Mailbag: Ortiz, Jackson, Choo, Sanchez, Soler

Got five questions this week; a nice mix of hypotheticals, prospect talk, and future targets. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in anything, including mailbag questions.

lol (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Matt asks: Let’s say this Montero trade had happened a couple months ago, and the Yankees had been looking for a DH from the beginning of the offseason — would you have wanted the Yankees to go after David Ortiz for DH? I know he accepted arbitration, but couldn’t he have become a free agent if he had declined his option with the Sox? If that had been the case, and he had become a free agent, wouldn’t you have loved to sign Ortiz for a one or two year deal? I would have supported that completely, personally. Not only would we have taken him from the Sox, but I think Ortiz would kill it in Yankee stadium. Let me know what you guys think.

I’ve thought about this over the last few weeks and I keep going back and forth. Part of me says absolutely, that big left-handed bat sure would look wonderful in the lineup while simultaneously taking it away from the Red Sox, but another part of me thinks that 2011 was Ortiz’s dead cat bounce, his last hurrah. The Yankees would have also surrendered their first round pick to Boston, and that just feels yucky. Ultimately, yeah I would have been for it on a one-year deal. Two years would have been pushing it. I doubt it would have happened though, the Yankees don’t seem to like the idea of spending upwards of $15M for a DH, and I can’t say I blame them. I don’t think that would have been any different earlier in the offseason.

Mark asks: Now that we know that Edwin Jackson signed a one-year deal with the Nationals, in retrospect and assuming they could be bought for their current contracts, who would you have rather had the Yankees sign: Kuroda or Jackson?

I’d rather have Jackson because he’s ten years younger and more likely to repeat (and improve upon) his previous performance. That said, this wasn’t an either/or situation. The Hiroki Kuroda deal set the market for workhorse starters on one-year contracts, and we have no idea what Jackson would have signed for prior to the Yankees landing Kuroda. It changed everything. I’m pretty thrilled about getting Hiroki on that contract, so I have no complaints about how things turned out.

Nick asks: Make sense to try for Shin-Soo Choo?

(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Sure, he’d step right into the lineup this year before taking over in right field next year. It’ll buy the Yankees time to sort out the position long-term, which could very well mean re-signing Choo when he becomes a free agent after 2013. I don’t have many concerns about his down year at age 29; I think he’s got a number of .290/.390/.480, 20+ HR, 20+ steal seasons left in him. The only problem is how are they supposed to get him? The Indians fancy themselves a contender at the moment, so I doubt they’ll trade their second best offensive player. The Yankees have the pitching to get a deal done, but it would really thin out their upper level depth. So yeah, it’s not going to happen, but definitely a guy worth pursuing in a trade.

Charlie asks: Hey guys, what about Anibal Sanchez? If Hamels and Cain sign extensions and the Yankees feel Greinke is too risky, is Anibal Sanchez a strong option on the free agent market next season?

Yes, definitely. Joe was touting him as a trade target last offseason, and the great year he had — 3.35 ERA in 196.1 IP, a mirror image of his 2010 season — only makes him that much more desirable. Sanchez is turning 28 this month, so he still has a number of peak years remaining, which is what you hope to get with every big money free agent. And make no mistake, if he has another year like the last two, he’ll command huge bucks. I think the Marlins will find a way to sign him long-term, maybe even before the season starts, but he’s definitely a worthy target.

Ross asks: If you guys have time, I would like to learn more about Jorge Soler. It seems like signing him wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg and he would provide the minor league outfield depth the Yankees currently lack … a perfect Cashmaneuver™.

Here’s a snippet of what Ben Badler wrote about the 19-year-old Soler earlier this week (subs. req’d)…

Listed at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds … Power is Soler’s best tool, as he shows great bat speed, the ability to hit balls out to all fields and the potential to hit 25 home runs per year. While scouts like his power and some like his swing, he bars his front arm and the stiffness in his stroke is a concern for some scouts. Scouts have offered differing opinions on his ability to hit breaking balls, but he has a history of laying off pitches outside the strike zone in international competition and has more on-base potential than Cespedes.

