It’s good to be Cliff Lee

Braunecker and A.J. at the 2005 Winter Meetings (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The winter meetings are just about six hours old now, and sadly the Yankees have yet to sign Cliff Lee. In fact, they haven’t even made an official offer yet. It’s okay though, because Jayson Stark says the Rangers haven’t either. Darek Braunecker, Lee’s agent, spoke to reporters for a few minutes in the lobby of The Dolphin not too long ago, and said that he is still trying to set up a schedule to meet with teams this week. “[It’s] too early to say,” said Braunecker when asked if his prized client would sign this week.

Lee is actually out on some deer hunting trip this week, but his agent will obviously keep him abreast of any major developments. Braunecker has all the leverage right now given the other (read: uninteresting) pitchers still available on the free agent market and he knows it, giving his approval of Jayson Werth’s monster deal and saying that it’s “good to be Cliff Lee.” He also emphasized that his client has proved “he can pitch anywhere,” which he has over the last two-plus seasons.

The slow-developing market for Lee isn’t terribly surprising, but as fans it’s rather annoying. We want some movement on this front and we want it now, but it’s in the best interests of Lee’s camp to be patient. Once Carl Pavano comes off the board the free agent pitching market will be simply atrocious, and the trade market doesn’t offer many alternatives. Shaun Marcum is a quality pitcher, no doubt, but the Brewers had to surrender their top prospect to acquire him. Quality pitching does not come cheaply, and for Lee the price will only go up the longer he waits.

I suspect that we’ll see some very serious progress with the former Cy Young Award winner this week, whether it be in the form of an offer or two or ten or an outright agreement. Remember, Braunecker is an agent and every single word that comes out of his mouth is carefully designed to benefit his client and nothing else. This thing will get settled soon enough, the Yankees will make sure of it.

Update: An of course two seconds after I post this Buster Olney reports that the Yankees will meet with Braunecker about Lee today. They also met with him in Arkansas last month, as you remember.

Orioles add a power/strikeout bat in Reynolds

While the Red Sox were officially announcing the addition of Adrian Gonzalez, the Orioles were busy putting the finishing touches on a trade for Diamondbacks third baseman Mark Reynolds. The deal is done except for the physicals, with Arizona receiving relievers David Hernandez and Kameron Mickolio in return. Reynolds has hit 76 homeruns over the last two seasons, but he’s also struck out in 40.3% of his at-bats during that time. In fact, he’s the only player in baseball history to strike out at least 200 times in a single season, and he’s done it every year since 2008. Baltimore added some much needed power to their lineup, and that’ll make life that much tougher on the Yankees.

Is it time for the Yankees to extend Swisher?

Swishalicious! (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Washington Nationals sent a bit of shock wave through the baseball community yesterday afternoon, announcing that they had signed outfielder Jayson Werth to a massive seven-year, $126M contract. Werth is undeniably a great player, but that contract is excessive. It (theoretically) set the market for Carl Crawford, and could have a trickle down effect on just about any upcoming free agent outfielder, such as one current Yankee.

Since coming to New York, Nick Swisher has posted the two of the best seasons of his career at 3.7 and 4.0 bWAR. He’s hit 58 homeruns in pinstripes, getting on base at a .365 clip with a .235 ISO. He also made his first All Star team, all for the bargain price of $12.05M ($5.3M in 2009, $6.75M in 2010). Swisher is due to become a free agent after the 2011 season, so I’m sure he and his agent are licking their chops are seeing Werth’s deal. Over the last two seasons, Werth has a .899 OPS, and Swisher’s is not to far off at .870.

