Reyes deal reinforces need to extend Cano’s contract right now

(AP Photo/LM Otero)

One week ago, we learned that Jose Reyes was leaving the Mets to join the suddenly free-spending Marlins on a six-year contract worth $106M. The deal includes an option for a seventh year as well. The Mets lost their most popular and almost certainly their best player simply because they couldn’t afford him given the team’s financial plight. Thankfully, the Yankees don’t ever figure to have that problem, at least not anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be proactive about locking up their core players.

Reyes and Robinson Cano are similar players but different. Reyes is a leadoff guy whose game is build on speed while Cano is a middle-of-the-order bat with a sweet swing allergic to soft contact. They were born roughly eight months apart (Cano is older) in the Dominican Republic and are both six-win middle infielders at their best. Reyes has some injury concerns the crazy durable Cano doesn’t, but it’s very clear that Reyes’ new deal with the Marlins will be a benchmark for Cano’s next contract. That’s why they need to sign him right now.

I’ve suggested a six-year pact worth roughly $120M in the past, a contract that seems very realistic now that we know what Reyes got. If fact, it seems like a bit of a bargain given his utter lack of injury problems. The idea would be to guarantee Cano’s options for 2012 ($14M, this has already been picked up) and 2013 ($15M), then tack on another four years at $20M per season. Add in a signing bonus, a buyout of a seventh year option, and stuff like that gets you to $120M total. Signing Robbie now and locking up his age 29-34 seasons is much more preferable than waiting for him to hit free agency in two years and buying his age 31-36 seasons.

I generally agree with the Yankees’ philosophy of not signing players until their contracts expire, especially when it comes to pitchers, but Cano is a definite exception. He’s a special hitter at an up-the-middle position, their best all-around position player, a homegrown star, the whole nine. That’s the kinda of guy that deserves a long-term deal. If Cano has two more years similar to his last three, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll be looking at a Matt Kemp kind of contract on the open market, which is something the Yankees should try to avoid by talking about a contract now.

Noesi and JoVa keep rolling in winter ball

If you’ve got a few minutes of free time, I suggest listening to Wednesday’s Baseball Today podcast. Keith Law gives some serious praise to Mason Williams (starting around the 27:30 mark), calling him the most exciting prospect in the Yankees’ system. “I absolutely think he’s going to be a star,” said KLaw. “Two years from now … that guy’s untouchable, don’t even think about trading him. I think he’s going to be that good.” I assume the only reason he stopped short of calling him the next Ken Griffey Jr. is his anti-Yankees bias.

Anyway, the Yankees have re-signed both Noel Castillo and Kelvin Perez after they became minor league free agents. The winter ball leagues in Latin America are winding down, so we’ve only got another update or two before baseball is officially closed for business in 2011. Go back a few weeks to see the final Arizona Fall League stats

Dominican Winter League
Abe Almonte, OF: 28 G, 6 for 37, 3 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 6 K, 2 SB, 2 CS (.162/.205/.162)
Zoilo Almonte, OF: 11 G, 6 for 35, 4 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 9 K, 1 CS (.171/.206/.200)
Melky Mesa, OF: 16 G, 9 for 41, 6 R, 2 2B, 3 3B, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 9 K, 1 SB, 1 HBP (.220/.273/.415)
Gary Sanchez, C/DH: 7 G, 5 for 15, 2 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 7 K (.333/.412/.333) – hasn’t played in about three weeks
Cesar Cabral, LHP: 18 G, 0 GS, 11 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 12 K, 1 WP (0.82 ERA, 0.82 WHIP) – one of their two Rule 5 Draft selections
Juan Cedeno, LHP: 14 G, 0 GS, 7.2 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K (1.17 ERA, 1.30 WHIP) – recently signed out of an independent league
Ronny Marte, RHP: 1 G, 0 GS, 0 IP, 1 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB (? ERA, ? WHIP)
Hector Noesi, RHP: 9 G, 9 GS, 40.2 IP, 40 H, 20 R, 12 ER, 7 BB, 24 K, 2 WP (2.66 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) – now he’s up to 121.2 IP on the season

