Bench will wait as Yanks focus on pitching

Still nothin'. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

I don’t know for sure, but I have to think Brian Cashman was the last General Manager to arrive at the Winter Meetings this year. He checked into the Hilton Anatole at about 4pm local time on Monday, a sign that GMs don’t need to huddle in one place to get things done and that the Yankees don’t have any pressing business at the moment. They’re not seriously engaged with any of the major free agents, at least not publicly, and the smaller stuff — meaning the bench and various depth players for Triple-A — will wait until later.

“The focus on the front of the winter has mostly been on higher end type things so that can reinforce our pitching,” said Cashman to reporters after arriving. “I have to watch our payroll, so I can’t spend a lot on the smaller stuff right now — even though they’re important players — that kind of restricts me from doing something that might come along that’s still a bit bigger, or a lot bigger. That’s why I’m making sure I exploit all the various potential pitching acquisitions, both on the free agent and trade market. When I get a strong enough feel for how that’s going to go or not go, then I’ll focus on the bench.”

Those hundred or so words boil down to “we’re going to keep our options open.” Andruw Jones is a great fit for the bench, but he’s also not the most irreplaceable player in the world. Rather than re-sign him for $3M or so right now, the Yankees are going to wait to see if a solution to their more pressing need — the rotation — comes along first. Once they get a little deeper into the offseason, they’ll figure out if Jones fits into their budget. He didn’t agree to terms with the Yankees until January 17th last winter following a 2010 season that was very similar to his 2011 season, so there’s no rush.

“I’m not down here to sit back and order room service for four days and be content,” added Cashman while continuing to acknowledge that he’s not optimistic about getting something done this week. “I’m going to keep trying, but I just don’t want to be stupid. Obviously if we do something, I want it to be something we feel really good about. I’m not going to do something just to do something because that’s what you do at this time of year.”

Not being optimistic about something and not being prepared are two totally different things. I don’t think the Yankees will get anything done down here, but if something worthwhile comes along, I believe they’re ready to pounce quickly. We’ve seen it in the recent past — most notably with the second Javy Vazquez trade and the Cliff Lee non-trade — the Yankees tend to take care of business very quickly. There aren’t weeks of rumors, these things happen overnight. The bench is important, but it can wait until the pitching picture clears up.

Eying a 42nd Street stadium once upon a time

Had the Yanks moved to the West Side, the skyline could have risen dramatically behind the center field wall. (Via StadiumPages.com)

In the eyes of the world, the Yankees and the Bronx go hand in hand. Since 1923, the Bombers have stood by the Bronx, sometimes tenuously, as the borough has been shaped and reshaped — by Robert Moses, by white flight, by riots and fire, by a recent renaissance. Although George Steinbrenner tried to move the Yanks to Manhattan or New Jersey, he never could escape the Bronx, and the Bronx has never escaped the Yanks either.

But what if the Yankees had never set foot in the Bronx in the first place? Up until 1923, after all, they were denizens of Manhattan, first at Hilltop Park at Broadway and 165th St and later the Polo Grounds. It wasn’t until the early 1920s that the Yankees’ owners knew they were heading to the Bronx, and shortly after Colonels Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston and Jacob Ruppert bought the team, the two eyed a Manhattan location.

In a 1915 letter recently placed up for auction and espied by The Post, Huston talks about his plans for a new stadium for the Yanks. The letter, which is basically a plea to AL President Ban Johnson to keep the Yanks afloat financially, discusses potential new stadium sites. “We have canvassed the feasibility of the 42nd Street site for a ballpark,” the colonel wrote. “Col. Ruppert and myself will be with the Club when it reaches Chicago, and we will be glad to discuss the subject with you then.”

I’ve tried to do some research into the history of Huston’s idea, but information is hard to find. Even as early as 1915, the Yankees were already eying the Bronx, according to contemporaneous reports. Even the upstart Federal League had hoped to move a franchise into the Bronx. Nary a mention of a Manhattan site could be had.

As a New York City history buff, I wanted to know where the Yanks would have played along 42nd St. By 1915, The Times had already moved to Longacre Square and had erected its namesake building while the New York Public Library had taken over the Croton Reservoir. Grand Central Terminal, of course, was already in place as well. So the Yanks could have set up shot on the East Side where the United Nations is today or along the West Side near the current entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel. Either way, the geography and orientation of one end of Manhattan would have been upended for all of history.

Imagining the Bronx without the Yanks and a Manhattan with them for eight decades is a tall order. The isle of Manhattan would have had significantly different transit patterns as a stadium along 42nd Street would have required train service to the edge of the city while development in the South Bronx would likely have taken a different path as well. Would the Dodgers have relocated to the Bronx instead of Los Angeles during their hunt for a new stadium? What would William Waldorf Astor had done with his lumber yard at 161st St. anyway?

Of course, the idea of a Manhattan stadium is one that kept finding ways to creep back into New York history. In the 1950s, the Dodgers flirted with the idea of a West Side stadium, and of course, the Yankees kept talking about moving to the 34th St. area. In the early 2000s, Mayor Bloomberg tried to promote a West Side stadium for the Jets as part of the city’s bid to win the 2012 Olympics.

But none of it came to pass. The Yanks found their home in the Bronx and never left. The Dodgers jetted west for Tinseltown while the 2012 Olympics bid died a glorious death. Even the Mets, once vaguely rumored to be eying the West Side as well, stayed put in Queens. A big stadium never came to 42nd Street, and Pete Siegel, owner of the auction house selling Huston’s letter, put it best: “It’s incredible to think what could have happened, how one paragraph in one letter could have changed the entire landscape of the city.”

