Physicals still holding up last week’s moves

Via Jon Morosi and Bob Klapisch, the Michael Pineda trade and Hiroki Kuroda signing are still not official because some of the players involved have been delayed in taking their physicals. Both Jesus Montero and Jose Campos are stuck in their home country of Venezuela at the moment, and Kuroda is still at home in Japan. It doesn’t sound like either move will be made official this week, so we wait.

Scouting the Trade Market: Brandon Allen

While there are a number of low-cost and low-risk DH options on the free agent market, that’s not the only place the Yankees will look to fill that void. There are also players on the trade market who can slot into a platoon DH role for the Yankees. While they might cost something in terms of players, they can still come at a relatively low price. They can also come with a low risk level. One such name that came up this morning is the Oakland A’s first baseman Brandon Allen.

Allen started his career in the White Sox system after they drafted him in the fifth round of the 2004 draft. He then went to Arizona in the Tony Pena trade in mid-2009. Since then he’s had a rough go in the majors, though he has continued to obliterate the Pacific Coast League. Here’s a look at how he could fit the Yankees’ needs.

Pros

  • He’s a lefty with power. In 1,116 PA in AAA, he has an ISO of .269. While the PCL is known as a hitters’ league, Allen’s ISO is still well above the league average. In fact, his .273 ISO last year was more than 100 points higher than league average. He also beat the league average by more than 100 points in 2010. He also displayed prolific power before he reached AAA and the PCL.
  • He can also take a walk. The last time he had more than 75 PA at any minor league stop and had a walk rate under 10 percent was in 2007 — in A-ball. In 367 MLB plate appearances he has a 10.9 percent walk rate.
  • He also has contact skills. From Baseball America’s 2010 scouting report: “He toned down his swing and hit more balls to the opposite field in 2009, allowing him to hit a career-high .298 in the minors.” From Kevin Goldstein’s scouting report of the same year: “Allen has a solid approach and enough bat to profile as an everyday first baseman in the majors, combining plus power with a surprisingly solid contact rate, leaving scouts to project him as a .280+ hitter with 20-25 home runs annually.”
  • His biggest weakness seems to be inside pitching, something that Kevin Long, with his now-famous home run drill, might help fix.
  • While he has struggled in the majors, he has fared much better against right-handed pitching. That plays to his favor, considering the Yankees’ current DH situation.

Cons

  • While his major league experience is limited, he has failed pretty badly in that time, hitting just .210/.287/.383 in 367 PA. He struggled even more after the trade to the A’s, hitting .205/.259/.356 in 158 PA last year.
  • Contact rate has been a huge issue. While he kept his strikeout percentage in the low 20s in the minors, he has been in the mid 30s in the majors. Again, as Baseball America has said, it’s partly because “pitchers exploited him on the inner half.” While Long is known for his work in this area, his ability to fix Allen is not guaranteed.
  • At a time when they could have used a first baseman, the Diamondbacks did things like sign Andy LaRoche and Russell Branyan, and trade for Juan Miranda, rather than give Allen a real shot. They also traded him for a middle reliever, which gives you an idea of what they thought of his ability to adapt. That the A’s are shopping him again is another warning signal.
  • As with any player on another team, the Yankees would have to trade living, breathing players for him.

One reason why the Yankees, in all likelihood, won’t acquire Allen is that his upside might be better realized by a lower-tier team. The excellent Pirates blog Pirates Prospects has already put together a trade target article on him. He could also better help a team like the Indians; they could use a first baseman, particularly a lefty-hitting one, pretty badly. Since the Yankees would want him only to DH, and probably part-time at that, they might not be willing to part with the kind of prospects that other teams will, even if those prospects amount to No. 5 starter types.

Still, it’s always nice to have a look at a young left-handed bat who has flashed power. If the Yankees believe that Kevin Long can provide a fix, then he’s a worthy acquisition target. He would pair well with someone from the list of DHs available on a minor league contract, to give the Yankees a few low-cost, low-risk options. It does appear that Allen has an option remaining, too, reducing the risk of acquiring him. Chances are the Yankees won’t get far here. That’s fine. Perhaps Allen isn’t their guy, but he’s just another option in a long list of potential LHB DHs.

Cole Hamels, Curtis Granderson and the tough choices ahead

(Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

One of Larry’s objections to the Pineda/Montero swap is the future availability of Cole Hamels on the free agent market. If the Yankees can pick up Hamels to slide in behind Sabathia, the argument goes, then perhaps they should have kept Montero to provide cheap production out of the designated hitter slot over the next few seasons. I wrote about Hamels last week, speculating that the Yankees might be preparing to make a run at him next winter.

