Angels sign Albert Pujols (UPDATE: And C.J. Wilson too)

It’s not Yankees-related, but it’s huge for baseball. This morning Albert Pujols left the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals to sign a 10-year contract with the Anaheim Angels. Pujols will earn between $250 and $260 million. Just speculating from the rumors this winter, I’d wager it’s above $252 million, giving Pujols the second largest deal in major league history. The Angels will be at Yankee Stadium on the weekend of April 13th for a three-game set, the homer opener.

Update: Joel Sherman says the Angels have agreed to terms with C.J. Wilson as well. It’s a five-year, $75M contract according to Jon Heyman. I can’t believe he got less than A.J. Burnett and John Lackey, though I suppose he could have taken a bit of a discount to go back home to SoCal. Pretty significant day in the NL West, the Halos really closed the gap between them and the Rangers.

Add by Mike: Jayson Stark reported late last night that a mystery team had joined the Pujols bidding, and that it was a club with an established big name first baseman they’d need trade to accommodate Pujols. The Yankees fit that bill, but Buster Olney says that no, they weren’t the mystery team.

2011 Rule 5 Draft Liveblog

The Rule 5 Draft is the unofficial end of the Winter Meetings, a snoozefest of fringe prospects and journeymen joining new teams hoping to find a diamond in the rough. But because we love fringe prospects and journeymen here at RAB, I’ll be liveblogging the whole thing.

Just five of the 19 picks in last year’s Rule 5 Draft managed to stick with their new team, with lefty specialist Joe Paterson of the Diamondbacks likely representing the best of the bunch (3.44 FIP in 34 IP). Joel Sherman says the Yankees were going to take Paterson last year, but Arizona beat them too it. They ended up rolling the dice on righty Danny Turpen and lefty Robert Fish instead, but neither player made it through Spring Training. They lost George Kontos (Padres) and Lance Pendleton (Astros), but both were returned before the season started and eventually made their big league debuts later in the summer. Expect more of the same this year.

The Yankees protected five players — IF Corban Joseph, RHP David Phelps, RHP D.J. Mitchell, OF Zoilo Almonte, and IF David Adams — but did not clear any additional roster space in advance of this year’s draft. They have one open 40-man roster spot, so they can select only one player in the Major League portion of the draft. Joel Sherman says they were planning to make a pick as of last night, and I’m hoping for Ryan Flaherty, a left-handed hitting utility guy in the Cubs’ system, but he’s unlikely to get to them. The Hiroyuki Nakajima stuff could also affect their pursuit of bench help. Pat Venditte is the player they’re most likely to lose, just because someone will want to take a look at the left/right thing in camp. I expect him to be offered back at some point.

I apologize in advance for any misspellings, some of these names will be tough. The draft is scheduled to start at 10am ET, so I’ll open up the chat/liveblog a few minutes before that.

Report: Yu Darvish will be posted tomorrow

Via Don Nomura, the Nippon Ham Fighters will post 25-year-old right-hander Yu Darvish tomorrow. I don’t know if that means today (Thursday) or tomorrow (Friday) given the timing, but that doesn’t really matter. One day isn’t a big deal. Darvish confirmed the news on his blog (translated link).

You folks know all about Darvish by now, but if not, scroll through our archive. We’ve covered him quite a bit here, and the Yankees like him enough to have been scouting him since at least 2008. The blind auction period lasts four days, but it usually takes MLB and NPB a full week to announce the high bid. We should know who won his rights by Monday the 19th at the latest.

Cliff Lee, Mark Buehrle and the hunt for pitching

Every now and then, I think back to July 9 and 10 of 2010. That weekend, the Yankees were on the West Coast, visiting the Mariners, and as Saturday dawned, it appeared as though the Yanks would leave Seattle with Cliff Lee in tow. In exchange, they would have to give up Jesus Montero and a middle infield prospect named Eduardo Nunez, but the spoils would be tremendous.

We know how that story ended for the Yankees. The Mariners wouldn’t accept David Adams who was dealing with an ankle injury and played in just 12 games this season, and the Yanks weren’t, for some reason, too keen on giving up Nunez. In fact, according to some stories, Nunez was more of a deal-breaker than Montero. Lee escaped their grip that July, and he went on to beat the Yanks as a member of the eventual AL Champion Rangers.

