Late-night rumors: Rays, Yanks battling for 4th OFers

As the Yanks and their division rival Tampa Bay Rays look to fill out their rosters, both teams are in the market for a fourth outfielder/veteran bat for the bench. The Yanks, we know, are looking at Andruw Jones, and the team has been tied to Johnny Damon. Tonight, Jon Heyman tweets that the Rays and Yanks are at least both interested in those two players, and it’s possible that one could wind up in Tampa Bay while the other comes to the Bronx. For the Yanks, I’d take Jones over Damon. He’s a righty bat who can still play the field while Damon would give the Yanks another lefty but with suspect defense.

Meanwhile, Heyman also says the Yanks are still in on Rafael Soriano despite Brian Cashman‘s insistence that he won’t surrender a draft pick for a reliever. It behooves Soriano to have others believe the Yanks are interested, but there’s no reason to think their off-season strategy has changed lately.

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Whatever Scottie wants…

The Yankees have millions to spend. After missing out on Cliff Lee and with Andy Pettitte off of their payroll ledger for now, the Bombers are going to be hard pressed to spend their $200 million. The team finds itself in this situation unwillingly, and everyone in baseball knows it.

Enter Scott Boras. No one can sniff out a money trail better than Boras. Despite the fact that he’s been operating in the league for what seems like eons, he still manages to eke out more dollars for his top clients than anyone else. He creates mystery teams and player comps that leave most people rolling their eyes in amusement, but when the Hot Stove League cools, his clients manage to get their paydays. Adrian Beltre can attest to that.

Right now, Boras can smell blood. As Mike detailed earlier, Boras is trying to get the Yanks interested in Rafael Soriano, and while the Yanks would love to add the former Tampa Bay closer to their bullpen, they’ll do so at his price. It’s time, in other words, for a standoff between two of the game’s top financial institutions.

When it comes to Soriano, Boras is saying all the right things. In an extensive interview with ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand, Boras laid it on hot and heavy. “That door is open for a number of different reasons…I don’t think there is a team in baseball where he could be asked to be a setup guy other than the Yankees,” Boras said of his free agent client who clearly wants a good job next year. “There is also a value in playing with Mariano Rivera.”

Boras clearly is trying to sell Soriano to the Yanks as Rivera’s heir apparent, but it might be a tough sell. Rivera will pitch in the Bronx for at least two more seasons, and the Yankees aren’t going to want to give Sorianonear-closer money to set up for three years just so he can close in 2013. Brian Cashman and the Yanks have learned over the last few seasons that it’s easy to build a bullpen out of low-cost players, and the marginal win upgrade that established bullpen arms bring isn’t usually worth the additional salary. Will having insurance for Rivera change that approach? I wouldn’t bet on it.

But Soriano can be a useful piece for the Yanks. While we might not want to face the facts, Rivera is 41, and the Yanks could do with another arm behind him. It would also free up Joba Chamberlain as either a starting rotation — my unrealistic pipe dream that flies in the face of Cashman’s words — or as a trade chit for a pitcher. If the Yanks can lower Boras’ asking price, this is a match that could just work.

But Scott Boras isn’t stopping with just Soriano. He’s again beating the Johnny Damon drum. “As Johnny has said he is more than willing to return to New York,” Boras said.

Now, Boras was of course the agent who told Damon not to sign a two-year deal with the Yanks after the 2009 season and who didn’t get Johnny a better deal. This year, Boras is trying to do right by Damon, but the Yankees again aren’t interested. They don’t need an old lefty bat who plays suspect defense in left field. Rather, they need a right-hand power bat or a defensive fourth outfielder who can hit better than, say, Greg Golson. Damon wants more playing time than the Yanks would give him, and it’s just not a fit.

So here we will have to watch Boras go to work. He has two clients who want to get paid, and he has a target who has money to spend. Even as we hit a slow stretch of the off-season, it’s worth watching these two dramas unfold. Can a master agent who gets more money for his clients than would seem possible pull it off now? The Yankees are clearly in his sights whether they want to be or not.

The idea of re-acquiring Johnny Damon

Gone? Gone. (Kathy Willens/AP)

Yesterday evening Newsday’s Ken Davidoff reported that the Yankees “have been communicating with free agent Johnny Damon about a possible return to the Yankees for 2011.” A few minutes ago, Mark Feinsand said Damon “won’t rule out” a return to the Bronx but wants a full-time job somewhere. If Damon could be convinced to return to the Bronx, should the Yankees take him back?

