Conference Call Notes: Patience

(AP Photo/John Marshall Mantel)

Brian Cashman‘s mantra has been patience since the day he took over full control of the baseball operations a few years ago, so it’s unsurprising that one of the first things out of his mouth during this afternoon’s conference calls with reporters was “Plan B is patience … First phase of this is prices go up because teams sense blood in the water. We will be patient.”

Even if you think the Yankees need to go out and make a trade for a starting pitcher as soon as possible, this quote shouldn’t surprise you. The last thing a general manager is going to do after losing out on a major free agent is come out an say “okay, I’m desperate, come out and take me to the cleaners in a trade.” They will assuredly explore other pitching options, but high end arms the caliber of Cliff Lee just aren’t available. Spare me your Felix Hernandez and Josh Johnson trade proposals, it’s not going to happen.

Here’s a round up of the conference call…

  • “He knows if he puts himself in play, we’d love to talk to him,” said Cashman when asked about Andy Pettitte, “but he’s got to go through that process.” Last we heard, the lefty was leaning towards retirement. Cash added losing out on Lee won’t change the way they pursue Pettitte. In other words, don’t expect them to pressure him into coming back.
  • “He had to make a very difficult personal decision and he’s made it now,” was the quote on Lee. “We’ll move forward. There’s more time left on the clock now.” Cashman did say he’s thankful for not going through with the trade for Lee back in July, presumably because gets to keep Jesus Montero. He added it would be “rare situation for me to include Montero in a deal,” not that I expected him to run out and try to pawn the team’s top prospect off for rotation help.
  • The Yankees received a short, simple call from Darek Braunecker last night informing them that Lee was going elsewhere, and Cashman’s next call after that was to Hal Steinbrenner. The lack of movement over the weekend indicated to them that he was going elsewhere.
  • “I don’t think we have a lot of holes,” said Cash. “[Filling holes] doesn’t have to happen in the winter time.” No, but it is fun to talk about. The Yanks have shown the ability to go out and make moves during the season to improve the team, and I see no reason why that wouldn’t continue going forward.
  • Is the rotation perfect? “No. Can it be improved upon? Yes.” Cashman went out of his way to say that the rotation is good as it is, assuming a rebound from A.J. Burnett and continued progression from Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova.

The RAB Radio Show: December 14, 2010

How many ways can you spend $23 million? Mike and I aren’t going to stop until we figure out every conceivable option. We’re talking about the available payroll and how the Yankees can use it to their advantage, absent a viable free agent option.

We’re also talking about the flexibility that Russell Martin brings and what he could mean for the 2011 team.

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Yanks have considerable room to maneuver

If losing out on Cliff Lee brought the Yankees one thing, it’s flexibility. They avoided a long-term contract that would have complicated payroll issues in the next few years. They also find themselves in a relatively favorable payroll situation heading into 2011. Here’s what it looks like right now:

If we add in $10 million, which is what Baseball-Reference estimates as the Yankees’ arbitration raises and reserve clause obligations, that puts them at around $181 million. Let’s bump that to $185 with the addition of Russell Martin. That leaves them quite the cushion should they target a higher priced player in a trade. That type of scenario usually works in the Yankees’ favor, since higher priced players usually don’t command as much of a return, in terms of prospects, as a more cost-controlled player

Still, this doesn’t mean that the Yankees will make a move. It simply means that they can. If they’re going to target a higher priced pitcher, they might not find much to their liking. Here is Cot’s list of highest paid players. Scroll down to the pitcher section and here’s what you’ll see.

1. Cliff Lee: Obviously no.
2. CC Sabathia: Already on the books.
3. Johan Santana: The Mets might want to get out from under that, but with shoulder issues and over $60 million remaining on the deal there’s no way this happens.
4. Roy Halladay: Not a chance.
5. Carlos Zambrano: He’ll be available, and he hasn’t known a pitching coach other than Larry Rothschild. Still, he’s signed for two more years and $35.875 more million. Pass.
6. Barry Zito: Didn’t even make the postseason roster. No way that contract is nearly worth the cost over the next three seasons.
7. Jake Peavy: He’ll miss the start of the season, and in any case he’s been hurt and inconsistent in the past few years.
8. A.J. Burnett: on the books.
9. John Lackey: Obviously.
10. Justin Verlander: Unavailable as unavailable gets.
11. Felix Hernandez: A pipe dream.
12. Derek Lowe: Two years and $30 million remaining for a guy who will be 38 this season. Pass and then pass again.
13. Roy Oswalt: Not available, I presume
14. Mark Buehrle: Mike discussed this yesterday.
15. Ryan Dempster: An interesting choice, but I doubt he’s available.
16. Chris Carpenter: The mystery pitcher lives.

It appears that while the Yankees will save money this off-season, that it won’t help them much. With the above information, it’s pretty clear that Andy Pettitte‘s return is the single best thing that can happen to the Yankees the rest of the off-season.

Yankees Agree to Terms with Russell Martin

Cross-posted from FanGraphs.

