Yankees have “started talks” with Andruw Jones

Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees have “started talks” with Andruw Jones, but nothing is close right now. The standard Heyman-Boras client warning applies. We first heard of the team’s interest in Jones a few days ago, and he makes sense for the Marcus Thames role of a righty hitting outfielder/designated hitter. He’s also some halfway decent insurance in case Brett Gardner‘s wrist injury persists into the new season, since he can, you know, actually play the field on an everyday basis.

Open Thread: Fonsy’s birthday

"Damn, 35 already?" (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Happy birthday to former Yankee Alfonso Soriano. He turns 35 today. Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday that this wiry kid came up and starting hitting bombs? Hard to believe he’s that old already. Ben re-lived the Fonsy Experience a few nights ago, and while he never made the Yankees regret the A-Rod trade, he’s still had a long and productive career. Among the other players celebrating birthdays today, we’ve got Jon Lester (27, and I hate him because he’s so effing good), Eric Gagne (34, why didn’t the Yankees sign Rafael Soriano trade for Gagne?!?), and baseball’s biggest head, Kevin Mench (32).

Anyways, here is tonight’s open thread. The Nets, Rangers, and Knicks are all playing at different times (7:00, 8:30, and 10:30pm ET, respectively), plus the Cotton Bowl (LSU-Texas A&M) is on FOX at 8pm. One of these days they’ll get around to playing the National Championship game, maybe even before the spring semester starts. Talk about whatever, enjoy.

Photo of the Day: The Boss, in bronze

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

The Boss has been memorialized in bronze. As Neil Johnson of The Tampa Tribune reported this morning, a life-sized statue of George Steinbrenner now stands at the entrance of the stadium that bears his name at the team’s Spring Training complex down in Tampa. A formal dedication ceremony will take place on the morning of February 26 before the Yanks’ Grapefruit League home opener.

Standing on a three-ton polished granite base, the 600-pound bronze version of the Boss is wearing a suit and a 2009 World Championship ring, the last title the team won under his watch. Yankee Stadium plays host to a statue of George already, but he did a ton for the Tampa community. It’s only right for him to honored in his home town.

“I will not lose our No. 1 draft pick”

Via Chad Jennings, Brian Cashman said (very explicitly) that he will not forfeit the team’s first round draft choice to sign a free agent this afternoon. “I will not lose our No. 1 draft pick,” he said. “I would have for Cliff Lee. I won’t lose our No. 1 draft pick for anyone else.” There’s only two unsigned free agents that would cost a draft pick remaining (assuming Carl Pavano goes back to the Twins): Rafael Soriano and Grant Balfour. The latter was never going to happen, but conflicting reports have surfaced about the former in the last few days. Either way, I’m glad this is over with now. Time to move on.

Imagining Alomar on the Yankees

1996 ALCS Game 1. (Roberto Borea/AP)

In the early 90s the Yankees weren’t exactly a hot landing spot for free agents. The team tried to sign David Cone, Barry Bonds, and Greg Maddux, and all of them rejected the team. Maddux, most notably, took less money to pitch in Atlanta. But by 1995 the Yankees became a more attractive destination. They were the AL’s top team when baseball ended in 1994 and then made the playoffs in 1995. It was after that season that Roberto Alomar became a free agent. As Jon Lane of the YES Network reports, Alomar actually wanted to be a Yankee.

While the Yankees didn’t really need much more help at that time, adding Alomar would certainly have changed the team’s composition. We often remember that Mariano Duncan hit .340 that season, but often forget that he played in only 109 games. That year the Yankees’ second basemen ranked 18th (out of 28) in WAR. Duncan himself produced 2.2 WAR. Alomar produced 5.6 WAR. Where Alomar really might have made a difference was in 1997, when the Yankees ranked 25th out of 28 in WAR among second basemen — Luis Sojo, Rey Sanchez, Pat Kelly, Homer Bush, and Duncan combined for -0.5 WAR that season, while Alomar produced nearly 4 WAR.

Since Alomar signed a three-year deal with the Orioles, we can assume he would have done the same with the Yankees. That changes history again, as the Yankees traded for Chuck Knoblauch prior to the 1998 season. This was an excellent trade, of course, as Knoblauch upgraded the second base spot to 3.1 WAR. But Alomar was worth 4.1 WAR that year. He also would have saved the Yankees the prospects, which means they could have used Brian Buchanan, Christian Guzman, Eric Milton, and Danny Mota to acquire an upgrade at a different spot.

Why the deal never happened I’m not sure. Maybe it was a payroll thing. The Yankees led the league in payroll for 1996, and at the time they signed Duncan they still needed a couple of pitchers. Alomar’s three-year deal with the Orioles appears to have been worth around $17 million, including $4.2 million in 1996. Duncan’s two-year deal was worth under $2 million total. Since the Orioles had the second highest payroll of 1996, moving Alomar would have mean the Yankees outspend the next highest team by over $10 million. At the time it would have been by far the largest discrepancy between No. 1 and No. 2 in baseball history.

Who knows how baseball would have been altered if Alomar had signed with the Yankees. We can start with the Jeffrey Maier catch and work forward from there. Alomar certainly would have been a welcome addition to the Yankees, since he would have represented an upgrade in the three years he could have been part of the team. That’s not to lament them not signing him; there’s nothing to complain about when it comes to the late 90s. It’s just an interesting idea regarding a player who just received baseball’s highest honor.

