Hot Stove Notes: Tulo, Hamels, Rollins, Upton, Kuroda

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

Aside from the never-ending tinkering and miscellaneous depth additions, the Yankees seem to be more or less done with their major offseason business. They could always surprise us and do something big, they have a way of keeping things under wraps, but I’m not expecting anything significant. Here are some stray pieces of hot stove news.

Yankees checked in on Troy Tulowitzki recently

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees checked in with the Rockies about Troy Tulowitzki late last week. It’s unclear if this was before or after they traded Martin Prado to the Marlins on Friday. Heyman says there is still a big gap in talks about Tulowitzki and not just with the Yankees, but with every team looking to acquire him. I’m pretty sure the Bombers were just doing their due diligence after reports surfaced saying the Mets were after Tulo last week.

As scary as is his injury history is, Tulowitzki is a bargain with six years and $118M left on his contract. That’s basically the Pablo Sandoval contract with one extra year.  The 30-year-old Tulowitzki has hit .316/.399/.551 (park-adjusted 146 wRC+) these last three years and has been by far the most valuable shortstop in the game on a rate basis. One hundred games of Tulo and 62 games of Brendan Ryan would equal elite shortstop production. That said, the Yankees have done a nice job of getting younger this offseason, and Tulowitzki would just be another big contract on the pile. If they were closer to being serious contenders, I’d be all for it. But they’re not, so let’s see what Didi Gregorius can do.

Yankees not on Cole Hamels’ no-trade list

The Yankees are not one of the 21 teams on Cole Hamels’ no-trade list, reports Bob Nightengale. We heard this back in July, but Hamels can change his no-trade list each year and apparently the Bombers are not on it again. That’s surprising. Players usually include big market teams like the Yankees on their no-trade lists because those are the teams more likely to pay something in exchange approving a trade. For example, Hamels could demand that his $20M option for 2019 be exercised before agreeing to a deal.

Hamels, who turns 31 on Saturday, had a 2.46 ERA (3.07 FIP) in 204.2 innings this past season. He’s thrown 200+ innings in five straight years and 180+ innings in eight straight years. Hamels and Jon Lester were born eleven days apart and are basically the same pitcher, but Lester signed for six years and $155M this winter while Hamels has four years and $100M left on his deal, plus the option for 2019. The Phillies are understandably asking for a huge return for their ace and the Yankees have not been connected to him this winter, but boy oh boy would Hamels be huge addition.

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

Jimmy Rollins would have approved trade to Yankees

Earlier this offseason we heard the Yankees called the Phillies about shortstop Jimmy Rollins, but soon moved on because the asking price was too high. Rollins had ten-and-five no-trade protection and he told Mark Saxon he only would have accepted a trade to the Yankees, Mets, or Dodgers, with the Dodgers being his first choice. Los Angeles acquired Rollins for minor league pitchers Zach Eflin and Tom Windle last week.

I really liked the idea of Rollins as a one-year stopgap — there’s only one year and $11M left on his contract — but only if the Yankees were unable to acquire a younger shortstop, which they did in Gregorius. Eflin and Windle are good but not great prospects. Something like Manny Banuelos and Ty Hensley might have been the equivalent Yankees’ package, but it’s not a perfect comparison. Banuelos is two level higher than both Eflin and Windle and those two are healthier than Hensley. Either way, the Yankees and Dodgers now have their new shortstops.

Yankees were not involved in Justin Upton sweepstakes

Before he was traded to the Padres last week, the Yankees were not involved in the bidding for outfielder Justin Upton, according to Buster Olney. New York has tried to trade for the good Upton several times in the past, but their starting outfield is set and earlier this winter they re-signed Chris Young to come off the bench. Plus they just acquired Garrett Jones, who can also play right field. Upton will be a free agent next offseason, when he will still be only 28 years old. He’s going to get a monster contract and the Yankees could in the mix then.

Still no update on Hiroki Kuroda

And finally, last week Brian Cashman told Jack Curry the team still has no idea if Hiroki Kuroda will pitch next season. Cashman also said the money has to work for them to add another pitcher, which isn’t surprising given their current contract commitments. The rotation is ostensibly full right now, but there’s a ton of injury risk and Chris Capuano could always slide into the bullpen. I do think the Yankees would welcome Kuroda back with open arms — the “money has to work” comment could just be posturing — but they obviously aren’t planning on him coming back either.

