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.

Can’t find a Betemit

(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty)

With the full 2011 starting nine returning in 2012, the Yankees have few holes to fill on the offensive side of the ledger. While many of us expect them to still add at least one pitcher via free agency or trade, the only jobs on the team that are actually open are the ones the Yankees generally spend the least amount of time on: the reserves.

However, the bench picture finally changed last offseason. After years of heading into a given season with whatever on the bench and waiting until the trade deadline to fill their needs, the Yankees went into 2011 having made what turned out to be two savvy veteran bench signings in Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez. As previously noted in this space, Jones had one of the best part-time seasons of any Yankee of the last 10 years, and we’ve heard all winter that the team is interested in another go-round. The Yankees have also expressed interest in bringing Chavez back as well, and while Chavez was an inspired pick-up, hitting .303/.410/.424 through May 5, his bat pretty much died after returning from his foot injury, with a .254/.295/.354 line over his final 139 PAs.

I’d be fine with giving Chavez another go of it, primarily due to how stellar his glovework has remained, but between his post-injury ineffectiveness and extreme brittleness, it could behoove the Yankees to pursue more of a sure thing (at least, offensively) for the backup infielder/Alex Rodriguez caddy role. Enter Wilson Betemit.

Now, for the record, I’m just as surprised as you are that I’m even considering a Betemit reunion with the Yankees. To put it gently, I was not exactly Betemit’s biggest fan during his brief pinstripe tenure, which saw him hit .226/.278/.417 (78 wRC+) in 92 PAs in half of the 2007 season, and .265/.289/.429 (84 wRC+) in 198 PAs in 2008, before Brian Cashman pulled off one of the more memorable swindles of all time in dumping the then-execrable Betemit for Nick Swisher prior to the 2009 season.

However, something bizarre happened after that deal. Despite being so bad as a White Sock (52 wRC+ in 50 April PAs) that he got demoted to AAA for the remainder of the 2009 season, he then hooked on with the Royals in 2010 and absolutely raked, putting up a .385 wOBA over 315 PAs. Betemit somehow completely defied his career-long ineffectiveness against lefties ( .299 wOBA, 79 wRC+) that season and put up a .402 wOBA against southpaws, against a .378 mark against righties.

In 2011, Betemit fell somewhat back down to earth, though still recording a respectable campaign as he split time with both the Royals and Yankee-beating Tigers in a season that saw him hit to a .340 wOBA (112 wRC+) in 359 PAs. Betemit also returned to his righty-hitting/useless-against-lefties ways, hitting northpaws to the tune of a 128 wRC+ and vanishing against lefties (64 wRC+).

Given his righty-mashing abilities (an area in which the Yankees could use a slight upgrade in), Betemit would seem to fit in seamlessly as the 2012 version of Eric Chavez, assuming that he’d be willing to sign as a reserve. For what it’s worth, Bill James forecasts more regression for Betemit in the form of a still-plenty-acceptable-for-a-reserve .331 wOBA, while SG’s CAIRO — typically far more pessimistic than James — actually likes him quite a bit more, at a .345 wOBA.

Of course, coming off two above-average campaigns likely means that some team out there may be willing to give Betemit a shot as their starting third baseman. However, it’s not entirely clear how any teams are viewing Betemit let alone what his status is, as there inexplicably doesn’t appear to be any information on the Internet regarding whether Detroit offered the Type B free agent arbitration and if so, whether Betemit planned to accept.

Any team considering Betemit no doubt knows that he’s a butcher with the glove, and so that could limit his starting opportunities and thusly perhaps make him a viable pursuit for the Yankees. I’ve been scouring the free agent ranks in hopes of finding potential diamonds-in-the-rough, but there really aren’t a ton of appealing options out there. As noted in that above-linked Jones post, I’ve endorsed the idea of pursuing free agent Reed Johnson or trading for the O’s Nolan Reimold should the Yankees not be able to come to an agreement with Andruw Jones, and other potential outfield options could include Johnny Gomes or maybe a trade for a different Oriole in Luke Scott, although the chances of dealing with Baltimore are quite slim.

As far as reserve infielders go, when you see names like Orlando Cabrera, Jerry Hairston Jr. (who actually would be a worthwhile pursuit, though it sounds like he may go back to Milwaukee), Edgar Renteria and Mark DeRosa, the idea of a reunion with Wilson Betemit becomes that much more appealing, so long as he’s forbidden from hitting from the right side. And the combination of the righty-bashing Betemit and lefty-smashing Jones would likely give the Yankees one of the more formidable benches in baseball.