Yanks trying to monopolize mediocrity, still interested in Millwood

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees are still interested in bringing Kevin Millwood aboard, but remain adamant that they will not pay a significant price for him. In fact, they may only be open to signing him on a minor league deal like Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.

As an interesting little sidebar, Joe Girardi said today that he’s “looking toward the veteran guys a little bit more” for the fourth and fifth starter spots, which ties into something Sherman wrote. It’s entirely possible that the Yankees could start the season with both Colon and Garcia (or Millwood) in the rotation, Sergio Mitre in the bullpen, and Ivan Nova in Triple-A. Both Colon and Garcia can become free agents if they make the team, and Mitre’s out-of-options. Starting the season with that alignment allows them to keep everyone and evaluate a little further into the season. Not saying I agree with it, but it’s certainly a viable option.

The RAB Radio Show: February 17, 2011

The Yanks have plenty going on in camp, but it’s a lot of little stuff rather than one big storyline. That, of course, makes for good radio. Mike and I talk about the 4th and 5th starter candidates, how the bullpen will factor into that, and then some on the offense. It’s a smorgasbord today on the RAB Radio Show.

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Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

Fashionably late, Rivera shows up to camp

Man of the people. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

He’s few days late because of a sick kid, but Mariano Rivera reported to Spring Training today. “I’m here and I’m ready to work,” said Rivera. “I feel great.” The team obviously authorized the late arrival, but much like everything else that surrounds Mo, there is no reason to worry.

“Whenever Mo gets here is fine,” said Brian Cashman yesterday, showing that Rivera’s tardiness was of no real concern to the team. “I don’t want him getting any ideas next year,” joked skipper Joe Girardi. “He could have [stayed home] for a while.”

In fact, Rivera wouldn’t even have gotten near a mound yet had he reported on time. He’s long operated on his own schedule in the spring, doing nothing more than playing catch and running the pitcher’s fielding practice gamut for the first week or two or three. Rivera usually doesn’t make his first appearance in a game until there’s about three weeks left in camp, and he’ll only make seven, maybe eight appearances total. Last year it was six. Road trips? Yeah right, Mo doesn’t leave Tampa until the season starts.

“I know what it takes. I know what I have to accomplish,” said Rivera. “You earn that respect when you give everything you have, and that’s what I have done. It’s not right to talk about myself, but that’s what I have done all my career. If I needed time to do something, it’s not because I wanted to do it. It’s because I needed to do it. And now I’m here, and ready to work.”

Mo told Erik Boland that the toughest part about starting a new season is being separated from his family, unsurprising if you’ve followed the man’s career up to this point. He also said the “love and passion” for the game is still there despite his advanced age (41) and the fact that Rivera has accomplished everything a player could ever dream of accomplishing in a career. “I believe that I can do it one more time,” he said, interesting only because he signed a two-year contract.

Depending on who you ask, the Yankees need a dominant late-game presence this year to mitigate the depressing situation at the back of their rotation. I’m of the belief that the middle relief corps become more important when you have a poor rotation, not necessarily the end-game guys, but no one asked me. Rivera, as always, is the security blanket in the ninth inning, and this year he has a new running mate in the late innings.

“I will get to know him better,” said Mo of Rafael Soriano. “It’s going to be an interesting year.”

Well, they’re all interesting years in Yankeeland. The newest candidate to solve the “Bridge to Mariano” problem that has become almost comically overblown is Rafael Soriano, the latest in a long line of high-priced setup relievers with a fraction of Rivera’s success to their credit. Regardless of who’s occupied that role, be it Soriano, Joba Chamberlain, Mike Stanton, Kyle Farnsworth, Steve Karsay or whoever, Mo has always been the guy the Yankees counted on for key outs. No matter who they played or what time of year it was, they’ve always had at least one advantage over their opponents, and that’s the guy taking the mound for those last three outs.

The pitching gang is pretty much all there now that Rivera is in camp, what is likely the second to last Spring Training of his career. We’ve been spoiled beyond belief by his presence over the last decade-and-a-half, so these next two seasons are the perfect time, and really the last opportunity we have to sit back and appreciate Mariano’s greatness. There’s never going to be another one like him.

Brackman’s chances of making the team

(Julie Jacobson/AP)

It has become tough to believe Brian Cashman‘s public statements. During the past five or so years he has put up many fronts — Bubba Crosby in center field, signing Teixeira as “fantasy land” — which makes it difficult to determine when he’s truthful and when he’s speaking strategically. Yet there are some statements that just feel true. Cashman made one of them yesterday at camp. As Mark Feinsand reports:

[Dellin] Betances and [Manny] Banuelos aren’t earning spots in the rotation out of spring training. They’re going to get their first taste of big-league camp, then they’re going to get slotted into Trenton. They have no chance to make this team.