(Mark J. Terrill/AP)

When the Dodgers non-tendered Russell Martin, it was only a matter of time before some team took a flier on him. Three AL East teams, in fact, were reportedly seeking his services. This morning we learned that the Yankees have come out ahead.’s Alden Gonzalez reports that the Yankees have agreed to terms with Martin. His presence could drastically alter how the Yankees approach the next eight months.

Taking on Martin certainly represents a risk, or else the Dodgers would have tendered him at the deadline. After hitting at least .280 in each of his first three seasons, Martin has been around .250 in each of the past two. During that time he has seen a dip in his BABIP, but it hasn’t been drastic. What’s more troublesome is that he has experienced a significant power dip in the last two seasons.

Also of concern is Martin’s hip, which he fractured in early August. That ended his season at just 97 games. While hip injuries are always a concern — and the Yankees reportedly think his physical is a big deal — it did afford him a bit of rest. From 2007 to 2009 Martin starts 449 games, which is the most among the 85 players who were behind the plate for 90 percent of their games. The next closest are Brian McCann and Jason Kendal at 422. Martin had played in 97 of the team’s 107 games up to his injury in 2010 as well. Wear and tear is certainly a concern with him.

Even as his average and power declined, Martin still managed to produce more than 2 WAR in each of the past two seasons. That is in part due to his position, but is also due to his sustained walk rate. When Martin broke out in 2007 he walked in 10.8 percent of his plate appearances. He’s remained above that mark ever since, which has allowed him to keep his OBP at a respectable level. In 2009 his .352 OBP ranked sixth among catchers with at least 400 PA, and his .347 mark would have ranked eighth in 2010 had he qualified. Since his debut in 2006, the only catcher who has drawn more walks is Joe Mauer.

Martin can help the Yankees immediately this off-season. After losing out on Cliff Lee, the Yankees could turn to the trade market in search of a starter who can fortify the 2011 rotation. That will mean sacrificing a few of their prospects. Chief among them is Jesus Montero, a 21-year-old catching prospect who figures to rank among the game’s top five prospects. If the Yankees want to make a splash, especially for a pitcher such as Zack Greinke, they’ll need to offer Montero. Having Martin on board helps them do that.

If the Yankees prefer to retain Montero and see if he can develop behind the plate, Martin helps them do that, too. His presence allows them to start Montero in the minor leagues. That allows them a bit longer a period to assess the situation. If Montero continues to mash AAA pitching and shows semi-competent skills behind the plate, the Yankees can perhaps flip Martin, or else use him to help ease Montero into the starting role — in the same manner they eased in Jorge Posada with Joe Girardi in the late 90s. If Martin produces heavily, the Yankees could also be inclined to use Montero as a July trade chip.

Martin might represent a risk, but it is one that the Yankees are positioned to take. They have plenty of available money after losing out on Lee — perhaps up to $25 million — so they can afford to absorb Martin’s 2011 salary if he flames out. If he comes back to his 2009 and 2010 levels, they’ll at least have a catcher with a decent OBP who can help ease Montero into the role (if they don’t trade him first). If he rebounds to his 2007 and 2008 levels, the Yankees have an absolute steal. In any case, it was a good move for a team that has money to burn.

Thoughts on the Cliff Lee non-signing

See you in October, Cliff. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

When the news of Cliff Lee agreeing to a contract with the Phillies broke late last night, I was preoccupied by trying to get the site back online after yet another issue with our host. I was frustrated all night and didn’t know if it was because of the technical issues, Lee, or both. After a night of sleep, it’s easy to say it was both. But I digress.

There’s a lot running through my head right now about what losing out on Lee means for the Yankees going forward, so I’m just going to bullet point it because that seems easiest…

  • It’s obvious that the Yankees have long coveted Lee, even before the non-trade in July. They made him an extremely competitive offer to join a perennial contender, and Lee simply said no. There’s nothing more Brian Cashman and the rest of the front office could have done, he just said no. There’s no one to blame.
  • Part of me thinks that if the trade had gone through in July and Lee spent the second half of 2010 in New York that the odds of him signing long-term with the Yankees would have gone up astronomically, but we just don’t know if that’s true. He could have left for the Phillies anyway, in which case the Yanks would be out Jesus Montero (but potentially up on World Championship).
  • I said it yesterday and I believe it even more today: the Yankees absolutely can not run out and make a knee-jerk reaction trade for a pitcher just because they lost out on Lee. That’s only going to make matters worse. Prices are through the roof at the moment.
  • Please, let’s just give up on Joba Chamberlain the starter already. Yes, this is a perfect opportunity for them to move him back into the rotation, but they’ve been very clear about their intentions to keep him in the bullpen. It’s extremely likely that they just don’t think he can hold up under the starter’s workload.
  • Let’s cut the “we’re DOOMED!” crap. The roster as it is is probably a 90 win team, more if Pettitte returns. We all know that the team they have right now is not the team they’ll go into the 2011 postseason with. Just get in, anything can happen in a short series.
  • Joe will have more on the payroll a little later today, but the Yankees have something like $25-30MM burning a hole in their pocket right now, and that’s going to be spent somewhere. About half will go to Pettitte if he returns, and some of the remainder will probably go to Russell Martin and soon. I bet he’s signed within 48 hours, but then again I was optimistic about signing Lee at this time yesterday.
  • How about all that garbage about how Texas had an advantage because of their proximity to Lee’s home in Arkansas and the lack of income tax? The Rangers reportedly made the best (largest) offer, and he still said no. As usual, the impact of that stuff was over-reported and over-stated.
  • On the bright side, the Yankees will in all likelihood keep their first round pick (none of the four remaining Type-A’s fit), which means two top 50 picks and three top 80 picks in a stacked draft class. Silver lining.