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Reports: Yankees were never close on Justin Upton & Scott Hairston

Via Bryan Hoch & Dan Martin: The Yankees were never all that close to acquiring Justin Upton or signing Scott Hairston, though they did have interest in both players. “Did I ever have a conversation with Arizona about [Upton]? Yeah, but they weren’t focusing on us,” said Brian Cashman, which jibes with a recent report saying the Diamondbacks didn’t love New York’s prospects.

“I think it’s in our best interest to look in the short-term, but that doesn’t preclude us from looking in the long-term … Obviously, there are restrictions we’re trying to navigate through, but that does not preclude us from doing a multi-year deal — but we’re going to be very careful,” added the GM. One thing the Yankees have done in advance of the 2014 payroll plan is create a lot of flexibility. They only have four players under contract for 2014, so they will have a bunch of money available next winter, but that also means they’ll have a lot of holes to fill. I just wish they had made more of an effort to improve the 2013 club as sort of a “one last gasp” before guys start retiring and payroll is slashed.

Braves land Justin Upton

After years of rumors, Justin Upton has finally been traded. The outfielder was dealt to the Braves along with third baseman Chris Johnson this morning according to multiple reports. The Diamondbacks will receive the versatile Martin Prado, infield prospect Nick Ahmed, first base prospect Brandon Drury, and young right-handers Randall Delgado and Zeke Spruill in return. I’ve been writing about Upton for a long time, but the Yankees never seemed to have serious interest him. It’s a shame, they could use a player just like him.

 

Matthews: Yankees on Upton’s no-trade list

Via Wally Matthews: The Yankees are one of the four team’s on Justin Upton’s no-trade list, however it is not considered much of an obstacle. The bigger issue is that the Diamondbacks looked at what New York has to offer and wasn’t intrigued. That stinks.

“I know it’s getting late, but we’re still looking … We’re open for business, but we’re not going to do something just to do something. If we have to, we’ll go to Tampa with what we’ve got,” said Brian Cashman. Upton would be fantastic, but at the very least the team needs a good bat for the DH spot. They have enough warm bodies (Matt Diaz, Russ Canzler, etc.) to put together a representative competition for the right-handed hitting outfielder’s job. Camp opens in a little more than three weeks, so if the Yankees are going to do something, it would be nice if it happened soon.

The Price for Justin Upton

(Norm Hall/Getty)

Late last week, Justin Upton invoked his no-trade clause to prevent a deal that would have sent him to the Mariners for four players. Those four players were, reportedly, top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker, infield prospect Nick Franklin, and big league relievers Charlie Furbush and Stephen Pryor. I’m not sure why the Diamondbacks pursued a trade with one of the teams on Upton’s no-trade clause to the point of agreement without first running the idea by him, but I digress.

Upton, 25, is no stranger around this parts. I’ve been writing about his as a trade target for years, including several times this offseason. Last we heard, the Yankees were not involved in any talks to acquire him but where willing to meet Arizona’s asking price. That first report came back in early-November and obviously things may have changed since then. We do know the Yankees continue to seek a bat though — Hal Steinbrenner said so a few days ago — and Upton obviously fits the bill. Given their tendency to pursue major trades in secret, let’s pretend they continue to pursue the younger Upton for our own amusement.

It’s not often we find out exactly what it would take to acquire a player in a trade, but that’s what we have here thanks to the failed deal with the Mariners. We know Arizona will take an elite pitching prospect, a very good infield prospect, and two big league relievers. Reasonable enough, though I’d argue it’s a bit of a bargain since Walker is more likely to never get out of Double-A than be an impact player. We have a frame of reference for a trade, but the problem is the Yankees can’t match it. They don’t have a pitching prospect remotely on par with Walker — a healthy Manny Banuelos might have been close — nor do they have a top-50-ish infield prospect like Franklin. Every team can match the two relievers part, but few have a Walker and Franklin of their own lying around.

Here’s the thing though: the Yankees don’t have to match that offer now. The Diamondbacks aren’t getting Walker and Franklin and two relievers. They lost some leverage when Upton blocked the trade to the Mariners for two reasons. One, it took a serious bidder out of the equation, so the market has shrunk. Two, the player-team relationship is likely so strained now that they’ll have no choice to trade him before Spring Training just to avoid the distractions. That doesn’t mean Upton will come cheap of course. It’ll still take a four-player package that includes two prospects, but maybe now they’re just pretty good prospects instead of elite.

