Ichiro: I considered the Yankees

Ah, the what if’s of baseball. Those are the part, right? What if Torre hadn’t pulled the infield in the bottom of the 9th of game 7 of the 2001 World Series? What if Tony Clark’s ground-rule double over that pathetic short fence in Boston’s right field somehow stayed in play? What if Ichiro had forsaken the Mariners for the Yankees last year?

That’s right. You read that last one correctly. Last year, before re-signing with the Mariners, Ichiro considering leaving Seattle for the Yankees, a reporter in Japan reported today. That would have been some decision for the Yanks to make.

Ichiro eventually re-signed with the Mariners for $20 million, but could he have been on the Yankees? It’s a tough call. Heading into the spring, they had Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Bobby Abreu and Melky Cabrera all in need of outfield time. By the end of the year, of course, Matsui was DHing, Damon was in left and Melky had assumed the role of the starting centerfielder.

So a year ago, the Yanks probably would have passed on Ichiro. They just didn’t have had space for Ichiro and seemed to be entering what ended up being a one-year period of conservative-for-the-Yankees spending. Too bad.

Of course, if the Yanks had Ichiro right now, trading Melky would be even more of a no-brainer than we seem to think it is. But that’s always the joy of playing baseball’s What If game.

Yanks ‘reach out’ to David Riske

The Star Ledger is reporting that the Yankees have expressed their interest in right-handed reliever David Riske. Considering the state of the bullpen, I’m not surprised.

I’ve long thought that Riske would be a worthwhile pursuit. While relievers have a tendency for volatility, he’s been somewhat consistent since 2003, never having his ERA cross the 4.00 mark. Since his 2004 season with Cleveland, his WHIP has never crossed the 1.30 mark, either, so we could be looking at a decent reliever for a couple of years.

The problem: Scott Linebrink. He just signed a four-year deal worth $19 million, and the two match up well. If Riske is simply looking for the most money and doesn’t care about what team he plays for (which I would assume is true), his agent would have to be considered a complete failure if he doesn’t get something in that ballpark.

But, as we know, the Yankees are made of money. Do you make that kind of commitment for a relatively consistent reliever in Riske?

Late Edit: Riske is a Type B, so no draft picks are involved on the Yanks end.

Hat tip to My Baseball Bias.

Taking a flier on Prior

This has been a frequent topic of conversation among Mike, Ben, and me: Would you sign Mark Prior if he isn’t tendered by the Cubs? Well, that question might change to: Who would you trade for Mark Prior? According to Buster Olney, the Cubs are considering trade proposals for the 27-year-old righty, who is seeking a multi-year deal from the Cubbies, rather than having to face another year of arbitration.

Now, we know Prior has never been the same since 2003, a year in which he absolutely dominated: 245 strikeouts to 50 walks in 211.1 innings, plus a decently impressive postseason that year (though he walked far too many batters in that short span). Many attribute this to Dusty Baker’s gross misuse of Prior. Or it could be that he’s especially fragile.

Earlier this year, Prior had surgery on his ailing shoulder. According to Andrews, he “performed a debridement of Prior’s rotator cuff and repaired labral and capsular injuries in the shoulder.” Not sure exactly what that means, but from what I’ve gathered the surgery entailed fixing a lot of small, nagging things that could have been affecting Prior’s performance as long ago as 2004. That’s not to say that he’s been injured since then, but it’s a possibility.

So this leaves us with two questions. First, what’s the highest you’d bid for Prior? I’d be reluctant to go as high as Alan Horne, since we have no clue as to Prior’s current abilities. But I’d still be willing to enter negotiations in a prospective trade. You just can’t ignore the talent Prior possesses.

The other question is, what role would Prior fill? He’s still looking to be a starter, and he’d probably be most valuable in that role. However, there have to be concerns about his endurance, after having pitched just 210 innings over the past three years. He could be valuable as a swingman, taking starts from injured and/or ineffective players (Mussina), or giving the young guys some extra rest.

As always, the issue comes down to price. What would the Yankees be willing to give up, and what are the Cubs looking for in return? There are probably 15 to 20 teams at least marginally interested in Prior, and although I don’t envision a bidding war erupting, it’s possible that another team comes in with a slightly better offer and the other teams aren’t given a chance to modify theirs. So it could amount to a crapshoot.

I think he’s worth the risk. What about you?

Prospect love reaches new heights

Is Phil Hughes still a prospect or did his stellar September and inspiring October cure him of that tag? No matter; his name has popped up in many of the trade rumors this month, and Yankee fans are none too thrilled about that. One dedicated devotee to the House of Hughes has started a site aimed at keeping the youngster in the Bronx. So check out Save Phil Hughes. It is a worthy cause indeed.