A few months later — nearly a year ago — the Yanks were attempting to lure Lee to the Bronx again. They didn’t quite put on the full court press, but all indications were that the Yanks offered Lee six years at $22 million with a seventh year player option for $16 million. For reasons of dollars and comfort, Lee went to the Phillies instead. Maybe the Rangers led to Lee’s decision; maybe he just wanted to go back to Philadelphia. Either way, neither team escaped their respective Division Series match-ups this year, and the Yanks are still struggling to find another starting pitcher.

For the Yankees, losing out on Cliff Lee seemed to indicate a sea change within the organization. Lee was, by all accounts, the best pitcher available either by trade or free agency, since CC Sabathia, and unless Cole Hamels hits the open market next season, it’s tough to find a comparative starter. The Yankees were willing to give up the farm, extend their budget to land Lee or both. But for the first time since Greg Maddux spurned a rebuilding Yankee team in the early 1990s to head to Atlanta, the Bombers were left empty-handed.

This year, the pitcher is kinda sorta out there. In 2011, after Lee left them empty-handed and Andy Pettitte retired, the Yanks somehow made it through the year with CC, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon and Ivan Nova. As things stand now, they’re gearing up to do to the same for 2012. I always thought they had another move in them last year, but they never found the right trade partner for a pitching upgrade. This winter, things are shaping up similarly.

The pitching is almost out there. Roy Oswalt, who hasn’t popped up in any rumors, is available. C.J. Wilson, another Texas ace, is looking for job security. Mark Buehrle recently landed with the Yankees South Miami Marlins. Maybe a few young pitchers such as Gio Gonzalez or John Danks could be had on the trade market. But none of these guys are that exciting. They’re supporting cast members, not aces, who carry a price tag that often exceeds their value.

Buehrle, in particular, strikes me as a guy the Yanks would consider. He signed a four-year deal worth $58 million with the Marlins, and the Yanks had only “early conversations” with Buehrle’s representatives. Yet, they passed even though he’s an innings eater with some AL success. Sure, his strike out numbers are down, but he’s thrived by keeping the bill in the park and on the ground. He might fall off a cliff, but he’s just as likely to continue to excel despite saber skepticism over his peripherals.

But the Yankees passed. They want a Cliff Lee type, a difference-maker, not an overpaid cog. They think they can approximate Buehrle’s 2012 production for $10 million less by using Freddy Garcia, and they have their eye on some elusive starter who might become available as they try to usher Manny Banuelos through their organization. Once, the Yanks overpaid for A.J. Burnett because they needed a pitcher. Now, they’re willing to wait and wait and wait for the next must-have Cliff Lee type. It might be a prudent move, but for a fan base used to getting what they want (and need), it makes for a slow wait. I almost miss those Yankees who dove right in. Almost.

Report: Yankees have called Mets about Jon Niese

Via Andy Martino, the Yankees have called the Mets about Jon Niese after seeing that the left-hander has been made available in a trade. Talks are nothing more than preliminary at the moment though. Joel Sherman says the Amazin’s want “a place holder starter” and a “main prospect piece” in return, which sounds reasonable.

I might do a longer breakdown of Niese’s game if talks intensify, but I am a fan. He’s a 25-year-old left-baller that doesn’t walk many and gets ground balls with a better-than-average strikeout rate. Like the more-hyped Gio Gonzalez, Niese is under team control through 2015, though he still has one year at the league minimum left before arbitration. The only problem is that he’s thrown more than 170 IP in a season just once in his career thanks to hamstring and oblique problems. Cross-town trades don’t happen often, but I think this is one worth pursuing.

Cashman: Yankees only had “early conversations” with Buehrle

The Miami Marlins continued ruining baseball today by signing free agent lefty Mark Buehrle to a four-year contract worth $58M. Brian Cashman told reporters (including Mark Feinsand and Joel Sherman) that he had nothing more than “early conversations” with Buehrle’s camp, and they didn’t want to go more than two years on the veteran southpaw. I have to say I can’t blame them, the guy’s already teetering on the edge stuff-wise and has allowed an average of 4.22 runs per nine innings over the last three years in a division with some wimpy offenses. Nothing about that screams four years.