Mailbag: Madson, Garza, Draft, NJ, Meche

Ah yes, the return of the regular old mailbag. We milked some questions for longer posts over the holidays, but here’s one of the old school, quick hits style mailbags that we’ve all grown to love. This week’s topics include a potential trade for Ryan Madson,  interest in Matt Garza, using Cliff Lee money on prospects, Nick Johnson‘s job prospects, Gil Meche, and book recommendations. If you want to send in a question, the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the way to go.

Changeup, strike three. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Steve asks: Do you think there’s a chance the Phils will trade Ryan Madson, say for Nunez & one of their young pitchers? This way if they can play Nunez at ss & trade Jimmy Rollins save around 12m.

No way. The Phillies are clearly going all in right now, as they should because the core of the team consists of players on the wrong side of 30 (Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, etc.), and they won’t be productive forever. Madson is arguably the best setup man in the game, and they sure as hell won’t trade Jimmy Rollins. He’s massively overrated but still a damn fine player, and who’s taking on that contract? I’d love to see Madson in pinstripes because he’s downright awesome, but it would take a lot more than Eduardo Nunez and a pitching prospect to even get their attention.

Tucker asks: If Matt Garza was in a different division, would the Yanks be all over him?

Yeah, probably. Young enough (27), cheap enough ($3.35M last year and is up for arbitration for the second time this winter), healthy enough (hasn’t missed a start since April of 2008), and effective enough (4.24 FIP last three years, identical to Gavin Floyd and Brett Myers). He’d be an ideal target, but I can’t see the Rays trading him within the division. Andrew Friedman’s been calling the shots in Tampa Bay since the end of the 2005 season, and he’s made exactly one three trades within the AL East: he acquired Chad Bradford and Gregg Zaun from the Orioles in separate deals, and he also dealt Nick Green to the Yankees. Just not gonna happen, not at a reasonable cost anyway.

Late update: Looks like Garza’s headed to the Cubbies.

Sam asks: Does any part of you wish that the Yanks would re-allocate some of the money they almost spent on Cliff Lee to trying to sign more high-end international guys/draft picks than they would have originally? I get that what they already spend is substantial but I would love to see them throw an extra 2-3 million into both budgets.

Of course, but as you said, they do spend a bunch of money as it is. You can always spend more, but eventually you’ll reach a point where you’re just throwing money away because the rate of return is so low. We can complain about a lot of things with the Yankees, but the farm system isn’t one of them. They know what they’re doing in that department these days.

Matt asks: Was looking back at the 2010 roster, and who the Yanks were getting rid of and keeping. One that I know won’t be back in Nick Johnson, but is there any clue where he would go ?

Reportedly, NJ is fully recovered from his latest wrist surgery and is working out twice a day down in Arizona. He was in the mix for Oakland’s designated hitter job at one point, but they’ve since signed Hideki Matsui. The Cubs were also in the mix before they signed Carlos Pena, but that’s pretty much it. We haven’t heard a peep about Johnson all offseason. Just look at how little activity there is in his MLBTR archive.

I don’t know where he could go next year now that most of the major free agent first baseman are off the board and teams in need of a DH will turn to Jim Thome or Manny Ramirez or Vlad Guerrero. Maybe the Rays? Twins? Angels? The Marlins are seeking a lefty hitting bat off the bench, and he played there for half-a-season, so maybe that fits. If he was willing to take one of those ever popular minor league “prove yourself in Spring Training” contract with a mid-summer opt out date, I’d be all over the guy. No risk with that type of contract, and it could end up having a high reward.

"I signed here because I want to win." (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Howard asks: It is pitching (of course) which we want to discuss—maybe a deal for Soria would be easier if we took Meche and his contract at the same time? Is Meche still a capable starter? And why do the Yankees insist on keeping Mr. Chamberlain in the bullpen? His performance as a starter was quite good when they let him pitch on regular rest.

Once upon a time, Meche tossed up two consecutive seasons of at least 210 innings pitched and a 3.82 FIP. Of course that was three years ago. He’s since been battling back and most notably shoulder injuries, and his performance has cratered: just a 5.03 FIP in 190.2 IP over the last two seasons. Meche finished the 2010 season as a reliever (and a pretty good one at that), and the decision has already been made by the Kansas City brain trust that he will return to that role next season. They don’t think he’s physically up to starting after missing 150 days with shoulder issues in the last two seasons.

So to answer the first question, no, he’s no longer a capable starter. With a $12M salary, he’s a deal breaker if the Royals want to try to lump him into any potential Soria trade. As for the second question, I don’t think any of us know why they insist on keeping Joba in the bullpen. I’m sure they have a very valid reason (Brian Cashman said something like “his stuff just isn’t the same as a starter,” but … duh), but we outsiders don’t know what it is. I’d love love love to see him given a chance to start again, but I’ve accepted that it just won’t happen. For shame.

Dan asks: After just finishing Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, which was brilliant I might add, can you suggest other books of the same quality? I know that these long, drawn out winter days make everyone a bit nostalgic. What better way to keep the flames burning then with a decent read through Yankee, or Baseball in general, history/insight? I know I’d love to get some suggestions from Yankee writers and fans on titles that are not to be missed.

I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know anything about it and can’t make any good recommendations. However, I’m sure some of our readers have, and I’m willing to bet they have some recommendations to offer. If you have one (or some), leave it in the comments.