As a fan, the answer is easy. Do I want Johnny Damon back in pinstripes? Sure I want Johnny Damon back in pinstripes. Despite a blip at the beginning of 2007 he was everything the Yankees could have hoped for when they signed him to a four-year, $52 million contract before the 2006 season. During the life of the contract he produced 12.3 WAR, 18th among MLB outfielders in that span, but it was in the last two years that he really shined. In 2008 and 2009 he produced 7.1 WAR, fifth best among LFers. And, most importantly, his career-high 24 homers in 2009 helped lead the Yankees to a world championship.

As someone interested in how the Yankees perform in 2011, the answer is a bit different. Damon played his last contract at ages 32 through 35. He’ll play the 2011 season as a 37-year-old. Plenty changes at that age, especially for ballplayers. If Damon’s skills have declined, or we can forecast his skills to decline, then it doesn’t matter what he did in his previous stint. All the Yankees care about now is whether he can help the team in 2011. I propose that he can. The only problem might be convincing him to take on a reduced rule.

It’s true that Damon’s numbers suffered in 2010. After moving from Yankee Stadium to Comerica Park he had a season that looked more like 2007 than it did 2008 or 2009. In fact, his batting lines were nearly identical: .270/.351/.396 in 605 PA in 2007 and .271/.355/.401 in 613 PA in 2010. Park adjustments helped him a bit, but his 2010 was certainly below the bar he set in his final two seasons with the Yankees. He also played just 268.1 innings in the field, likely because he developed a reputation as a poor defender in 2009. While I won’t ignore this evidence, I do think there might be factors that help explain the dip, and might also mean a bounce back for Damon in 2010.

First, take a look at this image.

This might appear a bit damning. You can clearly see that Damon didn’t hit with nearly as much power to right field. That’s his bread and butter. If he can’t do that any more, then of what help is he to the Yankees?

I don’t think this is the case. While there is a clear drop-off in distance on balls to right field, there might be good reason for that. At Yankee Stadium Damon had the porch 318 feet away. The left-center field alley might be 399 feet away, but there is plenty of space where the wall is far, far closer. Damon clearly used that to his advantage and popped plenty of balls over that wall. In Comerica the right field line is 345 feet away, and while it extends to only 370 in left-center, it continues back to 420 feet in dead center. Many of the home runs Damon hit in 2009 would have been fly outs in 2010 at Comerica. It’s my position that he adapted his style to the park.

My only supporting evidence is on the left side of the batted ball chart. You’ll notice that Damon hit quite a few balls deeper to left field in 2010 than in 2009. I can’t be completely certain, but it does appear to be the result of a slightly different approach at the plate. If he knows he can’t just pop flies over the wall, why try for that? I think that a return to Yankee Stadium could mean a return to his short porch swing, which could again lead to bigger power numbers. He won’t do what he did in 2009, but if he does what he did in, say, 2006, he’d be worth having on a one-year contract.

If the Yankees did re-sign Damon it would be as a fourth outfielder, with the possibility for more playing time should something go wrong. In other words, he’s Brett Gardner and Jorge Posada insurance. While I doubt there will be vocal opposition to the latter, the former might make some people cringe. The story during 2009 was Damon’s tenuous defense in left field, and that reputation followed him into the off-season. I’m not sure that his deficiencies are as pronounced as we had originally thought. Yes, he did look lost out there at times, but I also think that he did get better as the year went along. As regards his defensive numbers, they’re really not all that bad.

Before some changes to the UZR output, Damon had something like a -16 UZR in left — though I’m not sure of the exact number. To correct for a few deficiencies the formula was tweaked, and it gave quite a different answer this time: -4.4 UZR. DRS had him at just -1. Total Zone actually liked his defense, giving him +6. If we combine the last three years of data, and we weigh it by giving last year more precedence than the years before, I think we’d come out somewhere around league average. That’s all the Yanks really need from a fourth outfielder, especially if he can fit.

