Reports: Gonzalez, Sox fail to reach extension deal

Update (2:59 p.m.): Jon Heyman, Ken Rosenthal and Joel Sherman are reporting that talks between the Red Sox and Adrian Gonzalez on a possible contract extension have fallen through. The Red Sox and Padres agreed yesterday to a deal involving Gonzalez and three top Boston prospects that was contingent upon the Sox’s coming to terms with the slugging first baseman on a long-term extension. Now that the contract talks are dead, the future of the deal remains cloudy.

Despite this development, talks between the Red Sox and Padres are not over. Rosenthal says that the Padres and Red Sox can pull the trigger on the trade, but the Sox are hesitant to give up so much for only one year of control. If the Red Sox do acquire Gonzalez, they could still take advantage of their exclusive right to negotiate during the course of the season. The Padres, says Heyman, won’t field more offers if this trade fell through. This tale isn’t over yet.

Anticipating and dreading Mariano’s last dance

Dreams of wars and liars or a nice cashmere sweater.

Mariano Rivera throws one pitch, and he throws it exceptionally well. He throws a cutter that he can control with pinpoint precision. He can bust a lefty in on the hands, and he can bust a righty in on the hands. He breaks bats; he keeps the ball down; and since becoming a reliever, he’s allowed just 51 home runs in over 1000 inning pitched.

Earlier this week, Rivera, who turned 41 a week ago, celebrated that birthday by signing a two-year, $30-million deal to re-up with the Yankees. He still has to take a physical before the deal is official, but Rivera, a Yankee since 1990 when he was 21, will star in the Bronx for two more years.

Of course, the logical question for Rivera concerns the end. Is this the end? Is this the last contract he’ll sign with the Yankees and will he retire afterwards? That question seems to come up every time Mo’s contract does, and while he once said in 2000 that he would retire after he re-upped with the Yanks that year, talk of retirement has slowed.

This week, though, the question came up again. After all, baseball is not replete with 43-year-old pitchers of any stripe. While speaking with reporters at the Last Licks in Rye Brook yesterday, Rivera talked of his future. “I think maybe that might be the last two years,” he said. “Maybe, I don’t know. I’ve been saying that since 2000, I think. But I’m glad that everything went fine and got done.”

Today, nothing screams out “the end” for Mariano. His velocity has every so slightly declined over the last decade, but he’s still throwing 92-mph cutters. He hasn’t lost the control, and while the strike outs dipped to a four-year low of 6.8 per 9 IP after hovering close to 10 for a few years, his ERA clocked in at 1.80 and his FIP held at 2.81. He keeps the ball in the park, and he generates ground balls. Five hundred and fifty nine times, he has saved a game.

When the end comes, Yankee fans will be in for a shock. My dad, a Yankee fan since the late 1950s, says Rivera is his all-time favorite and probably the best he’s ever seen. No one does his job better than Rivera and with as much ruthless efficiency as Rivera. The Yankees will try to find The Next Mariano, but despite what everyone thinks, that’s next to impossible. Greatness doesn’t come around that often.

So for now, I’ll kick back and go along for the ride. I’ll listen for the strains of Metallica and cheer as Rivera comes in to throw that cutter. One day, he’ll be gone, back home in Panama to start his post-baseball career. But we still have at two more years before that happens, and I’m going to enjoy every Mariano Rivera appearance until then. You just don’t know which one will be his last.

The Tough Get Tougher

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

As I’m sure you are well aware, the Red Sox and Padres have agreed in principle to a trade that would sent All Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to Boston in exchange for a package of four prospects. A contract extension is holding everything up, but it’s only the matter of time before Gonzalez caves and accepts the millions of dollars Boston is throwing at his feet. The deal will undeniably make the Sox a better team not just in 2011, but for the next half-decade as well.

Still just 28, Gonzalez is a .285/.387/.523 hitter with 107 homeruns over the last three years, but outside of Petco Park he’s hit .310/.390/.599 with 70 homers in just 282 games (40.2 per 162 games) during that time. Ready to be blown away? Here’s Gonzalez’s 2010 spray chart from Petco overlaid onto Fenway…

Click for larger. (Courtesy of katron.org)

Yeah, that’s nuts. I count about 18 non-homers that would have theoretically cleared the fence in his new park, but of course we can’t assume that. It’s just fun to look at, more than anything. Even if the Petco-to-Fenway transition adds just five homers to Gonzalez’s output, that’s a ton. About the only negative thing you’ll fine in his game is that he’s merely very good against southpaws instead of great (.258/.347/.440 over the last three years). Ultimately, as Marc at Red Sox Beacon puts it, the Sox just landed themselves a Joey Votto. Boston improved its team immensely, but then again we all knew they would this winter.