Soler is athletic for his size and there are reports of him running the 60-yard dash in 6.5 seconds—a time that grades out as well above-average speed—but several scouts have said he’s really an average runner at best … Depending on how much bigger he gets, there’s a chance he could end up at first base down the road, but he should be able to handle right field for the near future. Scouts are mixed on his outfield instincts but he does have an above-average arm.

I prefer Soler to Yoenis Cespedes based on the little we know, and I get the sense that the Yankees do as well. He’ll obviously need to spend a few years in the minors, but that’s to be expected with a teenager. I have no idea what it’ll take to sign him, but if the Gerardo Concepcion contract is any indication of the market, it’ll cost eight figures. Unlike Cespedes, Soler has not yet been declared a free agent and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement-mandated spending limits will apply to him come July 2nd. He’ll feel some pressure to sign for whatever he can get before the deadline.

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Nationals agree to sign Edwin Jackson

Our long national nightmare Edwin Jackson’s free agency is finally over. The Nationals have reportedly agreed to sign the right-hander to a one-year contract worth somewhere around $10M, and now they’re trying to trade John Lannan (and his $5M salary) to balance the books. It’s a great deal for the Nationals, who suddenly have a pretty stacked rotation with Jackson, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and Chien-Ming Wang. Gotta think there are a lot of teams out there right now wondering why they couldn’t get this guy at that price, maybe even the Yankees (though I’m perfectly happy with Hiroki Kuroda).

The reward for remaining patient

I go, “Brian Cashman, just get me a pitcher. Please, all I want is a pitcher.” And he wouldn’t give it to me! All I wanted was a pitcher, just one pitcher, and he wouldn’t give it to me. Just a pitcher!

When Brian Cashman emphasized pitching as his No. 1 off-season need, we didn’t expect that he would fill it by signing Freddy Garcia and no one else. Yet we’ve seen at least a half dozen pitchers sign free agent contracts or change teams via trade this winter, and the Yankees have remained on the periphery. We’ve heard various reasons, but it essentially boils down to them not liking the prices on anything.

Luckily for them, a few quality pitchers have remained on the market. While there are issues with all three of Roy Oswalt, Hiroki Kuroda, and Edwin Jackson, each would represent an upgrade for the Yankees’ rotation. The idea, it seems, was to wait out these guys until the prices fall. It appears, then, the Yankees patience has paid off. According to ESPN.com’s Buster Olney, the prices have come down. He specifically pegs Oswalt at $8 million and Kuroda at $10 to $11 million. He also mentions Jackson, but only by name.

As Stephen mentioned in his post yesterday, the Yankees are reportedly against signing anyone to a multi-year deal. That includes Jackson, who seems like a prime candidate to receive one. Now that the prices have fallen on two guys who are seeking one-year deals, the time seems ripe for the Yankees to pounce. We could quibble forever over which of Oswalt and Kuroda helps the team more, but that’s beyond the point. Getting either one would put a nice bow on this off-season.

There has been plenty of impatience and frustration over the Yankees’ lack of activity this off-season. It’s understandable to a degree. They’re the Yankees, therefore they’re supposed to make big moves. But this is not a team in need of a huge move. They just need to augment what they currently have and bide their time until players they really want become available — or else their minor leaguers prove they’re ready for the show. Their tack of patience and restraint just might pay off.

The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow

On Tuesday Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com reported that the Phillies and Cole Hamels were not likely to reach a long-term extension before the start of the season and were more focused on inking Hamels to a one-year deal in 2012, which represents his final year of arbitration eligibility and team control. While assistant general manager Scott Proefrock insisted that there is plenty of time to reach a deal at a later date, this admission represented the strongest possibility yet that Hamels would reach free agency after the 2012 season and hit the open market as the best left-handed pitcher, if not best overall pitcher, available. Salisbury mentioned that Jered Weaver’s five-year, $85M extension with the Angels would be a reasonable comparable for the Phillies and Hamels, but Hamels may have something far more lucrative and long-term in mind.

