The Mason Williams Watch

Last week I asked you to vote for this season’s Prospect Watch, and nearly 3,300 responses later, we have our answer. Low-A Charleston center fielder Mason Williams received 31% of the vote and will have his season tracked and highlighted in our sidebar. Last year’s Prospect Watch prospect — Manny Banuelos — finished second with 27%. Gary Sanchez was a distant third at 17%.

Williams, 20, hit .349/.395/.468 with 28 steals in 298 plate appearances for Short Season Staten Island in 2011. I ranked him as the club’s second best prospect before the start of Spring Training while Keith Law (#34), Baseball America (#85), and Kevin Goldstein (#99) all consider him one of the game’s 100 best prospects. Williams is a contact-oriented speed guy, so I wouldn’t expect a ton of homers this summer. Double-digits would be a pleasant surprise. The minor league season starts tonight, and I think we’re all hoping Mason raises some hell right away.

Joey Votto, Matt Cain, and the Yankees

(John Sommers II/Getty Images)

Two or three years ago it appeared that baseball salaries were taking a slight step backward, particularly when it came to older players on the free agent market. That last part is still very much true, but baseball salaries are once again booming. We’ve seen three of baseball’s five $200M+ contracts handed out over the last four months and eight $100M+ deals handed out since late-October. The Yankees were involved in only one of those transactions: CC Sabathia‘s new five-year, $122.5M extension.

It appears as though the sale of the Dodgers has motivated a pair of clubs to lock up their own young players to mammoth extensions to avoid having them flee to Chavez Ravine in the near future. These two contracts impact the game in a number of ways, and the Yankees are not immune to the change.

Joey Votto — ten years, $225M
To understand the magnitude of this contract, you need to first realize that Votto was not a free agent. Not only was he not a free agent, but he was two full years away from becoming a free agent. Votto eclipsed the Prince Fielder contract and signed the fourth-most lucrative contract in baseball history without ever going out onto the open market and suckering several teams into a bidding war. Nice work by his agent.

The question now is was the Votto deal an outlier, or a sign of things to come? The Yankees have their own homegrown star two years away from free agency in Robinson Cano, and they better hope this Votto deal is an outlier. I love Robbie, but I don’t love him as much as the Reds apparently love their first baseman. I’d like to think that the Jose Reyes contract — six years and $106M — set the market for Cano, but the prices have since escalated and figure to continue doing so over the next two years.

Last summer I was thinking a six-year, $120M extension for Cano — covering 2012-2017 — but that’s obviously not going to happen. He’ll be 31 when he hits free agency after next season, which isn’t far off from the age when middle infielders tend to collapse. If Scott Boras is looking for a Votto-sized deal for Cano after 2013, there will absolutely be a strong argument that the best thing the Yankees could do is let him walk. Thankfully we’re still two full seasons away from this being a real concern.

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Matt Cain — five years, $112.5M
The Cain deal has more of an indirect impact on the Yankees. They don’t have any pitchers due to become free agents in the next year or two that are in Cain’s class, even if Phil Hughes blows up and turns into the guy we all thought he could be back in the day. The track record just wouldn’t be there to justify the contract.

Instead, the impact of Cain’s deal will be felt if the Yankees plan on diving into the free agent market sometime in the next year or too. Cole Hamels was probably destined to get Johan Santana money from the start, but this probably cements it. Zack Greinke’s price went up as well, though we know the Yankees have already deemed him unfit for New York. Matt Garza, Tim Lincecum, and Josh Johnson could benefit from Cain’s deal even though they won’t hit the open market until after next season.

The price of pitching just went up, which is why Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova will be very important if the Yankees seriously intend to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014. Even the Triple-A guys — David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Manny Banuelos specifically — will be important when it comes to keeping costs down at the back of the rotation or even in the bullpen. Viable alternatives just won’t come affordably.

* * *

The Yankees have been setting the market for decades now, but other clubs are starting to catch up a bit. Blame the new stadiums, the new television contracts, and the revenue sharing program. The Votto and Cain contracts undeniably impact the market for top-tier talent going forward, a demographic the Yankees tend to target. I’m sure they’re going to re-sign Cano to something outrageous in two years, at least that’s how I feel right now, and we’ll have Votto, Fielder, and a several others to thank for that.

Yankees open season with lowest payroll since 2007

Via Bob Nightengale, the Yankees will open the season with a $197.9M payroll, their lowest since 2007. That’s still the highest in MLB, obviously. The Padres are dead last at $53.9M. I believe that is the 25-man Opening Day roster payroll, not the full 40-man roster payroll with benefits that will get counted towards the luxury tax.

