Imagining Alomar on the Yankees

1996 ALCS Game 1. (Roberto Borea/AP)

In the early 90s the Yankees weren’t exactly a hot landing spot for free agents. The team tried to sign David Cone, Barry Bonds, and Greg Maddux, and all of them rejected the team. Maddux, most notably, took less money to pitch in Atlanta. But by 1995 the Yankees became a more attractive destination. They were the AL’s top team when baseball ended in 1994 and then made the playoffs in 1995. It was after that season that Roberto Alomar became a free agent. As Jon Lane of the YES Network reports, Alomar actually wanted to be a Yankee.

While the Yankees didn’t really need much more help at that time, adding Alomar would certainly have changed the team’s composition. We often remember that Mariano Duncan hit .340 that season, but often forget that he played in only 109 games. That year the Yankees’ second basemen ranked 18th (out of 28) in WAR. Duncan himself produced 2.2 WAR. Alomar produced 5.6 WAR. Where Alomar really might have made a difference was in 1997, when the Yankees ranked 25th out of 28 in WAR among second basemen — Luis Sojo, Rey Sanchez, Pat Kelly, Homer Bush, and Duncan combined for -0.5 WAR that season, while Alomar produced nearly 4 WAR.

Since Alomar signed a three-year deal with the Orioles, we can assume he would have done the same with the Yankees. That changes history again, as the Yankees traded for Chuck Knoblauch prior to the 1998 season. This was an excellent trade, of course, as Knoblauch upgraded the second base spot to 3.1 WAR. But Alomar was worth 4.1 WAR that year. He also would have saved the Yankees the prospects, which means they could have used Brian Buchanan, Christian Guzman, Eric Milton, and Danny Mota to acquire an upgrade at a different spot.

Why the deal never happened I’m not sure. Maybe it was a payroll thing. The Yankees led the league in payroll for 1996, and at the time they signed Duncan they still needed a couple of pitchers. Alomar’s three-year deal with the Orioles appears to have been worth around $17 million, including $4.2 million in 1996. Duncan’s two-year deal was worth under $2 million total. Since the Orioles had the second highest payroll of 1996, moving Alomar would have mean the Yankees outspend the next highest team by over $10 million. At the time it would have been by far the largest discrepancy between No. 1 and No. 2 in baseball history.

Who knows how baseball would have been altered if Alomar had signed with the Yankees. We can start with the Jeffrey Maier catch and work forward from there. Alomar certainly would have been a welcome addition to the Yankees, since he would have represented an upgrade in the three years he could have been part of the team. That’s not to lament them not signing him; there’s nothing to complain about when it comes to the late 90s. It’s just an interesting idea regarding a player who just received baseball’s highest honor.

Mailbag: Madson, Garza, Draft, NJ, Meche

Ah yes, the return of the regular old mailbag. We milked some questions for longer posts over the holidays, but here’s one of the old school, quick hits style mailbags that we’ve all grown to love. This week’s topics include a potential trade for Ryan Madson,  interest in Matt Garza, using Cliff Lee money on prospects, Nick Johnson‘s job prospects, Gil Meche, and book recommendations. If you want to send in a question, the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the way to go.

Changeup, strike three. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Steve asks: Do you think there’s a chance the Phils will trade Ryan Madson, say for Nunez & one of their young pitchers? This way if they can play Nunez at ss & trade Jimmy Rollins save around 12m.

No way. The Phillies are clearly going all in right now, as they should because the core of the team consists of players on the wrong side of 30 (Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, etc.), and they won’t be productive forever. Madson is arguably the best setup man in the game, and they sure as hell won’t trade Jimmy Rollins. He’s massively overrated but still a damn fine player, and who’s taking on that contract? I’d love to see Madson in pinstripes because he’s downright awesome, but it would take a lot more than Eduardo Nunez and a pitching prospect to even get their attention.

Tucker asks: If Matt Garza was in a different division, would the Yanks be all over him?

Yeah, probably. Young enough (27), cheap enough ($3.35M last year and is up for arbitration for the second time this winter), healthy enough (hasn’t missed a start since April of 2008), and effective enough (4.24 FIP last three years, identical to Gavin Floyd and Brett Myers). He’d be an ideal target, but I can’t see the Rays trading him within the division. Andrew Friedman’s been calling the shots in Tampa Bay since the end of the 2005 season, and he’s made exactly one three trades within the AL East: he acquired Chad Bradford and Gregg Zaun from the Orioles in separate deals, and he also dealt Nick Green to the Yankees. Just not gonna happen, not at a reasonable cost anyway.

