Yankees win bidding for Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima

Nakajima during the 2009 World Baseball Classic. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

12:18pm ET: The Yankees have won the bidding according to Ken Rosenthal, and the two sides now have 30 days to negotiate a contract. Jon Heyman says the bid was approximately $2M, which is nothing. The bids for fellow infielders Akinori Iwamura and Tsuyoshi Nishioka were $4.5M and $5.3M, respectively. They then agreed to three-year contracts worth $7.7M and $9M with the Rays and Twins. Iwamura was posted during the 2006-2007 offseason, Nishioka last winter.

Rosenthal says that Nakajima strongly prefers to the play on the West Coast, so it might be tough for the Yankees to convince him to be their utility guy.

12:01pm ET: Via David Waldstein, the Yankees have placed a bid for Japanese shortstop Hiroki Nakajima, who they apparently like as a utility guy. Given the trade interest in Eduardo Nunez, I suppose landing Nakajima would make it easier for them to deal the incumbent utility man. Nakajima’s posting period ended on Saturday, though the high bid has not been announced.

I don’t know much about Nakajima, but last year NPB Tracker called him the second best hitter in Japan. The 29-year-old right-handed batter hit .297/.354/.433 with 16 homers and 21 steals for the Seibu Lions in 2011, and he’s consistently been a .300 average/15+ homer/15+ steal/50+ walk guy in his career. From what I can tell, he’s played shortstop exclusively over the last four or five years. Here’s his Under Armour commercial, which is seriously the best video I can find.

Should the Yankees win the bid, the question will then focus on Nakajima’s willingness to be a bench guy right smack in the prime of his career. He did ask to be posted last year but was rebuffed by the Lions, so he’s been thinking about coming stateside for a while. Is he willing to do so as a utility guy? I guess there’s nothing we can do other than wait.

Yanks shopping Burnett at Winter Meetings

Ever since the conference call in which Brian Cashman announced his new contract it seemed inevitable that the Yankees would attempt to trade A.J. Burnett. After two horrible seasons, in which he produced the second-highest ERA among all qualified starters*, a move might be in the best interests of both parties. Burnett’s contract poses a significant obstacle, but even if the Yankees eat some money they can save on 2012 and 2013 payrolls, perhaps allowing them to add another starter via trade or free agency. According to The New York Post, they have already started spreading word of Burnett’s availability.

If the Yankees truly want to move Burnett they’ll have to eat a significant portion of his contract. The Braves set something of a precedent earlier this off-season when they ate two-thirds of Derek Lowe’s remaining salary to facilitate a trade. Yet Lowe has just one year remaining on his contract, which made the situation a bit more palatable. With two years and $33 million remaining on Burnett’s contract, the Yankees would have to eat $22 million to keep pace. Yet according to the Post report they’re only willing to eat $8 million, or just under 25 percent of Burnett’s contract. While that certainly won’t get the job done, it is also just a starting point.

Since the last time we wrote about trading Burnett, the market has changed a bit. A number of mediocre pitchers have received multi-year deals, which might signal a willingness to listen on a pitcher of Burnett’s potential. The Royals signed Bruce Chen for two years and $9 million. The Dodgers double dipped, signing Aaron Harang for two years and $12 million and Chris Capuano for two years and $10 million. While all three pitchers have produced better results than Burnett in the last two years, all three are flawed in their own ways. It stands to reason, then, that another team could have interest in Burnett on similar terms. That would, again, mean the Yankees eating roughly two-thirds of Burnett’s contract.

The matter of compensation remains an open issue. Yes, perhaps some team is willing to pay Burnett $6 million per year for two years. But would they also be willing to give up something in order to obtain Burnett? While that might appear to complicate the equation, in this situation a Derek Lowe type return — low-level minor league pitcher — might suffice. That is, if the Yankees’ likely purpose in shopping Burnett is to trim payroll a bit so they can acquire an upgrade. Their reward in the trade is flexibility, rather than a player. That extra $6 million per season can go towards signing a free agent, especially from next year’s class, or acquiring a slightly higher priced starter.

