Yankees looking at Jerry Hairston Jr.

After losing out on Cliff Lee, the Yankees have more than $20M in 2011 payroll room to play with, and we’ve heard that they plan to spread the wealth around and shore up several spots rather than dump it all on one or two pieces. The process started on Tuesday when the Yankees agreed to sign catcher Russell Martin, who allows them to be patient with top prospect Jesus Montero while keeping Frankie Cervelli in a limited role. While Lee was busy finalizing his deal with the Phillies, we also learned that New York has interest in bringing back Jerry Hairston Jr.

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Hairston short stint in pinstripes was productive but not overwhelming. He reached base 32 times in 93 plate appearances (.352 OBP), and hit enough to post a .325 wOBA with more walks (11) than strikeouts (8). Jerry Jr. did all that while playing six positions, everything but first base and the battery. In the only postseason action of his career, Hairston made one spot start in place of the struggling Nick Swisher in Game Two of the 2009 World Series (1-for-3 with a strikeout) and came off the bench on six other occasions. You probably remember him best for racing around third to score from second on a walk-off error by Maicer Izturis in Game Two of the ALCS.

Jerry got his World Series ring then did what was best for him, signing for a guaranteed $2.125M with the Padres so he could play with his brother Scott (who the Yankees should totally sign). Forced into everyday shortstop duty due to Everth Cabrera’s hamstring injury, Hairston put up a measly .287 wOBA in 2010. It wasn’t just Petco Park either, his home wOBA (.318) was better than his road wOBA (.259). Jerry’s season ended prematurely because of a stress fracture in his tibia (the bone between your knee and ankle), which came after an elbow strain. “Every step hurt, like needles were sticking me,” he said. “I stopped thinking about the elbow. I was playing on one leg.” I haven’t found anything that indicates he won’t be ready for the start of Spring Training, so let’s just assume he will be.

Hangtime. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Evaluating bench options is pretty simple. Hairston can hit a little (career .257 AVG, .266 over the last three years) but does so without much power (career .113 ISO, .134 over the last three years), though he makes up for it with some secondary on-base skills. His walk rate is slightly below average at 7.4% career and 7.1% over the last three years, and he’s got a bit of a knack for getting hit by pitches (one every 48.5 plate appearances for his career, the modern day HBP king Craig Biggio got plunked once every 43.9 PA in his career). That’s allowed Hairston to keep him IsoD’s (isolated discipline, same idea as isolated power but with OBP-AVG) right around 0.065 over the last six or seven years. It’s not great, but if it was any better Hairston would be a starter. Unless his batting average on balls in play tanks, Hairston should get on base enough to be useful at the plate.

Of course, Hairston’s calling card is his ridiculous versatility. Like I said, he played six different positions for the Yankees and I’m willing to bet he could handle first base if needed and even chip in an inning off the mound in garbage time at some point. He’s got several hundred, if not thousands of innings of experience at pretty much any spot a team would use him, and his UZR‘s are generally positive. At 34 years old, I wouldn’t expect him to be anything more than average at any position, which is perfectly fine. The best case scenario is something like 250 plate appearances with a .320 wOBA, which is good for about 1.0 WAR.

The Yankees are focused on upgrading the margins of their roster right now, and replacing Eduamiro Penunez as the utility infielder is one place they can do it. Hairston is probably going to end up commanding a salary around $2M, which seems high, but the Yanks are in the position to overpay a bit. They’ll probably have to to get him to join their bench given their regular players. Unlike some other bench options out there, Hairston can handle shortstop, allowing them to use the other two non-backup catcher reserve spots on guys that can hit. I’m all for signing Jerry Hairston Jr. at this point in time, and really I’d love to see a package deal where his brother Scott comes along and replaces Marcus Thames as the righty bat off the bench. For once, the Yanks could start the season with a strong bench rather than worry about upgrading it at the deadline.

Nunez hurt in winter ball

Via Enrique Rojas, Eduardo Nunez was “beaten in the face by a foul trying a bunt against Bartolo Colon” in a Dominican Winter League game tonight. I assume it’s a translation issue and Nunez just fouled a ball into his face trying to bunt, but Rojas’ description is pretty hilarious.

In all seriousness though, let’s all hope Nunez is okay. He could have taken it to the jaw or nose and broken something. Even worse, he could have gotten hit in the eye socket, when damage to his vision becomes a concern. Hopefully it’s nothing like that he can be back out there in a few days after walking it off.

Update (10:33pm): Apparently there is no fracture, which is good news (link in Spanish).

An old friend lands in Oakland

While we waited out our server problems and the Cliff Lee news, the A’s picked up an old Yankee friend of ours. Hideki Matsui and Oakland came to terms on a one-year deal believed to be worth just south of $5 million. He’ll be introduced at the Coliseum later today.

Matsui left New York after winning the 2009 World Series MVP, and he turned in a solid 1.9-win season for the Angels last year. He hit .274/.361/.459 with 21 home runs in 554 plate appearances and even managed to survive 123 innings in left field. While the signing could be a good one for the A’s, Matsui is moving to a home stadium where left-handed batters hit just .241/.325/.349 with just 32 home runs in 2549 plate appearances last year. Playing out his age 37 season in a pitcher’s park, Matsui could very well see his production fall off the table in 2011. Buyer beware.

