The winter of our content

(Darvish photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) (Wilson photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) (Danks photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

As noted by pretty much everyone, the 2011-2012 Hot Stove Season has been a slow one for the Yankees. Thus far the primary transactions relating to the Major League club have been extending CC Sabathia, picking up Robinson Cano‘s and Nick Swisher‘s no-brainer options, and re-signing Freddy Garcia to a reasonable one-year deal. While these have all been important moves — none moreso than keeping Sabathia in the fold — Yankee fans have grown accustomed to fitting the annual free agent du jour for pinstripes, and the general lack of not only news, but even pot-stirring interest has made for one of the most boring offseasons I can ever remember.

Ever since I discovered the wonderful world of Yankee blogging in early 2004, there’s almost always been a plethora of eagerly anticipated potential signings and/or cause célèbres each winter.

That 2003-2004 offseason saw the Yankees undergo some pretty radical changes, starting with the acquisition of Javier Vazquez for Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera and Randy Choate. Prior to executing that deal, the Yankees were also discussing the possibility of trading for Curt Schilling (and later on, Randy Johnson, who they eventually acquired a year later), but owner Jerry Colangelo’s hatred of George Steinbrenner meant nothing short of asking for the sun, the moon and the stars for his ace. Colangelo stuck it to the Yankees even further by subsequently trading Schilling to the Red Sox for a bag of balls.

This incredibly busy offseason — as you’ll recall, the Yankees wound up losing three-fifths of their 2003 AL pennant-winning rotation in Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and David Wells — also saw the Yanks swap problems with the Dodgers in the Jeff Weaver-Kevin Brown deal; had Brian Cashman get overruled on what would have been an incredible signing in Vladimir Guerrero and undercut as Steinbrenner himself worked a three-year deal out with Gary Sheffield; sign key bullpen cogs (and eventual bullpen pinatas) Paul Quantrill and Tom Gordon; extend Vazquez’s contract by four years before he threw even one pitch for the team; and, oh yeah, trade Alfonso Soriano for Alex Rodriguez.

The 2004-2005 offseason found the team looking to atone for its historical exit against the Red Sox in the ’04 ALCS, and pitching was yet again at the top of the wish list. This time the Yankees patched their holes with Carl Pavano, who signed a four-year deal that at the time made a lot of sense but went on to become one of the most reviled contracts in sports history, and Jaret Wright. A few weeks later Steinbrenner finally got the long-coveted Big Unit, trading Vazquez away after a rather unfortunate first season in pinstripes, along with Brad Halsey and Dioner Navarro.

The 2005-2006 offseason was rife with speculation about the Yankees pursuing Johnny Damon, which they ultimately did, signing him to a four-year deal two days before Christmas. They also re-upped with Hideki Matsui for four years the previous month, but outside of securing two-thirds of their outfield it was a fairly quiet winter.

The ’06-’07 offseason was initially dominated by Daisuke Matsuzaka speculation until the Red Sox blew everyone out of the water with their insane bid, which prompted the Yankees to make their own ill-advised Japanese signing that winter in Kei Igawa. However, the most important move of that offseason was the bringing of Andy Pettitte back into the fold in the first of what wound up being four straight one-year deals.

The ’07-’08 offseason was perhaps the most intense I’ve ever experienced as a Yankee fan, as rabid talk of the Yankees acquiring Johan Santana for a package centered around Phil Hughes drove me to the point of kickstarting my Yankee blogging career. RAB of course also launched its heralded “Save the Big Three” campaign, and after all of the hoopla the Big Three did indeed make it through that offseason as Yankees. Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy subsequently rewarded the Yankees with some abysmal pitching performances that season, but you know what they say about baseball, Suzyn. For the second straight winter the Yankees didn’t make any major external personnel moves, with the primary signings coming in the form of re-inking Jorge Posada to a four-year deal, and A-Rod to the dumbest contract of all time.

The 2008-2009 offseason was the most expensive in franchise history, but also yielded immediate fruit. Sabathia dominated the headlines and eventually agreed to his historic pact after a few weeks of silence, and the team followed that up by adding A.J. Burnett to the fold. At that point, it seemed as though the team was finished shopping, and while I’d been banging the Mark Teixeira drum all winter long, all signs were pointing to Tex signing with Boston. Which is why I’ll never forget finding out that Tex had indeed agreed to a deal on December 23, as that was pretty much the best holiday surprise ever.

