Yankees avoid arbitration with Russell Martin

6:52pm: Via David Waldstein, Martin got $7.5M with another $100k in performance bonuses. Just under the midpoint, in terms of guaranteed money. Sweeny Murti said the two sides talked about a two-year deal, which would be ideal, really.

6:05pm: The Yankees announced that they’ve avoided arbitration with Russell Martin by agreeing to a one-year contract. No word on the terms yet, but Russ filed for $8.2M while the team countered with $7M last week. Splitting the difference and calling it $7.6M seems fair enough. Martin is eligible for free agency after this coming season, and there’s been some speculation that the Yankees could look to sign him to a multi-year contract. That can still happen at any time, this deal doesn’t change that at all. The team’s only remaining unsigned arbitration-eligible player is Boone Logan.

What else to do with Freddy?

If the Yankees don’t use Freddy Garcia as the fifth starter, what exactly can they do with him? As Mike mentioned in his earlier post, he’s quite inflexible. He doesn’t have significant bullpen experience, which rules out the most obvious alternative. Since the Yankees signed Garcia after the free agency filing period ended, they cannot assign his contract — i.e., trade him — until June 15th without his written permission. That leaves the Yanks in a bit of a bind.

The strongest point in favor of Garcia manning the fifth spot is his lack of baggage. He’s under contract, he’s capable, and there’s nothing to prove. While both Hughes and Burnett are under contract, their capability is ripe for debate, and it’s undeniable that both have plenty to prove. Garcia, then, is the simplest, most straight forward option for the rotation. At the same time, that works against him.

The Yankees probably want to see if they can squeeze a little more value out of the $82.5 million they’ll pay Burnett. At the same time, they probably want to see if they can actually get prolonged productivity over a pitcher who was once the No. 4 prospect in the game. Brian Cashman‘s words do make it appear as though they wish to trade either Burnett or Hughes, which could ease the situation a bit. But even if they do, that leaves Garcia in competition with the non-traded pitcher. The point about flexibility remains.

Whatever the case with the other two pitchers, the Yankees will likely stand pat with Garcia throughout spring training. Injuries happen, so Garcia acts as a bit of insurance for the Yanks. If they reach the end of spring training healthy and decided that they’d prefer Hughes or Burnett in the fifth spot, it is conceivable at that point that Garcia would consent to a trade. He might have enjoyed his experience with the Yankees, but he might also prefer a chance to start with another team, rather than play the role of long man in the Yankees’ bullpen.

The biggest problem with the above scenarios is that Garcia’s greatest value for the Yankees comes in the rotation. He clearly won’t be as valuable out of the bullpen, even if he pitches moderately well there. He probably won’t fetch much in a trade, unless a team suffers multiple injuries in their starting rotation and becomes hopelessly desperate for a living, breathing pitcher. If the Yankees don’t use him as the fifth starter, the $4 million they used to sign him will have basically become garbage. That’s not ideal for a team that has used the word “budget” frequently this off-season.

Since Garcia is not involved in trade talks, and since he’d provide quality innings pitching in the fifth rotation spot, it’s easy to envision him there to start the season. The Yankees don’t have many other realistic options. They could try to trade him, but probably wouldn’t get equal value. They could move him to the bullpen, but he’s never really pitched there. It will probably take them moving one of Hughes or Burnett to make it work, but it does appear that the best solution for Garcia is to have him pitch every five days.

Tigers land Fielder with nine-year deal

Via Tim Brown and Jon Heyman, the Tigers have agreed to sign Prince Fielder to a nine-year contract worth $214M. Detroit recently lost Victor Martinez for the year after he tore his ACL during an offseason workout, so they more than replaced the lost offense. Fielder was never a realistic option for the Yankees, but I have to admit I did have visions of him at DH dancing in my head after Jesus Montero was traded away. That’s some contract, wow.

Freddy Garcia’s Fifth Starter Case

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Yesterday we examined A.J. Burnett‘s case for the Yankees’ fifth starter spot, an admittedly flimsy case at best. Today we’re going to move onto Freddy Garcia, who would deserve the job with no questions asked if the decision was based solely on 2011 performance. He pitched to a 3.62 ERA and a perfectly league average 4.12 FIPĀ  in 146.2 IP, and was arguably the team’s most consistent starter from Game One through Game 162.

