Mailbag: Yoenis Cespedes

Run like the Cuban government is chasing you. (Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)

Mark asks: Hi guys, just read the homegrown outfielder story and I was wondering if signing Yoenis Cespedes this winter and getting him to replace Nick Swisher next winter makes sense; perhaps in some sort of platoon with Zoilo Almonte?

Between my post on a homegrown outfielder for 2013 and Larry’s post on Swisher, we had a whole lotta comments focusing on Cespedes and his possible future role yesterday, so it’s worth a follow-up post. For what it’s worth, Kevin Goldstein reiterated yesterday that the Yankees continue to be the early favorites for the Cuban outfielder, at least as far as the consensus goes. Enrique Rojas reported that Cespedes is close to being granted residency in the Dominican Republic on Monday, which he must do in order to be declared a free agent. After the Office of Foreign Assets Control clears him and MLB gives their blessing, he’ll be free to sign. That’s expected to happen in January.

Now, assuming all that happens without a hitch, of course it would make some sense for the Yankees to sign Cespedes with an eye towards a full-time job in 2013. Considering the money he’s likely to get, I would hope they won’t need a platoon partner for him, whether it’s Almonte or someone else. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to “break him in” slowly, perhaps playing him three-quarters time rather than full-time at first, just to let him get his feet wet. But he should still play against both righties and lefties, especially since he’s a right-handed batter and would get the short end of the platoon stick.

Forgetting about the contract for a moment — just because we have no idea what it will take to sign him — let’s assume the Yankees sign Cespedes sometime in late-January or early-February, for argument’s sake. Based on these over-the-top workout videos, it’s pretty safe to assume that the guy is in “baseball shape,” meaning he can report to Spring Training on day one and not be behind the other players. In a perfect world, the Yankees would start Cespedes in High-A Tampa next season (mostly because of the weather) before moving him up to Triple-A Scranton later in the summer. It’s the same thing they did with Orlando Hernandez back in the day, and the same thing the Rangers and Angels did with Leonys Martin and Kendrys Morales. Alexei Ramirez is the best (and pretty much only) example of a Cuban position player stepping right into MLB and having instant success.

I don’t know why I’m wasting my breath saying this, but we have to be very careful to manage the Cespedes hype. The vast majority of us don’t know anything about the guy beyond those two fun YouTube videos, which were conveniently edited to make him look like a star. Ben Badler (subs. req’d) spoke to scouts who backed up the hype not too long ago, so that’s somewhat reassuring. I just get the feeling that a lot of people are expecting Cespedes to be the next Vladimir Guerrero or something, which is so ridiculously unlikely. In fact, the odds are against him even being as productive as Swisher, the guy he’d be expected to replace in 2013.

Report: Several teams kicking the tires on Burnett

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

While we all focused on which starting pitcher could join the Yankees at the Winter Meetings, a rumor about a pitcher that could be leaving the team caught us (or at least me) somewhat by surprise. The New York Post reported that the Yankees were shopping A.J. Burnett in Dallas, and that they were willing to eat $8M of the $33M left on his contract to facilitate a trade. Burnett was and probably still is considered untradeable because of his contract and poor performance over the last two years, but that wasn’t going to stop the team from trying to move him.

Today, buried in an article about the Rangers winning the negotiating rights to Yu Darvish, George King says that several teams are “kicking the tires” on acquiring Burnett, but the Yankees will have to eat more than that $8M if they want to get serious about a trade. Joe wrote exactly that earlier this month, suggesting they may need to pay about two-thirds of the remainder of his contract to make a deal happen, a la the Derek Lowe trade. Even then, they’re likely to get little in return, a fringy prospect or maybe a spare bench piece in the best case. Either way, if the Yankees intend to move the righty, they’re basically going to have to give him away.

Burnett has a partial no-trade clause in his contract, one that allows him to submit a list of ten teams he would reject a trade to each year. Clubs like the Padres, Nationals, Tigers, Diamondbacks, and Rockies are reportedly in the market for an arm, so I’m sure at least one of those teams kicking the tires is not on the partial no-trade list. The problem is that the Yankees aren’t exactly in the position to give away pitching away at the moment, and Burnett is still a safe bet to take the ball every five days and give the team innings. They might not be the highest quality innings, but they are innings. Trade him, and the rotation becomes CC Sabathia, Freddy Garcia, and a bunch of kids in the three through nine spots. That can work, but it doesn’t mean it’s ideal.

Of course, there’s always the option of adding an arm while still trading Burnett. We know all the names by now — John Danks, Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, Gio Gonzalez, etc. — take your pick and that guy is almost guaranteed to be better than A.J. next season. The cost of acquiring each of those guys is very different, so at the end of the day the Yankees will have to decide between three options…

  1. Do nothing.
  2. Eat money to trade Burnett and acquire another pitcher
  3. Keep Burnett and acquire another pitcher

Number two is probably the most preferable because the team would save some money even if it’s just $6M a year for the next two years, but they would also be out an arm. Again, not the highest quality innings, but still innings. They’ll come in handy when one of the five projected starters inevitably gets hurt, and I say that only because no team makes it through the season with exactly five starters. Ultimately, I still don’t think any team will bite and trade for Burnett, and frankly the report of other teams kicking the tires isn’t all that surprising. Any decent organization would look into all available options, Burnett being one of them.

