Archive for 2012 Winter Meetings
Obviously the Alex Rodriguez injury was the major story in Yankeeland this week, but their seemingly half-hearted pursuits of various free agents (Jeff Keppinger, Eric Chavez, Nate Schierholtz specifically) makes you wonder what exactly is going on in the front office. Were they unprepared for the market inflation? Is ownership scaling back spending that much already? Is something else going on? I have no idea. Anyway, some quick thoughts…
1. The Yankees made a very strong bid for Kevin Youkilis yesterday and it seems like he’s deciding between that and a reunion with Terry Francona in Cleveland (on a two-year contract). He’s a flawed but fine stopgap option at the hot corner, though I do believe he carries an awful lot of risk given his declining performance and injury problems. The Yankees will need a backup backup third baseman in Triple-A to help cover during the inevitable DL stint. I suppose Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez fill that role. If the deal does get done, I think it’ll be much weirder seeing Youkilis in pinstripes than it was Johnny Damon in 2006. Youk is a Red Sox lifer.
2. The current catcher situation really scares me. Brian Cashman continues to insist they’re likely to go with internal options following Russell Martin‘s defection to the Pirates, but that could easily be GM speak. It’s not often you see a team with a well-below-average hitting catcher make it to the World Series, nevermind win the whole thing. Strength up the middle on the position player side is very important and I hate to see them punt such an important position. At the same time … what are the alternatives? There’s A.J. Pierzynski (who the Yankees may not be able to afford) and that’s it.
3. This report about Cashman having to get together with ownership before making any offers is just weird. Supposedly he had more authority in the past — I’m sure he still had to check with ownership for major contracts, but one-year nothings like Chavez and Schierholtz were probably at his discretion. I don’t know that for certain, obviously. Just a guess — but it was stripped for at least a week. The most important week of the offseason, for all intents and purposes. I don’t know what else to say about the whole thing other than it’s just weird. I can’t imagine Cashman is happy about having his authority scaled back after being on the job so long.
The loss of Alex Rodriguez to a left hip injury has turned a needy yet straight-forward offseason into a chaotic mess that has left the Yankees scrambling for solutions at four everyday positions. We already knew they needed a right fielder, a catcher, and a DH, but adding a third baseman on top of it while trying to avoid spending precious 2014 dollars could prove to be impossible. The way I see it, the Yankees are going to wind up plugging their third base hole in one of four ways. Let’s break each of ‘em down.
The Trade Market
Trading for help on the left side of the infield is tough these days, especially since the Padres have said they will not move Chase Headley following his monster year. Even if they were open to it, I don’t think the Yankees have the pieces to acquire him unless San Diego is open to taking a bunch of Single-A outfielders. We do know this much: teams have been calling Brian Cashman in an attempt to take advantage of the team’s situation following A-Rod‘s injury.
“I’ve had a few of maybe the names I wouldn’t have thought of – lesser names that I wouldn’t have an interest in – volunteer their services for that position,” said Cashman on Tuesday. “I’ve had some people suggest, ‘Hey, my guy who plays second base, he can swing over to play third.’ That type if stuff. I don’t have an interest in stuff like that … I did have one (ridiculous trade offer), which I assume has everything to do with (A-Rod’s injury). I’m no longer talking to that club.”
Potentially available trade targets could be guys like Chris Johnson (now that Eric Chavez signed with the Diamondbacks), Jamey Carroll, Chris Nelson with the Rockies, and I suppose Juan Francisco with the Braves. All flawed in their own way, but they are guys who could help weather the storm early next season without costing an arm and a leg to acquire. They can’t all be Mike Olt.
Mark Reynolds & Kevin Youkilis
Of the remaining free agent third base options, these two right-handed hitters stand out as the best. They both have their strengths and weaknesses — I recently wrote a Scouting The Market post for both players (Reynolds, Youkilis), so I’ll just refer you back to them for the specifics — and reports indicate that both are willing to take a one-year contract. That’s pretty important to the Yankees these days. If they’re willing to spend premium dollars for a solution at the hot corner, one of these two is their guy.
The Scrap Heap
The free agent third base market is funny. There was no true top tier this offseason, no Adrian Beltre or Aramis Ramirez types, so Reynolds and Youkilis are tier one. The guys who usually make up tiers three and four are tier two this winter by default. It’s pretty grim. I’m talking about guys like Jack Hannahan (brilliant defender, can’t hit), Alex Gonzalez (coming off knee surgery), Scott Rolen (probably going to retire), Placido Polanco (bad back), Casey McGehee (been there, done that), and Chone Figgins (lolnope). The crop of minor league free agent third basemen (Josh Bell? Ruben Gotay? Andy LaRoche?) isn’t all that inspiring either.