I fully expected to end up thinking the Padres didn’t receive enough, but once I saw the names involved I thought it was actually a pretty fair trade. The Sox gave up their first, third, and sixth best prospects (according to Baseball America), two of which are top 100 guys. A corresponding Yankee package would have been something like Manny Banuelos, a better version of Brandon Laird, and Slade Heathcott. Plus there’s the player to be named later, who may not be significant, but is still someone that holds some kind of value. All that for just one year of Gonzalez and the right to talk to him about a contract.

With Victor Martinez heading to Detroit, the Sox have already lost one of their best hitters this offseason. The Gonzalez pick-up also signals the end of the Adrian Beltre era as well, and he was brilliant for them in 2010. Kevin Youkilis will slide over to third base and most assume he’ll be fine there, though he hasn’t started more than 55 games at the position since 2003. When you add Jacoby Ellsbury, J.D. Drew, and David Ortiz to Gonzalez, the lineup suddenly becomes very lefty heavy, which can be a problem when you’ve got CC Sabathia, David Price, Brian Matusz, Ricky Romero, and Brett Cecil in the division. Nevermind mind the possibilities of Andy Pettitte and/or Cliff Lee.

Given how Gonzalez’s current contract is structured, with just a $6.2M salary in 2010, Boston can still go out and sign a Jayson Werth or a Carl Crawford. Werth in particular would make sense, given the left-handed issue I just mentioned. Once the big money in Adrian’s presumed contract kicks in after next season, Boston will have shed about $50M off its payroll in the form of Ortiz, Drew, Mike Cameron, and Jonathan Papelbon. Factor in healthy returns from Josh Beckett and Dustin Pedroia, and the Red Sox are getting monumentally better this winter.

In the end, there’s nothing the Yankees can do but sit back and watch. Their offseason plans don’t change at all; they still need two starters (one being Pettitte or his replacement) and a few spare parts here or there, but no major makeover. They don’t need to make a move to answer Boston’s pick-up of Gonzalez because it’s not a game of one-upmanship. The Yankee lineup is good enough to win as it is. There’s no getting around it though, life in the AL East just got a little tougher, but that’s what we all expected to happen anyway.

Berkman lands in St. Louis

Lance Berkman wasn’t a Yankee for too long, and many fans didn’t warm up the mid-season acquisition. He was a fine role player though and cost the club only Mark Melancon and some dollars. We knew he wouldn’t stick around the Bronx, and since he made $14.5 million in 2010, the Yanks weren’t going to offer the Type B free agent arbitration. Today, we learn that Berkman has landed in St. Louis.

The Cardinals will pay him $8 million for the 2011 season, and what makes this signing somewhat strange is the Cardinals’ plan for the the erstwhile DH. The Cardinals, you see, plan to use Berkman in left field. As Zach Links wrote at MLBTR, “The 34-year-old last played in the outfield in 2007, and he owns an ugly -2.1 UZR/150 for his career, with most of his work coming in right field.”

Open Thread: The Brackmonster turns 25

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

A very special RAB Happy Birthday goes out to 2007 first round pick Andrew Brackman. The big guy turns the ripe old age of 25 today, which is kinda old in prospect years but still young in every other aspect of life. With any luck we’ll see him with the big league team at some point next season. Here’s a fun Fact: Brackman issued 37 fewer walks in 2010 than he did in 2009 despite facing 105 more batters. That’s good. Oh, and a belated happy birthday goes out to Gary Sanchez, who turned 18 on Thursday. They make them so young these days.

Anyway, here is your open thread for the night. The Devils are the only local team in action, but there’s a ton of college football on as well. You guys know the drill, so have at it.

Mailbag: George Sherrill

Joe recapped some of the more notable non-tenders yesterday, but there’s one player he didn’t touch on that’s probably worth exploring. Given the Yankees search for a second left-handed reliever, we might as well cover every base.