Mexican Pacific League
Jose Figueroa, OF: 3 G, 1 for 2, 1 K (.500/.500/1.000) – 19-year-old spent this year in the Dominican Summer League
Walt Ibarra, IF: 35 G, 17 for 104, 13 R, 3 2B, 3 RBI, 7 BB, 24 K, 1 SB, 1 CS, 1 HBP (.163/.223/.192)
Ramiro Pena, IF: 21 G, 20 for 79, 7 R, 4 2B, 3 HR, 13 RBI, 8 BB, 9 K, 1 SB, 1 CS (.253/.322/.418)
Jorge Vazquez, 1B/DH: 47 G, 63 for 179, 30 R, 7 2B, 17 HR, 55 RBI, 17 BB, 54 K, 3 HBP (.352/.415/.676) – he’s played 165 games between winter ball and the regular season this year, hitting .287/.342/.562 with 49 homers, 40 unintentional walks, and 220 strikeouts in exactly 700 plate appearances
Felipe Gonzalez, RHP: 1 G, 0 GS, 1 IP, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB (9.00 ERA, 2.00 WHIP) – 20-year-old has spent the last four seasons in the Dominican Summer League
Cesar Vargas, RHP: 1 G, 0 GS, 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 HB (9.00 ERA, 3.00 WHIP)
Pat Venditte, SwP: 25 G, 0 GS, 31.2 IP, 22 H, 10 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 32 K, 1 WP (2.84 ERA, 0.76 WHIP) – holy K/BB ratio!

Puerto Rican League
Ray Kruml, OF: 20 G, 13 for 59, 5 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 4 RBI, 2BB, 9 K, 6 SB, 2 CS (.220/.273/.415)

Venezuelan Winter League
Dan Brewer, OF: 6 G, 1 for 19, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 10 K, 1 HBP (.053/.174/.053)
Colin Curtis, OF: 25 G, 25 for 87, 13 R, 6 2B, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 12 BB, 14 K, 2 SB, 1 HBP (.287/.386/.425)
Jose Gil, C/1B: 27 G, 20 for 27, 16 R, 8 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 7 BB, 13 K, 1 SB (.278/.342/.458)
Jose Pirela, IF: 45 G, 54 for 177, 20 R, 6 2B, 4 3B, 2 HR, 30 RBI, 10 BB, 21 K, 3 SB, 1 CS, 4 HBP (.305/.351/.418) – pretty nice winter
Rich Martinez, RHP: 1 G, 0 GS, 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 2 K (0.00 ERA, 2.50 WHIP)

Brian Cashman, Prevaricator Extraordinaire?

In recent days, while teams like the Marlins and Angels snapped up every big name free agent on the market, Brian Cashman preached patience and fiscal responsibility. When Yu Darvish was posted at the end of last week, Cashman said the following (courtesy of Chad Jennings):

“Sometimes, if you like somebody a great deal, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be in a position to participate,” Cashman said. “I think, obviously he’s extremely talented. If he’s going to get posted, it’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out and how everybody on this side of the fence – meaning all Major League clubs – how they decide to or not to participate, and at what level. But that’s all for another day.”

“We’ve got a lot of depth (in the rotation),” Cashman said. “Can we add to it? We’d like to. But is it realistic? It’s not necessarily that realistic because for me to be able to push through something, I’m probably going to have to overpay to do that. And that’s a tough thing to do, especially when you’re sitting with a lot of talent, a lot of people you could slot in and (have them) do this job. It’s just, do you want to bet on somebody doing it significantly better at the expense of payroll flexibility going forward or (the loss of a prospect in a trade)? I’m OK with the balancing act. I’m OK with the decision making. I didn’t expect much, and it’s hard to improve on what we already have.”

Couple these quotes with the recent reports that the Yankees are trying to cut their payroll in anticipation of being below the luxury tax threshold in 2014, and you have the makings of another quiet offseason for a team that seems to need some established starting pitching. However, despite the fairly pervasive reports that the Yankees are unlikely to bid on Darvish, sign a free agent to a large deal, or give up major prospects to acquire a top starter, there is precedent to suggest that Cashman is simply working to muddy the informational waters.

The most famous example comes from late-2005, when Brian claimed that the Yankees were going to enter the 2006 season with Bubba Crosby as the center fielder. No one quite believed it at the time, but most fans were still stunned when Cashman stole Johnny Damon from the Red Sox a few weeks later. Prior to the 2009 season, the Yankees’ GM suggested that the rumors of the Yankees adding Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and either Derek Lowe or A.J. Burnett were “crazy talk” from a “fantasy land.” He suggested that even acquiring just Sabathia and Teixeira was a ridiculous idea that had no merit. A scant few weeks later, Sabathia, Teixeira, and Burnett were all in pinstripes.

On two other occasions, Cashman made forceful public statements only to later be overruled by management. He stated quite clearly that if A-Rod used the opt-out in his contract following the 2007 season, the Yankees would not participate in his free agency. And just last offseason, he declared that he would not surrender his first round pick, only to be effectively overruled by management a few days later when they signed Rafael Soriano.

