attendees who care more about the scene than the game.

The Yankees aren’t going to gut their new stadium and reconfigure the seating bowls to better resemble the Yankee Stadium of my childhood and teenage years. But they could find a way to make the stadium feel more inclusive and fan-focused. If the product on the field isn’t going to be impressive, the ballpark at least should be. Right now, with Painfully Awkward George Steinbrenner looming over everyone, it’s grand but lacking.

2. Change the In-Game Experience

This goes hand-in-hand with No. 1 on my list, but must we sit through another season of the grounds crew doing the YMCA dance, Cotton Eye Joe and “God Bless America”? Must we be bombarded with sound at every opportunity? At the risk of sounding like a cranky old man, there’s something to be said for a simple game experience. I saw a Sunday matinee at Fenway this past year, and the only sounds were the PA announcer and the organist. I don’t expect the Yanks to sacrifice scoreboard revenue every day but doing so once in a while would be a nice treat.

3. ‘It is high…it is far…it is still broadcasting Yankee games!’

Every winter, I hope that John Sterling isn’t still broadcasting games come Opening Day, and every Opening Day, he is. We already know that the 2015 season will be no different, but I can dream.

Overall, the Yanks’ radio broadcast needs a rethink. It’s become an advertising vehicle for WFAN that also happens to provide some amount of play-by-play and the bare minimum of informed commentary. The Yankees and CBS make their money through endless sales of everything on the broadcast, and Sterling’s schtick can sometimes be enjoyable in that grandfatherly rolling-of-the-eyes sort of way. But as a way to learn about what’s happening on the field or gain insight into a baseball decision, well, you won’t find that on the John and Suzyn Variety Show. Maybe next time.

4. A Redesigned RAB

4. Re-Sign David Robertson

Okay, okay. Not everything can be a complaint about the in-game presentation. We do need to focus on the field too, and for me, keeping David Robertson around for a few more years is a top priority. I realize there’s a prevailing sentiment that Dellin Betances can close and for a lot less money, and maybe that’s true. However, moving Betances into the closer role has a cascade effect on the rest of the game and not in a positive way.

By the middle of the season, Joe Girardi believed in Betances to use him perfectly. He was the fireman when there was a problem in the 7th; he could handle the 8th with aplomb. He was a versatile reliever with a rubber arm and a 100 mph fastball. As a closer, he’ll take those last three outs, 3-run lead or 1-run lead, and his innings and utility will drop. Plus, someone else — Adam Warren? Shawn Kelley? — will have to pick up higher leverage innings.

Meanwhile, Robertson has been one of the best, most consistent relievers in baseball over the last five years. He can handle the 9th in New York, and he’s at a prime age for a pitcher. Simply put, Robertson gives the Yanks comfort in the 9th and a deeper, more versatile bullpen overall. I’d sign Andrew Miller too, but that’s just being greedy.

5. A Short Stop

Brendan Ryan is the only short stop under contract for the 2015 Yankees. Gulp.

* * *

All in an all, it’s a tough winter for the Yankees. They have a lot of dead or dying weight on the books for the next few seasons and aren’t rushing to add more. They have some promising high-ceiling prospects in their lower levels, and the best thing for the future of the club would be for the farm system to have an actually good year all around next year. For now, though, this seems to be a franchise in a holding pattern. The books closed on one great era of team history. We’ll see what comes next starting in April.

Heyman: Yankees targeting McCarthy, Capuano, Hammel

Via Jon Heyman: The Yankees are currently focusing on Brandon McCarthy, Chris Capuano, and Jason Hammel as they look to upgrade their rotation heading into next season. Heyman reiterates the club is unlikely to pursue Jon Lester or Max Scherzer.

McCarthy and Capuano were with the Yankees this past season, so we’re all already familiar with them. The 32-year-old Hammel had a 3.47 ERA (3.92 FIP) in 176.1 innings with the Cubs and Athletics in 2014, though he was great in Chicago (2.98 ERA and 3.09 FIP) and not good in Oakland (4.26 ERA and 5.10 FIP). He signed a one-year deal worth $6M with the Cubs last year and is probably looking at a similar deal this winter. Meh.