To get an idea of what kind of contract Swisher could be in line to receive, we should dig up comparables. Using the great B-Ref Play Index to find players with similar production during their two seasons leading up to free agency (what have you done for me lately?), we get names like J.D. Drew, Bobby Abreu, Jason Bay, and Brian Giles. Drew signed with the Dodgers for five years and $55M. Abreu re-upped with the Phillies for 5/64, Bay got 4/66 from the Mets, and Giles got 3/30 from the Padres. The average of those four is ~4/54, or $13.5M per season. Swish generally lags a little bit behind those guys in HR, OPS+, and in some cases bWAR in the years before free agency, but at least we have an idea of what he could ask for. Frankly, $13.5M per year seems rather reasonable.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The Case For Extending Swisher

Making a case to sign Swish to a contract extension is rather easy. He’s very productive (between 3.7 and 4.0 fWAR in four of the last five years), extremely durable (he’s been on the disabled list once in his six full seasons, and it came five years ago), and still in the prime of his career (he turned 30 less than two weeks ago). He’s also a fan favorite. The Yankees could end up saving themselves a few bucks by signing him now and avoiding the unpredictability of the open market as well.

The Case Against

While 2011 is the final guaranteed year on Swisher’s contract ($9M salary), the Yankees do hold a club option for 2012 worth $10.25M. They could choose to buy him out for a million bucks, but at this point in time it would be an upset if they went that route. So in reality Swisher is two years away from free agency, when he’ll be 32 and approaching his decline phase. While his stock is at an all-time high right now, it could be on the way down 24 months from now. Not extending Swisher now would also give the Yanks some semblance of roster flexibility going forward since his trade value is at an all-time high as well.

The Verdict

The Yankee policy is to not negotiate with players (not to mention field and front office staff as well) until their contracts expire, so this entire post is more academic than anything. But just for the sake of argument, let’s assume the Yanks would be up to giving their rightfielder an extension.

I’m in the camp that thinks they should wait this one out and let Swish play out the final two years of his contract before worrying about an extension, and I love the guy. Like I said, they’d maintain some roster flexibility, which is extremely important with so many massive contracts. It also eliminates a ton of risk since they wouldn’t be locked in for the next five years if he declines or something. The Yankees can afford to pay him when he becomes a free agent in two years if they want to, and that’s the route they should go. The financial advantage allows them to wait and pay people later rather than have to gamble and pay them now.

Winter Meetings chat at 1 p.m.

I see no good reason to not do a chat, so we’ll set one up for this afternoon. Come back at 1 p.m and we’ll chat Yankees, Winter Meetings, Adrian Gonzalez, and just about anything else you can think of.

Steinbrenner, Martin not elected to Hall of Fame

George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin were not elected to the Hall of Fame by the Expansion Era Committee today. Both received less than eight votes, well below the dozen needed for enshrinement. Marvin Miller, father of the player’s union, fell one vote short.¬†Former Yankee exec Pat Gillick was the only candidate to be voted in.

Gillick, a current Phillies adivser, served as the Yanks’ scouting director in the mid-1970s. He was the architect behind the Blue Jays’ back-to-back World Series teams in the early 1990s. “We are thrilled to have Pat as the newest member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and we welcome him into the Hall of Fame family,” Hall of Fame Chairman of the Board Jane Forbes Clark said. “Pat’s consistent excellence as a talent evaluator and team builder has been evident at every step throughout his brilliant career, constructing three World Series champions with his teams making 11 postseason appearances.”

In early November, we considered Steinbrenner’s candidacy. While his impact on the game is undeniable, he remains a very controversial figure in baseball history. He was suspended twice from the game, spied on his players, did he best to wreck the Yankees in the 1980s and managed to change completely the financial structure of baseball. He’ll again be considered by the Expansion Era Committee again in 2013 for possible induction in 2014.

Yankees want to bring Aceves back on minor league deal, Rockies interested

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees are interested in bringing the recently non-tendered Al Aceves back on a minor league contract, though the Rockies are one team willing to give him a big league deal and a 40-man roster spot. Not only did Ace miss basically all of the 2010 season due to disc issues in his back, he recently had surgery to repair a broken collarbone suffered during a bike accident. The rehab from that will have him behind in Spring Training.

The Mexican Gangster was awesome in 2009, but his back is such a question mark that giving him a 40-man roster spot is pretty risky. I hope something gets worked out, but I fully expect him to bolt for a team willing to give him a big league deal.