Fresh off their 27th World Series trophy, the Yankees weren’t content to rest on their laurels, and made several big moves to heat the Hot Stove up during the ’09-’10 offseason, trading for Curtis Granderson and re-acquiring Home Run Javy Vazquez. They even brought what wound up being my personal biggest cause célèbre back into the fold in re-signing my favorite and yours, OBP Jesus himself, Nick “The Stick” Johnson. Of course, seeing as how Nick Johnson’s gotta Nick Johnson, he obviously got injured and wound up being near-useless, but I still have fond memories of how loudly I was beating the Johnson drum and how exciting it was to find that the Yanks were indeed signing him.

And of course, last offseason was all about Cliff Lee, until it wasn’t anymore, forcing Yankee bloggers to write post after post about every potential scrapheap option available to the Yankees, until they actually did sign what appeared to be two of the scrappiest of the entire heap in Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.

Which brings us to today. To be fair, this offseason hasn’t been entirely devoid of rumors and speculation. We know the Yankees have been linked to C.J. Wilson, but internally view him as more of a #3/#4 starter and will only acquire him if they can pay him like one. We also know the Yankees like Yu Darvish, and while most if not all of us at RAB wholeheartedly endorse a Darvish pursuit, it seems less and less likely that he’ll be posted with each passing day. And the team will continue to be mentioned in any and all trade rumors regarding young starting pitchers that may or may not be available, as these are the kinds of rumors that make the Hot Stove burn bright during cold winter nights, although as Cashman has been fond of saying for a good while now, he doesn’t seem terribly inclined to move any of his own players at current asking prices.

Unfortunately all of this inertia has made life a bit difficult for those of us trying to find a fresh angle to write about the team on a daily basis. However, in the aftermath of the Cliff Lee non-signing, standing relatively pat for the remainder of last offseason (with the exception of Pedro Feliciano; I’m pretty sure I could get a deal with the Yankees if I threw with my left hand) and continuing to stand his ground at the trade deadline back at the end of July, Brian Cashman’s strategy of waiting things outand perhaps not even making a significant move at all — may not be such a bad thing. Especially if Kenny Williams finally comes calling bearing gifts of John Danks and/or Gavin Floyd.

Trading with the AL

As the Hot Stove League slowly inches toward the Winter Meetings, trades have been a popular topic of conversation. No one is that impressed with C.J. Wilson or his $100 million asking price, and Yu Darvish’s posting remains on hold as he sorts out his divorce. So the Yanks could turn to the trade market for inspiration and improvements.

We’ve heard some names of potentially available players. Maybe the Yanks will eye Matt Garza. Maybe Oakland will dangle Gio Gonzalez. Maybe the White Sox will part with John Danks. Of course, we can draw up trade proposals (that probably come out of left field), but the truth remains that some GMs and clubs get along better with each other than others.

So as an exercise in both pointless baseball minutiae and Yankee history, let’s review their past trade history. We’ll start with the last transactions the Yanks have made with each of the Junior Circuit clubs and wrap up with the NL tomorrow night. As free agency has become their milieu, the Yanks certainly have not been very active on the trade market over the past few decades.

Baltimore Orioles: Despite 55 trades in their long histories, the Yankees and Orioles haven’t done much wheelin’ and dealin’ since John Habyan came to New York in exchange for Stan Jefferson in 1989. Their most recent trade involved a swap of Jaret Wright and cash for Chris Britton in November of 2006. In 2009, the Yanks purchased Freddy Guzman from the O’s, and that’s all she wrote.

Boston Red Sox: Frequent division rivals make for infrequent trade partners. On August 13, 1997, the Yanks sent Tony Armas and a PTBNL (eventually Jim Mecir) to the Red Sox for Mike Stanley. The Red Sox used Armas to acquire Pedro Martinez a few months later, and the two teams haven’t made a deal since then.

Chicago White Sox: Yankee fans love to target the White Sox as potential trade partners because they always seem so willing to bend over backwards for the Yanks. On November 13, 2008, the Yanks sent Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez to the South Siders for Nick Swisher and Kanekoa Texeira.

Cleveland Indians: The Yanks and Indians consummated two trades in two days at the 2010 deadline. On July 30, the Yanks landed Austin Kearns for Zach McAllister, and the next day, Brian Cashman brought Kerry Wood to the Bronx in exchange for Andy Shive and Matt Cusick. The two teams’ last trade involving only Major League players came in 2000 when Zach Day, Ricky Ledee and Jake Westbrook turned into David Justice.