Last Friday’s trade radically altered the landscape of the Yankees roster. In acquiring Michael Pineda from the Mariners, the Yankees acquired a potential number one or two starter with five years of cheap team control. According to well-sourced reporter Joel Sherman, the price was particularly important because the team is serious about getting under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014. With the new roster in place, it seems reasonable to wonder whether the team will be able to afford Hamels, or their own Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and/or Nick Swisher, all of whom hit free agency in the next few years.

In projecting precisely whom the Yankees will be able to afford, it helps to have a handle on a reasonable estimate of future prices. Towards that end, I asked  Joe, Mike, Ben, Moshe and Larry to all provide me their best estimates for what they expect Swisher, Granderson, Cano and Hamels to pull in in their new contracts. These were the results of our inputs:

Robinson Cano: AAV of $22.0M, high of $23M, low of $20M.
Nick Swisher: AAV of $12.67M, high of $15M, low of $12M.
Curtis Granderson: AAV of $17.0M, high of $18M, low of $15M.
Cole Hamels: AAV of $21.67, high of $23M, low of $20M.

I’ll be using these figures going forward, and also making a few assumptions about the future Yankees payroll. The first one is that the Yankees won’t allow Robinson Cano to leave via free agency. He’s a homegrown star at a difficult position to fill, and he’ll only be 31 when he hits the free agent market after the 2013 season. It’ll hurt, but I expect the Yankees to resign Cano at $22M per year, the average listed above. The second assumption is that Alex Rodriguez will hit his 660th home run this season, and will hit his 714th home run in 2014, thus triggering his second $6M bonus. The third assumption is that Russell Martin does not sign an extension with the Yankees, and that they’ll use Austin Romine by 2014. With this in mind, this is what the roster would look like heading into the 2012-2013 offseasons:

The specific names attached to the $500k salaries aren’t all that important, but the idea that a cheap player will occupy the fifth starter’s spot and most of the bullpen. Banuelos, Betances, and Warren are interchangeable with whatever young player your heart desires. The cost is important.

The Yankees will have roughly $40M to spend on their rotation, bullpen, center field, right field and designated hitter positions. If they pay Granderson $17M and Swisher $12M, they’ll have around $10M to fill out the final rotation spot and the bullpen. They could go with a cheap arm in the fifth starter position, fill out the back end of the bullpen with minimum salary guys, and sign a decent set up reliever. If they choose to let Granderson walk and sign Hamels and Swisher, they’d have about $7M left over for the center field position (or left field, if they shift Gardner to center), bullpen and DH. This would be difficult to pull off. If they chose to forgo both Granderson and Swisher and sign Hamels, then they’d have around $18M left for two outfielders, the DH and the bullpen.

There doesn’t seem to be any way that the Yankees can get under $189M with Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Cole Hamels all under contract at market rates.  From a financial perspective, the “easiest” solution would be for the Yankees to acquire a cheap, cost-controlled outfielder (like a Domonic Brown) who could step in and fill Swisher’s role for cheap. This would allow the Yankees to move Gardner to center and allow Granderson to walk, replacing Gardner with a relatively cheap left fielder and spending big on Hamels and the bullpen.

Personally, I’d very much like for them to spend on Hamels, probably even at the expense of Curtis Granderson. The offense would take a bit of a hit, but the idea of a Sabathia-Hamels-Pineda-Nova rotation is enticing. That’s just me, though, so I’m providing the link to my Google Doc with all the relevant numbers. If you save your own version, you can edit and mess around with various roster scenarios and post your version in the comments. Any way you cut it, though, there are some very hard decisions ahead for the Yankees front office.

Revisiting the Burnett-for-Bay idea

(Photos: Burnett via Reuters, Bay via Getty)

The Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda pickups changed the Yankees’ roster situation quite a bit, as they’re now heavy on pitching but lacking that one DH bat. Thanks to a MSM article earlier this offseason, some were beating a “trade A.J. Burnett for Jason Bay” drum a few weeks ago, a trade I called a no-win situation back in October. Both players are terrible and all the Yankees would have done is rearrange some furniture, not actually satisfy a need. They needed Burnett’s innings at the time and also needed to keep the DH spot open for Jesus Montero. Thanks not the case anymore, and now a trade like this actually makes a little sense.

As a pure bad contract-for-bad contract swap, it helps that Burnett and Bay have very similar contract situations. The Yankees owe their enigmatic right-hander $33M over the next two years while the Mets owe their disappointing outfielder $32M over those same two years. The only problem is that Bay’s deal has this horrible $17M vesting option for 2014, which will kick in with either 600 plate appearances in 2013 or 500 plate appearances in both 2012 and 2013. Omar Minaya was good at throwing those ugly vesting options into his free agent contracts.

