Whatever Scottie wants…

The Yankees have millions to spend. After missing out on Cliff Lee and with Andy Pettitte off of their payroll ledger for now, the Bombers are going to be hard pressed to spend their $200 million. The team finds itself in this situation unwillingly, and everyone in baseball knows it.

Enter Scott Boras. No one can sniff out a money trail better than Boras. Despite the fact that he’s been operating in the league for what seems like eons, he still manages to eke out more dollars for his top clients than anyone else. He creates mystery teams and player comps that leave most people rolling their eyes in amusement, but when the Hot Stove League cools, his clients manage to get their paydays. Adrian Beltre can attest to that.

Right now, Boras can smell blood. As Mike detailed earlier, Boras is trying to get the Yanks interested in Rafael Soriano, and while the Yanks would love to add the former Tampa Bay closer to their bullpen, they’ll do so at his price. It’s time, in other words, for a standoff between two of the game’s top financial institutions.

When it comes to Soriano, Boras is saying all the right things. In an extensive interview with ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand, Boras laid it on hot and heavy. “That door is open for a number of different reasons…I don’t think there is a team in baseball where he could be asked to be a setup guy other than the Yankees,” Boras said of his free agent client who clearly wants a good job next year. “There is also a value in playing with Mariano Rivera.”

Boras clearly is trying to sell Soriano to the Yanks as Rivera’s heir apparent, but it might be a tough sell. Rivera will pitch in the Bronx for at least two more seasons, and the Yankees aren’t going to want to give Sorianonear-closer money to set up for three years just so he can close in 2013. Brian Cashman and the Yanks have learned over the last few seasons that it’s easy to build a bullpen out of low-cost players, and the marginal win upgrade that established bullpen arms bring isn’t usually worth the additional salary. Will having insurance for Rivera change that approach? I wouldn’t bet on it.

But Soriano can be a useful piece for the Yanks. While we might not want to face the facts, Rivera is 41, and the Yanks could do with another arm behind him. It would also free up Joba Chamberlain as either a starting rotation — my unrealistic pipe dream that flies in the face of Cashman’s words — or as a trade chit for a pitcher. If the Yanks can lower Boras’ asking price, this is a match that could just work.

But Scott Boras isn’t stopping with just Soriano. He’s again beating the Johnny Damon drum. “As Johnny has said he is more than willing to return to New York,” Boras said.

Now, Boras was of course the agent who told Damon not to sign a two-year deal with the Yanks after the 2009 season and who didn’t get Johnny a better deal. This year, Boras is trying to do right by Damon, but the Yankees again aren’t interested. They don’t need an old lefty bat who plays suspect defense in left field. Rather, they need a right-hand power bat or a defensive fourth outfielder who can hit better than, say, Greg Golson. Damon wants more playing time than the Yanks would give him, and it’s just not a fit.

So here we will have to watch Boras go to work. He has two clients who want to get paid, and he has a target who has money to spend. Even as we hit a slow stretch of the off-season, it’s worth watching these two dramas unfold. Can a master agent who gets more money for his clients than would seem possible pull it off now? The Yankees are clearly in his sights whether they want to be or not.

Keppinger goes under the knife

Via Brian McTaggart, Astros infielder Jeff Keppinger will likely miss the start of the season after having surgery to clear out some inflammation in his left foot next week. The Yankees had talks with Houston about acquiring Keppinger for the bench, but those talks eventually fell apart. The injury effectively ends any chance of talks being resumed and a trade being made. For shame, he would have been a nice little fit.

Open Thread: From football back to baseball

That photo of Yankee Stadium comes courtesy of Ryan Ruocco, who works for YES and ESPN Radio, among other outlets. As you can see, the process of converting the field back to baseball is now underway since the Pinstripe Bowl has been played. Baseball is still a few weeks away, but it’s slowly drawing closer and the Stadium is being prepped. Yay.

Anyways, here is the open thread for the night. Both the Devils and Islanders are in action, plus the GoDaddy.com Bowl (Middle Tennessee vs. Miami (Ohio)) is on ESPN if that’s your thing. The thread is yours, teach it as you see fit.

