Imagining Crawford and Lee on the payroll

As we learned this morning, the Yankees are talking to Carl Crawford. This shouldn’t strike us as surprising. All season long we heard how much the Yankees liked Crawford. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to sign him. Cliff Lee still appears to be the first priority, meaning Crawford is only a backup plan — and a tough backup plan at that, since it still leaves a hole in the rotation and a surplus in the outfield. Chances are the Yankees are just trying to drive up the price for other teams.

Still, it’s tough not to wonder what the Yankees would look like with Crawford in the outfield and Lee on the mound. In terms of baseball skill, they’d have to be the instant AL favorites. Yet we know the company line on payroll: it won’t rise significantly. The Yankees had about $209 million on the payroll last season ($214 million, per Cot’s, minus the $4 million for Igawa). They then added some salary at the deadline. So maybe, just maybe, we could see the payroll hit $215 million. Can the Yanks fit both Crawford and Lee under that cap?

As it stands, the team has $144 million committed. We can add another $15 million for Mariano Rivera, and we can presume $19 million for Jeter. That brings payroll to $178 million. What about arbitration raises? Baseball-Reference estimates it at just under $11 million, so let’s add that in. The Yanks are now at $189 million, with a few holes still to fill. Now comes the fun part. Let’s add in Lee at $23 million. Payroll would then be $212 million. That appears to be the limit, and that’s before they sign Pettitte. If they bring him back that’s another $12 million or so. In this scenario, the Yankees would have a payroll of nearly $225 million. What’s crazy is that I don’t see what they can do to get it much lower, short of abandoning their Lee pursuit.

At that point it’s tough to see the Yankees, even with all their riches, going any further. Even $225 million seems way above where they’re willing to go. I’d bet that they get that number lower by making a chunk out of Lee’s first-year salary and making it a signing bonus. Even then, payroll would still be over $214 million, and that’s without signing a single bench guy.

Adding Crawford to that might seem like a ton, but it wouldn’t come on its own. Chances are the Yankees would deal Swisher or Granderson in that case, which would knock $8 or $9 million off the salary. They’d probably have to take prospects in return, since adding a major league player would mean adding even more payroll. But signing Crawford and dealing Swisher would be a net add of around $9 million, bringing the total to $234 million. With a few signing bonus manipulations, which will only hurt future years, the Yanks might be able to get that in the $220 million range. Is that something they’re willing to do just in order to put together a behemoth 2011 team?

There might be something else at play here — for all we know, the Steinbrenners could be thinking about selling the team. The Yankees could also think that the added revenue from another long playoff run would help justify these contracts in the future. But given the information we have currently available, signing both Crawford and Lee is a long shot. Talent-wise I don’t think anyone would be against it. But that creates some difficult payroll situations in the future. Are the Yankees ready to start committing $225-plus million to the club every year in the future?

RAB Live Chat

The quick reference non-tender guide

A few dozen new players hit free agency yesterday, which has led many of our imaginations to run wild. Already we’ve received a number of emails about these names, some more common than others. To help answer all of these questions at once, I’ll run down some of the more prominent new free agents. If one of them is particularly interesting we might do a more elaborate write-up. But for now, here are the capsules.

Jeremy Accardo: A year after the Blue Jays acquired Accardo for Shea Hillenbrand, it appeared as though he might amount to something. Even though his 2.14 ERA looked like a fluke, a 3.48 FIP and 3.88 FIP represented encouragement. But he hasn’t been able to stay healthy since, and has pitched just 43.2 innings total in the last three seasons. On a minor league deal he’d be fine, but there are 29 other teams competing for that type of contract.

Willy Aybar: Before last season Aybar had been a decent hitting utility guy. This year he dropped off a bit. He can still take a walk, and I imagine that he didn’t completely lose his power at age 27. But he’s quite limited in what positions he can man, and so won’t do the Yankees any good as a utility guy. Those four bench spots are valuable, so I don’t think Aybar will get much of a look. (Add by Mike: I wrote about Aybar not too long ago).

Travis Buck: He had a quality rookie season in 2007, but since then he’s had trouble staying healthy and performing well. Again, on a minor league deal he’d be fine, but there’s plenty of competition for those.

Chris Carter: After ruining his career, the least the Yankees could do for Chris Carter is sign him to a contract.

(I’m making an inappropriate gesture right now.)

Ryan Church: He just hasn’t been the same since Jerry Manuel played him just two days after he suffered a concussion. That’s a shame, too, because he was a useful player before that.

Lance Cormier: You might recognize him from the 18 yearly games the Yankees play against the Rays. He spent a year with the Orioles, too. He walked more than he struck out this year, and he’s come close in many years past. He’s not that big an upgrade, if he’s an upgrade at all, over Sergio Mitre.