A lot of digital ink has been spilled and a lot of hands have been wrung lately over the Yankees insistence on watching their payroll. At this point, no one knows whether they’re serious about a long-term reduction in payroll towards a $189M target, or whether they simply have disliked the prices on the free agent market thus far. In the past, the Yankees have always shown a willingness to pay a premium for what they deem to be premium talent. Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett are all beneficiaries of this approach, and Cliff Lee could easily have joined them. The operative turn of phrase though is “what they deem to be premium talent”. Their approach towards middle-of-the-road talent is far more mixed. The team has been slow this offseason to pursue current available pitchers Hiroki Kuroda, Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson, and they avoided spending $80 or $100M on C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish, respectively. Is this because they want to reduce payroll, or is it because they don’t deem them to be premium talent and want to keep their powder dry for bigger targets? No one seems to know.

If they’re keeping their powder dry for bigger targets, it would make sense why they haven’t been so eager to snap up one of the currently available pitchers. It would also explain their interest in a one-year deal with one of Kuroda or Oswalt, provided the salaries drop. It doesn’t mean that they’re cheap; it means they’re serious about getting good value for their dollars (A.J. Burnett laughs) and saving room for the players they deem to be truly worth a nine-figure investment. This is where Cole Hamels (or Zack Greinke or Matt Cain, if you prefer), come in. As pitchers go, Hamels would likely be the third best starting pitcher to hit the free agent market in the last decade, behind CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee. As Joe noted to me, one Hamels will actually hit the market with a better track record than Cliff Lee. He would end the Yankees pursuit of a number two starter behind Sabathia. In fact, his career performance really makes him worthy of the title of co-ace with CC: 8.45 K/9, 2.26 BB/9, 1.09 HR/9 and a 3.39 ERA. If you’re going to spend on premium talent, Cole Hamels is at the top of the list.

As the Yankees dance with Kuroda, Oswalt and Jackson over the next few weeks, it’s important to keep the long game in mind. If the team has no intention of moving the payroll permanently to the $225M+ range, then fans should root for them to preserve long-term payroll flexibility over the next ten months until Hamels becomes available. In fact, Joel Sherman noted that they appear to be doing just that and will be pursuing one year deals and one year deals only. If Kuroda or Oswalt can fit into this year’s budget as the team looks towards next winter’s bonanza, then great. If they sign elsewhere for $12M per year (an amount which would actually represent close to $16M to the Yankees with the luxury tax added in), then the team can make due with what they have now and retain the ability to add payroll in July or August via trade. Someone like Greinke or Cain could become available, or someone entirely unexpected such as Ubaldo Jimenez this past season. Regardless, there remains reason to be cautiously optimistic that this team’s rotation could see a temporary improvement this year and a serious long-term improvement next winter.

Report: Yanks talking Edwin Jackson with Boras

As Joe wrote last week, it seemed nearly inevitable that the Yanks’ attention would turn to Edwin Jackson. He’s a 28-year-old Boras client who can fill innings, and the Yankees, in need of pitching, would seemingly love to bite if the price is right. The price may soon be right.

As Jon Heyman reported today, Hal Steinbrenner and Scott Boras met to discuss Jackson this evening. According to Heyman, the Yanks and their scouts “seem to like Jackson but want to keep deals short.” The CBS Sports reporter also reports that the Yanks’ owner would “think about the right deal” for Jackson.

We’ve written extensively about Edwin Jackson this winter, and you can check out our archives right here. Joe scouted Jackson in December. Personally, I’m not so high on Jackson. He’s a fine filler piece, but his numbers will slump in the AL East. If the Yanks can get him on a short-term deal that doesn’t hinder their ability to go after, say, Cole Hamels next winter, then I’m all for it. But anything more than a two-year deal isn’t something the Yanks should consider. With the Yanks also kicking the tires on Hiroki Kuroda and Roy Oswalt, the rotation may not be as set as we think it is.

Yankees in a “holding pattern” with regards to pitching

Earlier today we learned that the Yankees will reevaluate their budget in the coming weeks, and tonight the Jons (Heyman and Morosi) report that the team is in a “holding pattern” with regards to its pitching search. They are still in touch with Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, and Roy Oswalt, but they just don’t like the asking prices. They are not interested in Ryan Madson, however. So in other words … nothing new to report.