Detroit Tigers: Over the past decade, the Yanks and Tigers have been very active trade partners. A 2002 blockbuster saw Jeff Weaver land in the Bronx while the Yanks dumped Gary Sheffield on Detroit in late 2006. In 2008, Pudge Rodriguez came to New York just in time to ruin Joba Chamberlain while Kyle Farnsworth left. The most recent deal between these two teams though involved Curtis Granderson. In December of 2009, the Yanks landed Granderson while Phil Coke and Austin Jackson went to Detroit. To round out the deal, Ian Kennedy and Edwin Jackson headed to Arizona, and the Diamondbacks sent Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to Detroit.

Kansas City Royals: The Royals and Yankees last made a trade together in 2000 when the Yanks shipped out Wilson Delgado for a fringe Minor Leaguer named Nick Ortiz. Only seven times in Royals franchise history have these two teams traded. That’s a far cry from the days of raiding the Kansas City A’s.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: The Yanks and Angels love trading back-up catchers. In 2007, the Yanks sent Jeff Kennard to the Angels for Joey Catch, and in 2005, they landed Wil Nieves for Bret Prinz.

Minnesota Twins: Since acquiring Chuck Knoblauch in early 1998, the Yanks and Twins have done business just twice. Their last trade came in 2003 when the Yanks shipped Jesse Orosco to the Twins for Juan Padilla.

Oakland A’s: The Yankees and A’s have match up for a trade 63 times, mostly because the Yanks used to treat the A’s as their own Major League farm system. That pipeline has dried up in recent years. Outside of the three-team Weaver deal in 2002, the Yanks haven’t dealt with Billy Beane since 2003 when Chris Hammond went west for Eduardo Sierra and J.T. Stotts. Honorable mention goes out to the 1997 trade of Kenny Rogers for Scott Brosius, and for opposite reasons, the 1989 swap of Greg Cadaret, Eric Plunk and Luis Polonia for Rickey Henderson.

Seattle Mariners: The Yanks and Mariners have swapped players just twice since 1995. The earlier trade that sent Tino Martinez, Jim Mecir and Jeff Nelson to New York for Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock was the bigger one. The 2003 exchange concerned Armando Benitez and Jeff Nelson. Best to let those sleeping dogs lie.

Tampa Bay Rays: In 2006, the Yankees bought Nick Green from the Rays, and that’s the only time the two teams have swapped players.

Texas Rangers: The last big trade between the Yanks and Rangers involved some guy named Alex Rodriguez. In 2010, the Yanks sent Mitch Hilligoss to Texas for Greg Golson, and a few weeks later, the Rangers bought Edwar Ramirez from the Yanks.

Toronto Blue Jays: While the Yanks may be kicking the tires on Kyle Drabek, the Bombers and Blue Jays have exchanged players just 17 times. The biggest deals between the two clubs involved David Cone in 1995 and Roger Clemens and David Wells in 1997. The last trade came in 2002 when the Yanks kicked off the Raul Mondesi Era by sending Scott Wiggins to Canada.

CBA Madness: Even more draft changes

The other day we heard about the smaller-than-expected draft pool and the inability to allocate the money for unsigned picks elsewhere, and now Jim Callis brings us even more draft changes. For one, they’re cutting ten rounds, so it’ll be just 40 rounds from now on. That’s actually a good change, they could probably lop off another ten rounds.

Another significant changes as to do with compensation picks for unsigned players. Teams will now get an extra year of protection, meaning if they can’t sign the guy they took with one of those comp picks, they will get a pick again the next year. If you can’t sign a player the third time, then too bad. That’s why they lose it. Also, any under-the-table agreements to circumvent the draft pool are strictly prohibited. There are no loopholes. I recommend clicking the link and reading Callis’ full recap, there are a lot more changes in there than I highlighted.

Open Thread: 42 for 42

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Mariano Rivera was a bit of a late bloomer. He didn’t make his big league debut until he was 25 years and five months old, the same age Phil Hughes is right now. Rivera’s first full year in the show came during his age 26 season, his first of a dozen (and counting) All-Star appearances came during his age 27 season, and he didn’t close out his first World Series game until he was a few weeks shy of his 29th birthday. That seems like such a long time ago, and it is. Nearly a decade-and-a-half.