If the plan is to sign Damon and then trade Gardner for a pitcher, well, that certainly changes things. I’m not sure that Gardner is tradable, anyway, because of his wrist. But if that is the plan upon acquiring Damon, I’m not sure I like it. It puts Damon into a necessary role, and I’m not quite that high on him. As a fourth outfielder and insurance policy, I think he’s worth a slight overpay on a one-year deal. With plenty of available funds I think it’s a decent signing. If he regains some power at Yankee Stadium it will be a worthy deal. If he doesn’t, then he’s the fourth outfielder for a year and moves on. I don’t see much downside to this.

Mailbag: Plan B, Damon, Cano

Boy, lots of people are wondering what the Yankees will do if they don’t sign Cliff Lee for whatever reason. I’m curious too, but I’m also pretty optimistic about them signing the lefty. Anyway, this week’s mailbag offers a trio of Plan B questions, plus some stuff on Johnny Damon and Robbie Cano‘s career. If you ever want to send in a question, just use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

Ryan asks: If the Yanks miss out on Lee and/or Pettitte retires who do the Yanks target via trade? They don’t seem high on Greinke, Liriano and Carpenter moves don’t make sense for those clubs and Garza in-division would be a hard get. Is Nolasco, Wandy, Lowe, Zambrano or Carmona good enough?

Greinke would be the best of the bunch, by quite a margin, but like you said the team doesn’t seem too enthused about landing him. I agree with you on Liriano, Carpenter, and Garza as well. Nolasco’s a really good pitcher, with 8.6 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 (removing intentional walks) in his three full seasons. He’s never posted worse than a 3.86 FIP or 3.75 xFIP, or been worth less than 2.5 wins according to FanGraphs. He’s also pretty affordable as a Super Two, earning $3.8M in 2010 while still being under team control in 2011 and 2012. My biggest concern with Nolasco is that he’s really homer prone, about one every 7.1 innings pitched, and that’s in a big park in Florida. He won’t replace Lee, very few can, but Nolasco could certainly be a solid mid-rotation guy for the Yankees.

I really like Wandy Rodriguez, but I think the price would be a little too nuts even though he’ll be a free agent after the season. Derek Lowe‘s okay these days, he’s good for innings but not necessary good performance. If the Braves eat some of the $30M left on his contract and take some mid-level prospects in return, sure. I suspect they’ll opt to keep him under those conditions though. Zambrano’s a nutcase and isn’t as good as everyone thinks; A.J. Burnett has out fWAR’d Big Z 12.8 to 11.8 since 2006. Plus there’s a ton of money left on his deal. And he’s a nut case. Carmona’s way too risky. He’s generally good, but his consistency makes A.J. blush.

Of the guys you mentioned, Nolasco’s the best, though I’d try really really hard for Greinke or Carpenter before settling on him. Whichever way they go, the pitcher they get will not be as good as Cliff Lee, that much is a given.

Adam asks: If the Yanks lose out on Lee, do you think Josh Johnson is an obvious target? Would a package of Montero, Brackman/Betances, Noesi, plus one more lower level guy get it done? Or do you think the trade would be even more.

The Marlins have no reason to move Johnson. He signed a big contract that keeps him in Florida for the next three years at well below market rates (just $35.25M through 2013), and don’t forget that their new park opens next season. Not only will that rake in some extra cash, but the team will surely want its young, homegrown, superstar right-hander to throw the first pitch in the park’s history. The Fish don’t really have a use for Montero; they just gave John Buck that ridiculous contract and they’re set at first with Gaby Sanchez. Even if Sanchez falters, Logan Morrison will step back into his natural position. So that right there creates a problem, Montero has less value to them than most.

If I’m the Marlins, I want a monster return for Johnson, more than the Royals want for Greinke given his contract status. Montero, Gardner, and Banuelos wouldn’t get it done, not even with two other prospects (say Adam Warren and David Adams) thrown in. I would, theoretically, ask for a young pitcher with Josh Johnson upside and big league success to his name, a top third base prospect, a centerfielder, and then minor leaguers. I don’t know who can put that package together, maybe the Orioles with Brian Matusz, Josh Bell, and Adam Jones (plus others)? That doesn’t do it for me though, and I love Brian Matusz. Point being, it’ll be so tough to acquire JJ that I don’t think he’s a viable Plan B. He’d be great, no question, I just don’t know how the hell the Yankees would get him.