(Christian Petersen/Getty)

Arizona acquired their shortstop of the future a few weeks ago when they essentially swapped Trevor Bauer for Didi Gregorious, so that position is no longer a focus in Upton trade talks. Franklin is a shortstop, but Baseball America (subs. req’d) recently said “he may fit better at second base because his range, hands and arm are all average.” That part of the trade seems to be more about getting the best possible return than filling a specific need anyway. If the D’Backs are hellbent on getting two top-100 prospects back, the Yankees have four to offer in catcher Gary Sanchez and outfielders Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, and Slade Heathcott. None will rank as highly as Walker, but Williams will rank ahead of Franklin while the others won’t be far behind. The exact rankings are trivial anyway, the important thing is that New York has the approximate pieces.

Much has been made of Upton’s shortcoming in recent weeks because that’s what we do nowadays — we focus on what he can’t do rather than appreciate him for what he is. Yes, Upton didn’t hit on the road this year (84 wRC+), but he’s also a 25-year-old right-handed hitter who owns a career .278/.357/.475 (116 wRC+) batting line, draws walks (career 10.1%) and steal bases (18+ in each of the last four years), grades out well defensively, is a year removed from an MVP-caliber effort (139 wRC+), and is signed affordably through 2015. If his left shoulder checks out (he had a labrum issue in 2010 and supposedly it gave him some trouble last year) during the physical, who cares if he didn’t hit on the road last season? Players like Upton aren’t available that often and sometimes you have to roll the dice.

There has been some speculation that the Yankees don’t like Upton’s contract, which will pay him $38M over the next three seasons. I assume that has more to do with the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014 than his salary for 2013, when he’s owed just $9.75M. Trading Curtis Granderson to free up payroll space — a popular idea among the fans and MSM, apparently — wouldn’t impact 2014 and beyond since he’s a free agent next winter. Trading Granderson to make room for Upton would be about 2013. I don’t like the idea of using one to replace the other, but if the Yankees don’t have payroll space to add Upton for 2013, they probably don’t have space for Mike Morse (or Jason Kubel) either. Moving Granderson ($15M) frees up a big chunk of financial room for both Upton ($9.75M) and Morse ($6.75M), assuming the team can find another $1.5M in the couch cushions somewhere. Upton and Morse would be better than the Grandyman and some free agent DH, at least in theory.

Anyway, this Upton stuff gives me a bit of an Alex Rodriguez circa 2003-2004 vibe. A-Rod was rumored to be available all winter and eventually the Rangers reached an agreement with the Red Sox, but the union shot the thing down because of the proposed restructuring of his contract. Before you knew it, poof, Alex was a Yankee. Upton’s been available for months (years, really) and it wasn’t until just now that they reached a trade agreement, but this time it was the player who blew things up, not the league. The Yankees may not have the exact pieces Arizona is seeking and that could prevent a trade from happening, but I do believe they have enough to at least get their attention. We can thank the Mariners for that. If New York is unwilling to pull the trigger on a trade for a 25-year-old player of Upton’s caliber for financial reasons, well that’s just sad.

Morosi: Yankees willing to meet asking price for Justin Upton

Via Jon Morosi: The Yankees are willing to meet the asking price Justin Upton, but they don’t want to absorb the three years and $38M left on his contract. Morosi floats the idea of trading Curtis Granderson to the Mariners for prospect to free up cash, but that is just his speculation.

Upton, 25, used his no-trade clause to block a deal to Seattle last week. He’s exactly the kind of high-end, cornerstone position player the Yankees desperately need to add to their lineup, so this nonsense about not being willing to take on that contract is frustrating. Trading Granderson to free up cash for Upton is a swell idea in theory, but it would be a lateral move for 2013, not an upgrade. The Yankees should be looking to add Upton to Granderson, not use him as a replacement.

Outfield Notes: Melky, Ichiro, Andruw, Upton

(Christian Petersen/Getty)

The Yankees need a right fielder and maybe a fourth outfielder depending on how they feel about Chris Dickerson and Melky Mesa, so let’s round up the latest on the outfield search…

  • At least five teams have already shown interest in Melky Cabrera, but the Yankees (and Mets) aren’t one of them. Given the team’s emphasis on makeup and character, I’m guessing they’ll steer clear of the Melkman following his PED fiasco. [Joel Sherman]
  • Brian Cashman said there is nothing new going on with Ichiro Suzuki, though he did acknowledge talking to his agent. The Yankees are reportedly open to re-signing Ichiro and he “strongly wants to stay” with the team. [Chad Jennings]
  • Unsurprisingly, Cashman hasn’t spoken to Scott Boras about bringing Andruw Jones back. The 35-year-old wants to keep playing, but the Yankees figure to go in a different direction after his miserable second half. [Dan Barbarisi]
  • Still nothing on Justin Upton; the Yankees are apparently not involved in any trade talks for the Diamondbacks outfielder. [Jon Heyman]