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Via Adam Rubin: Stephen Drew and agent Scott Boras are currently seeking a multi-year contract that includes an opt-out clause after the first season. The Mets are not willing to do a deal like that and it’s unclear if the Red Sox, his only other apparent suitor at this point, would be open to the opt-out.

The Yankees have not been pursuing Drew in recent weeks but their infield is a mess and he is by far the best available infielder. He’s a really good fit, especially since Boras has already said he’s open to playing positions other than shortstop. Since the Bombers would only have to give up their second rounder to sign Drew, they could conceivably wind up with a better draft pick next year if he has a strong Yankee Stadium-aided season and opts out. I dunno, this seems like one of those moves that won’t happen because it makes too much sense.

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Via Joel Sherman: The Marlins have signed utility man Jeff Baker to a two-year contract worth $3.75M, plus incentives. The Yankees had interest in him earlier this offseason and he made a lot of sense as the right-handed half of a third base platoon. Asking him to play the hot corner everyday would have been a real stretch though. Baker signed a minor league deal last summer, so I’m guessing that two-year guarantee (plus the promise of lots of playing time) put the Marlins over the top.

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It could just be posturing, but Brian Cashman has said the Yankees are done with their major moves for the winter following the Masahiro Tanaka signing. The club still needs infield and bullpen help, but a trade involving similarly priced players is more likely than a free agent signing. Swinging a trade may be difficult because the Yankees don’t have many trade chips aside from Brett Gardner right now.

A few weeks ago we heard about a possible Ichiro Suzuki for J.J. Putz swap, but that seemed to be Ken Rosenthal’s speculation more than anything. The Yankees are shopping Ichiro and that trade is on the right track — it involves two players with similar salaries who have been marginalized by their teams this winter. Ichiro is an extra outfielder making $6.25M in 2014, Putz a middle reliever owed $7M. It’s a good ol’ fashioned baseball trade. Both teams fill a need by trading from a position of depth with no fancy accounting or throw-ins.

Finding a trade match for Ichiro is rather difficult. The Yankees need to find a team not only in need of a speedy, defense first outfielder, but a team with a similarly priced infielder or reliever to spare. Putz likely represents the best, most realistic case scenario. Here are four others who could be matches.

Mike Adams, Phillies
Philadelphia has been looking for bullpen help all offseason at least partially because their two-year investment in Adams has gone south. The 35-year-old was one of the two or three most dominant setup relievers in the game from 2008-12 (1.98 ERA and 2.67 FIP), but back and shoulder problems limited him to only 25 innings last season. Adams had surgery to repair small tears in his labrum and rotator cuff in June and then needed surgery for a sports hernia in December. GM Ruben Amaro told Todd Zolecki that Adams won’t be ready for the start of Spring Training and will probably have the start of his season delayed.

The Phillies had interest in Ichiro last winter and they could use a defensively minded extra outfielder right now, plus Amaro loves big names. Ichiro makes sense for them, but, given his age and injuries, Adams isn’t a great fit for the Yankees. He is owed $7M this coming season ($6M club option for 2015) so the salaries match up well, but the team couldn’t count on him to be ready in time for Opening Day. There’s a lot of risk here and Adams has a history of shoulder problems (also had labrum and rotator cuff surgery in 2008). It would be awesome if he could get back to being his 2008-12 self but I don’t see how anyone could reasonably expect that.



Brandon League, Dodgers
We all knew League’s three-year, $22.5M contract would be bad the day he signed it last offseason, but I don’t think anyone expected it to go so bad so soon. The soon-to-be 31-year-old had a 5.30 ERA (4.93 FIP) in 54.1 innings last summer and didn’t just lose his closer’s job, he lost a setup job and a middle relief job as well. League was pulling mop-up duty by mid-June. The Dodgers have a full bullpen and some interesting arms in the minors, so they’d probably jump at the chance to unload the $15M left on League’s deal even though they aren’t shy about having a sky high payroll.

Los Angeles has a shockingly bad bench despite being an NL team with a massive payroll, plus Matt Kemp recently said he might not be ready in time for Opening Day following offseason ankle and shoulder surgery. Adding someone like Ichiro seems like a wise move on their part. League was awful last year — his strikeout (4.64 K/9 and 11.2 K%) and homerun (1.33 HR/9 and 19.0 HR/FB%) rates both declined big time — but he was very good from 2011-13 (2.97 ERA and 3.00 FIP) and he has AL East experience after spending the first few years of his career with the Blue Jays. I don’t think adding someone signed through 2015 is a bad idea, but the Yankees would have to be absolutely convinced they can fix League if they’re going to take on that contract.