Anonymous asks: I guess I’m getting a little impatient waiting for the Yanks to make a move. Cash could look at the Braves with Jair Jurrjens a 24 yr old with a 37-27 record, maybe Swisher & Eduardo Nunez with a few pitching prospects throw-in. Or take Chris Carpenter for two yrs at 15m & Jon Jay a good young OFer a hell of a lot cheaper then Lee! And Ricky Nolasco could be had at around 6m. Look at Lee in five yrs 37 and getting paid 24-25m?

We already talked about Carpenter and Nolasco, so let’s focus on Jurrjens. He’s 24, yes, but he’s had some injury trouble in his young career, namely a shoulder issue in 2007 and a pair of leg related ailments in 2010. He’s also not a strikeout guy, posting a career best 6.65 K/9 this season. The walks aren’t much of an issue (2.98 BB/9 over the last three years, taking out intentionals) but his declining ground ball rate (51.5% grounders in 2008, 42.9% in 2009, 39.9% in 2010) and increasing homerun rate (0.53 HR/9 in 2009, 0.63 in 2009, 1.01 in 2010) are.

Jurrjens is under control for three more seasons as an arbitration eligible player, though his peripheral stats scare me a bit. Swisher for Jurrjens would be pretty fair in terms of value (the Yanks would probably have to kick in someone like Nunez, who you suggested), but I’d rather keep Swish than trade him for a guy that won’t be much more than a mid-rotation arm for the Yanks, assuming he stays healthy. With Crawford off the market (this question was sent in before Crawford signed), trading Swish (or any outfielder for that matter) opens a rather gaping hole.

Matt asks: Hey huge fan of the site read it everyday several times a day, you guys are great. I have an idea for a post. The case to bring back Damon?

I think everyone here knows we’ve moved on from Damon even though we full appreciate his service to the Yankee cause.  He followed up great 2009 season (.376 wOBA, 3.3 fWAR) with a decidedly average one in 2010 (.340 wOBA, 1.9 fWAR), and it wasn’t just Detroit’s ballpark either. His wOBA at Comerica (.350) far exceeded his wOBA on the road (.330). For argument’s sake, let’s make a case for a reunion with Johnny.

Although Damon’s offense dropped off this season, he still got on base at a .355 clip and stole double digit bases. Even though Comerica didn’t hurt him much, moving back into Yankee Stadium would probably help get him back into double digit homers as well. Given Brett Gardner‘s recent wrist surgery and the chance that it could negatively impact him at least at the outset of next season, Damon would give the team some leftfield insurance and overall depth in general. If he came back, Jorge Posada would have to be the everyday catcher because you want both in the lineup. Playing one or the other defeats the purpose. That would allow them to be a bit more patient with Montero should they need to be.

Johnny can’t be looking for much money after making $8M in 2010, so $4-5M should get it done. Basically Russell Martin money. There’s certainly a case for bringing Damon back, but given the team’s needs, I don’t see much of a fit going forward.

Kevin asks: If you had to guess right now, Robinson Cano will have how many hits when he retires?

He’s at 1,075 right now, less than two months after his 28th birthday. Derek Jeter, for comparison, was sitting on close to 1,400 hits when he was a same age. I don’t think Robbie will reach 3,000 hits simply because the odds are greatly stacked against him. He’s just too far away and middle infielders tend to breakdown rapidly and without warning in the mid-30’s.

I don’t see why Cano can’t maintain a 200 hits a year pace for the next three seasons before falling off to say, 180 for two years then 160 or so for three years. That would leave him right around 2,500, still a ridiculous total, more than Frank Thomas, Chipper Jones, and Mickey Mantle. Want an exact number? I’ll say … 2,517.

Checking in with former Yankees

Contrary to popular belief, the Yankees aren’t the only team trying to acquire players at the winter meetings. In fact, some other teams are even trying to acquire players that played for the Yanks at one time or another. Jon Lane at YESNetwork.com rounded up the latest on some former Bombers, including Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, and Kerry Wood. One former Yank he did not mention is Tom Gordon, who I’ve seen in the halls in the few times. Flash lives in the area and does some broadcasting work for MLB Network Radio, but Gordon Edes says the 43 year old is trying to find a team willing to take a chance on him. He hasn’t appeared in a game since early-May 2009, so I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were him. Still kinda cool to see him hanging around though.