The Yankees do not have a high-end, or even just a solid third base prospect on the cusp of the big leagues. David Adams most closely qualifies as one of those and he has played a whopping 37 games at the hot corner in his career. Corban Joseph has played 43 career games at third but he’s nothing more than an emergency option at the position because he doesn’t have the arm for it. Eduardo Nunez has the tools — arm strength and first-step quickness — for third base but just can’t seem to do anything right defensively. With the Yankees saying they want to keep him at shortstop, it appears as though he’s a last resort option at third.
I do wonder if the combination of A-Rod’s continued breakdown and Dante Bichette Jr.’s miserable season will make the Yankees consider moving Tyler Austin back to third base. He was drafted as a catcher and moved to third immediately as a pro, but this season the team shifted him to right field in part due to the presence of Bichette at the same level. Austin has the bat for any position and if he can handle the hot corner defensively, it’s something they should seriously consider. At the same time, there’s no much going right with Austin that you don’t want to screw it up by having him change positions yet again.
If the Yankees were to go with an internal option, Adams is probably the team’s best hope for a league average (or even just slightly below) performance next season. I’m not very confident he could skip over Triple-A and do it, but I guess stranger things have happened. And who knows, maybe Adams surprises and hits well enough that he makes the team think twice before dropping nine-figures on Robinson Cano after the season. His nature position is second base, you know. At the very least, I expect the Yankees to import some veteran competition for the kids if they’re unable to sign Reynolds or Youkilis and can’t swing a trade. At least make Adams or Nunez or whoever earn it in camp.
Via Dan Barbarisi: Team officials confirmed Brian Cashman came to the Winter Meetings this week without the authorization to make offers to free agents. The GM had to go to ownership and plead his case for the Kevin Youkilis offer and I assume the Nate Schierholtz offer as well.
One official downplayed the seriousness of the situation, saying most GMs have to approach ownership before handing out offers. Another confirmed that this is, however, a change of pace for the Yankees. Cashman had more authority in the past, so this jibes with the earlier report of his apparent frustration. Why did ownership scale back the GMs authority? Your guess is as good as mine.
10:45am: The Yankees did not take or lose any players in the Rule 5 Draft, in either the Major League or Minor League phase.
9:50am: The Rule 5 Draft marks the unofficial end of the Winter Meetings as executives will leave the meetings in droves in about an hour or two. Clubs will spend some time (and cash) this morning hoping to grab the next Johan Santana or Dan Uggla, or even just the next Joe Paterson or Lucas Luetge. Digging up a useful left-handed matchup reliever is a pretty great return on a Rule 5 pick.
Only three of last year’s Rule 5 picks managed to stick with their new team, highlighted by Luetge. The Mariners kept him, the Orioles kept infielder Ryan Flaherty, and the Astros kept right-hander Rhiner Cruz. The Yankees selected two players last year but neither made it out of Spring Training healthy. Right-hander Brad Meyers hurt his shoulder in an offseason workout, spent the entire season on the DL, then was returned to the Nationals after the season. Lefty Cesar Cabral nearly made the team out of camp before breaking his elbow. He’s still with the Yankees and will get another look in Spring Training.
The Yankees have a full 40-man roster and are unable to make a selection today, but they do have a handful of players who could be picked. Left-hander Vidal Nuno and switch-pitcher Pat Venditte were mentioned as possible selection candidates by Baseball America (subs. req’d), though Venditte has gone undrafted in each of the last two years and he’s now coming off right shoulder surgery as well. Marc Hulet at FanGraphs tabbed right-hander Graham Stoneburner as one of the draft’s best available players. I honestly can’t remember the last time the Yankees lost a player in the Rule 5 Draft and regretted it.
The Rule 5 Draft rules are pretty simple and if you’ve been reading RAB long enough, surely you know them by now. If not, I recommend taking a quick glance at the Wikipedia page. The draft is scheduled to begin at 10am ET and usually lasts a half-hour or so. I’ll liveblog the whole thing here because hey, someone’s gotta do it. All you hot stove talk should go here.
10:14am: Ken Rosenthal says Youkilis has two-year offers in the $16-18M range. Guessing the Indians are in on that.
The Winter Meetings officially come to a close today, and the rumor mill should start to dry up around noon (probably sooner) after the clubs flee the Gaylord Opryland. The two biggest free agents (Zack Greinke & Josh Hamilton) are still on the board and the Yankees haven’t done a thing other than announce Alex Rodriguez‘s new hip injury. Somehow they’re actually going to leave this week with more questions than when it started.
The Rule 5 Draft starts at 10am ET and I’ll have a liveblog up for that, but otherwise this is your thread for various Yankees-related rumblings throughout the day. Here are Monday’s, Tuesday’s, and Wednesday’s rumors. All times are ET.