Late update: Looks like Garza’s headed to the Cubbies.

Sam asks: Does any part of you wish that the Yanks would re-allocate some of the money they almost spent on Cliff Lee to trying to sign more high-end international guys/draft picks than they would have originally? I get that what they already spend is substantial but I would love to see them throw an extra 2-3 million into both budgets.

Of course, but as you said, they do spend a bunch of money as it is. You can always spend more, but eventually you’ll reach a point where you’re just throwing money away because the rate of return is so low. We can complain about a lot of things with the Yankees, but the farm system isn’t one of them. They know what they’re doing in that department these days.

Matt asks: Was looking back at the 2010 roster, and who the Yanks were getting rid of and keeping. One that I know won’t be back in Nick Johnson, but is there any clue where he would go ?

Reportedly, NJ is fully recovered from his latest wrist surgery and is working out twice a day down in Arizona. He was in the mix for Oakland’s designated hitter job at one point, but they’ve since signed Hideki Matsui. The Cubs were also in the mix before they signed Carlos Pena, but that’s pretty much it. We haven’t heard a peep about Johnson all offseason. Just look at how little activity there is in his MLBTR archive.

I don’t know where he could go next year now that most of the major free agent first baseman are off the board and teams in need of a DH will turn to Jim Thome or Manny Ramirez or Vlad Guerrero. Maybe the Rays? Twins? Angels? The Marlins are seeking a lefty hitting bat off the bench, and he played there for half-a-season, so maybe that fits. If he was willing to take one of those ever popular minor league “prove yourself in Spring Training” contract with a mid-summer opt out date, I’d be all over the guy. No risk with that type of contract, and it could end up having a high reward.

"I signed here because I want to win." (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Howard asks: It is pitching (of course) which we want to discuss—maybe a deal for Soria would be easier if we took Meche and his contract at the same time? Is Meche still a capable starter? And why do the Yankees insist on keeping Mr. Chamberlain in the bullpen? His performance as a starter was quite good when they let him pitch on regular rest.

Once upon a time, Meche tossed up two consecutive seasons of at least 210 innings pitched and a 3.82 FIP. Of course that was three years ago. He’s since been battling back and most notably shoulder injuries, and his performance has cratered: just a 5.03 FIP in 190.2 IP over the last two seasons. Meche finished the 2010 season as a reliever (and a pretty good one at that), and the decision has already been made by the Kansas City brain trust that he will return to that role next season. They don’t think he’s physically up to starting after missing 150 days with shoulder issues in the last two seasons.

So to answer the first question, no, he’s no longer a capable starter. With a $12M salary, he’s a deal breaker if the Royals want to try to lump him into any potential Soria trade. As for the second question, I don’t think any of us know why they insist on keeping Joba in the bullpen. I’m sure they have a very valid reason (Brian Cashman said something like “his stuff just isn’t the same as a starter,” but … duh), but we outsiders don’t know what it is. I’d love love love to see him given a chance to start again, but I’ve accepted that it just won’t happen. For shame.

Dan asks: After just finishing Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, which was brilliant I might add, can you suggest other books of the same quality? I know that these long, drawn out winter days make everyone a bit nostalgic. What better way to keep the flames burning then with a decent read through Yankee, or Baseball in general, history/insight? I know I’d love to get some suggestions from Yankee writers and fans on titles that are not to be missed.

I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know anything about it and can’t make any good recommendations. However, I’m sure some of our readers have, and I’m willing to bet they have some recommendations to offer. If you have one (or some), leave it in the comments.

Oh hey, look at that, the Yankees aren’t interested in Soriano

Via Buster Olney, it turns out the Yankees don’t have any interest in Rafael Soriano as of yesterday afternoon. We previously heard that the two sides were at least “in contract” with each other. Olney says Soriano would have to make himself very cheap on a short contract before the Yanks will even consider him. I suspect that if his asking price comes down that much, other teams will jump in the mix. I actually feel kinda foolish for not picking up on the “Scott Boras is trying to drum up interest” angle yesterday, but Ben took care of that last night.

Whatever Scottie wants…

The Yankees have millions to spend. After missing out on Cliff Lee and with Andy Pettitte off of their payroll ledger for now, the Bombers are going to be hard pressed to spend their $200 million. The team finds itself in this situation unwillingly, and everyone in baseball knows it.

