An old friend lands in Oakland

While we waited out our server problems and the Cliff Lee news, the A’s picked up an old Yankee friend of ours. Hideki Matsui and Oakland came to terms on a one-year deal believed to be worth just south of $5 million. He’ll be introduced at the Coliseum later today.

Matsui left New York after winning the 2009 World Series MVP, and he turned in a solid 1.9-win season for the Angels last year. He hit .274/.361/.459 with 21 home runs in 554 plate appearances and even managed to survive 123 innings in left field. While the signing could be a good one for the A’s, Matsui is moving to a home stadium where left-handed batters hit just .241/.325/.349 with just 32 home runs in 2549 plate appearances last year. Playing out his age 37 season in a pitcher’s park, Matsui could very well see his production fall off the table in 2011. Buyer beware.

Open Thread: Priorities

Cliff Lee apparently enjoyed his time in Philly. May we never post a picture of him again. (AP/Matt Slocum)

In a post on MLB Trade Rumors this morning, Tim Dierkes made an excellent point about what we learned from the Cliff Lee signing:

“It’s unfair to make assumptions about a player’s priorities.”

We sometimes take for granted that a player will go wherever the money leads him — well, at least Jason does. But sometimes there’s more at play than a 9 percent difference in salary, even if that 9 percent amounts to $13 million. Lee had his destination in mind, and he apparently made that his first priority.*

*To an extent, of course. There was word that a seven-year offer would have kept him in Texas.

When you’re looking at a baseball free agent, there are a few basic factors to consider: 1) Team/chances of winning, 2) money, 3) location. There are more, I’m sure, and No. 3 is somewhat tied to No. 1. But I want to see how everyone rates these in their minds. If you were a premier free agent, how would you weigh offers?

I’d really like to say that chances of winning come first, followed by money and then location. But I’m in no position to make such a judgement, since I have a hard time imagining millions being thrown my way. Would I be able to take a little less to play in a place that will give me the greatest satisfaction? Or would I succumb to the extra dollars? For now I’m sticking to my story. But I’m sure I would reconsider if I ever found myself in Lee’s situation.

So we’ll start with that question for the open thread. And then we’ll move on to everything else we like to discuss in these things.

Yankees sign Mark Prior

The one that got away has finally come home. The Yankees took Mark Prior with the 43rd pick of the 1998 draft, but he decided to attend college at USC instead. Three years later he was the consensus top talent in the draft, and after the Twins took Joe Mauer with the first pick the Cubs selected Prior. His career is well known from there, starting with dominance and seemingly ending with injury. Last week we heard that the Yankees and the Rangeres were looking at him on a minor league deal. Now ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the Yankees have indeed signed him. There’s no risk to the move, though there’s also little upside. Prior is now 30 and hasn’t thrown in the majors since 2006. Since then he has thrown just one minor league inning, and that came last year for Texas’s AAA affiliate.

On the RAB Radio Show today Mike and I talked about taking as many chances as possible on guys coming off injuries. We wholeheartedly support this move.

Update by Mike (6:35pm): If Prior makes the team, he’ll earn $750,000 with the potential to double it in incentives. Chump change.

Conference Call Notes: Patience

(AP Photo/John Marshall Mantel)

Brian Cashman‘s mantra has been patience since the day he took over full control of the baseball operations a few years ago, so it’s unsurprising that one of the first things out of his mouth during this afternoon’s conference calls with reporters was “Plan B is patience … First phase of this is prices go up because teams sense blood in the water. We will be patient.”

Even if you think the Yankees need to go out and make a trade for a starting pitcher as soon as possible, this quote shouldn’t surprise you. The last thing a general manager is going to do after losing out on a major free agent is come out an say “okay, I’m desperate, come out and take me to the cleaners in a trade.” They will assuredly explore other pitching options, but high end arms the caliber of Cliff Lee just aren’t available. Spare me your Felix Hernandez and Josh Johnson trade proposals, it’s not going to happen.

Here’s a round up of the conference call…

  • “He knows if he puts himself in play, we’d love to talk to him,” said Cashman when asked about Andy Pettitte, “but he’s got to go through that process.” Last we heard, the lefty was leaning towards retirement. Cash added losing out on Lee won’t change the way they pursue Pettitte. In other words, don’t expect them to pressure him into coming back.
  • “He had to make a very difficult personal decision and he’s made it now,” was the quote on Lee. “We’ll move forward. There’s more time left on the clock now.” Cashman did say he’s thankful for not going through with the trade for Lee back in July, presumably because gets to keep Jesus Montero. He added it would be “rare situation for me to include Montero in a deal,” not that I expected him to run out and try to pawn the team’s top prospect off for rotation help.
  • The Yankees received a short, simple call from Darek Braunecker last night informing them that Lee was going elsewhere, and Cashman’s next call after that was to Hal Steinbrenner. The lack of movement over the weekend indicated to them that he was going elsewhere.
  • “I don’t think we have a lot of holes,” said Cash. “[Filling holes] doesn’t have to happen in the winter time.” No, but it is fun to talk about. The Yanks have shown the ability to go out and make moves during the season to improve the team, and I see no reason why that wouldn’t continue going forward.
  • Is the rotation perfect? “No. Can it be improved upon? Yes.” Cashman went out of his way to say that the rotation is good as it is, assuming a rebound from A.J. Burnett and continued progression from Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova.

The RAB Radio Show: December 14, 2010

How many ways can you spend $23 million? Mike and I aren’t going to stop until we figure out every conceivable option. We’re talking about the available payroll and how the Yankees can use it to their advantage, absent a viable free agent option.

We’re also talking about the flexibility that Russell Martin brings and what he could mean for the 2011 team.