Sean Marshall, Reds
Marshall, 31, is the only lefty among the three relievers in this post, but he is no specialist. He dominated both righties and lefties from 2010-12 (2.47 ERA and 2.12 FIP overall) before missing most of last season with a shoulder strain. When he’s right, Marshall is a high strikeout (10.35 K/9 and 27.9 K% from 2010-12), low walk (2.47 BB/9 and 6.7 BB%), high ground ball (55.3%) reliever who can (and has) pitched in almost every situation. He was very, very good before that shoulder acted up last year.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The Reds owe Marshall $12M over the next two years and they tried to trade him earlier this winter, but talks with the Rockies fell apart due to some lingering concern about his health according to Troy Renck. That’s obviously a red flag. Cincinnati will attempt to fill their gaping center field/leadoff hitter void with speedy rookie Billy Hamilton, but they have been looking for some outfield depth and insurance in case that doesn’t work. Ichiro is certainly capable of filling that role. Again, I’m not against adding a player signed through 2015, but the Yankees would need to look over Marshall’s medicals thoroughly before pulling the trigger.

Cliff Pennington, Diamondbacks
There aren’t many extra infielders making Ichiro money, so the 30-year-old Pennington is among the closest at $3.25M in 2014. He’ll also remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2015. Pennington is essentially the infield version of Ichiro — he can’t hit (76 wRC+ from 2011-13) but he’s an outstanding defender who won’t kill you as an everyday guy because of his glove. The problem is the Yankees have almost the exact same player in Brendan Ryan and I’m not sure how many no-hit, all-glove infielders one team can roster. Arizona has plenty of young infielders and Pennington could be the odd man out, but he’s not what New York needs right now. Trading Ichiro for him would be about saving $3M or so and putting it towards a free agent reliever.

* * *

Unless someone surprises them with an offer, I think the Yankees are best off holding onto Ichiro for another few weeks. Some team is bound to lose an outfielder or two to injury in Spring Training — that team could even be the Yankees! — which could improve his market. The Bombers have an obvious replacement in Zoilo Almonte, who is sound defensively and a switch-hitter who might actually provide some offense off the bench. Putz and the three relievers in this post all have some kind of injury and/or performance concern, but that’s what you get when you’re talking about trading pricey spare parts.

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According to multiple reports this weekend, the Yankees are not among the serious suitors for Korean right-hander Suk-Min Yoon. The Orioles and Rangers are considered the favorites to land him with the Red Sox, Giants, and Indians also showing recent interest. It will reportedly take a two-year deal worth $10M to sign him.

Yoon, 27, threw for teams at UC Irvine last week and is traveling to Arizona for more showcase events. The Yankees were connected to him earlier this winter and agent Scott Boras said he specifically planned to talk to the team about the righty at some point. Yoon had some shoulder problems last year and isn’t overpowering, so he is expected to fill a bullpen role in MLB. The Bombers need bullpen help but are apparently unwilling to add more payroll following the Masahiro Tanaka signing.

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(Ed Zurga/Getty)

(Ed Zurga/Getty)

The Yankees still have an open bench spot and are said to be done with their major offseason moves, meaning low cost guys like Scott Sizemore, Dean Anna, and Eduardo Nunez will compete for the utility infield role. Another relatively low cost option hit the market on Saturday as the Royals designated Emilio Bonifacio for assignment. The move cleared a 40-man roster spot for the recently re-signed Bruce Chen.

Bonifacio, 28, was pretty terrible with the Blue Jays and Royals last year, hitting only .243/.295/.331 (71 wRC+) with three homers and 28 stolen bases in 461 plate appearances. He had a big year with the Marlins in 2011 (109 wRC+ and 40 SB) but he’s been unable to build on it. Bonifacio is a switch-hitter with no real platoon split (91 wRC+ vs. RHP and 88 wRC+ vs. LHP from 2011-13), so platooning him doesn’t figure to help much.

In the field, Bonifacio has a ton of experience at second base, third base, left field, and center field. He’s also spent some time at shortstop and right field, so he offers a lot of versatility. The various defensive stats say he’s a bit below-average in center and average just about everywhere else. I suppose a breakout season could be right around the corner at his age, but at this point it’s safe to consider Bonifacio a role player who provides speed off the bench and can play almost anywhere on the field. Nothing more.

Is he better than Sizemore, Anna, Nunez and whoever else? I don’t think we can say. Is it worth adding him to that Spring Training competition? Yeah, I think so. Bonifacio is owed a lot of money this year ($3.5M), so if he clears waivers, he won’t elect free agency and forfeit that salary. The Yankees could try to claim him if they’re willing to take on that money, but it’s more likely they’d have to swing a small trade because the infield-needy Dodgers figure to be interested. Bonifacio hasn’t been all that good these last two years, but he could make sense for New York as the 25th man on the roster, or at least as part of a competition for that spot.