That comes as no surprise. While Betances and Banuelos both rank highly on most prospect lists, they’re a bit short on experience. Banuelos has thrown just 215.2 innings during his three years pitching in the Yankees’ organization, and Betances has thrown just 299.2 in his five seasons. To place them in the bigs at the outset would likely hamper their development. In fact, given their lack of experience and presumptive workload limits, it’s doubtful that we see either of them in the majors this season.

What’s interesting is what Cashman didn’t say. Not only did he leave a couple of names off of his “no chance” list, but he came out later and reinforced that point.

The other guys are all competing for anything. They’re more advanced, they have more experience and they’re in a better position. Betances and Banuelos may help us down the line, but they’re not coming to camp here to help us now or solve any problems. They’re not advanced enough to be in a position to do that.

The most conspicuous omission is Andrew Brackman, the other Yankees’ top pitching prospect. He made serious strides last season, finishing the year with a 3.01 ERA in 80.2 innings at AA. It would appear that he has a ways to go, but he is also a bit further along than Betances and Banuelos. He’s older, and he has pitched more innings in recent years. While he has just 247.1 innings himself, 140.2 of them came last season. He also has about 150 innings of college ball, which means roughly 400 post-high school innings. That trumps both of the other B’s.

This isn’t to say that Brackman has a real shot to make the team. He, too, probably needs a bit more seasoning in the minors. After all, it was just a year ago that he had fallen off most prospect lists and risked being labeled a bust. There are worse things than having him start the year in AAA. The Yankees do have a number of veteran options with whom they could start the season, leaving Brackman as a backup option if they fail. He, David Phelps, and Hector Noesi are probably best served in this role.

Chances are we’ll see Brackman pitching in the majors, whether in the rotation or in the bullpen, at some point this season. Out of camp, though, it would take quite a showing, combined with quite a meltdown from a couple of other leading candidates, for him to make the team. That’s not a bad thing. If anything it speaks to the team’s depth. They might not have the most favorable situation presently, but it’s pretty clear that their third-best, and most developed, pitching prospect has a chance to help the team this year.

The Rites of Spring Training

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Spring Training, the new season, brings optimism and excitement to everyone and their team. Every club is in first place, everyone feels good about so-and-so having a breakout year or that new free agent or the hotshot prospect, but not in Yankees camp. Yankees camp is all about controversy in Spring Training, spreading the doom-and-gloom scenarios that help sell papers and get page views. You won’t get anyone to admit it, but there are some writers (and bloggers) that have an undeniable hatred of certain players/executives, and it comes through in their writing.

Pitchers and catchers have officially been in Tampa for three whole days, and already we’ve had doomsday scenarios presented about a) CC Sabathia‘s opt-out clause, b) A.J. Burnett‘s mental state following his down year, and c) Joba Chamberlain‘s weight. Mariano Rivera didn’t show up until this morning, and we’re already three controversies into the new season. That has to be some kind of record.

It’s early in camp and everyone needs something to write about, but controversy sells. No one cares that Phil Hughes is ahead of all the other pitchers because of the work he’s done over the last few weeks, and we’ve heard very little about Jesus Montero despite his status as arguably the game’s best offensive prospect and his legitimate (albeit small) chance to make the team. Hell, has anyone read anything about Pedro Feliciano or Rafael Soriano? They’re club’s two most notable free agent signings, and no one’s bothered to get a quote from them. I know more about Hector Noesi’s visa status than I do about how Feliciano and Soriano feel about being Yankees.

It’s not that CC’s opt-out and A.J. mental state and Joba’s weight gain and whatever other stuff comes out of camp isn’t a story, it certainly is. But there’s only so much that can be said about it until the coverage starts becoming a parody of itself. We’re seeing stuff about Joba’s career being on the line over 15 pounds. Career on the line. As if that extra weight will earn him a trip to Siberia if he doesn’t pitch well. Hell, no one’s bothered to notice that Bryan Hoch said the easy target’s righty’s stomach is flatter than you’d expect, where’s the fun in that?

Last year we enjoyed a controversy-free Spring Training, all because the team was coming off a World Series win. That was great, everyone was happy, and there was talk of a dynasty (as their always is after any team wins a title), all that. But this year it’s all about shock value and scare tactics. Are the Yankees perfect? Of course not. No team is. PECOTA projects them to have the second best record in baseball and the top offense, but you’d never know it by some of the coverage they receive. You’d think they were one pitch away from a Pirates-esque run in the cellar. There’s nothing we can about it other than bide our time until the season begins, but this is what we’re stuck with.

Albert, CC and crazy, crazy ideas

Don't get your hopes up.