Podcast run time:

Here’s how you can listen to podcast 40:18

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Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

Yanks have considerable room to maneuver

If losing out on Cliff Lee brought the Yankees one thing, it’s flexibility. They avoided a long-term contract that would have complicated payroll issues in the next few years. They also find themselves in a relatively favorable payroll situation heading into 2011. Here’s what it looks like right now:

If we add in $10 million, which is what Baseball-Reference estimates as the Yankees’ arbitration raises and reserve clause obligations, that puts them at around $181 million. Let’s bump that to $185 with the addition of Russell Martin. That leaves them quite the cushion should they target a higher priced player in a trade. That type of scenario usually works in the Yankees’ favor, since higher priced players usually don’t command as much of a return, in terms of prospects, as a more cost-controlled player

Still, this doesn’t mean that the Yankees will make a move. It simply means that they can. If they’re going to target a higher priced pitcher, they might not find much to their liking. Here is Cot’s list of highest paid players. Scroll down to the pitcher section and here’s what you’ll see.

1. Cliff Lee: Obviously no.
2. CC Sabathia: Already on the books.
3. Johan Santana: The Mets might want to get out from under that, but with shoulder issues and over $60 million remaining on the deal there’s no way this happens.
4. Roy Halladay: Not a chance.
5. Carlos Zambrano: He’ll be available, and he hasn’t known a pitching coach other than Larry Rothschild. Still, he’s signed for two more years and $35.875 more million. Pass.
6. Barry Zito: Didn’t even make the postseason roster. No way that contract is nearly worth the cost over the next three seasons.
7. Jake Peavy: He’ll miss the start of the season, and in any case he’s been hurt and inconsistent in the past few years.
8. A.J. Burnett: on the books.
9. John Lackey: Obviously.
10. Justin Verlander: Unavailable as unavailable gets.
11. Felix Hernandez: A pipe dream.
12. Derek Lowe: Two years and $30 million remaining for a guy who will be 38 this season. Pass and then pass again.
13. Roy Oswalt: Not available, I presume
14. Mark Buehrle: Mike discussed this yesterday.
15. Ryan Dempster: An interesting choice, but I doubt he’s available.
16. Chris Carpenter: The mystery pitcher lives.

It appears that while the Yankees will save money this off-season, that it won’t help them much. With the above information, it’s pretty clear that Andy Pettitte‘s return is the single best thing that can happen to the Yankees the rest of the off-season.

Yankees Agree to Terms with Russell Martin

Cross-posted from FanGraphs.

(Mark J. Terrill/AP)

When the Dodgers non-tendered Russell Martin, it was only a matter of time before some team took a flier on him. Three AL East teams, in fact, were reportedly seeking his services. This morning we learned that the Yankees have come out ahead.’s Alden Gonzalez reports that the Yankees have agreed to terms with Martin. His presence could drastically alter how the Yankees approach the next eight months.

Taking on Martin certainly represents a risk, or else the Dodgers would have tendered him at the deadline. After hitting at least .280 in each of his first three seasons, Martin has been around .250 in each of the past two. During that time he has seen a dip in his BABIP, but it hasn’t been drastic. What’s more troublesome is that he has experienced a significant power dip in the last two seasons.

Also of concern is Martin’s hip, which he fractured in early August. That ended his season at just 97 games. While hip injuries are always a concern — and the Yankees reportedly think his physical is a big deal — it did afford him a bit of rest. From 2007 to 2009 Martin starts 449 games, which is the most among the 85 players who were behind the plate for 90 percent of their games. The next closest are Brian McCann and Jason Kendal at 422. Martin had played in 97 of the team’s 107 games up to his injury in 2010 as well. Wear and tear is certainly a concern with him.

Even as his average and power declined, Martin still managed to produce more than 2 WAR in each of the past two seasons. That is in part due to his position, but is also due to his sustained walk rate. When Martin broke out in 2007 he walked in 10.8 percent of his plate appearances. He’s remained above that mark ever since, which has allowed him to keep his OBP at a respectable level. In 2009 his .352 OBP ranked sixth among catchers with at least 400 PA, and his .347 mark would have ranked eighth in 2010 had he qualified. Since his debut in 2006, the only catcher who has drawn more walks is Joe Mauer.

Martin can help the Yankees immediately this off-season. After losing out on Cliff Lee, the Yankees could turn to the trade market in search of a starter who can fortify the 2011 rotation. That will mean sacrificing a few of their prospects. Chief among them is Jesus Montero, a 21-year-old catching prospect who figures to rank among the game’s top five prospects. If the Yankees want to make a splash, especially for a pitcher such as Zack Greinke, they’ll need to offer Montero. Having Martin on board helps them do that.

If the Yankees prefer to retain Montero and see if he can develop behind the plate, Martin helps them do that, too. His presence allows them to start Montero in the minor leagues. That allows them a bit longer a period to assess the situation. If Montero continues to mash AAA pitching and shows semi-competent skills behind the plate, the Yankees can perhaps flip Martin, or else use him to help ease Montero into the starting role — in the same manner they eased in Jorge Posada with Joe Girardi in the late 90s. If Martin produces heavily, the Yankees could also be inclined to use Montero as a July trade chip.

Martin might represent a risk, but it is one that the Yankees are positioned to take. They have plenty of available money after losing out on Lee — perhaps up to $25 million — so they can afford to absorb Martin’s 2011 salary if he flames out. If he comes back to his 2009 and 2010 levels, they’ll at least have a catcher with a decent OBP who can help ease Montero into the role (if they don’t trade him first). If he rebounds to his 2007 and 2008 levels, the Yankees have an absolute steal. In any case, it was a good move for a team that has money to burn.