There are some question marks at age 35, but there are also some very real reasons why Garcia should get the get the ball every five days over Burnett and Phil Hughes. Let’s break it down…

He’s The Incumbent

Before rain suspended Game One of the ALDS last year, the Yankees intended to use just three starters in the five-game series, and one of the them was Garcia. Both Hughes and Burnett were in the bullpen to open the series with the Tigers. Like I said, Freddy outpitched both of those guys pretty handily during the regular season and earned that spot in the postseason rotation. He’s done nothing to lose it over the last three months.

He’s Inflexible

Sweaty Freddy has pitched in 329 games as a big leaguer, and he appeared in all but two of those games as a starter. He has basically no experience in a relief role. Hughes has pitched very well out of the bullpen throughout his career, and although Burnett doesn’t have much bullpen experience in his career (just five career relief appearances), the Yankees obviously felt comfortable enough with him in that role since that’s where they intended to put him in the playoffs before the weather forced him into a Game Four start.

Its worth noting that Garcia has undergone some major shoulder surgery in the not-too-distant past, so he might need more time to warm up than the typical pitcher. I know that’s part of the reason why the Rays never tried Jeff Niemann in the bullpen back in the day, when he was running out of minor league options without a clear path to the big leagues. Needing a long time to warm up isn’t an issue as a starter, but if Freddy needs a good 20-30 minutes to get going while pitching out of the bullpen, well that’s a major issue. He’ll need a full innings’ notice, which just isn’t how baseball works these days.

He’s Crafty (…and he’s just my type)

The front four of the Yankees rotation is quartet of hard-throwers. CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda had two of the seven hardest fastballs in all of baseball last season while both Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova averaged better than 92 with the heat (92.1 and 92.4, respectively). The last time Garcia hit 92 mph with his fastball was about six years ago, and these days he does most of his living in the 85-88 mph range. He makes it work though, and it’s a pretty extreme change of pace from the rest of the pitching staff, bullpen included. A full five-man rotation of craftiness won’t work (coughTwinscough), but mixing one soft-tosser into a staff of power pitchers adds some nice variety and deception. Pitching is all about disrupting a hitter’s timing, and Freddy does that in a big way compared to his teammates.

* * *

Given his age, his stuff, his injury history, and the fine line he treads every time he goes out to the mound, it’s easy to cast Garcia aside. He’s now four full years removed from shoulder surgery and has thrown 150 IP in each of the last two seasons, so the questions about his durability are being answered. He had to continually prove himself each time out last season, and he did just that in a tough pitcher’s environment (in terms of division and ballpark). Freddy showed he was up to the challenge, and we’ve heard a lot about the Yankees liking his toughness and his veteran presence. I hear he also gives the young players some nice veteran presents as well, but that’s besides the point.

The Yankees have very little invested in Garcia. He’s one a one-year contract and his $4M salary will represent less than 2% of their payroll next season. They don’t have to worry about his development (like they would with Hughes) or try to justify the investment they made in him (like they might feel they have to do with Burnett), they could just send him out there every give days and basically forget about him. If he pitches poorly, then just cut him. No big deal and no strings attached. Garcia’s been through it all in his career, and serving as the fifth starter on a contending team is job in which he is more than qualified.

Cashman: Free agents are “secondary” in DH search

During his conference call with reporters yesterday, Brian Cashman said that free agents are “secondary” in their pursuit of another bat according to Sweeny Murti. “Maybe I’ll use our excess pitching to find a bat,” he added. Joel Sherman reports that the team would prefer to trade A.J. Burnett for a DH-type (or salary relief) or deal a young pitcher for a young bat with several years of team control remaining. If that fails, then they’ll turn to the free agent market since no one seems to be in a rush to sign those guys.

I still think that — and the report of them having just $1-2M to spend on a bat — is all posturing and their way of getting Johnny Damon to lower his asking price. I’d love to see them land a young, controllable bat like a Domonic Brown or (preferably) Logan Morrison, but I don’t expect it to happen. As the Jesus Montero trade showed us, good young bats don’t come cheap.

The Jorge Posada Retirement Press Conference Liveblog

After 17 glorious seasons with the Yankees, Jorge Posada will officially announce his retirement from baseball today at 11am ET at Yankee Stadium. He spent his entire career in pinstripes and retires as a .273/.374/.474 career hitter with 275 homers and five World Series rings (though all he did in 1996 was tag along for the ride). Posada has a prominent place in Yankees history and his career 44.9 bWAR is tenth most in baseball history among players who spent at least 75% of their career games behind the plate. He’s not a lock for the Hall of Fame, but Jorge has a very good case and figures to spend several years on the ballot.

The press conference will air live on the YES Network, Yankees.com, and MLB.com LIVE. I’ll cover the entire thing from start to finish here.