Jack Cust: If the Yankees want to get a lefty version of Marcus Thames, they could do worse than Cust. He’s an OBP machine, consistently walking in 15 percent or more of his plate appearances. The only problem is that he has lost considerable power during the past two seasons. He made up for it, in part, with a .272 batting average this year, by far the highest of his career. Unfortunately, that came on the power of a .387 BABIP, which he simply cannot maintain. I can see possibly adding him later in the winter as a bench bat, but I think the Yanks want a bit more versatile a player.

Manny Delcarmen: From potential closer on an NL team to a bust, Delcarmen doesn’t have much going for him right now. His strikeout rate has plummeted in the past two seasons, and there’s no telling if it will ever come back. I’m sure he can latch onto a second division team on a major league deal, so we can pretty much forget about him.

Matt Diaz: He’s a certified lefty masher, sure. But he’s coming off a poor season. Plus, fans of 29 other teams think he’d be a good fit as a platoon righty off the bench. The Yankees don’t need a fourth OF who can play CF, which makes life easier. That does open a spot for Diaz. He’s a possibility, unless he thinks he can play more elsewhere (which, of course, he probably can).

Josh Fields: The Yanks wouldn’t be interested I don’t think, but it’s interesting because of his former top prospect status.

Scott Hairston: Mike already wrote a comprehensive article on Scott Hairston.

J.P. Howell: He’s interesting because he’s a lefty reliever, but indications are that he’ll return to the Rays in 2011.

Joe Inglett: He’s a utility guy who can get on base at a decent clip, but he’s not enough of a bat for the Yanks to consider. Basically, utility guys who can’t play shortstop just don’t fit. He’ll probably be of more interest to a National League team anyway.

Bobby Jenks: There are a few teams that still need closers, and 29 other teams who don’t have Mariano Rivera closing games for them. Hence, Jenks will sign elsewhere. Another team might get a treat, as Jenks can still strike the crap out of opposing hitters.

Fred Lewis: If the Yanks want a defensive-minded outfielder for the bench, Lewis could be the man. He’s definitely better than Greg Golson.

Russell Martin: The Yankees nearly traded for him yesterday, so he’s a definite possibility. Adding him would change a lot of things this winter.

Andrew Miller: I suspect he’ll re-sign with Boston, but it would be nice to swipe him out from under the Sox after they traded for him just a month ago.

Hideki Okajima: Again, Mike covered Okajima yesterday.


Chien-Ming Wang: A minor league deal for old time’s sake? Doubtful, since the Yanks weren’t all that aggressive on him last winter and he didn’t throw a single pitch in 2010. I don’t think anyone would complain if the Yanks brought him back, though.

Mailbag: Webb, Rhodes, DH

This week’s edition of the RAB Mailbag features less gibberish than usual and queries about Brandon Webb, Arthur Rhodes, and the designated hitter spot. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to submit your questions at any time. Let’s get to it…

Carl asks: Wouldn’t it make sense for the Yankees to offer Brandon Webb a two year, incentive laden contract sort of how Jon Lieber’s was. That way he can take his time coming back this year, and be 100% next year. In that scenario he becomes insurance in case CC opts out.

The reports on Webb from Instructional League were not good at all, he was in the low-to-mid-80’s and was basically throwing junk. Remember, he’s missed what amounts to two full seasons because of a frayed labrum and a debridement in his shoulder, which is serious stuff. The odds of him turning back into the guy that was arguably the best pitcher in baseball from 2005 through 2009 are extremely small. I’m in favor of signing anyone to a low risk contract (i.e. short term, low base salary with incentives), though I would expect absolutely nothing out of Webb going forward.

Make sure you look at this from his point of view too, what is Webb looking for? He wants an opportunity to show he’s healthy and can be effective. He just spent two seasons on the shelf and is already 31, I doubt he wants to take his time coming back and then have to force his way into a contender’s rotation. I bet he signs a a one-year deal with a team that will put him in the Opening Day rotation no questions asked.

Dan asks: Is Arthur Rhodes a guy the Yankees will/should watch closely this offseason? Lefty Reliever, yeah he’s old but his last 3 seasons have been awesome, his groundball rate is great and he wouldn’t cost a draft pick. Perfect fit for the Yanks?

Nah, he’s on borrowed time right now. His 2010 season was good overall (3.24 FIP, held lefties to a .257 wOBA) but tremendously deceiving. Rhodes got taken deep three times by lefties after the end of June, and overall they hit .273/.298/.591 off him after June 26th. Unsurprisingly, he dealt with a foot injury (plantar fasciitis, which hurts like a bitch and doesn’t go away easily) in the second half. Rhodes is also 41 years old already and his stuff lost its luster as the season progressed, so there are red flags everywhere.

Someone’s absolutely going to overpay for that All Star appearance (probably the Reds), and I would rather it not be the Yankees. I think Keith Law put it best when he said Rhodes is “a bad month away from a forced retirement.” Given all of the lefty relief options on the market, they can afford to avoid to steer clear of this one.