Yu Can’t Always Get What Yu Want

(Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

After months … hell, years of speculation, the Yu Darvish saga officially came to an end last night, at least as far as the Yankees as concerned. It was announced Monday night that the Texas Rangers won the negotiating rights to the Japanese right-hander with a $51.7M bid, the largest ever submitted in the relatively brief history of the posting process. The Rangers obviously decided Darvish would be a better investment than C.J. Wilson, a pretty darn good pitcher they know better than anyone. The Yankees, on the other hand, didn’t seem all that interested in getting involved in a bidding war.

Soon after the news broke, Marc Carig reported that the Yankees submitted what was essentially a safety bid. If other teams were tapped out financially this late in the offseason and Darvish fell into their laps, then great. Those were the terms under which they were willing to add the guy to their team. That obviously didn’t happen though, and it sure doesn’t seem like the Yankees will be terribly disappointed. They’ve been very passive in their pursuit of pitching this offseason, at least big name pitching like Darvish, Wilson, and Mark Buehrle. Call them cheap if you want, just don’t expect me to take you seriously if you do.

“I think like with anything else you learn over time … I think we’re more prepared today than we have been in the past,” said Brian Cashman when asked about the possibility of pursuing Darvish during his end-of-season press conference last month, obviously alluding to the Kei Igawa disaster. Cashman and then-manager Joe Torre reportedly had to ask Igawa what his best pitch was during his first season in New York, a clear sign they didn’t do their homework and based their decision to pursue the guy on emotional reaction rather than informed opinion. Emotional reactions are pretty much the worst kind of reactions, especially when it comes to making baseball decisions, but the Yankees have definitely moved away from that type of thinking in recent years. If they hadn’t, Jesus Montero would have been long gone, traded for whatever the flavor of the week was after Cliff Lee signed with the Phillies.

We know the Yankees had been scouting Darvish since at least 2008, so they certainly did their homework this time around. Special advisor and former GM Gene Michael saw him, both scouting directors Billy Eppler (pro) and Damon Oppenheimer (amateur) saw him, I’m willing to bet former Padres and current D’Backs GM Kevin Towers saw him (at least on video) when he was on the staff last year, and I’m sure a small army of scouts and other advisors saw him as well. The Yankees gathered information over a long period of time and made their decision, exactly like they should have. We might not agree with the decision to not make an aggressive play for Darvish (I don’t), but there’s nothing we can do about it.

From here, nothing changes for the Yankees. They still need pitching, still need to shore up the bench, still need to add some general depth pieces, stuff like that. Unless they decide to dance with Scott Boras about Edwin Jackson, any starting pitching solution will likely come on a short-term, relatively low-risk deal, which is definitely preferable at this point. Darvish is risky, but he’s also incredibly talented. The kind of talent you’d usually roll the dice with. There’s a chance Cashman and Yankees will end up regretting their half-hearted pursuit of the righty, but I also don’t blame them for not submitting a bid north of $50M.

Rangers win rights to Yu Darvish with $51.7M bid

Via Jeff Passan, the Rangers have won the negotiating rights to Yu Darvish with a $51.7M bid. As expected, the bid is a new record for the posting process, topping the $51.1M the Red Sox paid to talk to Daisuke Matsuzaka five years ago. No word on what the Yankees bid, but I suspect we’ll find out soon enough.

After all the rumors of the Blue Jays being in the lead because of a monster bid, the Yankees won’t have to worry about facing Darvish six times a year every year for the next half-decade or so. The winning bid was higher than I expected, by about $10M, but what do I know? The Rangers and Darvish now have 30 days to negotiate a contract that will sure cost another $50M or so. With any luck, the rest of free agent pitching market will pick up some steam now and the Yankees can land a decent arm on a short-term deal.

Open Thread: Gary Sheffield

(AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

It’s hard to believe it’s been eight years already, but on this date in 2003, the Yankees signed Gary Sheffield to a three-year contract worth $36M. In typical spoiled Yankees fan fashion, we all complained because we wanted Vlad Guerrero instead. George Steinbrenner overruled his baseball people and signed Sheff, who was certainly incredibly productive. It’s just that Vlad was more productive and seven years younger.

I wrote an ode to the Sheffield Era when he announced his retirement earlier this year, and rather than focus on him again, I’m going to muse about what might have been. Let’s say the Yankees had signed Vlad instead of Sheff, what impact does it have? Considering that he would have required literally double Sheffield’s contract, there’s a pretty good chance they wouldn’t have signed both Jaret Wright and Carl Pavano after the 2004 season. Vlad was crazy durable, so if he would have stayed healthy when Sheff got hurt in 2006, it’s possible Melky Cabrera would have never gotten an extended look and Bobby Abreu would have never worn pinstripes. Maybe they don’t sign Johnny Damon.