Mike’s obligatory offseason wish list

Yesterday morning Joe posting his offseason wish list, so now it’s time for me to do the same. The Yankees need help up and down the lineup this winter, plus they’ll need to reinforce the pitching staff to protect against all their many injuries. My rough estimate has the team’s payroll already at $190M heading into 2015, so either payroll is going to have to go way up, or the Yankees will have to limit themselves to smaller moves. It will probably be some combination of both.

Anyway, enough small talk. Here’s my list of priorities and preferred targets for the 2014-15 offseason.

Castro. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
Castro. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

Priority #1: Shortstop

Derek Jeter has retired and the Yankees’ only viable in-house shortstop is Brendan Ryan, who I’m sure is a swell guy, but isn’t someone I want to see playing everyday. I’m guessing I’m not the only one who feels like that. The free agent market both does and does not offer some shortstop solutions. With J.J. Hardy off the board, that leaves Hanley Ramirez, Jed Lowrie, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Stephen Drew available. Drew is the only actually shortstop of the bunch. Hanley should be a third baseman while Lowrie and Asdrubal fit best at second. All three are below-average defensively at short. Given those options, the Yankees have to decide whether to wait it out and find a one year stopgap, or bite the bullet and sign an imperfect shortstop solution to a multi-year contract.

Plan A: Make A Trade: I’d absolutely love to the see the Yankees acquire Starlin Castro, a 24-year-old (!) who rebounded from a brutal 2013 season (72 wRC+) to hit .292/.339/.438 (115 wRC+) with 14 homers in 2014. His defense is a bit below-average but not disastrous. Also, Castro is signed through 2019 for a total of $43M (plus a $16M option for 2020), which is peanuts. The problem is the Cubs figure to look for high-end pitching this winter, and New York doesn’t really have any to offer. They could put Michael Pineda on the table — I wouldn’t necessarily be against it given his history of shoulder problems — though Pineda alone is unlikely to be enough.

With Castro unlikely, my next trade target is Diamondbacks shortstop Chris Owings, who can actually hit a little bit in addition to being a good gloveman. Didi Gregorius is the more talked about Arizona shortstop but he flat-out can’t hit. I’m pretty sick of the defense-first profile at this point. My third trade target is Jimmy Rollins, who has one more year on his contract at $11M. It shouldn’t cost a whole lot to acquire him, he can still hit some (102 wRC+ in 2014) and his defense hasn’t faded. Plus it’s a one-year deal. What’s the problem with that? Rollins has said he’ll waive his no-trade clause and the Phillies are finally talking about rebuilding this offseason. I doubt the Yankees will find a better one-year stopgap.

Plan B: Uh, Re-sign Drew?: I’d prefer to see the Yankees trade for a young shortstop like Castro or Owings, but if that isn’t possible and they need to stick to free agency, I’d begrudgingly want them to bring Drew back rather than pay big-ish money to Hanley, Lowrie, or Cabrera. Maybe Drew will hit better with a regular Spring Training — he couldn’t hit any worse, right? — and, as we saw last year, his defense is more than fine. If Ryan is my last resort at short, Drew on a one-year pillow contract is my second-to-last resort.

(Presswire)
McCarthy. (Presswire)

Priority #2: Rotation Help

The Yankees haven’t used fewer than eight starters in a season since the strike-shortened 1994 campaign, and there’s no reason to think 2015 will be the year that breaks the streak. Masahiro Tanaka (elbow), CC Sabathia (knee), and Pineda (shoulder) will all go into the season with injury concerns and Ivan Nova (elbow) won’t be back until late-April on the earliest. I’d bet on it being May or June.

Shane Greene and David Phelps are tentatively penciled in as the number four and five starters at this very moment, but chances are the Yankees will add a starter and push them back into the fifth and sixth slots. I’d like to see them start the year in the sixth and seventh slots, personally. The Yankees reportedly will not pursue Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, or James Shields this winter, and I buy that. I understand being hesitant to hand out another $20M per year pitching contract given the status of Tanaka and Sabathia.