UPDATE: Yankees are “clear frontrunners” for Yoenis Cespedes

Monday (9pm ET): Via Frankie Piliere, the Yankees are currently seen as the “clear frontrunners” for Cespedes. Brian Cashman told Jack Curry that he’s unlikely to make a big money pickup this winter, including international players, but he’d say that even if he had $100M in the 2012 budget to play with.

Saturday (2pm ET): Via Jon Paul Morosi, the Yankees are one of three teams that have shown the most interest in Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. The Tigers and Marlins are also in the mix. Cespedes has not yet established residency in the Dominican Republic or been declared a free agent by MLB, but Ken Rosenthal says that could happen as soon as next week.

By now you’ve heard all about the 26-year-old, who had a private workout for the Yankees in front of some serious front office firepower. The new collective bargaining agreement is a non-issue; Cespedes will be a true free agent and not subject to the international free agent spending cap. In an Insider-only piece at ESPN, Dan Szymborksi and his ZiPS system projects Cespedes to be a .265/.330/.435 hitter with about 20 homers and seven steals on an annual basis at the big league level, roughly equivalent to the 2011 version of Edwin Encarnacion.

Open Thread: Winter Meetings Day One

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The first day of the Winter Meetings was a pretty slow one, especially for the Yankees. Brian Cashman didn’t get into town until about 4pm local time, and even then there wasn’t much to report. The GM reiterated that he’s not optimistic about making a trade this week because he still feels the asking prices are too high. There are no free agent rumblings either, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; the only player the Yankees have signed to a big league contract on this date during their history is … (drum roll) …. Kyle Farnsworth. I think we all know how that movie ended.

Anyways, here is tonight’s open thread. The Chargers and Jaguars are you’re Monday Night Football Game (8:30pm ET on ESPN), plus the Rangers are in action as well. You can talk about anything you like here though, it’s all fair game.

Yankees make no moves prior to Rule 5 Draft roster deadline

Clubs had until 5pm ET today to set their 40-man rosters for the Rule 5 Draft, but the Yankees apparently did not make any moves. They have one open spot on their 40-man, meaning they will be able to select just one player in the Major League portion of Thursday’s draft. I’m hoping for Ryan Flaherty, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up. The Yankees took two players (Danny Turpen and Robert Fish) last year and one player (Jamie Hoffmann) the year before, but none of the three made it through Spring Training. The Yankees probably won’t make a selection this year, but even if they do, the player is unlikely to have any kind of impact.

The asking price for John Danks

Monday (5pm ET by Mike): Joel Sherman reports that the Yankees wouldn’t give up either Montero or Banuelos for Danks, but the ChiSox do like some other pieces in the Yankees farm system. If the price comes down, the two sides shouldn’t have much trouble finding a trade match if they’re so inclined. Interestingly enough, Sherman (as well as Sweeny Murti) also mentions that some in the organization believe Mason Williams is the team’s top prospect. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but it’s not a completely insane thought.

Sunday (3:45pm ET by Joe): The White Sox appear willing to trade left-handed hurler John Danks, but that doesn’t mean their asking price is reasonable. Late last week a report appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, in which a source described negotiations: “Kenny [Williams] asked for everyone on our roster in return.” Today ESPN’s Jayson Stark shares a similar tale from Yankeeland. “The Yankees, for example, have told other clubs that they were asked for both Jesus Montero and their top pitching prospect, Manny Banuelos.” Since it’s doubtful that the Yankees would trade even one of those players for Danks, who reaches free agency after next season, talks clearly haven’t progressed very far. We could, however, see the Sox come down into a more reasonable range this week at the Winter Meetings.

Jones still the best bet for Yanks

Word first surfaced last month that the Yankees are interested in bringing back Andruw Jones. With the bench and the rotation the only pressing items on Brian Cashman‘s Winter Meetings to-do list, the Jones issue figured to resurface. As if on cue, Jon Heyman this morning mentioned the Yankees’ interest in Jones. This hopefully portends a deal in Dallas.

Jones fits the Yankees needs well. With Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson in the outfield, a right-handed fourth outfielder makes the most sense. That is, if Joe Girardi is going to spell either one of them, he can do so against left-handed pitching and gain the platoon advantage at the same time. This works even better for Jones, who mashes lefties — in the last two seasons he has produced a .401 wOBA against left-handed pitching.

A look at other free agents yields few players at Jones’s level who would accept a part-time role. Mark DeRosa has been injured for almost all of the last two years, Ryan Ludwick has a reverse platoon split, Reed Johnson has trouble staying on the field, and Josh Willingham is likely seeking far more playing time. Those are only four examples, but they basically describe every other free agent on the market. Jones is the perfect fit: a bench player who can play passable defense while hitting left-handed pitching.

The only wrench in the plan could come from Jones’s desire for more playing time. There’s a chance that a lesser team could offer him the promise of more time in the outfield. Even the Red Sox could potentially offer him a decent amount of playing time, since their current outfield is all left-handed. Even if he enjoyed his time in New York, he could still yearn for the days when he roamed center field every day. While that would certainly be a corner spot in 2012, there’s a chance that some team could believe him valuable in a role that would get him 300-400 at-bats. With the Yankees it’s uncertain that he’d get even 250.

With an off-season that has moved slowly, a Jones signing would be a welcome sight. He’s not a key cog to the 2012 team, but he does fill a role that the Yankees need. There appears to be some level of mutual interest, so perhaps there’s hope of getting a deal done this week. With lefty-mashing fourth outfielder crossed off the list, the Yankees will have little left to accomplish this off-season.