Olney: Cliff Lee talks are a good fit to pick up this week

Via Buster Olney, negotiations between free agent southpaw Cliff Lee and the various clubs try to sign him are expected to pick up this coming week, and there’s a decent chance he’ll pick his new home during the Winter Meetings in two weeks. “We’ve got a fair number of teams trying to work through the process,” said agent Darek Braunecker. “It’s probably fair to say we’ve got a half-dozen teams in the mix.” We’ve heard that the Yankees are prepared to offer him five years and $120M, though rumors of a Sabathian deal have been floating around. Get ready, the hot stove is ready to take off.

Yomiuri sends Yankees $1.2M for Albaladejo

Well check this out. According to a report passed along by MLBTR, the Yomiuri Giants have sent the Yankees $1.2M for Jon Albaladejo. Albie finalized his deal with Yomiuri yesterday. I didn’t expect the Yanks to get anything out of the move other than a free 40-man roster spot, so this is a pleasant surprise. Granted, $1.2M isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s just about enough to cover the salaries of Jesus Montero, Frankie Cervelli, and Ramiro Pena next season.

Vazquez lands with the Marlins

Via MLBTR, Javy Vazquez has agreed to a one-year deal for some unknown amount of money with the Florida Marlins. It makes sense, NL team in a big park nice and close to his home in Puerto Rico. Javy still has to pass a physical before the deal becomes official and the Yankees get their extra draft pick, and I guess that’s not a given considering his utter lack of stuff at the end of the season. Either way, I wish him luck and hope the Yankees get to face him in the 2011 World Series.

Yanks getting ready to up offer to Jeter

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

It’s been a messy few weeks of negotiations between the Yankees and Derek Jeter, as the two sides have taken to the press to state their cases and maximize their leverage. The Yanks offered their captain a more than fair three-year contract at $15M a season, but Jeter’s camp is looking for four or five years worth up to $24M a season. A large gap certainly, but not an unbridgeable one, and the team is prepared to up their initial offer. Take it away, Jon Heyman

The Yankees appear willing to enhance their latest $45 million, three-year offer to retain the iconic Yankee, but are said to be unwilling to match his previous salary on a deal of at least three years. Jeter just completed a 10-year, $189-million deal that paid him about $21 million in 2010.

The Yankees’ next offer is expected to be for a couple million more per year, so perhaps in the $50 million range for three years. Indications thus far are they have very little inclination to add a fourth year, though that can’t be entirely ruled out. The team would like to complete the Jeter negotiations so they can get to the rest of their offseason to-do list, bringing Jeter’s longtime friend and iconic closer Mariano Rivera back into the fold and pressing to sign superstar free agent pitcher Cliff Lee.

As expected, the money isn’t much of an issue, it’s the years. Just ten shortstops have posted a 90 OPS+ or better at age-36, and one of those was Jeter last season (exactly 90). Just three (Ozzie Smith, Omar Vizquel, and Jeter) have done it since 1970, and the first two had decided defensive advantages over the Yankee icon. As historically great as Jeter has been, paying him in hopes that he’ll evade Father Time for the life of the contract is a foolish bet.

Ben explained the leverage situation last week, and for all intents and purposes Jeter has none. No other teams are bidding on him at that price, so the only thing he and agent Casey Close can do is push his iconic status. The Yankees appear to be more than happy to make Jeter filthy stinkin’ rich all over again, but they don’t want to lock themselves into a declining player for the next half-decade just because he’s Derek Jeter. Hard to blame them. I suspect this will all get settled somewhere in the three-year, $60M neighborhood, but don’t hold your breath. This might drag on into January.

Cashman met with Burnett last week

After teasing us last night, Buster Olney tells us this morning exactly why Brian Cashman flew down to Maryland to meet with A.J. Burnett the day before Thanksgiving (Insider req’d). We had some fun trying to guess the reason, but it’s nothing terribly exiting. The GM simply told the enigmatic right-hander that the Yankees still believe in him, and to “reset and refocus” for next season. They kind of have to say that when they owe the guy $49.5M over the next three years.