Plan A: Re-sign McCarthy: Re-signing Brandon McCarthy is a total no-brainer in my opinion. He’s very good, had no trouble moving into hitter friendly Yankee Stadium and the AL East, and won’t command the kind of massive contract it will take to land Lester, Scherzer, or Shields. McCarthy has his own injury concerns — this past season was the first time basically in his career that he didn’t visit the disabled list with a shoulder problem — but unless you’re going to pay top dollar, you’re going to get someone risky. That’s life.

Plan B: Reclamation Project: There aren’t many quality starters expected to be available in a trade this winter, and the ones who will be available are either expensive (Cole Hamels) or less than perfect fits for Yankee Stadium (Ian Kennedy). I liked the idea of signing Francisco Liriano along with McCarthy, but the Pirates gave Liriano the qualifying offer on Monday, so forget that. I wouldn’t give up a first rounder for someone that unpredictable.

Instead, I would like the Yankees to sign one (or two?) reclamation project starters in addition to McCarthy to build depth. My top target would be Brett Anderson, who is only 26 and racks up a ton of strikeouts and ground balls when healthy, which isn’t often. He was limited to eight starts last year because of a broken finger (he was hit by a pitch) and surgery to repair a bulging disc in his lower back. An incentive-laden one-year contract sounds good to me. Other reclamation project types include (in order of preference) Justin Masterson, Brandon Morrow, Chad Billingsley, and Josh Johnson.

Priority #3: Big Bat

The Yankees need offense! They averaged only 3.91 runs per game this past season, comfortably below the 4.18 league average. Improving the offense starts with Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, and Brian McCann being better than they were last year, but, aside from McCann, how reasonable is it to expect that? Not very, in my opinion. The club should definitely look to bring in an impact bat.

Upton. (Scott Cunningham/Getty)
Upton. (Scott Cunningham/Getty)

Plan A: Trade for Justin Upton: Upton and Jason Heyward are both due to become free agents next winter and are looking at nine-figure contracts. Easily. The Braves are perpetually up against their $100M-ish payroll limit and don’t have the room to sign both long-term. Heck, they might not even be able to afford to sign one long-term unless they get a gift from the baseball gods and are able to unload B.J. Upton.

Heyward is the homegrown guy and better all-around player, plus he’s two years younger, so I assume the Braves would prioritize signing him long-term. Upton is a considerably better hitter (133 wRC+ vs. 110 wRC+ in 2014) and he’s right-handed, which fits the Yankees better. Their top right-handed power hitter right now is Martin Prado. The Yankees were unable to acquire Upton two offseasons ago because the D’Backs reportedly did not like their prospects, but two years have passed and Brian Cashman would be negotiating with an entirely different GM.

Now, would it be worth it to include Brett Gardner in a deal for Upton? One year of Upton for four of Gardner? Gardner just had a career year (certainly power-wise) and his days of stealing 40+ bases end three years ago. The Braves would get an outfielder with cost certainty, the Yankees would get a potential MVP-caliber producer in the prime of his career for one season before deciding whether to re-sign him. Upton would slide right into Gardner’s salary slot too. Maybe the deal could be expanded somehow. Either way, Upton is among my top targets this winter.

Plan B: Mike Morse: On paper, Morse fits the roster wonderfully. He’s a power right-handed bat, which the Yankees need, and he’s also able to play right field and first base. Poorly, I should add, but he can play them. Beltran and Teixeira are perpetual injury risks and so is Alex Rodriguez at DH. There will be plenty of at-bats for Morse next year. That said, the guy just hit in the middle of the order for the World Series champs. Why would he take a role like this when another team will probably give him a set position no questions asked? Morse is a great fit for the Yankees, but the Yankees might not be a great fit for Morse.

Priority #4: Second or Third Base

In addition to shortstop, the Yankees need to find someone to play second or third base. Prado’s flexibility allows them to pursue one or the other. They can’t and shouldn’t count on A-Rod playing the field at all. He’s a DH between inevitable DL stints.

