3:48pm: Jim Bowden says the Yankees have been among the “most active” teams trying to acquire Morse, along with the Mariners (his former team) and Rays.
2:31pm: And so it begins. The Yankees have interest in acquiring Morse according to Andrew Marchand and Jon Heyman. It makes too much sense.
12:31pm: The Nationals have agreed to re-sign Adam LaRoche to a two-year contract according to multiple reports, which presumably frees up Mike Morse for a trade. Washington has a full outfield (Bryce Harper, Denard Span, Jayson Werth) and LaRoche at first, leaving no room at the inn for the 30-year-old right-handed hitter.
Morse has hit .296/.345/.516 (133 wRC+) these last three years and is owed $6.75M in 2013 before becoming a free agent next winter. He’s an obvious fit for the Yankees as either an outfielder or DH, and Mark Zuckerman says the Nats would likely seek a lefty reliever (Boone Logan!) and starting pitching depth in return. The two teams match up very well for a trade. I’m not the biggest Morse fan in the world, but this needs to happen. · (143) ·
Got a pair of injury updates to pass along…
- Derek Jeter (ankle) is on track to be ready for Opening Day according to Brian Cashman. “He’s doing very well … He has progressed as the doctors had hoped,” said agent Casey Close. The Cap’n is out of a walking boot and has been jogging in a pool and riding a bide. He has yet to do anything baseball related, but Close says his client doesn’t start doing that stuff until mid-to-late January anyway. [Wally Matthews]
- Frankie Cervelli (whiplash) has been cleared after taking a foul tip to the mask in winter ball. He was evaluated both in Venezuela and back in Tampa by team’s doctors. “We brought him in just to take a look at him and made sure he was fine … He was cleared and there were no injuries, so he’s free to resume play if that’s what he chooses to do,” said Cashman. Cervelli has had four concussions in the last eight years, not including a separate whiplash scare. [Bryan Hoch]
It’s a Tuesday and I’m sick, so here are some random thoughts…
1. Depending on who you ask, the Yankees either did (Ken Rosenthal) or did not (Jon Heyman) extend an offer to Lance Berkman before he signed with the Rangers. Rosenthal hedges his bet a bit, so I’m guessing they didn’t make an offer despite showing interest. Berkman was, by far, the best pure hitter on the DH market when you consider the ability to hit for average, get on base, and hit for power, though he was also a tremendous health risk. The DH position is a weird spot for the Yankees because they really need a legit bat there despite also having the need to use it as a resting place for older regulars. They need more than a league average hitter or some random power-only old guy willing to take a six-figure contract because they lost a lot of offense in right field and behind the plate. Berkman is a potential impact hitter and I don’t see another one of those guys out there. Maybe the team is biding its time until the Nationals re-sign Adam LaRoche so they could swoop in with a trade offer for Mike Morse? That’d be neat.
2. The more I think about, the more I think it’s inevitable Chris Stewart will be the primary catcher to open the season. The Yankees obviously like him more than Frankie Cervelli, otherwise they wouldn’t have traded a useful reliever (George Kontos) to acquire him and send Cervelli to the traveling circus in Triple-A. We also know they’ve tried to unload Cervelli in the past, most notably on the Pirates back in 2011. The various catcher defense rankings (2011, 2012) say Stewart is an average to above-average defensive catcher, but he obviously can’t hit a lick. It’s not often a team gets to the World Series with a below-average catcher these days, nevermind actually win the whole thing. I am wholly unprepared for the Chris Stewart, Starting Catcher era. This really sucks.
3. You know what has been flying under the radar these last few months? Getting Brett Gardner back in the outfield on an everyday basis next season. It’s was painfully obvious the Yankees missed his speed prior to the Ichiro Suzuki trade last year, and his ability to work the count (career 4.29 pitches per plate appearance, which is elite) and simply get on-base (career .355 OBP) will be greatly appreciated at the bottom of the lineup. Add in his stellar defense — I do think they’ll move him to center next season, by the way — and it’s a pretty significant upgrade over the guys the club used in his place last summer. Don’t get me wrong, Gardner is no star, but he’s the upgrade no one is talking about just because he’s been here the whole time.
4. I do believe in the idea of the “contract year,” but there’s more to it than “he’s trying harder because he wants to get paid.” That part is true to a certain extent because I’ve lived through it. I know I’m not the only one who work extra hard in the weeks leading up to the annual performance review. “Contract years” also have a lot to do with timing, since many players qualify for free agency as they’re reaching their prime (late-20s/early-30s). The Yankees will have a ton of these guys on the roster next season, most notably Robinson Cano, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Boone Logan. Curtis Granderson will turn 32 in a few weeks and is right on that prime years bubble while Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Kevin Youkilis are well passed it. Wouldn’t it be pretty awesome if Cano and Hughes (and to a lesser extent, Joba and Logan) had huge contract years? Forget about the impact on the team’s chances, it would just be fun to watch those two have huge seasons (175 wRC+ and a sub-3.00 FIP, respectively?).
Via Mark Hale: The Yankees are one of five teams to express interest in free agent outfielder Ben Francisco. Agent John Boggs said he and his client are looking for the “best opportunity … and who will offer the most at-bats.”