Saturday Night Open Thread

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

I don’t know about you folks, but I killed off the last of my Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch earlier, and I’m sad. Thankfully, the Yanks made me feel better by signing one of my favorite prospects from back in the day, lefty Andy Sisco. That’s a picture of him throwing with the White Sox in Spring Training a few years ago. I’m a sucker for tall, hard-throwing lefties, and Sisco (6-foot-10) fits the bill. It was a match made in prospect heaven.

Anyway, here’s tonight’s open thread. The Devils already beat the Flyers and the Knicks already lost to the Hawks, but the Rangers are in Nashville and the Nets are in Philly. Plus there’s a zillion college football games on as well. Talk about whatever you like on this chilly Saturday evening, have a blast.

The Manny Ramirez Option

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

There’s nothing more tempting to fans than a future Hall of Famer on the free agent market, especially after they’ve watched him do unheard of amounts of damage to their favorite team for the last decade. “I want that guy to do that in our uniform” is the feeling, and for the last three years there’s been a decently sized contingent of Yankee fans that have pined for Manny Ramirez in pinstripes. If you’re reading this site, then you’re no doubt very, very familiar with Mr. Ramirez, perhaps more familiar with him than you care to be. He tormented the Yankees for years, hitting .322/.413/.607 (.422 wOBA) with 51 homers in 861 career plate appearances against them. That’s MVP caliber production over a year-and-a-half worth of plate appearances.

Manny is a free agent this offseason, two years after his last crack at the open market. Over the summer he was placed on waivers and claimed by the White Sox, meaning that even if the Yanks wanted to claim him, they didn’t get the chance since the ChiSox had a higher priority. Just three years ago he posted a .432 wOBA, whacking 37 homers with the Sox and Dodgers. The “Manny quit on Boston” narrative is blatantly untrue; he had a .398 wOBA with the Sox that year, and hit .407/.500/.712 (.480 wOBA) in the weeks leading up to the trade. If only every player would quit on his team like that. Yeah, Ramirez has had more than his fair share of off-the-field issues that have occasionally spilled over into his on-the-field effort, but he was a baseball mashing machine.

The problem is that over the last two seasons, the baseball mashing has occurred with less and less frequency. After averaging 39.75 homers per year from 1996 through 2008, Manny dipped down to just 19 homers in 2009 and then just nine this year. After a solid but injury plagued effort with the Dodgers (.393 wOBA in 232 plate appearances) this season, he really dropped off with the White Sox, picking up just two extra base hits in 88 plate appearances. His .353 wOBA with Chicago is inflated by five hit by pitches; if we remove those, he drops down to a .314 wOBA. Here’s a graphical look at his power decline…

The Fall of Manny Ramirez.

Buster Olney thought it would be a good fit to poll various talent evaluators around the league to see what everyone thinks of Manny at this point in his career. It’s behind the iron curtain of Insider, but for the most part all of their opinions can be summed up by: “he’s a DH,” “solid bat, mid-.800 OPS guy,” “incentive-laden deal,” and “slow.” One called him a healthier version of Nick Johnson, meaning his offensive value stems from the ability to control the strike zone and get on base rather than drive the ball with authority.

The Yankees need a replacement for Marcus Thames, some kind of right-handed bat that will crush lefties, but Ramirez isn’t that guy. Not now anyway, it just doesn’t make sense. Manny offers negative defensive value and in fact the health of his legs is a concern (he was on the DL three times with leg related issues in 2010), so he probably couldn’t even play the field in an emergency spot. They’d be wasting one of three non-backup catcher bench spots on a guy that couldn’t do anything other than walk to the plate and occasionally run the bases. He would also take at-bats away from Jorge Posada as the DH, which in turn would take at-bats away from Jesus Montero, which is clearly bad for the long-term outlook of the franchise.

Manny is first ballot Hall of Fame lock, one of the greatest right-handed hitters we’ll ever see, but there’s no place for him on the Yankees at this time. They need someone more flexible defensively and frankly a little cheaper to be in a reserve role, not someone used to playing everyday that could become a distraction if things don’t go his way. I fully respect Manny’s absurd career accomplishments (how the hell did he never a) win an MVP, or b) finish higher than third in the voting?), but there’s no fit here. The Manny Ramirez option is a non-option for New York.