Update: Just for the sake of completeness, that number is the 25-man Opening Day roster plus players on the big league DL.

Yankees sign Ramon Ortiz

Via Jon Heyman and Marc Carig, the Yankees have signed right-hander Ramon Ortiz to a minor league contract. The 38-year-old actually got some big league time with the Cubs last summer, pitching to a 4.86 FIP in 33.1 IP. Ortiz was in camp with the Giants this spring, and apparently he was throwing the ball reasonably well. The Yankees needed someone to replace David Phelps in the Triple-A rotation — Manny Delcarmen is scheduled to start Opening Day tomorrow — which is what Ortiz will do.

Open Thread: 4/4 Camp Notes

Yay Andy. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty)

The Yankees wrapped up their exhibition schedule today with a big win over the Mets. Andy Pettitte threw 13 pitches and faced the minimum in his one inning of work (video), giving up a ground ball single that took a big hop over the first baseman’s head (runner was later thrown out trying to steal), a pop-up to shortstop, and a routine ground ball to second. Seriously, it was like he never left. Same old Andy.

Frankie Cervelli clubbed a two-run homer before a) getting demoted, and b) the minor league replacements unloaded on the Mets. Kevin Mahoney, Ramon Flores, and Hector Rabago all drove in runs. David Robertson practiced his Houdini act, striking out the side after putting men on the corners with no outs. Here’s the box score and here’s the final Spring Training update from Tampa…

  • “It was good to get out there…everything felt great,” said Pettitte after his outing. His plan is to be ready for the big leagues in about a month, and if today was any indication, he’ll be just fine. [Erik Boland]
  • “No pain right now,” said Michael Pineda when asked how he and his shoulder are feeling. He has not yet been told when he will pick up a bawseball, however. [Boland]
  • Hiroki Kuroda, Rafael Soriano, and Phil Hughes all threw their regularly scheduled side sessions, the final tuneup before the regular season. Mariano Rivera threw a simulated game yesterday, by the way. [Chad Jennings]
  • David Phelps won the James P. Dawson Award as the top rookie in camp. His reward was a spot on the Opening Day roster. I can only hope Phelps has a better big league career than the former winners. [Pete Caldera]

Here is your open thread for the evening. The Nets are playing tonight, plus there’s an actual regular season baseball game being played. The Marlins officially open their new ballpark against the Cardinals on ESPN at 7pm ET (Johnson vs. Lohse). Enjoy.

The 2012 Opening Day Roster

Spring Training is officially over, and the Yankees had until 5pm ET today to set their Opening Day roster. Boone Logan‘s back gave us a minor scare this morning, but it’s just spasms. He’ll be fine it seems. Frankie Cervelli was expected to be the backup catcher basically forever, but he’s headed to Triple-A after George Kontos was traded for Chris Stewart. Justin Maxwell was also designated for assignment, which isn’t all that surprising. He had no spot on the roster and was out of options. That’s life.

Barring any late and unforeseen announcements, here are your 2012 Yankees…

Catchers
Russell Martin
Chris Stewart

Infielders
Robinson Cano
Eric Chavez
Derek Jeter
Eduardo Nunez
Alex Rodriguez
Mark Teixeira

Outfielders
Brett Gardner
Curtis Granderson
Raul Ibanez
Andruw Jones
Nick Swisher

Starting Pitchers
Freddy Garcia
Phil Hughes
Hiroki Kuroda
Ivan Nova
CC Sabathia

Relievers
Boone Logan
David Phelps
Clay Rapada
Mariano Rivera
David Robertson
Rafael Soriano
Cory Wade

Congrats to Mr. Phelps. Dude became a father a week or two ago, and now he’s a big leaguer. Must be a pretty exciting time for him and his family.

Players on the big league DL will include David Aardsma (elbow), Cesar Cabral (elbow), Joba Chamberlain (elbow, ankle), Pedro Feliciano (shoulder), Brad Meyers (shoulder), Michael Pineda (shoulder), and Austin Romine (back). Aardsma and Feliciano are already on the 60-day DL while everyone else figures to land on the 15-day. The Yankees currently have one open 40-man spot even after adding Rapada, so they’ll surely slide Joba over to the 60-day whenever they need another spot.

Bill Hall heading home after not making team

Via Dan Barbarisi, Bill Hall is heading home after not making the Opening Day roster. He wants a big league job and will try to latch on with another team. Hall did not have an opt-out clause in his contract, so the Yankees released him at his request. That’s a shame, Hall would have been a nice guy to have stashed away in Triple-A for depth.