Report: Nats have asked Yankees about Gardner

Via MASN, the Nationals have asked the Yankees about the availability of Brett Gardner, but were rebuffed. Washington has been looking for a long-term center fielder/leadoff type, a role Gardner fills perfectly. The problem is they don’t have any decent pitching to offer the Yankees since Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann are presumably off limits. John Lannan and Ross Detwiler are nothing worth getting excited over, nor are they an upgrade over what the Yankees already have stashed in Triple-A.

A Role Reversal

(Matthew Emmons/US Presswire)

It’s been a slow offseason for the Yankees, but the same can’t be said for the Marlins. Not only did they change their name from the Florida Marlins to the Miami Marlins, but they also redesigned their uniforms* and have a brand new ballpark set to open next season. That park is going to be filled with new players too; the Marlins have already signed Heath Bell and agreed to terms with Jose Reyes, and recent reports indicate that they’ve offered Albert Pujols a ten-year (!) contract. Obviously, these aren’t your grandfather’s older brother’s Marlins anymore.

* Are they ugly? Yes. Is everyone talking about them? Also yes. No such thing as bad publicity.

Usually it’s the Yankees falling all over themselves to acquire big name players in the offseason while the Marlins sit on the sidelines, but the exact opposite is happening this winter. It’s kinda neat, actually. It’s fun watching big name players change teams, especially when the Yankees aren’t the ones taking the risk. Bell is a reliever, Reyes has had hamstring problems, and a ten-year contract is scary no matter who gets it. These are some bold but risky moves, if nothing else.

Of course the Marlins have a history of doing this sort of thing. They acquired Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou, Kevin Brown, Al Leiter, and Cliff Floyd (among others) leading up to the 1997 season, then won the World Series. Mission accomplished. A massive fire-sale followed, but they won their championship, so the plan worked. You can quibble with how they did it if you want, but a ring is a ring.

We’ve been spoiled by sustained success here in New York, but pretty much every other club operates in cycles. Three or four good years followed by three or four bad years, something like that. Retool, rebuild, then make another run and hope you get lucky. It’s easy for me to say from where I sit, but I do think a lot of clubs get a little too caught up in building for the future and not living in the moment, so to speak. The Rays are a pretty good example, they’ve got a great team right now and have gone to the playoffs in each of the last two years, but they didn’t make any moves at the trade deadline. Last year they needed an extra starter (Jamie Shields was awful and both Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann were banged up in the second half), and this past year they needed an extra bat. Instead of making a move that might have put them over the top, they stood pat. Is it better to shoot for success two or three or four years down the road, or to go for it all right now? I can see the argument for both sides.

Anyway, the Marlins are clearly going for it all right now. Bell, Reyes, and potentially Pujols are joining a club with a solid foundation in place, led by Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson, Mike Stanton, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, and Logan Morrison. The Yankees seem content with what they have, or at least they’re not rushing out to make any major upgrades just yet. It’s certain different than what they’ve done in years past and what the Marlins are doing right now.

Lefty reliever on the agenda, but not a priority

Gonna have to wait a bit, Mike. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The Yankees have wasted more money on left-handed relievers over the last few years than I care to count, most due to injury (Damaso Marte, Pedro Feliciano) but some also due to ineffectiveness (Kei Igawa, Mike Myers). Boone Logan was essentially thrown into the (second) ill-fated Javy Vazquez trade, but he’s emerged as the team’s best southpaw reliever since Mike Stanton’s first go-around in the Bronx. The team obviously values a quality lefty bullpen arm, which Brian Cashman readily acknowledged yesterday. It’s just not a top priority at the moment.

“I would like to get another lefty, but I don’t think any of you here should focus on how I’m going to do that, because I don’t anticipate that whatsoever,” said Cashman to reporters following his arrival at the Winter Meetings. “Is it on the wish list? It is. If anybody tells you that we’re focused on any left-handed reliever, they’re lying.”

The Yankees have already inked Mike O’Connor — who has crushed left-handed batters in Triple-A — to a minor league contract. We know they have some level of interest in Mike Gonzalez, who comes with the added benefit of being a very close personal friend of Rafael Soriano‘s. The hard-throwing Matt Thornton is on the market, but he’s rather expensive and there’s almost no doubt the White Sox have already gotten the best years of his career. The rest of the lefty specialist free agent market is generally unappealing.

Cashman made it clear that improving the starting rotation is at the very top of their wish list, but he’s also made it clear they value a lefty reliever. It’s good to see them putting it on the back burner though, lefty specialists are just too difficult to predict. It comes with the territory of making your living by going from one small sample to the next. Logan is far from perfect but generally solid, and it helps that the Yankees can rely on David Robertson, Soriano, and a when-healthy Joba Chamberlain to get left-handers out in the late innings as well.

Bench will wait as Yanks focus on pitching

Still nothin'. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

I don’t know for sure, but I have to think Brian Cashman was the last General Manager to arrive at the Winter Meetings this year. He checked into the Hilton Anatole at about 4pm local time on Monday, a sign that GMs don’t need to huddle in one place to get things done and that the Yankees don’t have any pressing business at the moment. They’re not seriously engaged with any of the major free agents, at least not publicly, and the smaller stuff — meaning the bench and various depth players for Triple-A — will wait until later.

“The focus on the front of the winter has mostly been on higher end type things so that can reinforce our pitching,” said Cashman to reporters after arriving. “I have to watch our payroll, so I can’t spend a lot on the smaller stuff right now — even though they’re important players — that kind of restricts me from doing something that might come along that’s still a bit bigger, or a lot bigger. That’s why I’m making sure I exploit all the various potential pitching acquisitions, both on the free agent and trade market. When I get a strong enough feel for how that’s going to go or not go, then I’ll focus on the bench.”