UPDATE: I got the contract stuff wrong. Bonifacio can’t elect free agency because he’s never been removed from the 40-man roster before. The Royals can release him and would only owe him one-sixth of his salary since it’s a non-guaranteed contract.

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According to Ken Rosenthal, Michael Young has decided to retire so he can spend more time with his family. The Yankees had interest in him earlier this offseason and Rosenthal said three (unknown) teams had offers on the table. Young could have served as a part-time third baseman and backup first baseman, though his last two years have not been pretty offensively: .278/.322/.381 (90 OPS+).

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Via Andy Martino: The Yankees have not had any recent contact with right-hander Fernando Rodney, though the two sides did touch base and have a preliminary chat back in November. The team claims it does not have the payroll flexibility to add bullpen help through free agency after signing Masahiro Tanaka, which seems like posturing more than anything.

Rodney, 36, is probably the best free agent reliever still available. He had a 3.38 ERA (2.84 FIP) with a ton of strikeouts (11.07 K/9 and 28.3 K%) and ground balls (50.6%) in 66.2 innings last year, though his walk rate (4.86 BB/9 and 12.4 BB%) returned to its pre-2012 levels. The Yankees have a lot of interesting young guys and minor league pickups who will get a chance to make the team in camp, but I’d really like to see one more established late-inning reliever brought in. A thin bullpen could undermine the lineup and rotation improvements.

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Meeeeemories (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Meeeeemories (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Michael Pineda heads into spring training with a grand opportunity. After nearly two years of rehab following shoulder surgery, he again competes for a rotation spot. Perhaps no other player in camp means so much to the future of the organization.

If Pineda wins the spot, showing some semblance of the stuff that powered his 2011 rookie season, the Yankees will be better off not only in 2014, but maybe through 2017. Because they optioned Pineda to AAA last year, he remains under team control for four more full seasons.

When was the last time the Yankees had three pitchers age-27 or younger in the rotation?* Along with Pineda, Ivan Nova and Masahiro Tanaka help round out one of the youngest Opening Day rotations in recent memory. Barring trade or injury, all three could be in that Opening Day rotation through 2016, and two of them are set through 2017.

Well, Chien-Ming Wang was 28 in 2008 when the Yankees broke camp with a rotation including him, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy. Darrell Rasner (27), and Joba Chamberlain did pitch at some point in the rotation that year. Also, in 2009 CC Sabathia was 28, while both Chamberlain and Hughes took turns in the rotation. It has only been a rarity in the most recent years.

There’s just one hitch in the scenario.

You can’t count on Michael Pineda at this point.

Every Yankees fan in the world should be rooting for him to succeed, for him to pitch his way onto the team and redeem himself after a two-year absence. But you know what they say about wishing in one hand. The Yankees need a decent contingency plan in case Pineda is not up to the task from the get go.

David Phelps and Adam Warren will also compete for the fifth starter spot, but they both might be better served in bullpen roles. Not only would they shore up a current area of weakness, but they’d perhaps be more valuables themselves as relievers than as starters. Both have pitched well out of the bullpen in the recent past.

This is why we undertake the unexciting task of examining long shot starters. Given the need in the bullpen, in addition to the need for a fifth starter, the Yankees can’t be content just with the pitchers they have now. They need a couple more guys to add a little depth — and fill out the AAA rotation.

Finally we get to the title character, A.J. Burnett. Yesterday we learned that he will not retire, and that he will not necessarily re-sign with the Pirates. He’s looking to test the market. Since he’d almost certainly sign a one-year contract, he could fit perfectly into the No. 5 spot.

Before anyone gets anxious, let’s acknowledge that this will never happen.

Unless Burnett feels he has something to prove, it’s almost impossible to see him entertaining an offer from NY (even if they were interested). He’s heard the boos. He had to sit around as the Yankees desperately shopped him around before the 2012 season. He apparently didn’t like that the Yankees always tried to tinker with his delivery. He’d almost certainly be better served elsewhere.

This story really isn’t about Burnett anyway. It’s about depth. Having three or four guys (counting Vidal Nuno) competing for the fifth starter spot sounds nice. They’re all relatively young guys, which makes it sound even nicer. But this team has needs in many spots right now. Once the season starts, they’ll have more needs. How long will it be before someone in the rotation misses a start or two? The sixth starter will be called on soon enough.

