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.

The Hiroki Kuroda Option

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The name Hiroki Kuroda is no stranger to these webpages. We spent quite a bit of time talking about him at the trade deadline a few months ago, but the Yankees have liked him long before that. They had interest in him when he hit trade waivers in August of 2010, then again after the season as a Cliff Lee backup plan. Kuroda agreed to re-sign with the Dodgers during the exclusive negotiating window, so he never actually hit the open market last winter.

This offseason, Kuroda is absolutely on the market. Despite his well-known affinity for Los Angeles, but the Dodgers opted to spread the wealth around and sign Juan Rivera, Mark Ellis, Adam Kennedy, Matt Treanor, and Chris Capuano rather than bring back their veteran right-hander. Kuroda is now a man without a home, though he is not a man without options. The Hiroshima Carp — his employer from 1997-2006 — have a standing offer on the table, and in a weak pitching market, big league clubs figure to line up with offers as well.

Ken Rosenthal reported over the weekend that Kuroda is willing to sign pretty much anywhere after the Capuano deal effectively ended his tenure in Chavez Ravine. He’s looking for $12-13M per year according to Buster Olney, which is essentially what he’s made in each of the last three seasons. When Edwin Jackson and Mark Buehrle are two of the three best pitchers on the free agent market, yeah, Kuroda starts to look real good at the price. Since he’s 36 years old (37 in February), it won’t have to be a long-term deal either, so that makes him even more desirable.

I broke down Kuroda’s game at the deadline, so there’s no sense in repeating it all again. Just click the link for a refresher. I will add one thing though; after posting a 50.7% ground ball rate from 2008-2010, Kuroda got a ground ball just 43.2% of the time in 2011. As a result, his homerun rate jumped from 0.73 HR/9 (8.4% HR/FB) from 2008-2010 to 1.07 HR/9 (11.3% HR/FB) in 2011. None of his other peripheral stats changed, he didn’t lose any velocity, didn’t drastically change his pitch usage … the number of fly balls just spiked. That can be a bit scary when you’re talking about a pitcher this age, especially one who had the comfort of pitching in the pitchers’ park in a pitchers’ league.

Ultimately, I think it’s going to come down to someone offering him a two-year deal. I’m certain there will be a ton of one-year offers out there, so it’ll probably be that guaranteed second year that puts someone over the top. The Red Sox had interest in Kuroda at the deadline and have again have interest in him this offseason, but apparently they’ll have to move some payroll around to make it work. Perhaps Bobby Valentine’s history in Japan will give them a leg up, who knows. The Rockies, Angels, and Diamondbacks have all expressed interest in Kuroda this winter, and those last two clubs are pretty damn close to Los Angeles.

We know the Yankees already have a lot of money tied up in their roster and aim to trim their 2014 payroll for luxury tax purposes, but it would be very tough for them to find another pitcher of Kuroda’s caliber on a short-term deal. I don’t love the idea of a two-year pact, not with the significant decrease in ground balls, but two years for Kuroda sounds a whole lot better than three years for Buehrle, four-plus years for either Jackson or C.J. Wilson, or a prospect package for one year of John Danks.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 5th, 2011

2011 Record: 97-65 (855 RS, 657 RA, 102-60 pythag. record), won AL East, lost to Tigers in ALDS

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Report: Yanks eying austerity budget for 2014

The Yankees, baseball’s biggest spenders for the better part of two decades, may finally be eying something of a budget, according to a report by Joel Sherman. In a piece on Sunday, the New York Post scribe says that Major League Baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement and the other 29 teams’ attempts at keeping the Yanks’ spending under control may finally pay off in 2014 as the New York front office wants to bring its payroll below the luxury tax threshold. If the Yanks are truly intent on reducing costs, the club will not overpay for long-term deals in the near future and may focus on ushering in a new round of young players instead.

Sherman, who noted that this drive toward fiscal control has them lukewarm on top free agent pitchers Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson, explained the rational behind the Yanks’ thinking:

As an organization, they are saying they are driven to have a payroll of $189 million or less in 2014 when that becomes the luxury tax threshold. Because the incentives that come via the new CBA are just too great for them to ignore.

For if they are at $189 million or less for the three seasons from 2014-16, they not only avoid paying one cent in luxury tax, which would rise to 50 percent for them as repeat offenders, but they also would get roughly $40 million in savings via the to-be-implemented market disqualification revenue sharing program. However, only teams under the luxury-tax threshold get reimbursed in this program, which is designed to prevent big markets such as Toronto and Washington from receiving revenue sharing dollars, which in turn will lower how much teams such as the Yanks pay (as long as they are under the threshold).

And even if they just went under $189 million for 2014 before going over again in 2015, the Yankees would receive serious benefits. They would get about $10 million in the revenue sharing disqualification program. Also, by simply going under the threshold once, the Yankees would go back to having a 17.5 percent tax rather than the 50 percent that begins in 2014 for them if they never go under. Keep in mind that since the luxury tax went to 40 percent for them in 2005, the Yankees have averaged paying $25.75 million in tax annually.

So what’s going on here? How could the Yankees, who enjoy the edge of money with their new stadium, TV deal and various other revenue sources, suddenly become fiscally conservative? There are, in effect, three answers. First, the Yankee sources who are talking to Joel Sherman are being truthful. The Yankees know what they stand to gain by getting their payroll under $189 million in 2014, and they think they have the young pieces to do so. Plus, as Sherman writes, the Yankees say, “The big-name guys are a waste of time. We are not spending that kind of money.”

Next, they could be bluffing. Maybe they’re playing coy now to make a bigger move later in the year. If any free agent player wants to come to New York but the Yanks don’t want to meet that player’s asking price, it’s in the club’s best interest to put forward a plausible explanation for future that is fiscally conservative. Maybe they want to go big on Yu Darvish or Yoenis Cespedes but do not want to overplay their hand now.

Third, they’re laying the groundwork now in order to play it coy next winter. Right now, they have $72 million tied up in three players in 2014 — A-Rod, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia. They know that they’ll have to deal with Robinson Cano‘s, Curtis Granderson‘s and Nick Swisher‘s free agencies within the next two offseasons, and they will likely want to retain two of those three if not all three. Plus, the free agent pitchers could include Matt Cain, Cole Hamels and Anibal Sanchez while Mariano Rivera‘s current deal — and perhaps his career — is set to end after 2012 as well. That’s a whole lotta holes the Yanks are going to have to fill with an eye toward the 2014 luxury tax benefits.

Ultimately, then, baseball’s long-term effort to rein in the Yanks’ spending may be coming to a head, at least temporarily. Baseball has incentivized the Yanks to drop their payroll under the luxury threshold for at least a season. In 2007, the Yanks spent $189 million and won 94 games. They’ve spent over $200 million every year since then and will likely do so again in 2012. Change may be on the horizon though, and if it comes, it could benefit the Yanks’ bottom line tremendously as they gear up for another half decade of exorbitant spending.