Francisco, 31, is a right-handed hitting outfielder, a market the Yankees continue to comb even after signing Matt Diaz to a minor league contract and claiming Russ Canzler. I wrote about Francisco earlier this afternoon, so I’m going to take the easy way out and refer you back to that for info about his skills and stats and all that. With four other teams interested, getting him on a minor league contract might not be possible. · (20) ·
Seeing as how this is a baseball blog, I’m guessing a bunch of you play MLB The Show on the various Playstation consoles. The Show is, by far, the most realistic baseball game out there even if the overall quality pales in comparison to MVP 2005, the undisputed best baseball game of all-time. Anyway, I bring this up because fans will be allowed to vote for The Show’s cover athlete this year. CC Sabathia is one of the seven candidates along with Matt Kemp, Andrew McCutchen, Bryce Harper, Miguel Cabrera, Buster Posey, and Ryan Braun. The poll opened today, so go here to get your vote on.
Once you’ve done that, use this as your open thread for the night. The Knicks are playing, and you also have Notre Dame vs. Alabama for the college football national championship (8pm ET on ESPN). Talk about either game or anything else here. Enjoy.
Via Bob Klapisch: Scott Boras asked the Yankees if they would consider re-signing Rafael Soriano to a one-year contract last month, but the request was “flatly denied.” Buster Olney says the team wants the draft pick (and associated draft pool money) more than they want Soriano, regardless of the contract size. I still think he’ll wind up with the Tigers, maybe the Nationals instead, but it sure is starting to look like Boras misread the closer market a bit. Then again, Soriano was still unsigned at this point two years ago and that worked out just fine for him. · (41) ·
With each day that ticks off the calendar, the less likely it is the Yankees will spend real money to upgrade the roster. That could change in an instant of course, but the currently available options aren’t all that appealing or worth big bucks. There are no legitimate starting catchers available, few quality DHs, and outside of Scott Hairston and his demands for a multi-year deal, no right-handed hitting outfielders of note.
The Yankees have been stocking up on miscellaneous right-handed outfield bats in recent weeks, or at least as much as signing Matt Diaz to a minor league deal and claiming Russ Canzler off waivers can be considered “stocking up,” anyway. Melky Mesa is the team’s best in-house option for the role, so I expect them to continue digging around for low-risk players to compete with these three in camp. Here are five such players who could presumably be had on minor league contracts.
Fun Fact: Duncan actually started three games as the cleanup hitter for the Yankees back in 2008. That was the year after the big five homers-in-seven games binge put him on the map. The 33-year-old moved on to the Indians a few seasons ago and has hit .238/.316/.421 (102 wRC+) against left-handers over the last three years (92 wRC+ in 2012). As always, Duncan will draw walks (9.5% walk rate since 2010), strike out (24.8%), play poor defense in the outfield corners and at first base, and smash forearms. More than anyone else in this post though, Shelley can hit the ball out of any park when he does run into one. That just doesn’t happen often enough.
Francisco, 31, has been typecast as a right-handed platoon bat over the years despite a negligible split — .247/.315/.408 (97 wRC+) against lefties and .252/.324/.380 (94 wRC+) against righties since the start of 2010. Having no platoon split is generally a good thing, but it doesn’t help when the player is a below-average hitter overall. Like everyone else in this post, Francisco won’t steal any bases or offer much help on the bases. He fits best in left field but can play right in a pinch and center in an emergency, so that’s nice. Still, if you’re looking for a platoon bat, it would be nice if he could, you know, actually hit well against pitchers of the opposite hand.
Once upon a time, the Cubs made Montanez the third overall pick in the entire draft (2000). He has just 323 career plate appearances in the show since then, during which time he’s posted a 50 wRC+ overall with a .204/.234/.279 (31 wRC+) line against left-handers in a meaninglessly small sample. Over the last two seasons in Triple-A, the 31-year-old had tagged southpaws for a .345/.429/.525 batting line with a 8.1% strikeout rate compared to a 12.3% walk rate. More walks than strikeouts is always fun. Montanez has a ton of experience in all three outfield spots and actually played the middle infield once upon a time (drafted as a shortstop), but that ship has sailed.
Another former Yankee, the 34-year-old Rivera had the worst season of his career in 2012 (81 wRC+ overall) while battling hamstring issues. He still managed a decent .260/.312/.433 (107 wRC+) line against southpaws, and over the last three seasons it’s a .270/.329/.434 (109 wRC) line. Rivera’s strength remains his ability to get the bat on the ball (12.9 K% and 84.2% contact rate since 2010) and be somewhat willing to work a walk (7.1 BB%), though he’s butcher defensively both in left field and at first base. There’s more big league experience here than with the other four guys in this post combined, but I’m not sure how much that helps Rivera’s case at this point of his career.
