Add Roy Oswalt to possible Yankee targets

AP Photo

Years ago he might have topped the list of Yankee targets. Today he’s having trouble getting a multiyear offer from any team. Roy Oswalt’s first foray into the free agent market couldn’t have come at a worse time. The market for pitching is relatively thin, yet he’s coming off a season during which he missed 53 team games with lower back injuries. Making matters worse, two years ago he was diagnosed with two degenerative discs in his back. That makes it difficult for any team to justify a multiyear offer. Now it appears that Oswalt is ready to face reality.

This morning ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reported that Oswalt wants only a one-year deal. The idea: show his back is healthy so that he can reenter the market next year and hopefully score the multiyear deal he sought this off-season. Apparently six teams are in conversation with him, and while we don’t know the Yankees level of interest it’s difficult to see them standing on the sidelines. In some ways Oswalt fits their needs.

Despite his recent history of lower back issues — he has missed almost 100 games since 2008 with lower back injuries — Oswalt has rarely suffered in terms of performance. In 2009, when the issues really started to crop up, he produced a career worst ERA, but even then it was 4.12. He then bounced back in 2010 to start 32 games, pitch 211 innings, and finish the season with a 2.76 ERA, his best in any season since a 2.73 ERA in 141 innings in 2001. Of course, he followed that with only 139 innings in 23 starts last season, though he did still manage a 3.69 ERA and 3.44 FIP. In 2012, his age-34 season, we can still expect a certain level of effectiveness when he’s on the mound.

Even on a one-year deal, Oswalt’s back issues present a problem. We heard earlier in the off-season that the Yankees were concerned about Oswalt’s back. That matters more in terms of a multi-year deal, but it also plays a part in a one-year arrangement. The Yankees would still rely on Oswalt to make 30 starts, so if he comes up short due to the same back issues they’ll have to rely more heavily on Plan B — and then Plan C, and Plan D, and so on. That is, if the Yankees are truly concerned about the state of Oswalt’s back, they should probably stay away regardless of contract term.

Still, of all the remaining pitchers on the market Oswalt has the highest ceiling. He might be a career National Leaguer, but he’s passed through a number of tests along the way. He pitched in the hitters’ park known as Minute Maid Park, and then graduated to another hitters’ park, Citizen Bank Ballpark. He’s appeared in the postseason four times, pitching to a 3.73 ERA in 72.1 innings. He also has about a season’s worth of interleague starts, pitching to a 3.70 ERA in 199.1 innings (30 starts). His impeccable control, 2.09 BB/9 for his career, could also help him manage the transition between leagues.

One major question regarding Oswalt: why would he want to rebuild his value in New York? This isn’t an end-of-career deal, where he’s just looking to catch on with a strong contender for one last hurrah. This is a player seeking to rebuild his value and get a multiyear contract next off-season, at age 35. While it might not behoove him to hide out in a known pitchers’ haven, such as San Diego, facing the AL East offenses frequently might not be the best idea, either. He wouldn’t have to face the Yanks offense, a major plus, but he’d have a number of starts against other above-average offenses. He might prefer to remain in the NL for this reason — or, if he’d like to prove he’s not just an NL guy, he could seek a rotation spot in the much less vicious AL Central.

At the same time, Oswalt could view New York as the perfect place to rebuild his value. Remember, he did talk about retirement last year while his back ailed him. Perhaps he wants to go all-in with this last attempt. If he succeeds, he extends his career by a few years. If he fails, he rides into retirement. In that case, the Yankees could be a good fit. He’d have a chance to be the No. 2 on a sure contender. Furthermore, a solid performance on the Yankees could turn a lot of heads. It could even entice the Yankees themselves to offer him a contract after the season. Even a slightly above average performance for the Yankees could be more attractive next off-season than a well above average performance elsewhere.

Oswalt’s newfound availability puts him in the same league as Hiroki Kuroda: risky, but with plenty of upside. Oswalt has a higher ceiling, but also has the greater risk of giving you nothing. Kuroda is the better bet to give you 30 starts, but his ceiling is lower than Oswalt’s. His age is also a concern; any decline will greatly affect his performance for the Yankees. The Yankees might not end up with either, but they’d do just fine by signing either to a one-year deal.

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.