Enter Scott Boras. No one can sniff out a money trail better than Boras. Despite the fact that he’s been operating in the league for what seems like eons, he still manages to eke out more dollars for his top clients than anyone else. He creates mystery teams and player comps that leave most people rolling their eyes in amusement, but when the Hot Stove League cools, his clients manage to get their paydays. Adrian Beltre can attest to that.

Right now, Boras can smell blood. As Mike detailed earlier, Boras is trying to get the Yanks interested in Rafael Soriano, and while the Yanks would love to add the former Tampa Bay closer to their bullpen, they’ll do so at his price. It’s time, in other words, for a standoff between two of the game’s top financial institutions.

When it comes to Soriano, Boras is saying all the right things. In an extensive interview with ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand, Boras laid it on hot and heavy. “That door is open for a number of different reasons…I don’t think there is a team in baseball where he could be asked to be a setup guy other than the Yankees,” Boras said of his free agent client who clearly wants a good job next year. “There is also a value in playing with Mariano Rivera.”

Boras clearly is trying to sell Soriano to the Yanks as Rivera’s heir apparent, but it might be a tough sell. Rivera will pitch in the Bronx for at least two more seasons, and the Yankees aren’t going to want to give Sorianonear-closer money to set up for three years just so he can close in 2013. Brian Cashman and the Yanks have learned over the last few seasons that it’s easy to build a bullpen out of low-cost players, and the marginal win upgrade that established bullpen arms bring isn’t usually worth the additional salary. Will having insurance for Rivera change that approach? I wouldn’t bet on it.

But Soriano can be a useful piece for the Yanks. While we might not want to face the facts, Rivera is 41, and the Yanks could do with another arm behind him. It would also free up Joba Chamberlain as either a starting rotation — my unrealistic pipe dream that flies in the face of Cashman’s words — or as a trade chit for a pitcher. If the Yanks can lower Boras’ asking price, this is a match that could just work.

But Scott Boras isn’t stopping with just Soriano. He’s again beating the Johnny Damon drum. “As Johnny has said he is more than willing to return to New York,” Boras said.

Now, Boras was of course the agent who told Damon not to sign a two-year deal with the Yanks after the 2009 season and who didn’t get Johnny a better deal. This year, Boras is trying to do right by Damon, but the Yankees again aren’t interested. They don’t need an old lefty bat who plays suspect defense in left field. Rather, they need a right-hand power bat or a defensive fourth outfielder who can hit better than, say, Greg Golson. Damon wants more playing time than the Yanks would give him, and it’s just not a fit.

So here we will have to watch Boras go to work. He has two clients who want to get paid, and he has a target who has money to spend. Even as we hit a slow stretch of the off-season, it’s worth watching these two dramas unfold. Can a master agent who gets more money for his clients than would seem possible pull it off now? The Yankees are clearly in his sights whether they want to be or not.

Keppinger goes under the knife

Via Brian McTaggart, Astros infielder Jeff Keppinger will likely miss the start of the season after having surgery to clear out some inflammation in his left foot next week. The Yankees had talks with Houston about acquiring Keppinger for the bench, but those talks eventually fell apart. The injury effectively ends any chance of talks being resumed and a trade being made. For shame, he would have been a nice little fit.

Open Thread: From football back to baseball

That photo of Yankee Stadium comes courtesy of Ryan Ruocco, who works for YES and ESPN Radio, among other outlets. As you can see, the process of converting the field back to baseball is now underway since the Pinstripe Bowl has been played. Baseball is still a few weeks away, but it’s slowly drawing closer and the Stadium is being prepped. Yay.

Anyways, here is the open thread for the night. Both the Devils and Islanders are in action, plus the Bowl (Middle Tennessee vs. Miami (Ohio)) is on ESPN if that’s your thing. The thread is yours, teach it as you see fit.

Yankees willing to give Pettitte $13M or so

Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees are willing to give Andy Pettitte a raise to perhaps as much as $13M for the season. Andy made $11.75M last season, so this really isn’t that big or a pay increase. Unless he signs for that much out of the kindness of his heart, Pettitte will command a much higher salary if he decides to come back. He’s the one with the leverage given the pitching market, so if he asks for $15M or $16M in 2011, are the Yankees really going to say no? Doubt it.