If the Yankees do indeed trade Burnett, it will likely come after they acquire another starter. Trading him and then failing to acquire a starter would only deplete the depth they have built. Even then, the numerous complications with this deal could render it impossible to complete. The Yankees would have to eat far more than the $8 million they currently propose, and they’d have to accept almost nothing in return. Is that extra $6 million per year worth it to them? Or would they rather just hold onto Burnett and hope for the best? We likely won’t get an answer to that this week, since no acquisitions appear imminent. But we could get some action later this winter if any teams decide that they’d rather trade for Burnett than sign a scrapheap pitcher.

No baseball for old men

For the past few years, the Yankees haven’t exactly embraced the designated hitter position. In 2009, Hideki Matsui made 108 starts as the team’s primary designated hitter. In 2010, no one had more than 41 starts as DH, and this past year, Jorge Posada‘s 91 starts led the team as 10 other players also took their turns as the designated hitter.

This isn’t a new approach for the Yanks. As their core has gotten older, the club has embraced the idea of a rotating DH. Give one guy the bulk of the playing time, but keep the spot open to spell A-Rod, Jeter and even Teixeira and Granderson. It keeps everyone fresher, but on the flip side, it means more playing time for the likes of Eduardo Nunez. The Yanks are weakening their lineup without someone to fill the DH slot.

This winter, the Yanks are at a crossroads. They aren’t going to bring back Jorge Posada, and the market for DH types is thin. They could have explored bringing aboard an Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder type, but the Front Office feels that they have a fearsome enough offense without overspending for another first baseman. Plus, Jesus Montero lurks.

Once upon a time, I would have loved to see the Yankees pursue David Ortiz. Despite his generally whiny demeanor and the fact that he’s made a career out of beating the Yankees, Ortiz is a lefty power hitter custom built for Yankee Stadium. After a down year in 2009, he’s hit .290/.384/.542 with 61 home runs over the past two seasons. Even as he ages, he’s still an offensive force.

Yet, Ortiz has drawn nary a lick of interest. His signing would cost a team a draft pick, but I figured that an offensively-starved club — the Orioles, the Blue Jays, the Mariners — would eye Ortiz as a potential short-term solution. Instead, Big Papi is likely to accept arbitration from the Red Sox. Unless the two sides work out a longer solution, he’ll earn a small raise over his 2011 salary and stick with the Sox for another season. That is, frankly, one of the bigger surprises of the off-season.

For the Yanks’ one-time catcher, then, this Ortiz development isn’t a good sign. Jorge Posada is a few years older than Ortiz and isn’t quite the hitter any longer. He can still hit with some pop from the left side, and he doesn’t cost a draft pick. But teams don’t seem to be in the market for DH-only types right now. Rather, the DH slot is today reserved for those MLBers playing out the back ends of their long-term deals. It’s not really about finding a spot for a premiere offensive player who can’t field.

So as Ortiz stays with Boston and Posada rides off into the sunset, likely to scrounge up a Spring Training invite if he doesn’t just call it a career, the Yankees will head into 2012 with a youngster and a bunch of older guys as their designated hitters. Montero will get the chance to shine while A-Rod and his balky legs will need some rest. Jeter might DH a bit too as he nears his 38th birthday. This is what the DH has become, and it’s still far better than watching some pitchers attempt to bat.

Sweaty Freddy passes his physical, gets sweaty

Via David Waldstein, Freddy Garcia has passed his physical, so his new one-year deal worth $4M (plus incentives) could be made official any day now. The two sides are still working out some contract language, but I think that’s just code for “we don’t want to fill our last open 40-man roster spot before Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft.”

Physicals are usually routine, but they’re a little bit more than that when it comes to pitchers like Freddy, guys with major shoulder problems in the not-too-distant past.  That said, it’s not like Garcia’s going to unexpectedly lose his stuff all of a sudden — a la Javy Vazquez in the second half of 2010 — it’s pretty much all gone already.

Sherman: Yankees will watch Zumaya’s showcase next week

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees are one of about ten teams that will watch Joel Zumaya throw next week. He hasn’t pitched in nearly 18 months after fracturing his elbow during a pitch, an injury that required two surgeries. Zumaya is still only 27 years old and is about as good as bullpen reclamation projects get, but obviously it’s minor league contract for bust. There’s just no way they could guarantee him anything given all his health troubles.