That doesn’t even cover the bullpen, which is basically David Robertson and Shawn Kelley right now. If Warren and Phelps are swingmen, who takes their places when they move to the rotation? What happens if one of them gets hurt? What if they get shelled early in the season?

The answer doesn’t have to be Burnett. He just happens to make for the best headline. Given the unlikelihood of a reunion, it probably won’t be him. But it could be Ubaldo Jimenez, who might take a three-year, $39 million contract. That’s risk-heavy, probably risk-heavier than Burnett on a one-year deal. More likely it will be someone a bit cheaper, as outlined in the minor league pitcher post.

The Yankees did the heavy lifting when they added Tanaka to their top four starters. Now it’s time to add a little depth. It’s not the most exciting part of the off-season. It might be even frustrating, since it sometimes involves thinking about a reunion with A.J. Burnett. But if the Yankees want to return to the playoffs in 2014, it’s a necessary and ultimately important phase of the off-season.

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Gonna have to shave that beard, Hanson. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Gonna have to shave that beard, Hanson. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The Yankees seem set with the top four in the rotation and their closer, but they could still use some help filling the other seven slots on the pitching staff. Particularly, adding a couple of pitchers to the fifth starter competition could help them.

Going with an internal candidate might seem ideal. If Michael Pineda steps up, clearly the Yankees should go with him in the fifth spot. But if he doesn’t they face a dilemma. David Phelps and Adam Warren might be better suited in relief roles, and the Yankees can use some bullpen reinforcements right now.

By picking up one or two free agents on minor league deals, the Yankees can offer new auditions for the fifth starter spot, perhaps making it easier to use Phelps and Warren in the bullpen if Pineda still needs time in the minors.

The list is thin, of course, and each pitcher is significantly flawed. That’s always the case when looking for players on minor league deals. But each of these three pitchers has at least some upside.

Tommy Hanson

If a 27-year-old former top prospect appears in line for a minor league deal, something must have gone horribly wrong. Hanson hasn’t been the same since a shoulder impingement and rotator cuff injury cut short his 2011 season. Since then he’s gotten progressively worse.

The shoulder injury seems to have taken all the life out of Hanson’s fastball, leaving his two breaking pitches less effective. While it’s possible for a pitcher to live right around 90 mph, where Hanson has been for the past two seasons, something else seems to be missing from that heater.

At just 27 years old, Hanson still has some promise. He did recover some of his velocity late last season, after moving to the pen at the end of September. If that helps him rediscover the pitch, he could become effective again. Even if he can’t break 90 when stretched out over 100 pitches, he could become a viable option in the pen. The Yankees need some help there as well.

The big upside in signing Hanson is that if he does bounce back, he won’t become a free agent until after the 2015 season. That’s a nice little bonus for taking a chance on someone.

Joe Saunders

Under normal circumstances, a 33-year-old lefty with a history of mostly average numbers would find a team willing to offer a MLB deal. But after his 2013 performance, Joe Saunders probably isn’t getting that from a non-desperate team. It’s hard to see how last season could have gone any more wrong for him.

After decent showings in 2012, including a fine run during Baltimore’s playoff push, Saunders moved to Seattle and one of the league’s most favorable pitching environments. The result: the highest home run to fly ball ratio in the majors despite pitching in one of the least favorable HR parks. His 5.26 ERA ranked second-worst among qualified pitchers.

Why even consider Saunders after that debacle? For starters, that performance probably makes him a minor league deal guy. Second, from 2007 through 2012 he produced a 104 ERA+. Third, it’s possible that the spikes in his HR/RB ratio and his BABIP could regress to his career norms. Saunders is still no great shakes, but he’s probably worth a look on a minor league deal.

Jair Jurrjens

The Yankees have been connected to Jurrjens in the past. After the 2011 season the Braves started shopping him around. And why not? He had undergone knee surgery after the 2010 season and saw those problems persist into 2011. Despite that, Jurrjens pitched reasonably well, a 2.96 ERA in 152 innings. It seemed like a great time to sell high.

The Braves found no takers, or at least no takers willing to meet their asking price. What followed was a two-year barrage of home runs and otherwise putrid performances, amounting to a 6.63 ERA in just 55.2 MLB innings. His stints in the minors weren’t particularly impressive, either. It would appear that Jurrjens is finished.

Every pitcher willing to take a minor league deal has to be flawed in some significant way. Jurrjens might be worth the flier because he’s succeeded in the past despite his so-so control that goes along with sub-par stuff. Chances are he’s done, but at 28 years old he’s worth one last look before closing the book on him.

Lightning Round

The MLBTR free agent list has a number of household names who could sign minor league deals this winter. Are any of them in any way appealing?