- 3:49pm: The Yankees have not contacted the Padres about Chase Headley, which is a little surprising. Even though San Diego says he’s off-limits, you’d think they’d at least ask to hear it from the horse’s mouth. [Chad Jennings]
- 12:06pm: The Yankees spoke to the Mets about R.A. Dickey this week, but apparently they didn’t have the right pieces to swing a trade. I can’t imagine the PR hit the Mets would have taken had they dealt the reigning Cy Young Award winner to the Bronx. [Andy Martino]
- 10:53am: The Yankees did not inquire on Michael Young because they don’t believe he can handle third base full-time. Can’t say I disagree. [Joel Sherman]
- 10:49am: Cashman met with reporters during the Rule 5 Draft and said he’s been engaged in trades more than free agents so far. [Chad Jennings]
- 8:40am: Curtis Granderson is one of five players the Phillies are targeting for their center field opening. It’s unclear if (or how much) the two sides have talked and what Philadelphia could give up in return. [Danny Knobler]
- 8:00am: Agents who have spoken to the Yankees get the impression that a clamp has been placed on the team’s spending. Brian Cashman is supposedly frustrated by his inability to act and is working with ownership to see what he can spend. This is ridiculous. [Joel Sherman]
- Veteran infielder Alex Gonzalez is in the team’s mix of third base candidates. The 35-year-old has some pop, but he’s a sub-.300 OBP candidate. Gonzalez is coming off surgery to repair a torn ACL and was considered a strong defender at short, though he’s never played a big league game at another position (even DH). The Yankees need to see him work out following surgery before discussing a contract. [George King]
- The Yankees are open to discussing Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova in trades. This isn’t that surprising, they’ve always been a team that will listen on pretty much every player. [Andrew Marchand]
9:30pm: Schierholtz has agreed to a one-year contract with the Cubs according to Jerry Crasnick. So much for that.
8:24pm: Via Joel Sherman: Free agent outfielder Nate Schierholtz has an offer in hand from the Yankees. He says it’s believed to be the first offer the team has made to a position player this offseason. Progress!
Scott Boras took over the hotel lobby earlier this evening to discuss a number of topics with the media, and during the scrum he confirmed that he has not had any talks with the Yankees about a contract extension for Robinson Cano. That’s not terribly surprising, but it’s an update straight from the horse’s mouth. Given the market inflation we’ve seen so far this winter, it seems all but certain that Robbie will be able to fetch $200M+ on the open market next year.
4:35pm: Conflicting reports! Buster Olney says the Yankees never did make Keppinger an offer. I suppose they could have floated the idea of … whatever. They didn’t sign him, end of story.
4:03pm: Heyman says the Yankees actually offered Keppinger more than the three years and $12M he took from the ChiSox. I assume he took the full-time job over the utility infielder gig.
1:30pm: Via Jon Heyman & Ken Rosenthal: The White Sox will sign Jeff Keppinger to a three-year contract worth $12M. The Yankees had a lot of interest in Keppinger following Alex Rodriguez‘s new hip injury, but there was no chance they were going to three years. Scratch a name off the infield list.
If there’s one thing that’s held true during Brian Cashman‘s tenure in recent years, it’s that he’s very willing to practice patience. He’s waited out both the free agent (Hiroki Kuroda, for example) and trade (Bobby Abreu) markets to get better than advertised prices, and for the most part it’s worked out wonderfully. As he indicated to reporters yesterday, patience is again his primary tactic this offseason.
“The preference is always to get your problems solved and get them fixed,” said Cashman. “But the realistic side of that is that it’s going to take time and you have to solve it over time. If you don’t feel comfortable with the solution, you shouldn’t solve it until you feel comfortable. I’m prepared to drag this thing out.”
Patience was a fine approach these last few years but times have obviously changed. The market is flush with cash thanks to the new television deals and the inability to funnel money into the draft and international markets, so Major League free agents are getting paid handsomely. As the Yankees preach patience, the players they want are no longer falling into their laps. Eric Chavez won’t be there to sign in February because he took a $3M deal from the Diamondbacks, more money than New York paid him in the previous two years combined. Jeff Keppinger, another one of the team’s targets, actually took less money to sign with the White Sox for whatever reason.
“I think that we’ll be in a position, I would think, to leave here with doing something,” added Cashman. “But that doesn’t mean we will. I want to come here every time I go to the Winter Meetings, I want to get something done. I’ve been disappointed many times leaving, but that’s not going to make me do something.”
The Yankees are scaling back their spending as the price of talent is going up, and that’s a very bad thing. They don’t have the internal pieces to plug their various position player holes — a major black mark on Cashman & Co. given his constant preaching of building through the farm system — meaning they are at the mercy of the free agent market. Maybe the patient approach will work and some new targets will surface in the coming weeks, but right now it’s tough to see how the Yankees will go into next season with something other than a significant downgrade on the offensive side of the ball. After enjoying the benefits of patience, this new market might be the one that leaves Cashman empty-handed at the end of the winter.