Yankees willing to give Pettitte $13M or so

Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees are willing to give Andy Pettitte a raise to perhaps as much as $13M for the season. Andy made $11.75M last season, so this really isn’t that big or a pay increase. Unless he signs for that much out of the kindness of his heart, Pettitte will command a much higher salary if he decides to come back. He’s the one with the leverage given the pitching market, so if he asks for $15M or $16M in 2011, are the Yankees really going to say no? Doubt it.

Yankees “in contact” with Rafael Soriano

Update (5:17pm): For what it’s worth, Heyman says the talks are just preliminary.

5:01pm: Well this was inevitable. Jon Heyman reports that the Yankees are “in contact” with free agent reliever Rafael Soriano, while Andrew Marchand hears from Scott Boras (Soriano’s agent) that the righty would be willing to take a setup role in New York. We’ve covered the possibility of the Yankees adding the former Rays’ closer ad nauseum this offseason, so there’s not much more to add. We just spoke about him on today’s podcast.

Like I said though, it was inevitable that the two sides would be connected at some point. Even if it’s just to feign interest and drive up the price for others.

The RAB Radio Show: January 6, 2011

We’re talking about pitching again, but this time it’s of the relief type. Mike and I both had posts today on the subject, so we dive into things that we didn’t get to in our posts. For instance, what aspect of a one-year deal for Soriano did I overlook? Also, we shoot down the idea of Soriano ever taking a one-year deal with New York.

We do hit on the idea of big time relievers signing late and still getting a multi-year deal. It’s happened before, and I’m willing to bet it happens again with Soriano this year.

Then we dive into the A’s relievers, since they could have something of a surplus. Where do the two match up? We look a bit closer at a couple of the guys and how they’d fit at Yankee Stadium.

Podcast run time 21:21

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Mailbag: Oakland Relievers

Not gonna happen. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Tucker asks: You already wrote about possible deals with the A’s for starting pitchers, but what about relievers? Could guys like Blevins, Breslow, Wuertz or Ziegler be had and would they be worth it? Could taking a shot on Joey Devine play dividends?

Here’s the post I wrote about Oakland starters earlier this offseason, before the Hisashi Iwakuma fallout and the David DeJesus/Vin Mazzaro trade. Maybe a trade for a starter could have been worked out if things had played out differently, maybe not. At the moment, the A’s are set to open the season with Dallas Braden, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, and the winner of the Rich Harden-Brandon McCarthy Spring Training battle in the rotation. That leaves about 14 candidates for the bullpen according to the team’s 40-man roster, but of course some of those guys still need time in the minors. Regardless, they have plenty of bullpen depth and can afford to move one or two relievers for an upgrade elsewhere.

Assuming that former Rookie of the Year and two-time All Star Andrew Bailey is off-limits, let’s look at five of the team’s better relievers and see if they’d make sense for the Yankees.

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Jerry Blevins
I’m not sure if anyone has shut down lefty batters as quietly as Blevins has in recent years. He’s held them to just a .276 wOBA with 54 strikeouts and six unintentional walks in exactly 200 plate appearances against. It’s not a huge sample, but it’s what we have. His career ground ball rate isn’t fantastic (36.6%), but it’s workable. From what I can gather, he has one minor league option (though I could easily be wrong, this stuff can be tricky) and five more years of team control remaining (he’s going to qualify as a Super Two, however), so he also provides quite a bit of flexibility. The 27-year-old Blevins fits in any team’s bullpen.

Craig Breslow
A Yale grad, Breslow bounced from the Padres to the Red Sox to the Indians to the Twins before finally sticking with the A’s. His overall numbers were rock solid in 2010, pitching to a 3.91 FIP with 8.56 K/9 and 3.01 uIBB/9 in 74.2 IP. The lefty held same-side batters to .273 wOBA in 2010, and for his career it’s a .265 wOBA against. His 83-31 K/uIBB ratio in 360 plate appearances isn’t as good as Blevins’, but it’s plenty good enough. The biggest negative is that he’s an extreme fly ball guy (70.4% non-grounders last year, and it’s been trending in the wrong direction for a few years now), so Yankee Stadium will exacerbate his already established homerun problem (1.06 HR/9 last few years). Breslow is definitely out-of-options, so he has to stick in the big leagues no matter what, plus he’s just heading into his arbitration years and will be making some decent coin.