Those hundred or so words boil down to “we’re going to keep our options open.” Andruw Jones is a great fit for the bench, but he’s also not the most irreplaceable player in the world. Rather than re-sign him for $3M or so right now, the Yankees are going to wait to see if a solution to their more pressing need — the rotation — comes along first. Once they get a little deeper into the offseason, they’ll figure out if Jones fits into their budget. He didn’t agree to terms with the Yankees until January 17th last winter following a 2010 season that was very similar to his 2011 season, so there’s no rush.

“I’m not down here to sit back and order room service for four days and be content,” added Cashman while continuing to acknowledge that he’s not optimistic about getting something done this week. “I’m going to keep trying, but I just don’t want to be stupid. Obviously if we do something, I want it to be something we feel really good about. I’m not going to do something just to do something because that’s what you do at this time of year.”

Not being optimistic about something and not being prepared are two totally different things. I don’t think the Yankees will get anything done down here, but if something worthwhile comes along, I believe they’re ready to pounce quickly. We’ve seen it in the recent past — most notably with the second Javy Vazquez trade and the Cliff Lee non-trade — the Yankees tend to take care of business very quickly. There aren’t weeks of rumors, these things happen overnight. The bench is important, but it can wait until the pitching picture clears up.

Eying a 42nd Street stadium once upon a time

Had the Yanks moved to the West Side, the skyline could have risen dramatically behind the center field wall. (Via StadiumPages.com)

In the eyes of the world, the Yankees and the Bronx go hand in hand. Since 1923, the Bombers have stood by the Bronx, sometimes tenuously, as the borough has been shaped and reshaped — by Robert Moses, by white flight, by riots and fire, by a recent renaissance. Although George Steinbrenner tried to move the Yanks to Manhattan or New Jersey, he never could escape the Bronx, and the Bronx has never escaped the Yanks either.

But what if the Yankees had never set foot in the Bronx in the first place? Up until 1923, after all, they were denizens of Manhattan, first at Hilltop Park at Broadway and 165th St and later the Polo Grounds. It wasn’t until the early 1920s that the Yankees’ owners knew they were heading to the Bronx, and shortly after Colonels Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston and Jacob Ruppert bought the team, the two eyed a Manhattan location.

In a 1915 letter recently placed up for auction and espied by The Post, Huston talks about his plans for a new stadium for the Yanks. The letter, which is basically a plea to AL President Ban Johnson to keep the Yanks afloat financially, discusses potential new stadium sites. “We have canvassed the feasibility of the 42nd Street site for a ballpark,” the colonel wrote. “Col. Ruppert and myself will be with the Club when it reaches Chicago, and we will be glad to discuss the subject with you then.”

I’ve tried to do some research into the history of Huston’s idea, but information is hard to find. Even as early as 1915, the Yankees were already eying the Bronx, according to contemporaneous reports. Even the upstart Federal League had hoped to move a franchise into the Bronx. Nary a mention of a Manhattan site could be had.

As a New York City history buff, I wanted to know where the Yanks would have played along 42nd St. By 1915, The Times had already moved to Longacre Square and had erected its namesake building while the New York Public Library had taken over the Croton Reservoir. Grand Central Terminal, of course, was already in place as well. So the Yanks could have set up shot on the East Side where the United Nations is today or along the West Side near the current entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel. Either way, the geography and orientation of one end of Manhattan would have been upended for all of history.

Imagining the Bronx without the Yanks and a Manhattan with them for eight decades is a tall order. The isle of Manhattan would have had significantly different transit patterns as a stadium along 42nd Street would have required train service to the edge of the city while development in the South Bronx would likely have taken a different path as well. Would the Dodgers have relocated to the Bronx instead of Los Angeles during their hunt for a new stadium? What would William Waldorf Astor had done with his lumber yard at 161st St. anyway?

Of course, the idea of a Manhattan stadium is one that kept finding ways to creep back into New York history. In the 1950s, the Dodgers flirted with the idea of a West Side stadium, and of course, the Yankees kept talking about moving to the 34th St. area. In the early 2000s, Mayor Bloomberg tried to promote a West Side stadium for the Jets as part of the city’s bid to win the 2012 Olympics.

But none of it came to pass. The Yanks found their home in the Bronx and never left. The Dodgers jetted west for Tinseltown while the 2012 Olympics bid died a glorious death. Even the Mets, once vaguely rumored to be eying the West Side as well, stayed put in Queens. A big stadium never came to 42nd Street, and Pete Siegel, owner of the auction house selling Huston’s letter, put it best: “It’s incredible to think what could have happened, how one paragraph in one letter could have changed the entire landscape of the city.”

UPDATE: Yankees are “clear frontrunners” for Yoenis Cespedes

Monday (9pm ET): Via Frankie Piliere, the Yankees are currently seen as the “clear frontrunners” for Cespedes. Brian Cashman told Jack Curry that he’s unlikely to make a big money pickup this winter, including international players, but he’d say that even if he had $100M in the 2012 budget to play with.

Saturday (2pm ET): Via Jon Paul Morosi, the Yankees are one of three teams that have shown the most interest in Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. The Tigers and Marlins are also in the mix. Cespedes has not yet established residency in the Dominican Republic or been declared a free agent by MLB, but Ken Rosenthal says that could happen as soon as next week.

By now you’ve heard all about the 26-year-old, who had a private workout for the Yankees in front of some serious front office firepower. The new collective bargaining agreement is a non-issue; Cespedes will be a true free agent and not subject to the international free agent spending cap. In an Insider-only piece at ESPN, Dan Szymborksi and his ZiPS system projects Cespedes to be a .265/.330/.435 hitter with about 20 homers and seven steals on an annual basis at the big league level, roughly equivalent to the 2011 version of Edwin Encarnacion.