Open Thread: Priorities

Cliff Lee apparently enjoyed his time in Philly. May we never post a picture of him again. (AP/Matt Slocum)

In a post on MLB Trade Rumors this morning, Tim Dierkes made an excellent point about what we learned from the Cliff Lee signing:

“It’s unfair to make assumptions about a player’s priorities.”

We sometimes take for granted that a player will go wherever the money leads him — well, at least Jason does. But sometimes there’s more at play than a 9 percent difference in salary, even if that 9 percent amounts to $13 million. Lee had his destination in mind, and he apparently made that his first priority.*

*To an extent, of course. There was word that a seven-year offer would have kept him in Texas.

When you’re looking at a baseball free agent, there are a few basic factors to consider: 1) Team/chances of winning, 2) money, 3) location. There are more, I’m sure, and No. 3 is somewhat tied to No. 1. But I want to see how everyone rates these in their minds. If you were a premier free agent, how would you weigh offers?

I’d really like to say that chances of winning come first, followed by money and then location. But I’m in no position to make such a judgement, since I have a hard time imagining millions being thrown my way. Would I be able to take a little less to play in a place that will give me the greatest satisfaction? Or would I succumb to the extra dollars? For now I’m sticking to my story. But I’m sure I would reconsider if I ever found myself in Lee’s situation.

So we’ll start with that question for the open thread. And then we’ll move on to everything else we like to discuss in these things.

Yankees sign Mark Prior

The one that got away has finally come home. The Yankees took Mark Prior with the 43rd pick of the 1998 draft, but he decided to attend college at USC instead. Three years later he was the consensus top talent in the draft, and after the Twins took Joe Mauer with the first pick the Cubs selected Prior. His career is well known from there, starting with dominance and seemingly ending with injury. Last week we heard that the Yankees and the Rangeres were looking at him on a minor league deal. Now ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the Yankees have indeed signed him. There’s no risk to the move, though there’s also little upside. Prior is now 30 and hasn’t thrown in the majors since 2006. Since then he has thrown just one minor league inning, and that came last year for Texas’s AAA affiliate.

On the RAB Radio Show today Mike and I talked about taking as many chances as possible on guys coming off injuries. We wholeheartedly support this move.

Update by Mike (6:35pm): If Prior makes the team, he’ll earn $750,000 with the potential to double it in incentives. Chump change.

Conference Call Notes: Patience

(AP Photo/John Marshall Mantel)

Brian Cashman‘s mantra has been patience since the day he took over full control of the baseball operations a few years ago, so it’s unsurprising that one of the first things out of his mouth during this afternoon’s conference calls with reporters was “Plan B is patience … First phase of this is prices go up because teams sense blood in the water. We will be patient.”

Even if you think the Yankees need to go out and make a trade for a starting pitcher as soon as possible, this quote shouldn’t surprise you. The last thing a general manager is going to do after losing out on a major free agent is come out an say “okay, I’m desperate, come out and take me to the cleaners in a trade.” They will assuredly explore other pitching options, but high end arms the caliber of Cliff Lee just aren’t available. Spare me your Felix Hernandez and Josh Johnson trade proposals, it’s not going to happen.

Here’s a round up of the conference call…

  • “He knows if he puts himself in play, we’d love to talk to him,” said Cashman when asked about Andy Pettitte, “but he’s got to go through that process.” Last we heard, the lefty was leaning towards retirement. Cash added losing out on Lee won’t change the way they pursue Pettitte. In other words, don’t expect them to pressure him into coming back.
  • “He had to make a very difficult personal decision and he’s made it now,” was the quote on Lee. “We’ll move forward. There’s more time left on the clock now.” Cashman did say he’s thankful for not going through with the trade for Lee back in July, presumably because gets to keep Jesus Montero. He added it would be “rare situation for me to include Montero in a deal,” not that I expected him to run out and try to pawn the team’s top prospect off for rotation help.
  • The Yankees received a short, simple call from Darek Braunecker last night informing them that Lee was going elsewhere, and Cashman’s next call after that was to Hal Steinbrenner. The lack of movement over the weekend indicated to them that he was going elsewhere.
  • “I don’t think we have a lot of holes,” said Cash. “[Filling holes] doesn’t have to happen in the winter time.” No, but it is fun to talk about. The Yanks have shown the ability to go out and make moves during the season to improve the team, and I see no reason why that wouldn’t continue going forward.
  • Is the rotation perfect? “No. Can it be improved upon? Yes.” Cashman went out of his way to say that the rotation is good as it is, assuming a rebound from A.J. Burnett and continued progression from Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova.

The RAB Radio Show: December 14, 2010

How many ways can you spend $23 million? Mike and I aren’t going to stop until we figure out every conceivable option. We’re talking about the available payroll and how the Yankees can use it to their advantage, absent a viable free agent option.

We’re also talking about the flexibility that Russell Martin brings and what he could mean for the 2011 team.

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