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Ryan asks: An interesting non-tender is George Sherill. I know his 2010 was brutal but he has been murder on lefties his whole career (including 2010). What are the chances the Yankees take a flier on him?

You’re right, Sherrill was brutal in 2010. For the low low price of $4.5M, the Dodgers received a 6.69 ERA (5.20 FIP, 5.61 xFIP) and -0.5 fWAR in just 36.1 innings. He struck out just one more batter than he walked (26 K, 25 BB) and right-handers absolutely annihilated him (.482 wOBA against). The former independent leaguer (four different indy teams too) also missed two weeks with a sore back and his velocity was erratic but generally down. No matter how you look at it, Sherrill was a disaster for Team Torre in 2010.

Digging a little deeper though, there are enough reasons to believe that not all hope is lost for the 33 year old (34 in April). Sherrill still handled left-handed batters well (.272 wOBA against) this year, just not as well as he did from 2007-2009 (.220 wOBA against). The one homer he surrendered to a lefty in 2010 was a majestic blast that Yankee fans will remember fondly. A .352 batting average on balls in play (compared to .292 career) certainly didn’t help matters, and it’s probably not a coincidence that his worst stretch of the season came right before he hit the disabled list.

There are very real concerns though, don’t be mistaken. Sherill’s never been a control freak, unintentionally walking 3.8 batters per nine innings (3.4 BB/9 vs. LHB) over the last three seasons. He’s also a fly ball pitcher (47.4% career), though he has improved his ground ball rate for three straight seasons. Fly balls mean homeruns, a less than desirable trait for any pitcher, especially a late game reliever.

At this point, Sherrill should be limited to lefty specialist work and nothing more. His days of being effective against right-handers are behind him, but the fastball-slider combo work fine against same-side hitters. The Dodgers understandably non-tendered him and the overall bad year should help keep Sherrill’s price down this winter. In fact, there has at least been speculation that he might have to settle for a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training to prove himself worthy of a roster spot.

Considering the cost vs. expected production, I’d much prefer Sherrill to someone like Pedro Feliciano. I’m comfortable with his track record against southpaws, and I also like that he spent some time in the AL East and knows how tough life can be there. As long as his exposure to righties is limited, Sherrill should be quite the weapon. A one-year, low base money deal is fine by me, and if he takes a minor league contract than great. He’s absolutely worth a flier.

Report: Jeter, Yanks agree to new deal

Update by Mike: It’s a done deal, says RAB fave Jack Curry. It’s a three-year contract worth a guaranteed $51M with a fourth year player option for $8M. Jeter can also earn an additional $9M in incentives that final year, and there’s a $3M buyout of the option (so $16M per season). Jon Heyman explains that the incentives are based on finishes in the MVP, Silver Slugger, and Gold Glove voting. I don’t like the player option at all; Jeter might as well pick it up now.

Original post by Ben (12:55pm ET): According to George A. King III, the Yankees and Derek Jeter will “finalize a three-year deal today.” The two sides are haggling over the final details of a contract that will guarantee Jeter up to $17 million a year. As Jack Curry reported earlier, both Jeter and the recently re-signed Mariano Rivera have agreed to defer money to move the process along.

According to King, “The contract includes a tricky option for a fourth season, neither a vesting situation nor a club option. It is linked to what happens across the three guaranteed years.” Late last night, WFAN’s Sweeney Murti reported that the option would probably be worth around $10 million, bringing Jeter’s total package to a potential four years and $61 million.

In one sense, the Yankees are bidding against themselves for Jeter. No other team has put in an offer, and comparable players are signing for less than 50 percent of what Jeter will earn annually. On the other, though, by upping the offer to $17 million a year for the next three seasons, the Yanks have ensured that Jeter will earn a higher salary than A.J. Burnett. That fact was a sticking point for many.

Ultimately, even though this deal was inevitable from the day the Yanks lost the ALCS, this is a gamble for the team. Jeter will be playing his age 39 season in the final guaranteed year of this contract and will be 40 for the option year. Despite his declining range, there are no plans to move him off short and no obvious landing spots either. We can live with the dollars and the short term, but we’ll have to hope that Jeter’s career-worst .270/.340/.370 was an aberration and not a sign of things to come.

Meanwhile, by wrapping up this deal ahead of the Winter Meetings, the Yanks have all but assured themselves a singular focus in Orlando. Cliff Lee, you’re next.

Additional reporting by Mike Axisa.