Love me non-tender

Recycling headlines is usually a no-no, but that one Ben came up with was too good. Anyway, midnight tomorrow is the deadline for clubs to offer contracts to their players with fewer than six years of service time, better known as non-tender day. Matt at Fack Youk looked at the four players the Yankees might consider cutting loose, headlined by Chien-Ming Wang. I’m really on the fence about Chad Gaudin; he’s a very nice guy to have around for that swingman role, but a potential $3M salary ($4.2M in Yankee dollars because of the luxury tax) isn’t exactly cost effective.

Here’s MLBTR’s list of non-tender candidates, and there’s actually a few decent players out there. Here’s last year’s list of actual non-tenders for comparison. See anyone worth bringing in? I’m prepared to start a “Dioner Navarro for Backup Catcher” campaign if he gets cut loose.

The market for Harden, the market for Sheets

They Yankees could, if they were so inclined, enter the 2010 season without adding another starting pitcher. After bringing back Andy Pettitte, they have five starting pitchers in him, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Joba Chamberlain, and Phil Hughes. Since they continue to see Hughes and Chamberlain as starters, they might want to let both of them, entering their age-24 seasons, to start the season in the rotation. Yet both have struggled at times as starters, and the team might want to bring in a veteran to add some competition in Spring Training.

John Lackey sits atop the free agent market, and could be a potential solution. Even in years when he has missed time with injuries, as he has the past few years, he’s still thrown over 160 innings. He’d slot into the rotation behind Burnett, moving Pettitte to four and allowing for a competition between Hughes and Chamberlain for five. By adding Lackey, the Yankees would certainly bolster their rotation. But that doesn’t come without drawbacks.

While he probably won’t get it, Lackey wants more years and dollars than A.J. Burnett. No one gets more than they ask for, so we can expect Lackey’s price to drop, probably right into the Burnett range. That would represent the third long-term pitching contract the Yankees will have handed out in the past two off-seasons. I’m not sure they’re so inclined to do that, especially with a second pitcher who has shown something of an injury streak. And that’s before the payroll implications.

Another path the Yankees could explore is a high-risk starter — someone with a high ceiling but who has battled injury problems over the past few years. These pitchers will not command nearly the years or dollars of Lackey, so if they don’t fulfill their promise in 2010, teams aren’t on the hook for future years and dollars. The 2009-2010 free agent class features a number of these, though their numbers are already dwindling.

At the Winter Meetings on Wednesday, the Texas Rangers signed Rich Harden to a one-year, $7.5 million contract. It will pay him $6.5 million in 2010 with a chance to earn $3.5 million in incentives. The extra million comes as a buyout of a 2011 option of $11 million. Now that the first risky starter has dropped, perhaps the market will become more clear. That could be good for the Yankees, who have contacted Casey Close, agent for Ben Sheets (also, Derek Jeter). Harden’s deal might give them a better idea of what to expect from Sheets contract-wise.

For his part, Sheets doesn’t want to take a paycut from his 2008 salary, which was $12 million. It’s unlikely any team offers Sheets that much money guaranteed, but hey, he won’t get more than he asks for. That $12 million could provide a good basis for an incentive-laden contract, much like Harden’s.

The knock on Sheets is that he missed all of 2009 with a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow. It’s another in a long line of injuries, though he’s really had only one arm injury in the past, a shoulder issue that recurred not long after he returned from it. Even so, he might be less of an injury risk than Harden. Over the past three seasons (and remember, Sheets missed all of the last one), Sheets has pitched 339.2 innings. In that span, Harden threw 314.2 innings.

Chances are, it will take more than the Harden deal to acquire Sheets, but probably not much more. As ESPN’s Keith Law notes, “the year off may do him wonders, as he’s had a lot of non-arm injuries that have limited his workload for the past few years, and he was never terrible when pitching at less than 100 percent.” So how can we take that information, along with Harden’s contract, and make a fair proposal?

