Remembering the days of Jose Canseco

(Photo via AP)

As he is wont to do every now and then, Jose Canseco took to Twitter earlier this week to beg some Major League GMs for a job. The poster boy for the steroid age is a sprightly 47, but he still thinks both that he could handle Major League pitching and that he has been unfairly railroaded from the game for “exposing” baseball’s PED-filled underbelly.

Every time Canseco’s name comes up, I always flash back to the 2000 baseball season when Jose somehow ended up on the Yankees for two months. He got 137 plate appearances over 37 games and hit .243/.365/.432, good for a 103 OPS+ in an era of off-the-charts offense. He struck out in his one post-season at-bat during the World Series against the Mets, but he got a ring out of it. Needless to say, he did not return to the Bronx in 2001.

So how exactly did Canseco end up on the Yankees? It was, in fact, a calculated risk that turned into something of a mistake. We’ll get to that though. First, the club reaction. When the Yankees landed Canseco on a waiver claim from the Devil Rays in August of 2000, no one knew what to do with him. “I’m a little stunned,” Joe Torre said at the time. “I’m a little surprised. I don’t have an opinion one way or another.”

George Steinbrenner was less diplomatic. “I think they got caught up in something they didn’t think about,” he said, vaguely referring to his third-year GM, “but I’m behind my people. I’m totally supportive of what they did. I’m happy the man is coming here, and I’m hoping he does the job for me.”

The Boss later backed down and sided with his baseball people when Torre continued to question the move. “I want it made very clear that I support the decision of Brian Cashman 100 percent, and I’m very surprised by anyone who would be surprised by his aggressiveness,” he said. “Jose Canseco has been a very big contributor.”

As the story behind the claim played out, those watching the Yankees were skeptical. Jack Curry critiqued the deal as only Jack can. Canseco himself called his three months with the Yanks as “the worst time of my life.”

During the summer of 2000, we learned exactly what happened. The Yanks were concerned that the Blue Jays, just a few games behind them in the AL race, would pounce on Canseco via a trade, and they put a waiver claim in to attempt to claim him. No one else bit, and the Yanks ended up with Canseco. Brian Cashman refused to work out a deal with Tampa Bay GM Chuck LaMar, and LaMar simply let Canseco and the remaining $1 million on his deal go to New York.

The next year, as Canseco grumbled, Cashman defended his move. “There is no question he was a member of this team and he did contribute. We only won this division by two games, and while he may have played a small part, he definitely played a part and he contributed,” he said. Thus ended a strange, strange chapter in Yankee lore.

Open Thread: Hip Hip

As I said earlier, Joe Posada’s retirement press conference was nothing but first class today. The Yankees really did a wonderful job. The video above if Jorge’s statement on his retirement, but that was just a small part of the day. You can see basically the entire event — albeit broken up into small clips — at the YES Network’s site. Here’s the video archive.

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Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks, Rangers, Islanders, and Devils are all playing tonight, but Time Warner customers like myself are still without MSG. Anyway, talk about whatever you want here. Except politics, that always gets messy.

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.