So that’s it, there’s nothing you or I or the Yankees can do now. Lee is headed to Philadelphia, and the Yanks have to move on with their offseason. We should start to hear some rumors about potential pick-ups very soon, which should make for some good copy.

December bombshell: Lee signs with the Phillies

Right mound. Wrong team. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

After days of hand-wringing by fans of the Yankees and the Rangers, the Cliff Lee saga came to a stunning conclusion when the Philadelphia Phillies landed their once and future lefthander. According to reports, Lee will sign a five-year deal worth approximately $120 million guaranteed with a vesting option for a sixth year. The Yankees, for the first time since Greg Maddux signed with the Braves nearly 20 years ago, are left empty-handed as the Number One item on their Hot Stove wishlist slipped away to a mystery team.

For the Yankees, this shocking turn of events caps off a week and a half of rumors galore. The baseball world had held its breath over the weekend as Lee debated whether or not to take an offer to remain in Texas or join the Yanks. Still, rumblings of a mystery team would not die, and according to numerous reports, the Phillies leaped into the fray this weekend when Lee made it be known that he was itching to return to Philadelphia.

After all of the hours of silence and the countless cries of “what does it mean,” the Yankees are once again left Lee-less. Perhaps they dodged a bullet when the Mariners backed out of a trade that would have sent Jesus Montero to Seattle in exchange for Lee. Perhaps the Yanks would have gotten just four months of Lee and six years of pining for Montero. We’ll never know, and we’ll leave that hand-writing to the Rangers who got their first World Series appearance but gave up Justin Smoak in the process. They’re arguably worse off than the Yankees today.

For the Bombers, the only question that remains — and I say only heavily — is about the future. What comes next? Were the season to start tomorrow — and it does not — the rotation would feature CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett, Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova (if the club, as rumor has it, is intent on keeping Joba in the pen). Come Opening Day, that won’t be the rotation. The Yanks will court Andy Pettitte and hope that he has enough faith in his aging body to take the ball for another year.

But beyond Pettitte, what’s out there in the great unknown of the trade market? We saw the Blue Jays surrender Shawn Marcum for Brett Lawrie. So we know that trades can be made and pitchers acquired. We hear that the White Sox will shop Mark Buehrle, that the Cardinals may make some arms available, that Zack Greinke, despite the Yanks’ concerns about his mental make-up, can be had. We think the Marlins might part with Ricky Nolasco, and we don’t know about countless other pitchers. We know injuries guys like Brandon Webb remain available. We know that the Yanks have money and prospects. They can make a deal.

So we’ll lick our wounds and perhaps rock ourselves to sleep tonight. The Yanks and their millions rarely lose out. They offered Lee $148 million — six years at $22 million with a seventh year player option for $16 million — and club officials now believe Lee never wanted to come to New York. That’s the way the cookie crumbles. What happens next will be a test of GM Brian Cashman, and the 95-win Yanks who missed the World Series by two wins this year will be just fine by the time pitchers and catchers report. Lee will always be the one who got away.

Phillies making late push for Lee

As the mystery over the mystery team involved in the mysterious Cliff Lee sweepstakes boiled all day, we heard low-level rumors that the Phillies might be involved in the negotiations. This evening, Ken Rosenthal’s sources confirm that the Phillies are indeed involved in the bidding for Lee. Rosenthal’s source did say it would take ‚Äúnothing short of a miracle” for the team to fit Lee into their budget, but the club is “not out” of it yet.

It’s tough to say what’s going on here. The Phillies could be showing legitimate interest as they have contracts coming off the books, but the club isn’t going to match the seven years the Yankees have reportedly put on the table. This might be a move by Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker to push up the Yanks’ offer by $5-$10 million or it could be the Phillies’ salivating over a rotation of Halladay-Lee-Hamels-Oswalt in 2011. Either way, it appears as though this saga will last at least another night.

Update (9:26 p.m.): Jerry Crasnick has more on the Phillies, who, he says, jumped into the hunt “with fervor” after the Winter Meetings. The ESPN scribe’s sources say that Lee is close to a decision. It will all be over soon.

Update (9:51 p.m.): The YES Network’s own Jack Curry has jumped into the fray. He tweets that “there is a belief” that Lee will wind up with the Phillies. But here’s the rub: Lee will have to accept far fewer dollars and perhaps a shorter contract to sign with the Phillies. It’s all happening now.