I’m sure Brian Cashman is on the case. Signing John Lackey will mean a huge commitment in years and dollars, and trading for Roy Halladay will mean a huge commitment in prospects (plus, possibly years and dollars). Sheets is a shorter-term option who has plenty of upside. More upside, probably, than Harden, if for no other reason than Sheets walks about half the batters Harden does. Would a one-year contract with $8 million guaranteed, plus incentives to push that around $12, $13 million, with a vesting option, work? Here’s to hoping. That would be a value on the free agent contract, and leave the Yanks a bit of flexibility to upgrade left field.

To trade or not to trade a spare outfielder

By the time Spring Training starts, odds are good that the Yanks will head into Tampa with five outfielders for four positions. Although Brett Gardner and Melky Cabrera are currently behind Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher on the Yanks’ depth charts, the team wants to bring Johnny Damon back at the best price and will look at Mike Cameron before the winter is out.

Therefore, the Yanks have a good problem to have: They have a trading chip. Either Brett Gardner or Melky Cabrera will draw interest from other clubs. The question, then, concerns the expendable one: Of Gardner or Cabrera, which one should the Yanks try to move?

Over the last four seasons, Yankee fans have grown quite familiar with Melky, for better or worse. As a 21-year-old in 2006, he inherited the starting left field job when Hideki Matsui went down with a wrist injury and was a pleasant surprise with the bat. He hit .280/.360/.391 with a 95 OPS+. While 2006 was a decent showing for Melky, the next two years would show him trending in the wrong direction. Over his next 1065 plate appearances, he hit .263/.316/.369 with just 16 home runs. With more Major League experience, he should have been getting better, but his only redeeming quality was his arm, and by the end of 2008, he had lost his starting job.

This year, facing some competition for his outfield spot, Melky seemed to turn it on early. He hit .285/.347/.439 in the first half with a few key clutch hits. He faded during the second half, but still managed to put up a 99 OPS+ season. For those of us in the anti-Melky camp, 2009 was a very pleasant surprise.

Still, we don’t know what to expect out of the youngster going forward. The 2010 season will be his age 25 year, and after 2148 Major League plate appearances, he has a career line of .269/.331/.385. He doesn’t have much speed or power but has a strong arm. He seems to be an ideal candidate for a fourth outfielder spot on a good team or a starting job on a lesser team but could still improve.

Then, we have Brett Gardner. A year older than Melky, the speedster has just 425 Major League plate appearances and three fewer years of service time. This year, Gardner hit .270/.345/.379. He covers a lot of ground in center field but doesn’t have Melky’s arm. He has a lot of speed but hasn’t gotten on base at a high enough clip at the Major League level to be a game-changer. We don’t know what Melky’s eventual ceiling will be, but Gardner’s may very well be what we saw this year. He’s a fast slap hitter, valuable as a late-game pinch runner but needs to find another 15 to 20 OBP points to stick.

And so the rumors. When Curtis Granderson arrived, many figured the Yanks would be able to trade one of their young center fielders. So far, rumor has it that both the Royals and White Sox have called to ask Brian Cashman about Gardner. Is the outfielder I find more expendable actually in greater demand than Melky? It would seem so.

Right now, we don’t have a sense of the potential returns. Maybe the Yanks could get Brian Bannister from the Royals, but then again, maybe he’ll be non-tendered today. The Yanks fleeced Ken Williams and the White Sox last year when they acquired Nick Swisher for a bunch of nothing. Could they do it again with Gardner? It’s nice to dream.

As it stands, the Yanks have the luxury of holding a strong hand made stronger by the Rule 5 arrival of Jamie Hoffmann. So far, Cashman has been able to capitalize on that advantage. Let’s see how he does now with a glut of young outfielders. If I were a betting man, I’d say we’ve seen the last of Gardner in pinstripes. But then again, if the Yanks sign another outfielder, Gardner may be more useful than Melky as a bench player. And so it goes.

Open Thread: Start spreading the news, I’m leaving today

In terms of Winter Meetings activity, I’m spoiled. This was my second year attending the event, and both years the Yankees made big moves. This doesn’t happen every year, nor does it happen for every team. I just got lucky, I suppose. The activity definitely made the trip to Indianapolis and the half-mile walks in the bitter cold and wind a bit more enjoyable.