Roy Oswalt: We wrote about Oswalt earlier this off-season, though mainly as a reliever. Maybe he could bounce back as a starter if given a full spring training. Worth a look, but an aging starter with back problems probably won’t pan out.

Johan Santana: We also wrote about Santana, but it appears he won’t be back until the summer, so we can back off that idea for a while.

Barry Zito: I wanted to find something to like about Zito, I really did. Unfortunately, there’s just nothing.

Jeff Karstens: He essentially had a good year, maybe year and a half, but has been hurt and ineffective otherwise. It’d be nice to bring back an old friend (acquaintance maybe?), but Karstens isn’t going to help even in the best case scenario.

Aaron Harang: Like Saunders, he got thrashed in Seattle last year. Unlike Saunders, he throws right handed and is 36 years old. Harang had a nice peak just as he entered his prime years, but outside of three pretty good seasons, he’s been mediocre to horrible.

Jake Westbrook: The former Yankee looks pretty toast.

Bruce Chen: He actually had a decent season last year, split between the rotation and the pen. But Chen is super homer happy. It’s tough to see that working at all with the Yankees.

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The Yankees are said to be done with their offseason “heavy lifting” following the Masahiro Tanaka signing, but there is still some roster fine-tuning to be done. More than fine-tuning, really. The infield and bench are glaring needs and the final open position player spot figures to address both. The team is said to be leaning towards someone like Eduardo Nunez, Scott Sizemore, or Dean Anna for that spot at the moment.

Aside from Stephen Drew, who may or may not interest the Yankees, the free agent infield market is thin. Michael Young and Placido Polanco are among the biggest name players still available, but New York doesn’t need another player casual fans will recognize. They need someone who can actually produce. The best available option might be someone who is more of a utility man than a full-time guy: the right-handed hitting Jeff Baker. The Yankees showed interest in him last month and they’ve been connected to him at various points in the past. He appears to be a great fit for that last roster spot, at least on paper, but what does he really bring to the table? Let’s look.

The Pros

  • The 32-year-old Baker punishes left-handed pitching. He hit .314/.407/.667 (186 wRC+) against southpaws last season and .287/.342/.496 (124 wRC+) against them over the last three years. All but two of his 18 homers since 2011 have come against lefties.
  • Baker hits the ball to all fields and has power the other way against left-handers (spray chart). He does the most damage when pulling the ball like everyone else, but has power to right and that fits well with Yankee Stadium.
  • Since breaking into the league, Baker has played every position other than shortstop, center field, pitcher, and catcher. He has plenty of experience on the infield and enough in the corner outfield to be more than an emergency fill-in.
  • This is easy to overlook, but Baker knows how to remain productive as a bench player (he has played more than 100 games just once in parts of nine big league seasons). A lot of guys struggle initially when moved into a part-time role. It can be a tough adjustment to make.

The Cons

  • Baker is a pure platoon player. He mustered a weak .204/.250/.286 (41 wRC+) batting line against righties last summer and over the last three seasons, it’s a .213/.251/.298 (45 wRC+) line. Don’t kid yourself: this is a straight platoon player who is completely unusable against same-side pitchers.
  • The various defensive metrics says Baker is a below-average gloveman pretty much everywhere. He’s versatile but not an asset in the field. It has been a few years since he played more than ten games at second or third as well.
  • Injuries have been an issue. Baker suffered a thumb sprain during a high-five last year and missed a month (true story), and he’s also had groin (2011), hand (2009), and elbow (2009) problems over the years.
  • Baker won’t give you anything on the bases. He has gone 13-for-14 in stolen base attempts in his career, but he’s never stolen more than four bags in a season and over the last three years he’s taken the extra-base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) just 25% of the time, well below the 40% league average.

There hasn’t been much interest in Baker this winter despite his obvious usefulness as a right-handed platoon bat. The Rangers want him back according to Gerry Fraley and of course the Yankees have interest, but that’s pretty much it. The Giants checked in earlier this offseason but Andy Baggarly says the two sides stopped talking in December. Baker signed a minor league deal with Texas late last January and he might have to do something similar this winter.

The Yankees could really use a no doubt everday infielder regardless of position. Derek Jeter is going to need to spend time at DH given his age and myriad of leg injuries, plus we all know Brian Roberts is very unlikely to make it through the season healthy. With Mark Teixeira‘s wrist still stiff, Kelly Johnson is the team’s only question-free infielder. Baker wouldn’t improve that situation any, but he would given them a legitimate starting option against southpaws and an awesome pinch-hitter for lefty relievers. He’s a useful but limited player when used properly. Nothing more than that.

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