A bidding war for a backstop

As the arms race between New York and Boston has been kicked up a notch over the last 12 hours, the two rivals are reportedly engaged in a bidding war. According to Yahoo! Sports’ Tim Brown, both the Yanks and Red Sox are “going very hard on Russell Martin.” The recently non-tendered 27-year-old is an appealing target for two teams who are soft at the catching position, and a Martin deal could be a key low-cost signing for 2011.

For both teams, Martin is a very obvious target. Right now, the Red Sox’s starting catcher is Jarrod Saltalamacchia who played just 12 games in 2010. Saltalamacchia, 25, was a heralded prospect with the Braves, but he’s never caught more than 83 games in a season and has a career OPS+ of 82. A 38-year-old Jason Varitek is the back-up.

The Yanks are in a similar boat. They’re apparently entrusting the starting job to Jesus Montero, questionable defense and all, and the team has clearly soured on Francisco Cervelli as a back-up. Jorge Posada will be the primary DH as his body can’t withstand the impact of catching. If anything, the constant rumors connecting the Yanks to Martin suggest that the team isn’t sold on Montero’s defense right now.

So Martin has emerged as a pawn. He’ll turn 28 before Opening Day, and he’s coming off of two bad injury-plagued years. During his ages 23-25 season, he hit .285/.373/.433 but turned in a Cervellian .249/.350/.330 slash line during his past two seasons. For the right price and with the right expectations, Martin would be a fine addition both for depth and for potential behind the plate.

Yanks offer Lee seventh year

Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman reports that the Yankees have added a seventh year to Cliff Lee’s offer. There aren’t more details, but I presume this happened last night after the Crawford news broke. Last night Ken Rosenthal reported that Lee would make his decision before the end of this weekend.

2010 Rule 5 Draft Liveblog

The Rule 5 Draft is one of my favorite events of the year even though it’s one of the game’s most uneventful. Rarely does a selected player have any kind of impact at the big league level, nevermind sustained impact. Just three of the 17 players selected in last year’s Rule 5 stuck in the big leagues, the best of which was former Yankee prospect Carlos Monasterios. In 88.1 innings for the Dodgers, he put up a 4.38 ERA but 5.37 FIP and -0.6 fWAR. That gives you an idea of what happens here.

The Yankees reportedly have a list of five players they’re interested in, though they aren’t very optimistic that any of them will still be available when they pick. I’m not sure which teams have full 40-man rosters (you need to have at least one open spot to make a pick), though the Yankees can pick no later than 28th overall. I looked at some potential targets a week or two ago, and I also broke down which Yankee players were available last month.

The draft itself is scheduled to begin at 9am ET, and I’m going to liveblog this sucker pick-by-pick. Forgive the spelling, this thing usually moves pretty quickly.

Melky lands in Kansas City

While Carl Crawford may have landed in Boston tonight, the Kansas City Royals nabbed themselves a former Yankee outfielder today. According to Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi, former RAB whipping boy Melky Cabrera is on the verge of a one-year deal with Kansas City worth $1.25 million. Melky, who hit .255/.317/.354 with 4 HR in 509 PAs for Atlanta this year and was released last month, will join the newly acquired Jeff Francoeur in a Spring Training fight for a starting job. Talk about a fearsome outfield.

Report: Crawford lands in Boston for megabucks

A Greg Golson throw from right field beats Carl Crawford to third base during the tenth inning of a Rays-Yanks game. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Update (12/9, 12:58 a.m.): The Boston Red Sox are on the verge of signing Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142-million contract, Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe and Ken Rosenthal are reporting right now. In pure non-inflation-adjusted dollars, the deal makes Carl Crawford the highest paid outfield ever, and the big-market Red Sox have spent the dollars they had coming off the books this year.

The Sox, clear off-season winners so far, had long been a likely landing spot for Crawford, but after acquiring Adrian Gonzalez and locking him up long term, many assumed the Sox would be out. But Theo Epstein and Co. know they have a market advantage and knew they had the dollars to spend. So spend it they did. For $300 million in long-term deals plus three prospects, the Red Sox have sealed the holes left by the departures of Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez and have added two potent left-handed bats.

For the Yankees, this move will, of course, raise some eyebrows and perhaps intensify their pursuit of left-handed pitching. At one point today, it appeared as though Crawford would emerge as a Yankee target. The club had the payroll space to afford him, and it seemed as though Yankee brass would consider signing Crawford in order to flip Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher or Curtis Granderson in the event that Cliff Lee signs elsewhere. It is not to be. The Bombers, though, never even made an offer, according to one report.

In fact, it now appears as though the Yanks’ interest was purely a negotiating tactic. They talked to Crawford to drive up his price, and now Ken Rosenthal says that Boston did the same with Cliff Lee. The Red Sox, says the Fox Sports reporter, made Lee a seven-year offer at a lower salary than he would take in order to force the Yankees to pay more. The Yanks’ interest in Crawford over the last 24 hours clearly raised some eyebrows in New England.

Meanwhile, a deal of this magnitude surely sends more shockwaves through an already-inflated market. Crawford’s deal tops Jayson Werth’s by $16 million over the same period of time, and Lee stands to make just as much as Crawford, if not more, over a shorter period of time.

In the near time, Yankee fans are sure to wring their hands over this. Does it become more imperative to land Cliff Lee? Perhaps a little, but it shouldn’t force the Yanks to pay even more. At most, it will make the Yanks intensify their efforts at finding another lefty out of the bullpen and could cause them to apply more pressure on Andy Pettitte to return. “It’s not going to change the way we allocate our money,” Brian Cashman said this evening.

The question being bandied about right now though concerns this contract. Is it a good one? Crawford is coming off of his age 28 season, which was his best, and is primed to cash in during his peak seasons. He’s a career .296/.337/.444 hitter with a 107 career OPS+. He’s never hit more than 19 home runs but is good for around 50 stolen bases a year. He also plays a premiere left field, but his defensive impact will be negated a bit by the Green Monster. (Check out Baseball Musings for more on how Crawford and his speed will decline with age.)

It’s certainly not a deal I would have wanted the Yanks to dole out, but I can see why the Red Sox did. It’s a fine one in this market, and it reinforces what we already knew: The 2011 Boston Red Sox will be a top team in the AL East. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim won’t get their number one off-season target, and the Tampa Bay Rays have gotten weaker. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.

Rosenthal: Lee to decide on new team this weekend

Via Ken Rosenthal, Cliff Lee is expected to decide on his new team by the end of the weekend. The Yankees made the lefty a huge offer today, and I have to think that they’re in the lead for his services. All I know is that this weekend has the potential to be very very good or very very bad.

Checking in with former Yankees

Contrary to popular belief, the Yankees aren’t the only team trying to acquire players at the winter meetings. In fact, some other teams are even trying to acquire players that played for the Yanks at one time or another. Jon Lane at YESNetwork.com rounded up the latest on some former Bombers, including Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, and Kerry Wood. One former Yank he did not mention is Tom Gordon, who I’ve seen in the halls in the few times. Flash lives in the area and does some broadcasting work for MLB Network Radio, but Gordon Edes says the 43 year old is trying to find a team willing to take a chance on him. He hasn’t appeared in a game since early-May 2009, so I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were him. Still kinda cool to see him hanging around though.