We’ve seen both Francisco Rodriguez (another Minaya contract!) and Carlos Zambrano waive their vesting options as a condition of a trade over the last few months, and the same thing would have to happen with Bay. If he isn’t willing to pass on that option, forget the idea all together. Pay him the $3M buyout per the contract terms, but he and his contract have to go away after two years. That vesting option is a total dealbreaker if he’s unwilling to waive it. The buyout essentially makes Bay’s contract a two-year, $36M deal, so a straight-up trade means the Mets would save themselves $3M. Given their financial situation, I’m sure that will at least get their attention.

In terms of actual on-the-field stuff, the Mets can simply plug A.J. into their rotation alongside R.A. Dickey, Mike Pelfrey, Jon Niese, and Dillon Gee as Johan Santana continues his perpetual rehab from shoulder surgery. Right now they have guys like Miguel Batista and Chris Schwinden set to compete for the fifth starter’s job, which somehow sounds worse than giving the ball to Burnett 30 times a year. The move to the easier league and the bigger park (although the walls at CitiField are being brought in this winter) should help Burnett’s homer problem, at least in theory. The only real issue for the Mets would be replacing Bay in left, though they do have a few kids on the 40-man roster worth trying. Maybe the Yankees could kick in a Chris Dickerson or Justin Maxwell to facilitate a trade.

As far as the Yankees go, the perfect world scenario calls for Bay to DH in 2012 and move to corner outfield spot in 2013. The Yankees could let Nick Swisher leave as a free agent after this coming season and still have a viable replacement for a year, buying them some time to figure out things out long-term and with regards to the 2014 austerity budget. This is all predicated on Bay being healthy and not awful, which he hasn’t been for two years. He’s missed more than 90 days over the last two years due to a concussion (suffered on this play) and an intercostal muscle strain, and when he was on the field he produced just a .325 wOBA and a 104 wRC+. It’s not a CitiField thing either; Bay’s hit .279/.367/.445 at home and .228/.310/.336 on the road during his two years with the Mets. His defense is below average but not as bad as the advanced metrics would lead you to believe; none of the systems have figured out left field in Fenway Park yet.

Just to make this perfectly clear, the Yankees and Mets aren’t discussing a Burnett-for-Bay swap as far as we know. The idea started as speculation in some random article back in September or October, and it’s sorta lingered throughout the winter. Given the drastic change in the team’s roster dynamics, I figured it was worth revisiting. It’s one of those ideas that looks great on paper and makes perfect sense in your head, but in reality is much more complicated. It would be great if the Yankees could shift Burnett’s money around and turn a superfluous starting pitcher into a corner outfielder/DH, but bad contract-for-bad contract swaps almost always turn out the same way for everyone: bad.

Breaking down the payroll, part three

It’s been less than a month since we last checked on in the Yankees’ projected 2012 payroll, but a lot has changed. Just about all of it in the last week or two as well. The Michael Pineda/Jesus Montero trade didn’t change anything financially (at least not significantly) since they’re both in their pre-arbitration years, but the Hiroki Kuroda signing and arbitration settlements sure did. Andruw Jones agreed to come back, Cory Wade inked a new deal … and that’s pretty much it. Here are the gory details…

The money listed is in terms of average annual value, which is what the luxury tax is based on. The players’ actual salaries are slightly different in some cased, but nothing crazy.

So that’s all of it, 22 players owed a maximum of $208.875M and a minimum of $206.475M. One of those 22 is not on the team anymore, and for simplicity’s sake, let’s assume Martin, Gardner, and Logan each win their arbitration cases. That gives us 21 active players and a $208.875M payroll, though Feliciano is only active in the sense that he’s taking a spot on the 40-man roster. It’s really 20 active players for that price.

The Yankees have been talking about spending just $2M or so on a DH, but I think that’s their way of trying to drive Johnny Damon‘s down more than anything. I expect them to end up spending about $4-5M on the DH, but anything more would surprise me. If they sign a DH for $5M and fill the remaining four roster spots with guys making the league minimum, the 25-man payroll would be approximately $215.875M, up a couple million up from the $212.7M that was luxury taxed in 2011. We haven’t even included the rest of the 40-man roster or stuff like player benefits (which gets taxed as well) yet either.