Mark asks: Say Jorge retires or is strictly used as a back-up catcher in 2012. Any possibility that ARod becomes the permanent DH and Jeter moves to 3B? Could this be a scenario that is brought up during this year’s negotiations?

Sure, it’s possible, but I wouldn’t count on it. It would be rather foolish to move A-Rod off of third base in the fifth year of a ten-year deal, especially when it’s not absolutely necessary yet. They need to extract as much value of him as possible, which means leaving him in the field until he needs a Rascal Scooter.

I stand by my belief that Derek Jeter will be the shortstop for the Yankees until the end of the time he decides to hang ’em up, and I suspect he and his agent wants him to be paid as such. The Yankees could discuss a potential position change during this discussions, but I can’t imagine it’ll have any effect. And I also have zero expectation of Jeter going to the team and suggesting a position change until he becomes embarrassingly bad out there, and even then you’re probably pushing your luck.

Olney: Yankees are talking to Carl Crawford

Via Buster Olney, the Yankees are “very much engaged in discussions” with free agent outfield Carl Crawford, though it’s unclear if they’re looking at him in combination with Cliff Lee, or as an alternative to the lefty. I suspect it’s the latter, and they’re just covering all their bases. Should they miss out on Lee, they could attempt to sign the other CC and then deal one of their spare outfielders for a sorely needed starting pitcher.

It was pretty busy last night, so in case you missed it: Mariano Rivera is on the verge of re-signing for two-years and $30M, and the Yanks came dangerously close to trading Frankie Cervelli for the since non-tendered Russell Martin. That would have been awesome.

A deal that almost was: Cervelli for Martin

As we celebrate Mariano Rivera’s inevitable homecoming, here’s something juicy for your late-night dreams: The Yankees, reports Michael S. Schmidt of The Times, were on the verge of trading Francisco Cervelli to the Dodgers in exchange for Russell Martin. The Yankees and Dodgers exchanged medicals on Wednesday, but the deal seemed to slip away shortly before the non-tender deadline at midnight. The Dodgers eventually decided to drop Martin, and the Yanks could take a flier on him without surrendering Cervelli — my favorite Yankee punching bag.

Martin would be an intriguing addition to the Yanks. As a 24-year-old in 2007, he hit .293/.374/.469 with 19 home runs, but health problems have slowed him down of late. Due to an issue with his hip labrum, he played just 97 games in 2010 and hit only .248/.347/.332. Still, his walk rate has been above 10.8 percent for the past four years, and when healthy, he’s a very solid defensive catcher. He’d definitely be an upgrade over Cervelli, and he’s one upon whom the Yanks will probably keep an eye this month.

Welcome home, Mo

Via MLBTR, the Yankees will sign Mariano Rivera to a two year, $30 million contract (according to Christian Red of the Daily News). The deal isn’t official yet, but Red reports that it will be completed by Friday night.

The real interesting part of this is the following passage:

Thursday night, Rivera’s agent Fernando Cuza – who was one of the many guests at Red Sox slugger David Ortiz’s celebrity golf tournament kickoff dinner – had said the Yankees and Rivera’s camp were “a little far apart” on getting a new deal done for Rivera, and that “hopefully we’ll be able to work it out.” But within hours, a deal came together, perhaps expedited because Rivera had recently received a three-year deal and more money (believed to be in the neighborhood of $17 million per year) from another team, according to the source. The source added that Rivera wanted to maintain his ties to the only team he has ever played for, and went with less money and fewer years to continue wearing pinstripes.

The smart money is on Anaheim as the team that offered Rivera three years at $17 million each. Maybe it was serious, maybe it was a ploy to get the Yankees to up their bid. In either case, it didn’t work. Red’s source notes that, “[Rivera] wanted to stay loyal to the Yankees.”

Still, that does seem a bit fishy. To rephrase the above quote, the deal got done because another team offered Mo more money and more years than the Yankees were willing to offer, and Mo chose less money and fewer years. That doesn’t sound quite right. If the Yankees were willing to go 2/34, maybe I could see it. But 3/51 vs. 2/30? That just doesn’t add up. Maybe Mo really is just that loyal to the pinstripes. But before we make that determination, I’d like to hear someone else confirm the story — if for no other reason than my unfamiliarity with Red.

Maybe Mo taking the same average annual value with fewer years has inspired Derek Jeter. Shortly after the Mo news Broke, WFAN’s Sweeny Murti tweeted:

I’m told Yanks/Jeter have made “significant progress,” could have deal before WM begin. Yanks sticking to 3yr deal, possible 4th yr option.

It would be fitting if both Jeter and Mo came back at the same AAV as their previous contracts, but for a shorter term.

Update: Jon Heyman hears that it was the Red Sox who made the three-year offer in question, and that two other teams offered three years. That’s an, uh, interesting twist to the story.

Update 2: Per Heyman again, another team was the Angels. I knew it!