Plan A: Re-sign Headley: Man, Chase Headley was so good for the Yankees after the trade this year. He didn’t produce like a star or anything, but he got on base (.371 OBP), hit for a little power (six homers in 58 games), and played the hell out of third base. Headley’s a switch-hitter, he’s only 30, and the general sense is he will only command a three or maybe four-year deal at a modest salary. He fit the team so well, giving them quality at-bats and excellent defense. Bringing him back and playing Prado at second is an easy call for me.

Plan B: Pirela or Refsnyder: If the Yankees are unable to re-sign Headley, they’re left with the same choices as at shortstop. Do they find a stopgap or give out big contracts to Hanley, Lowrie, or Asdrubal? I am against that. If they can’t re-sign Headley, I’d like to see them play Prado at third and let Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder battle it out at second base. Pirela’s debut was short but impressive in September and Refsnyder’s torn the cover of the ball the last two years in the minors. I’m not a fan of signing an imperfect free agent to fill a hole for the hell of it at this point. Let’s the kids play if Headley bolts.

Miller. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Miller. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

Priority #5: Bullpen Help

This is one of those things that applies to every team. All 30 clubs go into the offseason looking to add bullpen depth, but not all 30 clubs may lose their excellent closer to free agency. The Yankees slapped the $15.3M qualifying offer on David Robertson earlier this week, though that doesn’t guarantee his return to New York. Far from it. It just means they won’t lose him for nothing if he does sign elsewhere.

Plan A, Part One: Re-sign Robertson: Easy call, right? Robertson has shown a) he is an elite reliever, b) he can close, and c) pitching in New York doesn’t bother him. What’s left on the “free agent reliever who makes sense for the Yankees” checklist? A three or four-year deal in the $10M to $12M range annually seems like the most likely outcome here. Robertson’s worth it.

Plan A, Part Two: Sign Andrew Miller: The power of a dominant bullpen got a lot of attention this postseason thanks to the Royals, but year after year we see how important it is to have multiple dominant relievers on the roster. Miller is more than a left-handed specialist. He’s a bonafide high-leverage reliever who just so happens to throw with his left arm. Miller, Robertson, and Dellin Betances is one hell of an end-game trio.

Plan B: Sign Miller & Others: Moshe mentioned this yesterday and I thought it was interesting: the Yankees could probably sign Miller and, say, Luke Gregerson for what it would take to sign Robertson by himself, and gain a draft pick in the process. That sounds pretty good, actually. I’d still rather have Robertson and Miller instead of Miller, Gregerson, and a draft pick though.

If Robertson does bolt, signing Miller to replace him in the late innings almost becomes a must. I have no concerns about Betances closing if that’s what it comes to, but the seventh and eighth innings would worry me in that case. Gregerson and Sergio Romo headline the second tier of free agent relievers and both have late-inning experience. I’d almost prefer letting someone like that start the ninth inning fresh and close while Miller and Betances handle the real messes.

One free agent reliever who I’d like to see the Yankees pursue regardless of what happens with Robertson is Luke Hochevar. He flopped as a starter with the Royals after being the first overall pick in the 2006 draft, but he found a niche in the bullpen in 2013 (1.92 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 31.3 K%) before missing all of 2014 following Tommy John surgery. Tommy John has a high success rate but it’s still risky, so the Yankees couldn’t count on Hochevar, but the potential is there for impact. His 2013 dominance sure makes him interesting.

* * *

I honestly think the Yankees are going to skip huge money contracts this winter in favor of many smaller deals — the McCarthy, Headley, and Robertson contracts won’t be “small” no matter where they end up, but they won’t be huge long-term deals either — that raise the floor of the roster. Fielding as many Major League caliber players as possible — did you know approximately 54% of the team’s plate appearances this summer (not counting pitchers) went to players with a sub-100 OPS+? it’s true — and build the deepest pitching staff possible. The Yankees are not one or two big free agents away from the postseason. They have a lot of areas that need to be improved.