The fact of the matter is that it is usually in Cashman’s best interests to be less than forthcoming with the entire and absolute truth. It does him nothing but harm to effusively express interest in a free agent or to suggest that the club has major holes that desperately need to be remedied. Furthermore, when it comes to this particular offseason, with Darvish finally on the market, it actually behooves him to actively spread misinformation:

The process of acquiring players from Japanese baseball includes a blind posting system. Interested teams get to make a single bid for the exclusive rights to negotiate with the player, without knowledge of the bids being made by other clubs. Essentially, clubs need to guess at the market and then make their bid accordingly. This can prove to be extremely difficult, as evidenced by the Red Sox’s $51 million bid for Daisuke Matsuzaka, which reportedly exceeded the next highest bid by at least $15 million.

The guesswork nature of this process lends itself towards misinformation. Teams that are interested in Darvish have an incentive to downplay their level of involvement, which could help suppress the market and lower the range of bids. Conversely, teams that have little interest might feign heavy internal consideration of a large bid, so as to drive up the price for rivals and generally push the market upwards. Taken together, this means that almost all of the information you might hear on Darvish, regarding any team, is likely to be filtered through the lens of self-interest and may be being released to influence the bidding environment. As we saw with the Daisuke situation, until the Nippon Ham Fighters announce the winner, everyone will be in the dark on the posting process.

I entered this offseason expecting the Yankees to add some pitching, and I still believe that all the talk of an austerity budget is a ruse designed to keep the bidding on Darvish reasonably low. That said, the events of last offseason, in which Cashman claimed not to feel a desperate need for pitching and then followed through by not adding a major starter all year, give me pause. The Yankees and Brian Cashman may actually feel that Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett, and Hector Noesi provide them with enough options to construct a quality rotation behind CC Sabathia. It’s also possible that they are running a misinformation campaign, but one targeted at next offseason and players like Cole Hamels. Whatever the truth is, Brian Cashman’s history suggests that we should not be too quick to believe what we read.

Open Thread: Brian Bruney

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

There is more than one way to build a bullpen, and the Yankees employ basically all of them. They have high-priced imports (Rafael Soriano), homegrown pieces (Mariano Rivera and David Robertson), trade pickups (Boone Logan), and scrap heap signings (Cory Wade). A few seasons ago they went the scrap heap route and signed Brian Bruney to a minor league contract about six weeks after the Diamondbacks released him in the middle of the 2006 season.

Bruney, then just 24, saved a dozen games for Arizona in 2005, though he pitched to a 7.43 ERA and 5.11 FIP while doing so. Bruney was young, threw very hard, and had a track record of racking up huge strikeout totals, so the Yankees took a flier on him. He struck out 22 in 14.1 IP for Triple-A Columbus before being called up in mid-August. Bruney was dominant the rest of the season, striking out 25 and allowing just a pair of runs in 20.2 IP. That earned him a spot on the roster next season.

Over the next three seasons, Bruney was dominant, terrible, hurt, and everything in between. A Lisfranc sprain derailed an otherwise strong season in 2008 (1.83 ERA and 3.45 FIP), then elbow trouble cost him the eighth inning job in early-2009. He went on the DL, rushed himself back, then re-injured it. During his 3+ seasons in pinstripes, Bruney had pitched to a 3.25 ERA (4.66 FIP)  with 8.18 K/9 and 5.70 BB/9 in 144 IP. That amounted to 0.5 fWAR and 2.5 bWAR. It seemed like he came to camp 10-20 lbs. lighter every year, but it never helped him harness his admittedly nasty stuff.

The Yankees traded Bruney to the Nationals two years ago today, receiving a player to be named later in return. That player was Jamie Hoffmann, who the Yanks instructed Washington to take with the first overall pick in the Rule 5 Draft the next day. Hoffmann didn’t make it through Spring Training, but the Yankees were likely to non-tender Bruney later than month because he was due to make close to $2M in 2010. Bruney has pitched to a 7.23 ERA with 32 walks and 32 strikeouts in 37.1 big league innings since then, bouncing from the Nats to the Brewers to the Mets to the White Sox. He’s currently a free agent and struggling to hang on, so the Yankees likely received the best stretch of his career after rolling the dice.

* * *

Here is tonight’s open thread. There’s college basketball on all over the place, plus the Rangers and Islanders are both playing tonight. Talk about whatever you like here, just don’t be a jerk.