Joey Devine
Back when it was cool to draft college closers in the first round, the Braves made Devine the 27th overall pick in the 2005 draft, one spot ahead of Colby Rasmus. I think Atlanta would like to push the reset button on that one. The 27-year-old hasn’t thrown a pitch (majors or minors) since 2008 because of a prolonged recovery from Tommy John surgery, but the A’s stuck by him and have continued to renew his contract since (a total of $1.525M counting his 2011 salary). He was lights out in 2008, striking out 9.66 batters per nine while walking just 2.56 unintentionally per nine in 45.2 innings (zero homers, 0.59 ERA, 1.97 FIP). That accounts for 69.9% of his big league career in terms of innings.  Devine, a rare sidearmer that throws hard (averaged 93.3 mph), has demonstrated a slight platoon split in his brief time in the majors: .240 wOBA against vs. RHB, .274 vs. LHB. He has to be considered a complete unknown given the long layoff, but there is some upside here.

Michael Wuertz
You’d be hard pressed to find a better relief season than Wuertz’s 2009 campaign. He struck out 102 batters in 78.2 innings (11.67 K/9) and walked just 22 unintentionally (2.52 uIBB/9). Combine that with an above average 45.5% ground ball rate, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a dominant reliever. That season earned Wuertz a two-year, $5.25M contract (with an option), buying out his final two years of arbitration eligibility. Elbow trouble (completely unsurprising for a guy that throws about 60% sliders) and minor thumb tendinitis limited him to just 39.2 IP in 2010, when his rate stats dropped to 9.08 K/9, 3.63 uIBB/9, and 41.3% grounders. He also became strikingly homer prone (1.36 HR/9 after a few sub-1.00 years). If you acquire him, you’re gambling $3.05M (his 2011 salary plus the buyout of his $3.25M option) that he reverts back to the guy he was in 2009. In terms of walk and homerun rate, that 2009 season sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of his career.

(AP Photo/Jack Rendulich)

Brad Ziegler
Ziegler burst onto the scene with a 39.1 inning scoreless streak to start his big league career back in 2008, but since then he’s been a rather generic sinker-slider submarine reliever. He makes up for a mediocre strikeout rate (5.81 K/9 career) by getting a ton of ground balls (60.5% career) and limiting walks (2.88 uIBB/9 career). As with most submariners, Ziegler has a pronounced platoon split and should be considered nothing more than a righty specialist. He’s held right-handed batters to just a .269 wOBA, but lefties have tattooed him for a .371 wOBA. The 31-year-old has four years of team control left and at least one minor league option remaining.

* * *

The Yankees have shown interest in Wuertz before, but Blevins and Ziegler are the most desirable to me given their low cost and general flexibility. The fact that both are nothing more than specialists sucks, but it is what it is. I can’t imagine the A’s would be willing to part with Devine (at a reasonable price, anyway) after sticking with him for so long. Perhaps a potential trade could be expanded to include Conor Jackson, who is stuck in limbo after the A’s rebuilt their corner outfields this winter. He’s a righty hitting leftfielder/first baseman with a career .373 wOBA against southpaws that does not strike out at all (just 238 K in almost 2,100 career plate appearances, 4.9% swings and misses). The problem is that he’s been hurt (Valley fever, two hamstring strains, and a sports hernia) and generally awful (.294 wOBA) over the last two seasons. He earned $3.1M last season and will make at least that in 2011 during his final trip through the arbitration process, and that’s simply too much money to gamble on a rebound candidate for the bench in my book. Why Oakland didn’t non-tender him, I’ll never know.

Anyone, one of the problems involving a potential deal is that these two clubs don’t match up well. Oakland’s pitching staff is generally set, and after adding Josh Willingham, David DeJesus, and Hideki Matsui this winter, their lineup is pretty much set as well. They re looking for an upgrade over Kevin Kouzmanoff at third base, but they Yankees don’t have that guy to offer. Maybe prospects would get it done, but I don’t like the idea of giving up prospects for relievers, especially flawed ones like Ziegler and Blevins. There’s definitely a it for the Yankees, but not for the Athletics, and it takes two to tango.