The other 15 players on the 40-man roster will make the league minimum, though let’s call it 16 players since Feliciano will be stashed on the 60-day DL so another player can be added at some point. Calling it $8M for those players is conservative ($500k each), since they’ll make a substantially smaller salary while in the minors. The $8M is probably closer to $3M in reality, if that. Player benefits are taxed and typically estimated at $10M, which brings us to $233.875M, conservatively. Just imagine if they add a player or two at the trade deadline.

None of us are privy to the Yankees’ financial info, but chances are they can support a payroll much higher than the $200M or so they’ve been spending in recent years. We can’t say that for sure, but it’s a reasonable assumption. I do however think the commissioner’s office and players union have discouraging them from raising payroll any further, just like they’ve encouraged small market teams (the Marlins and Athletics, specifically) to spend more in recent years. Raising the payscale for many second and third tier players over a handful of superstars is probably a net win for the union.

Anyway, that’s my one-paragraph semi-conspiracy payroll theory. As Stephen will explain later today, the club is going to have to make several tough decisions if they’re serious about getting under the $189M luxury tax threshold two years from now, but for now we don’t have to worry about that. The Yankees will again spend an absurd amount of money of their 40-man roster in 2012, far more than any other team.

Biz Briefs: ESPN games, Legends Hospitality, Roger Waters

Notes! Everyone loves notes!

For Yanks, first half features three three ESPN Sunday Night Baseball games

ESPN released yesterday its slate of Sunday Night Baseball games for the first half of the 2012 season, and the Yankees, obviously, will be a prime player. Shockingly, two Yankees/Red Sox games will air on the World Wide Leader. Those will be on April 22 and July 8 when the Yanks trek up to Boston. ESPN will also show the Bombers’ first Sunday night meeting with Albert Pujols and the Angels on April 15.

As ESPN reminds everyone, former Red Sox skipper Terry Francona will be replacing Bobby Valentine in the booth this season. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles broadcast duties during that April 22 meeting between the two long-time rivals. I enjoyed Francona’s work during the playoffs when he filled in for an ailing Tim McCarver during the start of the ALCS.

Dave Checketts to head Legends Hospitality Management

Long-time fans of the New York Knicks will remember Dave Checketts as the president of the team who oversaw their spate of deep runs into the playoffs in the early and mid 1990s. Now the chairman of the group that owns the NHL’s St. Louis Blues, Checketts will be joining Legends Hospitality Management, the joint venture amongst Goldman Sachs, the Yankees and Dallas Cowboys that oversees concessions and sports marketing. Checketts, according to The Journal, “envisions building Legends into an international sports-marketing and entertainment business that advises franchises on media strategy, financing and building stadiums, then helps sell tickets and suites and handles concessions.”

As long as he doesn’t pull the sports marketing equivalent of trading Patrick Ewing for Glenn Rice on Legends Hospitality, the company will be in fine hands.

Roger Waters to play “The Wall” at Yankee Stadium

Finally, I’ve saved the best for last: The Yankees announced yesterday that Pink Floyd songwriter Roger Waters will bring “The Wall” to Yankee Stadium this summer. On Friday, July 6, Waters will perform at Yankee Stadium. Tickets go on sale on Monday, January 30 at 10 a.m.

The Waters performance though is almost an after-thought compared with the teaser in the press release. “In the near future,” the club said, “the Yankees will make additional announcements regarding other major acts that will be performing at Yankee Stadium in 2012. Information will also soon be available about other sporting events that will take place at Yankee Stadium during the summer months.”

Via RAB’s Twitter account, we speculated that the additional announcement could concern Bruce Springsteen. The Boss is on the road this year, and while he’s in Europe for much of May, June and July, the Yanks are out of town from September 3-13. It would be the perfect time for a concert, and it’s hard to find an act as major as Bruce on the road this year. We’ll keep an eye on this one.

Open Thread: Michael Pineda

Marineros? (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

He hasn’t even thrown a pitch for the Yankees yet … hell, he’s not even officially a Yankee yet because the trade hasn’t been announced, but we’re already giving Michael Pineda his own open thread because today is his birthday. He’s turning the ripe old age of 23. That’s two years younger than Ivan Nova, a year and a half younger than Adam Warren, one year younger than Dellin Betances, and six months younger than Stephen Strasburg. Pineda is younger than all but 18 of the pitchers who appeared in the big leagues last year, and only three of those 18 threw more than 70 innings (Madison Bumgarner, Jordan Lyles, and Tyler Chatwood). Yeah, he’s quite young.

Once you’re done (electronically) wishing the soon-to-be newest Yankee a happy birthday, use this as your open thread for the night. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing, which sounds just awful. Talk about whatever you like here, anything goes.

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