Nakajima speaks about Yankees winning negotiating rights

It was a bit surprising when we found out the Yankees had won the negotiating rights to Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima last week, and recent reports indicate that he might not sign and instead return to Japan for another year before becoming a free agent next winter. Chad Jennings passed along an article from Nikkan Sports with some quotes from Nakajima, but online translations are a disaster. That’s why I enlisted the help of Patrick Newman, who runs the indispensable NPB Tracker.

“I thought ‘whoa!’. I got a bid from a great team,'” said Nakajima, courtesy of Newman. “I still don’t know how it is going to turn out.” The article goes onto say that Nakajima is “highly motivated” to play in MLB (he asked to be posted last year, but his team said no), so the chances he won’t sign are low. He’s leaving the negotiations up to his agent, obviously. I think this whole situation is very interesting, just because it’s not your typical free agent negotiation and Nakajima probably expected to go to a team that would let him play everyday. The two sides have less than a month to bang out a contract.

Big thanks to Patrick for translating the article and quotes.

Mailbag: Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

J.R. asks: Looking at what the A’s got in return for Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow, could you speculate what the Yankees would had to have given to match the package?

In case you missed it yesterday, the Athletics traded Cahill and Breslow to the Diamondbacks for Jarrod Parker, Collin Cowgill, and Ryan Cook. None of you Gio Gonzalez fans need to worry, Ken Rosenthal says he’s still on the trade block even after Oakland dealt one of their starters. I will miss the regular poundings the Yankees gave Cahill, he was good for two or three wins a year.

Anyway, the real prize for the Athletics is the 24-year-old Parker, the ninth overall pick in 2007. He missed the entire 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery, but made his big league debut this September and threw 5.2 shutout innings in his only start. The right-hander has been on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list in each of the last four years, ranking between 29th and 36th the last three years. Kevin Goldstein told Joe last night that Parker is a better prospect than Dellin Betances because he has a better chance to remain a starter long-term.

Cowgill also made his big league debut this year, hitting .239/.300/.304 with one homer and four steals in exactly 100 plate appearances. Baseball America considered him Arizona’s 18th best prospect before the season, saying he profiles best as a fourth outfielder because he “probably won’t have enough bat for an outfield corner or enough speed to play center field every day.” They mention that the 25-year-old gets the occasional comparison to Cody Ross.

Cook is another guy that debuted in 2011, throwing 7.2 disaster innings (11 hits, eight walks, seven strikeouts, six runs). The 24-year-old righty didn’t appear in Arizona’s top 30 prospects list this year, and he didn’t even make the team’s depth chart in Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook. In his trade write-up (Insider req’d), Keith Law says he’s “90-95 with a hard-diving slider in the low 80s, but doesn’t command either pitch and has a wicked hook in his delivery as well as a lot of effort; he could peak as a setup guy, could be a middle guy, could spend years bouncing up and down.”

Matching that trade package player-for-player is a little tough for the Yankees, just because of Cowgill. Manny Banuelos steps in for Parker and someone like George Kontos, Ryan Pope, or Craig Heyer is your Cook replacement. The Yankees don’t have an outfielder like Cowgill though, he’s better than the Colin Curtis/Chris Dickerson/Justin Maxwell trio. He’s similar to Brandon Laird offensively, but Laird is an infielder that can fake left field on occasion while Cowgill can handle all three outfield spots if needed. Austin Romine is too much, plus he doesn’t do anything to help Oakland’s outfield situation.

So if we’re speculating that it would have been Banuelos, Laird, and Kontos for Cahill and Breslow, would you do it? I say no, mostly because I’m pretty high on Banuelos and not the biggest Cahill fan in the world. He could turn into top flight starter, he has that ability, but boy he sure does leave a lot of sinkers up for a ground ball guy. Maybe my opinion of him is clouded by how the Yankees have crushed him over the last few years. He’d definitely help their rotation both now and for the next four years (signed through 2015 with two club options after that), there’s no doubt about that, but I wouldn’t give up three MLB ready (or very close to MLB ready) pieces to get him. What about you?

Would you have traded a package of Banuelos, Laird, and Kontos for Cahill and Breslow?
View Results

Yankees bring back Oppenheimer, Newman, and Eppler for 2012

Via George King (subs. req’d), the Yankees have re-signed pro scouting director Billy Eppler, amateur scouting director Damon Oppenheimer, and VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman for 2012. Eppler and Oppenheimer were both candidates for the Angels GM job earlier this offseason, with Eppler finishing as the runner-up to Jerry Dipoto. Oppenheimer was also up for the Orioles GM job. It’s only a matter of time before the Yankees lose those two to other clubs, but they’ll remain in the Bronx for at least one more year.