Sunday Morning Links

A few morning links for your pleasure:

Growing up in New England there aren’t many baseball phenoms I get to follow.  While I now pay extra attention to Jeff Locke (wow does that Nate McLouth trade look bad), I hadn’t heard much about Jeff Allison in a while.  Allison was a big story in New England in 2003 when drafted but it was downhill soon thereafter.  Allison unfortunately went down the Josh Hamilton path and had serious problems with substance abuse.  Here’s a recent story on Allison, and it’s good to see that he has been sober for almost 4 years now.  He may never make it to the majors, but he’s come a long way since nearly dying twice of overdoses.  If the baseball story never pans out hopefully the human being side will.

There have been approximately 22,000 articles written this week on Johnny Damon potentially returning to the Red Sox, and then Johnny Damon refusing to return to the Red Sox.  Some people (idiots) ripped him and called him a coward, while others looked a little deeper.  Lee Jenkins had the best take that I read on it, and while Damon didn’t leave New York under the best of circumstances, there was never the animosity that was prevalent when he left Boston.  For a guy who has played for 5 teams (so far) in his career, at the end of it I think he’ll consider himself a Yankee.

We all know Stephen Strasburg is heading for surgery and baseball fans everywhere are saddened by it.  He simply is a talent that fans could rally around because he is truly a special to watch.  Here former phenom Mark Prior addressed the latest news on Strasburg from someone who has clearly been there.  Interesting note in the article is that Prior was recently clocked at 92 MPH.  Prior, once a Yankee draft pick is still trying to come back and while I would never rely on him, I’d love to see the Yankees take a flyer on him.  He is, after all, still just 29 years old.

While I’m not a big Rick Reilly fan he did a good job of telling the story of Jane Lang and her dog Clipper’s recent visit to Yankee stadium.  Not much to add to this but to drive home the fact that Hope Week has quickly become one of the best things about the Yankees season.  Some of the stories really make you reflect on how good you have things, and this is no different.

Step 1: Leave Yankees. Step 2: Grow beard

The Yankees organization prides itself on class and professionalism. Whether or not it lives up to its self-image is a source of constant debate, though they do take measures to ensure that their players represent the team well. One infamous policy they’ve had in place since George Steinbrenner took over is a ban on facial hair below the lip. You wanna grow a pencil-thin mustache? Go for it. But you can forget about a fu manchu. Sal Fasano learned that first-hand.

After years of having an organization tell them what they can and cannot wear on their faces, it’s natural for former Yankees to immediately sport beards. This year’s crop of departures are no exception. Leave Yankees, grow beard. I’d do it, too.

A few of the departed Yankees rocked beards before coming to New York. Here’s Johnny Damon, who started to grow one in spring training with the Tigers, but has since shaved. Maybe the wife doesn’t like it. In any case, it would take a lot to top the beard he’s sporting in the second picture. Oh, what luck. There’s a french fry stuck in my beard.


Photo credits, left: Charlie Riedel/AP, right: Bizuayehu Tesfaye/AP

Chad Gaudin also rocked a beard when he pitched for the A’s, Cubs, and Padres before heading to New York. His beard is not very remarkable, which makes me sad. I wanted to include a wiseass remark with each beard.


Photo credits, left: Jeff Chiu/AP, right: Lenny Ignelzi/AP

I always forget about Brian Bruney. I’m not sure what that says about him, or me, other than I don’t miss him in the bullpen. Great potential, just couldn’t put it all together. But he can grow one mean beard, which should certainly help his future earnings potential once he can’t throw a baseball 95 mph.


Photo credits, left: Rob Carr/AP, right: Duane Burleson/AP

Two more bearded former Yankees never got a chance to rock the facial hair before. Take Phil Coke for instance. He spent his entire career in the Yankees’ system, so he’s always had to keep a razor nearby. Once traded t the Tigers, though, he went all out, growing a mullet, a beard, and picked up the beer gut to go along with it. He kinda looks like Rod Beck, though I’m pretty sure no one will write a song about Coke when he passes away.


Photo credits, left: Eric Gay/AP, right: AP file photo

Finally, we get to Melky. He showed up to Braves camp with a beard, but it appears he has since shaved it. That’s a shame. Melky looks slightly more badass with the beard. Slightly. Which is an improvement upon not at all. I wonder, then, why he shaved. Maybe the women don’t like it.


Photo credits, left: Rob Carr/AP, right: Darren Calabrese/AP

The only one who didn’t grow a beard, it seems, is Hideki Matsui. He should rock the Chan Ho beard this year.