Jackson beginning to feel a lot like Soriano

It sure is quiet. Yes, a little too quiet, if you know what I mean. For most of this winter there has been little, if any, talk about MLB Trade Rumors’ No. 6 free agent, Edwin Jackson. In fact, the first page of his MLBTR archives takes us all the way back to early December, an oddity for such a highly rated free agent. Normally there is some level of buzz surrounding this type of player, even if he’s not close to signing. Yet with Jackson we’ve seen scant few mentions. Most of them have been 1) noting that he’s still on the free agent market, 2) mentioning teams not interested in him, or 3) mentioning unlikely destinations, such as Baltimore and Minnesota. Yet activity has picked up lately.

One year ago, another top free agent went through similar motions. Just take a look at this page from Rafael Soriano’s MLBTR archive. As with all MLBTR archive pages, it spans 10 posts. The dates on those posts: December 6th through January 1st. Edwin Jackson’s page goes from December 5th to January 2nd. While the nature of the pages is slightly different, the stories are developing similarly. Soriano went from having some interest — from the White Sox and the Angels, mostly — to radio silence for a bit. At the beginning of January his name started coming up as a Yankees target, and later that month the two parties came to terms. Would it surprise anyone, then, if the Yankees ended up with Jackson?

Remember, earlier last off-season the Yankees reportedly had no interest in Soriano. In fact, in late November Joel Sherman said: “Soriano is not an option to come in on a closer’s salary and serve as the set-up man to Rivera now and the closer-in-waiting for when Rivera eventually retires. The Yankees do not want to invest that kind of money in a set-up man and Soriano is determined to close now.” That all changed, of course, after the Yankees failed to sign Cliff Lee and Soriano never got that big offer to close games. With Jackson, though, there needn’t be a change of heart. The Yankees have already expressed interest in him, with the hopes that his price tag falls to what they consider an acceptable level.

Yet even after the failed Lee pursuit, reports still indicated that the Yankees weren’t interested in Soriano. Sherman, Fox’s Ken Rosenthal, and ESPN’s Buster Olney all stated, at some point or another, indicated as such. (See previous link to Soriano’s MLBTR archive.) Yet one voice persistently connected the Yankees and Soriano. Jon Heyman, then with SI and now with CBS, continued insisting that the Yankees were monitoring the situation, even when everyone else reported otherwise. He was right then, and it appears he’s back on the job. Just yesterday he sang Jackson’s praises while connecting him to the Yankees. Could this portend another mid-January signing?

Scott Boras obviously knows what he’s doing. He’s held onto two valuable chips, Jackson and Prince Fielder, while a number of trade candidates and free agents have come off the board. Only Matt Garza remains as a well-known and viable trade candidate. Boras could easily hold back Jackson until the Cubs move Garza, creating a powerful situation. Any team that wants a lineup or rotation upgrade must then go to him. That could jack up the asking price for both Fielder and Jackson.

At an even higher price point — say, four years and $57 million, mirroring the last four years of the John Danks deal — would the Yankees be interested? After all, all we’ve heard this winter is that they’re looking to reign in their spending. Yet that might not be the concrete plan. Team president Randy Levine might have merely been making a calming statement to fans when he spoke to the New York Post last week, but his words do stand out. “There’s obviously room to improve the team. I don’t like to get into the amounts, but obviously there’s room to improve the team.”

Last winter, Heyman obviously had the inside track on the Soriano signing. He was the only one pointing in that direction, and he ultimately broke the news. This might have been through a connection with Boras, but it also might have been through connections to the non-baseball operations side of the front office. If Heyman does have and use that connection, perhaps he does have an inside track on the team’s feelings for Jackson.

Signing Jackson would be far from the worst thing for the 2012 Yankees. He’d probably step behind CC Sabathia as the team’s second best starter, pushing everyone else down the ladder. He’d create a bit more depth, since his presence would push one of the bottom two out of the rotation — perhaps in a trade, which could add more depth. The only downside is that adding Jackson will render the goal of a $189 million payroll by 2014 more difficult. But, really, that’s of little concern. That’s something for the Yankees to figure out, and if they sign Jackson it signals that they either have a solid plan in place, or otherwise don’t care that deeply about the limit.

It’s a bit much, at this point, to say that the parallels between Soriano and Jackson mean that the Yankees will sign him later this month. But it’s also hard to see the two situations and rule out the Yankees completely. They might be playing coy for now, but it would come as no surprise if the Yankees eventually emerged as frontrunners for Jackson’s services.