The Yankees have a very expensive first baseman, and they don’t plan on getting rid of him soon. On the 23 of December of 2008, the Yanks gave Mark Teixeira an eight-year, $180-million deal with a full no-trade clause, and since then, Teixeira has helped the Yanks win a World Series while missing just 10 regular season games. He had a down year in 2010, but there’s no reason to think he won’t pick it up this year in his age 31 season.

In St. Louis, meanwhile, the Cardinals’ own 31-year-old first baseman is playing out the final year of his contract. Albert Pujols wants to get paid and had set a deadline of yesterday at noon to sign an extension. The Cardinals may or may not have offered him a rather low-ball eight-year offer, and the two sides are heading into the season without a long-term deal in place. They say they won’t negotiate until after the Cardinals’ 2011 campaign is over. While St. Louis needs Albert Pujols far more than he needs them, things could get ugly indeed.

So as the Pujols drama plays out and with the Yanks being the Yankees, everyone and their mothers wants to know if Pujols could come to the Bronx. Of all the crazy speculation, though, the nuttiest comes from Ken Rosenthal. I once laughed at Rosenthal’s proposal that the Phillies, Blue Jays and Mariners engage in some three-team shenanigans over Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, but I think it’s safe to say that his latest is well divorced from reality. He wants the Cardinals to trade Pujols for Teixeira.

Warning that his piece is “pure speculation,” he thinks it would help everyone. The Cardinals would get their All Star first baseman, and the Yanks would make a splash to counter the Red Sox’s trading for Adrian Gonzalez. Plus, the Bombers could dole out another ten-year, $300-million deal to someone on the wrong side of 30. Everyone wins! Hooray!

The Internet of course had a field day with it. In a vacuum, swapping out Teixeira for Pujols is a no-brainer (sorry, Mark), but things don’t work in a vacuum. As Fangraphs noted, the trade would be insanely lopsided from a WAR perspective, and Teixeira would have no incentive to waive his no-trade clause. He would be the lesser player tasked with replacing Albert Pujols. If Tino Martinez thought he had it rough in 1996 when he was serving as Don Mattingly’s heir, imagine Teixeira stepping in for one of the — if not the — greatest players of all time. Sounds like a blast.

But rather than indulge in fanciful speculation fit for a fantasy baseball league, turn instead to an excellent piece on the state of baseball free agency by Cardinals fan-extraordinaire Will Leitch. Over at New York Magazine’s The Sports Section, Leitch wrote a piece entitled “Albert Pujols, and Why the Yankees Are the Yankees.” Of the Yanks, he writes:

The Yankees, famously, refuse to negotiate with players who are about to be free agents during the season. They can do this because they are the Yankees. Because they have the most money, they can set the market on any player, and they can wait until all information is available. The Cardinals failed to wrap up Pujols early — the way the Twins did with Joe Mauer, for example — not because they didn’t want to keep him around, but because they couldn’t balance the risk (a $300 million, ten-year contract) with the uncertainty (knowing how many teams would be bidding, knowing how Pujols will play this year, whether he’ll stay healthy, and so on). The Yankees never have to worry about that. At the end of every day, the Yankees can pay more than anybody else can, so they can let the market play out. The Cardinals were trying to avoid that. They failed.

The Yankees refuse to negotiate with their free agents, even the Jeters, even the Posadas, until it’s on their terms. The Cardinals — who have the ninth-highest payroll in baseball — can’t even get their top free agent to talk to them until he has decided he is ready, until it is on his terms. The Cardinals didn’t blow an opportunity today through mismanagement or disrespecting their superstar. They just aren’t the Yankees.

Despite this off-season in which Cliff Lee spurned the Yankees for ever-so-slightly fewer dollars and a unique opportunity to pitch in Philadelphia, the Yankees get their guy because, as Leitch said, they can spend. And that brings us to CC Sabathia. The big lefty will exercise his opt-out to one degree or another this year because it makes financial sense for him to do so. That doesn’t mean he wants to leave the Yankees.

Rather, he wants to use his leverage to get more security on the back end. If the Yankees were willing to go all in for Cliff Lee, they’ll certainly do that for the younger and seemingly more durable Sabathia. The Yankees, with their dollars, will keep their man.

In another world, perhaps, Pujols would be a free agent, and the Yanks would have a spot for him. But that other world exists only in the pages of The Onion. Albert isn’t coming here, Mark Teixeira isn’t going anywhere and neither, ultimately, will CC.

Gary Sanchez underwent heart tests

Via George King & Marc Carig, 18-year-old prospect Gary Sanchez recently missed a week of minor league workouts to undergo medical tests on his heart. Nothing serious was discovered, though Brian Cashman wouldn’t say anything beyond acknowledging that Sanchez is fine now. I’m glad he’s okay, but anytime you need to get some test performed on the ol’ ticker, it’s scary. No idea if he’s back in camp yet or if he will be at some point.

(Is it insensitive to plug the Top 30 here? Sanchez did come in at number three after all.)