By the time you read this, I’ll be back in the greatest city on earth. If you ever need a reason to further appreciate New York, spend a few days in Indianapolis. It’s not a bad place, but damn, it is not New York.

After a week of spending most of my time parked in the press room, I got to know a few people. I also have many people to thank. So here goes.

First, the readers. Holy crap, guys. Tuesday was our best day ever, over 70,000 page views — better than the day after the World Series. There are tons of Yankees sites out there, and we’re damn glad to have you as readers. If you guys ever need anything from us, our email addresses are in the sidebar. And we have that nifty tip box, too, which goes to all three of us.

As for the people in Indy, I’d really like to thank the Yanks beat writers who sat near me. This wasn’t by design, actually. I came in on the first day and found an ideal spot: kinda towards the front, straight on with the podium. It’s what Mike and I did last year, and it worked. As it turns out, three Yanks beat writers were a row behind me, and about 10 minutes after I got here another one sat down next to me.

The week was much more entertaining thanks to Marc Carig, Bryan Hoch, Chad Jennings, and Pete Caldera. They’re good, funny guys who made the stuffy press room a much better environment. Plus, now every time I hear someone say, “Oh really?” I’ll laugh a little. So thanks, guys, for not excluding me from the conversation when I butted in.

Also, because the Yanks crew wouldn’t let me into the meetings with Cash or the Pettitte and Granderson conference calls, I had to rely on them for quotes. I feel bad poaching them — trust me, if I could have been there recording them myself, I would have. So, in appreciation, here’s some link love.

You can read Bryan Hoch at Bombers Beat and follow him on Twitter: @BryanHoch.

You can read Marc Carig (even though he drinks sissy lattes from Starbucks) at The Star Ledger Yankees blog and follow him on Twitter: @Ledger_Yankees.

You can read Pete Caldera at Pinstripe Posts (though he hasn’t updated since October — come on, Pete!) and follow him on Twitter: @pcaldera.

You can read Chad Jennings at The LoHud Yankees Blog and follow him on Twitter: @LoHudYankees.

Then there are the online guys. Here’s a thanks to Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports, Maury Brown of The Biz of Baseball, and Keith Law of ESPN (who also has a great personal blog).

A huge thanks to Jon Lane, who edited my features at YES. He’s blogging over there, too, so check out his blog.

Finally, I can’t forget Bob Klapisch, who answered one of my emails four years ago and pretty much set me on this path. You can Read his Record columns or follow him on Twitter, @BobKlap. Thanks for the compliment, Bob.

The Winter Meetings might be over, but the Yanks aren’t done. Neither are we. Even when things slow down in January, we’ve got plenty of stuff planned. Again, if you have any suggestions, email us. And now, your open thread.

What went into the Granderson deal, plus Halladay

I’m finally home from Indianapolis. I’ve got a thread coming up later on thanking various folks, but for now, here are some things I worked on during the week, but didn’t make it on to First is a bit on the Granderson signing, starting with how long it took to develop. Then there’s a market for Halladay article. I think that if the Phils want him, the Phils have him, and that the Yanks present the next best opportunity for the Jays. The Angels? I have no idea why the rebuilding Jays would ever take Saunders and Aybar. None at all.

The Big Lead interviews Curtis Granderson

Barely 24 hours after the deal was made official, The Big Lead caught up with the newest Yankee for a short but sweet interview. Granderson talked about everything from his struggles against lefties to his Facebook page to where he’ll hit in the order to what number he’ll wear. If you have a minute, make sure you stop by and check it out. Good stuff.

Prospect Profile: Jamie Hoffmann

Jamie Hoffmann

Jamie Hoffmann | OF

Hoffmann was raised in New Ulm, Minnesota, which is about 100 miles southwest of Minneapolis. He starred in both baseball and hockey for New Ulm High, being named Minnesota Baseball Player of the Year as a junior and leading the school to the state championship as a senior. After playing in the United States Hockey League during the 2002-2003 season, the Carolina Hurricanes selected Hoffmann in the 8th round of the 2003 NHL Draft, however he went undrafted in baseball. He almost went to Colorado College to play hockey, but ended up signing with the Dodgers as an undrafted free agent in August of 2003.

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