The later years of the deal would have been interesting as well. Vlad was more DH than outfielder by 2007, maybe 2008 if you’re feeling generous, and that would have created a logjam between him, Matsui, and Jason Giambi. If they were hellbent on using him in the outfield, perhaps they don’t trade for Nick Swisher. Or maybe they do, and he’s the first baseman instead of Mark Teixeira, who they never sign. With no Tex around, perhaps they end up signing Matt Holliday once Guerrero’s deal expires after 2009. Do they win the 2009 World Series? Do they win the 2004-2008 World Series? We could play the what if game all night, but The Boss’ decision to go with Sheff over Vlad has had a major impact on the team for eight years now. It wasn’t necessarily for the worse either.

* * *

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Steelers and 49ers are your Monday Night Football game (8:30pm ET on ESPN), but none of the hockey local’s are in action. Talk about anything your heart desires here, it’s all fair game.

Report: A’s wanted Montero and top pitching prospects for Gio

Via Andy Martino, the Athletics asked the Yankees for Jesus Montero and “top pitching prospects” when they inquired about left-baller Gio Gonzalez earlier this winter. A few weeks ago we heard that the A’s wanted young, high-end outfielders in return for the 26-year-old, but the Yankees don’t have any of those to offer and it was before Oakland got Collin Cowgill in the Trevor Cahill deal. Considering that Mat Latos just got traded for something less than Montero plus “top pitching prospects,” this was probably an easy no for the braintrust.

Scouting the Free Agent Market: Edwin Jackson

If you take a look at MLB Trade Rumors’ remaining free agents list, you might notice something peculiar. Actually, maybe you won’t; I didn’t until Mike pointed it out. First browse the position players and identify players who could hit in the middle of a contender’s lineup. Then look at the relievers and see who could soak up high leverage innings. And then finally look at starting pitchers and see which ones will likely give you above-average production. We might quibble here and there on the details, but it’s pretty clear that the three best remaining players from those categories are Prince Fielder, Ryan Madson, and Edwin Jackson. It should come as no surprise to learn what they all have in common.

They’re all Scott Boras clients.

Boras has laid relatively low this off-season. He has placed only three players so far, four counting Andrew Brackman, and they’re all lower-tier types: Bruce Chen, Gerald Laird, and Willie Bloomquist. Yet his greatest assets are still not only on the market, but they’re the best choice for any team looking to upgrade. That means he’ll likely extract a decent price for them. While the market remains quiet for Jackson — his last MLBTR mention came more than a week ago, and it was to note a non-interested team — he’ll surely fetch a decent sum if only because he’s the best remaining pitcher on the market.

Chances are the Yanks won’t pursue him. They stayed out of the C.J. Wilson sweepstakes and reports are that they didn’t go big on Yu Darvish. It sounds as though they’re looking for either a true No. 2, or to shore up the back end of the rotation. Jackson could help them in the middle of the rotation, but probably not at a cost that the Yankees find appealing.

Pros

  • Jackson just turned 28 this past September, making him one of the younger options on the market. Many, if not most, free agents hit the market as they’re exiting their prime years. Jackson is just entering them. That makes it more likely they’ll pay for future, rather than past, performance.
  • He’s shown some improvement in his peripherals the past two years, notably in his ground ball rate. He’s also kept the ball in the park better in the last two seasons, which has led to his two best FIP seasons.
  • Even with a .330 BABIP last year, almost 20 points higher than his career average, he still managed a 3.79 ERA in nearly 200 innings.
  • His last two seasons have been split between the AL and the NL, but he’s actually performed better in the AL — while pitching for the White Sox, a team with a hitter-friendly park.
  • Once a big problem, he’s improved his walk rate in the last year and a half.
  • His numbers in the last three seasons: 622 IP, 7.09 K/9, 3.04 BB/9, 0.93 HR/9, 3.96 ERA, 3.91 FIP. Those aren’t outstanding numbers, but they’re solidly above average.

Cons

  • Scott Boras has him in a good position now and can likely extract a decent price. Plenty of teams need pitching, and as listed above Jackson has plenty of positive qualities. Chances are he’ll provide solidly above production for a salary of a slightly better pitcher.
  • He hasn’t exactly been a welcome member of any staff, as he’s pitched for six teams in his career. Part of that might be circumstance beyond his control. But there has to be something about a pitcher that so many teams are willing to part with.
  • Chances are that in addition to a sizable salary, Boras is also looking for a four-year contract, or even more. That’s a long time to commit to a pitcher who will at best be your No. 3.
  • As we mentioned earlier in the off-season, Jackson’s strikeout rate tends to fluctuate wildly. It’s not necessarily a red flag, but it does raise some eyebrows.

There’s no way to justify it other than saying it’s a gut feeling, but it seems as though Jackson is the type of free agent who would sign with the Yankees and then pitch pretty poorly. Maybe it wouldn’t be Carl Pavano 2.0, but I do feel as though Jackson wouldn’t work out nearly as well as the numbers suggest. This is by no way an authoritative stance, but it’s just something that I’ve felt when evaluating Jackson as a free agent.