Rottino, 32, received 97 of his 110 career big league plate appearances with the Mets and Indians this past season. He owns a miniscule 43 wRC+ in the show, but that tells us nothing given the sample size. Rottino has tagged Triple-A southpaws for a .333/.383/.502 batting line over the last two seasons though, which includes an 11.4% strikeout rate and a 7.5% walk rate. He has a ton of experience at the four corner positions as well as first base and behind the plate, though he’s just an emergency option at catcher. Still a nice skill to have. No one in this post offers as much position flexibility or as little big league experience as Rottino.
Thirty-six days from now, pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training in Tampa. The Yankees still have a number of issues to address before then, though in many cases the solution won’t be determined until just before Opening Day. Take the fifth starter’s spot for example. We already know Ivan Nova and David Phelps will compete for the job in camp, but we won’t know the answer until right before season. The same will be true at a number of other spots, but in those cases the Yankees don’t even have all the possible solutions in place. Here’s a recap of the items left on New York’s agenda before pitchers and catchers show up for work.
1. Find a DH
Raul Ibanez is a Mariner and Lance Berkman is a Ranger. Travis Hafner is still available, as are Jim Thome, Jason Giambi, and Luke Scott. The Yankees are in a weird spot because they need (not want) to use their DH spot to rest some of their older players. A true DH-only guy like Hafner or Thome is fine, but finding someone who could actually step in to play a position would be ideal. We all laughed at the idea of Ibanez playing the outfield around this time last year, but that ability turned out to be pretty important when Brett Gardner hurt his elbow. The Yankees didn’t sign Ibanez until mid-February last year, but given the offensive hits they’re going to take in right field and behind the plate, they’re going to have to jump on a real bat fairly soon.
2. Find a trade partner for Chris Dickerson
Dickerson was designated for assignment a few days ago, meaning the Yankees have about a week to trade, release, or waive him. Since he’s already cleared waivers and been outrighted to the minors once before (last spring), he can elect free agency if he clears waivers again. I assume he would take advantage of that to look for more opportunity elsewhere, so keeping him around is probably a pipe dream. Dickerson has value but the Yankees have little leverage since the DFA is forcing their hand. Enough teams need outfield help that they should be able to get something in return, even if it’s a low-level fringe prospect. Remember, the Yankees dumped the recently DFA’d Chase Wright on the Brewers for Eric Fryer in early-2009, then turned around and used Fryer to land Eric Hinske at the deadline. They need to get something in return for Dickerson.
3. Keep looking for a right-handed hitting outfielder
The last two weeks have brought Matt Diaz (minor league deal) and Russ Canzler (waiver claim) to the organization to compete with the Melky Mesas and Ronnie Musteliers of the world in camp. Since signing Scott Hairston to a multi-year contract is unlikely — I won’t lose any sleep over that one, Hairston’s gotten really overrated really quickly — the Yankees should bring in as many right-handed bats as possible to compete for that platoon bat role. The more options, the merrier. One of them might actually have a unexpectedly productive season and prove worthwhile.
4. Add a bench bat
The backup catcher and right-handed hitting outfielder will occupy two of the four bench spots, and the third will go to a backup infielder. Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez, and even Gil Velazquez are in the running for that job. The last bench spot is flexible in theory, meaning the Yankees could go with another infielder or another outfielder. Someone who could do both would be pretty neat, but those guys aren’t easy to find. The one thing this player has to be able to do is hit. There should be a lot of pinch-hitting next season, especially for the catchers, and the Yankees will need someone who can come off the bench and be dangerous. It’s tough to be productive as a pinch-hitter — MLB pinch-hitters hit .224/.304/.344 last season — but finding someone who can do it will be important. The Yankees almost need to act like an NL team and prioritize a pinch-hitter.
5. Keep tabs on Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera & CC Sabathia
Jeter (ankle), Rivera (knee), and Sabathia (elbow) are all coming off surgery, and although all three are reportedly progressing well with their rehabs and are on track for Opening Day, the Yankees must still keep a close eye on them and act swiftly if a setback occurs. This should probably be number one on this little list, but it’s not exactly something they could cross off. It’s a continuous item that needs constant monitoring. These are three guys they couldn’t replace with a minor league signing, it would require immediate action.
2012 Record: 95-67 (804 RS, 668 RA, 96-66 pythag. record), won AL East, swept in ALCS
Top stories from last week:
- The Yankees had interest in a reunion with Lance Berkman, but he instead signed with the Rangers. The team is not looking for bullpen help and they don’t have interest in Delmon Young. They also didn’t call about Chipper Jones.
- Injury News: Mariano Rivera (knee) is at about 95% as he rehabs from surgery. He’ll being throwing in a week or so. There is still no date set for Alex Rodriguez‘s hip surgery.
- The Yankees claimed Russ Canzler off waivers from the Indians and designated Chris Dickerson for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot.
- Austin Romine is likely to begin the season back in Triple-A.
Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.
Forgive me for having a hockey moment, but I’m pretty psyched the NHL and NHLPA were able to reach a tentative agreement to end the lockout last night/this morning. Hockey is my go-to baseball offseason sport, so getting even a partial season (48 games, apparently) this winter is much appreciated. Plus the Rangers are actually good these days, which makes it that much more fun.
Anyway, here is your open thread for the night. The Seahawks and Redskins are still playing (on FOX), but talk about whatever you like here. Have at it.