Today is Mariano’s birthday, his 42nd. Number 42 for number 42. He’s still as good as ever, a god among men in baseball’s most volatile position. This past season he claimed the all-time saves record, but it wasn’t much more than a blip on the radar. Everyone knew Rivera was the greatest closer of all-time long before that, he didn’t need some silly record to make it official. The 2012 season might be Mo’s last, we don’t know, but part of me is convinced that he could close out games until he’s 50. I hope he does.

After you’re done wishing Mo a happy birthday, use this as your open thread for the night. Both the Islanders and Rangers are playing tonight, so there’s that. Talk about whatever you like, have at it.

Yankees sign lefty Juan Cedeno

Via Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed left-hander Juan Cedeno to a minor league contract. The 28-year-old pitched for the Rio Grande Valley White Wings of the independent North American Baseball League this past season, striking out 65 and walking just ten in 43 relief innings. According to the club’s sabermetric pitching stats page, he also had a Power Fitness Ration of 1.744. I don’t know either.

Before heading to the indy leagues, Cedeno spent a bunch of time in the Red Sox’s and Royals’ farm systems. He also did a year in Korea. Cedeno had some major control problems earlier in his career (78 BB in 90.1 IP in 2006), but he did a nice job of limiting the free pass in 2011. It’s a shot in the dark signing that carries zero risk, sometimes these lefty relievers come out of nowhere to contribute decent innings at the big league level. Throw the kid in Double-A and see what happens.

Yanks express interest in Kyle Drabek

Lack of baseball can make a person go mad. For instance, when browsing MLB Trade Rumors this morning I saw the following line: “The Yankees are interested in Kyle Drabek.” Madness. Sure, the Yankees probably have some level of interest in Drabek; they have interest in any pitcher at the right price. But this just seemed odd. It came from a Bob Elliott column in the Toronto Sun, and the article, too, contains the explicit reference: “The New York Yankees are interested in right-hander Kyle Drabek.” Could they actually mount a pursuit of the almost 24-year-old righty?

Drabek’s career began in 2006, when the Phillies drafted him with the 18th overall pick. He got off to something of a slow start, struggling in A-ball during his first season. But a quality showing in the New York-Penn League in 2008, followed by a rise to AA in 2009, increased his stock. Before the 2010 season Baseball America rated him the No. 25 prospect in all of baseball. By that point he was in the Blue Jays organization, coming over in the Roy Halladay trade. He debuted there at the end of the 2010 season, and that audition earned him a spot on the Opening Day 2011 roster.

While his first start went well, it was mostly downhill for Drabek from there. He faced the Yankees twice, throwing 7.2 innings total and allowing nine runs. After allowing eight runs in four innings against the Red Sox in mid-June he was left with a 5.70 ERA in 72.2 innings. That was cause enough for a demotion to AAA, a level at which he had never previously pitched. His season didn’t get much better there, as he threw 75 innings to a 7.44 ERA before coming back up in September. The remainder of his season consisted of two scoreless outings, a six runs in two innings affair, and finally one run in one inning. In short, nothing went the way the Jays had planned.

If the Yankees are actually interested in Drabek — and I’m not convinced that’s actually the case — they’d view him as a change of scenery guy. Chances are they wouldn’t part with anything of immediate value, since Drabek’s poor MLB showing casts some doubts about his future. He can recover, certainly; to write off any 24-year-old is folly. But Drabek’s extreme control issues, which haunted him in AAA as well as the majors, have to give any team pause in trying to acquire him. His buy-low status will likely lead to offers that don’t satisfy the Jays demands. After all, if Drabek can turn it around why would they sell low on him?

Even further, it’s not clear that the Yankees actually have interest in trading for Drabek. Elliott’s blurb pretty commandingly claims that’s the case, but later on he writes that the “Yankees people are asking Jays scouts questions.” This doesn’t seem terribly abnormal, especially for a pitcher within the Yankees’ division. If this is the entire proof of the Yankees’ interest, it might not be interest in trading for Drabek, but rather a measure of opposition research. That makes a bit more sense, considering teams’ natural reluctance to trade within their divisions. The Yankees and Jays haven’t hooked up for a trade since Raul Mondesi came to New York in 2002.

These types of nuggets can ignite a quick flame in the cold off-season months, but they rarely amount to much. It’s just something to discuss on a day when nothing major happens. The Yankees, we know, are looking everywhere possible for upgrades to the rotation. If the Blue Jays have indicated that they’d listen on Drabek, chances are the Yankees will start asking some questions. But it seems extremely unlikely that they ever get to serious talks. Trading a 24-year-old top prospect is one thing. Trading him to a powerful division rival, while selling low, is quite another.

Scouting The Trade Market: Matt Thornton

Dare the Yankees dip their toes back into the water of the lefty reliever pool? Brian Cashman has mentioned it as an area of need, yet twice in the recent past he’s been burned. Damaso Marte, after signing a three-year, $12 million deal before 2009, pitched only 31 innings. Pedro Feliciano signed a two-year, $8 million contract last winter and will not throw a single inning for the Yankees. Considering the dearth of available left-handed relievers on the free agent market, the Yankees will likely sit out this round.

Yet the trade market always remains a possibility. Just this morning, in fact, ESPN’s Buster Olney mentioned that the White Sox are shopping Matt Thornton. We’ve heard plenty this winter about the Sox wanting to shed payroll, and losing the two years and $12 million remaining to Thornton would certainly help. Might they match up with the Yankees?

Pros

  • In the past four years Thornton has been one of the more successful relievers in the league. Since 2008, among relievers with at least 200 IP, Thornton ranks 14th in ERA, 3rd in FIP, 5th in strikeout rate, 11th in home run rate, and 19th in walk rate.
  • He absolutely kills lefties: 12 K/9, 0.79 HR/9, 2.71 FIP lifetime against them, despite the terrible start to his career. Since 2009 his FIP hasn’t crossed the 2.00 barrier against left-handed batters.
  • While his ERA jumped over the 3.00 mark last year, for the first time since 2007, his peripherals remained solid: 9.5 K/9, 3.17 BB/9, 0.45 HR/9.
  • His poor season was more like a poor April. From May on he threw 51.1 innings, striking out 53 to 15 walks and allowing just one home run — 2.45 ERA.
  • It might seem obvious, since his overall numbers are so good, but he can handle righties, too. He might walk them at a greater clip than lefties, but in the past four years he’s had little discernible trouble against them.

Cons

  • He’s not exactly young. The Mariners didn’t call up Thornton until he was 27. He just turned 35, so his contract will end just after he turns 37. That’s not always good news for a guy who relies on mid-90s heat.
  • He’s not cheap, either. His contract extension, which kicks in starting in 2012, pays him $5.5 million in each of the next two years. It also has a $1 million buyout of a $6 million club option. The Yankees might not consider that a reasonable allocation of their rising payroll.
  • His trade cost might prove prohibitive. While the Sox are shopping him, they aren’t going to give him away. Reliable lefty relievers are a commodity in short supply, and so the Sox could initiate a bidding war and get a bit more than they should for a 35-year-old reliever with $12 million remaining on his contract.

While talking to the FanGraphs staff at spring training, White Sox Assistant GM Rick Hahn shared with us the essence of Thornton: “When he came over here we asked him what he wanted to do. He said, ‘I want to throw the ball right down the [expletive deleted] middle and see if they can hit it.’ So we let him throw the ball right down the [expletive deleted] middle.” It has worked exceedingly well for him during his five years in Chicago, and particularly in the last four. Yet that might be reason for pause. Can Thornton continue dominating hitters with his mid-90s heat for the next two years?

The problem with trading for Thornton straight up is finding reasonable value for both sides. Given his age and skillset, his contract might seem like too big a risk. At the same time, the White Sox want to receive some value for their reliable lefty reliever. It could cause a stalemate in negotiations with any organization. The better bet might be to pursue a package deal of John Danks and Thornton. Danks is a favorite at RAB. Before the trade deadline we scouted the trade market for Danks, and recently Moshe wrote up a comparison of Danks to Andy Pettitte. The Yankees could fill two positions in such a trade, and the White Sox would have a better chance of realizing value for both. The Yankees, for instance, might not be willing to trade Dellin Betances for just Danks, but might be more willing to included him in a deal for both Danks and Thornton.*

*Just an example. My trade proposal sucks.

The Yankees and the White Sox figure to talk on at least a few occasions this winter. Since the Sox are apparently in a reloading phase, they might wish to shed some players who either have inflated salaries or who will reach free agency soon. The two clubs have worked together in the past on trades, and we could see them hook up again this winter. Seeing Danks in navy blue pinstripes, rather than black, would be a welcome development.