Update: Yankees sign Matt Holliday to one-year deal

Beard's gotta go, Matt. (Jeff Curry/Getty)
Beard’s gotta go, Matt. (Jeff Curry/Getty)

Wednesday: The Yankees have officially announced the signing, so Holliday passed his physical and all that. He can block a trade to one team, according to Chris Cotillo: the Athletics. I guess Holliday didn’t enjoy his time with the A’s a few years ago, huh? Anyway, the 40-man roster is now full, which means the Yankees won’t be making a pick in tomorrow’s Rule 5 Draft, not that they were expected to make a pick anyway.

“The opportunity to play for such a historic franchise and such an amazing organization was really appealing,” said Holliday to Erik Boland and Pete Caldera. “I was excited about the opportunity to be a Yankee. I think this team has got a chance to be very competitive … It’s a talented young group of players that played amazing baseball the last two months when everybody kind of counted them out.”

Sunday: The Yankees have their veteran designated hitter. According to Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees have agreed to a one-year contract worth $13M with free agent outfielder Matt Holliday. The team hasn’t announced the move, which usually means it’s pending a physical. That’ll come soon enough.

Reports indicate the Yankees wanted Carlos Beltran back at DH, but he signed a one-year deal with the Astros over the weekend. Holliday, while not a switch-hitter, is similar to Beltran in that he’s a veteran bat with a history of hitting for power and maintaining relatively low strikeout rates. He also has a strong reputation as a clubhouse guy, which is cool because the Yankees have a lot of young players who need mentorin’.

Holliday, 37 in January, hit .246/.322/.461 (109 wRC+) with 20 home runs in 110 games around a broken thumb this past season. The thumb was broken by an errant pitch in August. Holliday was supposed to miss the rest of the season, but the Cardinals activated him for the final homestand so he could say goodbye to the St. Louis fans, and he managed to hit an opposite field homer with a broken thumb:

Holliday has spent almost his entire career as a left fielder, but he’s a brutal defender these days, so much so that the Yankees should only use him out there in an emergency. They have enough outfield depth — even if Brett Gardner is traded — to avoid using Holliday in left, I think. He does have some first base experience, but not much. Holliday should be a DH and a DH only. Plain and simple.

Believe it or not, this is only the Yankees second Major League free agent signing since re-signing Stephen Drew in January 2015. The other signing? Tommy Layne in August. The Yankees infamously sat out free agency entirely last offseason. My guess is they’re not done spending this winter, with smaller deals like this continuing to be the focus. We’ll see what happens.

Now that the Yankees have their DH, they figure to focus on pitching at the Winter Meetings this year. Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. Starters and relievers. All of it. They’ve been connected to the top free agent closers so often this winter that it’ll feel like an upset if they don’t land one of them. The rotation? That’ll take a little more creativity. The free agent class stinks.

Hot Stove Notes: Cecil, Cespedes, Napoli, Holliday, Moss

Cecil. (Elsa/Getty)
Cecil. (Elsa/Getty)

One week from today the 2016 Winter Meetings will begin at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, DC. Will MLB and the MLBPA agree to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement before then? I sure hope so. The current CBA expires Thursday. If they don’t hammer out a deal, the baseball world could come to a standstill. Anyway, here are some miscellaneous bits of hot stove news.

Yankees had interest in Cecil

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees were in on lefty reliever Brett Cecil before he signed with the Cardinals last week. St. Louis gave him a four-year deal worth $30.5M. Goodness. Sherman says the Yankees never did make Cecil a formal offer, though they did talk parameters with his representatives. What they player wanted, what the team was willing to do … that sort of that stuff.

Cecil, 30, had a 3.93 ERA (3.64 FIP) in 36.2 total innings around a lat injury this past season. He had stellar strikeout (28.7%) and walk (5.1%) rates, though lefties managed a .254/.310/.364 batting line against him. You’d like your primary southpaw reliever to do a little better than that against same-side hitters. Although the Yankees didn’t present Cecil with an offer, their interest shows how seriously they’re looking for bullpen help. It’s not just to the top guys like Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen. They’re zeroing in on the second tier free agents too.

Cespedes not in Yankees’ plans

The Yankees are not planning to pursue Yoenis Cespedes even though they have checked in with his representatives, reports Christian Red. Cespedes is arguably the best overall free agent on the market and he figures to land a hefty contract. The Yankees checked in just because they check in with everyone. It’s due diligence. How else are you going to find out whether a free agent is interested enough in your team to take a discount?

Cespedes, 31, hit .280/.354/.530 (134 wRC+) with 31 home runs for the crosstown Mets in 2016. The Yankees, who were one of the worst offensive teams in baseball this summer, could certainly use a bat like that in their lineup. They’re also trying to get under the luxury tax threshold at some point soon, plus they have a ton of talented outfield prospects in the upper minors, so a pricey corner outfielder is not a pressing need. It’s worth making the call to check in. Spending huge on Cespedes doesn’t seem wise at this point in time though.

Yankees have checked in with several bats

In addition to the usual cast of characters (Cespedes, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, etc.), the Yankees have also checked in on other free agent bats like Mike Napoli, Brandon Moss, Matt Holliday, and Dexter Fowler, reports Jon Heyman. Napoli, Moss, and Holliday are all short-term DH candidates — or at least they should be — while Fowler figures to be more of a long-term addition.

With Brian McCann gone, the Yankees suddenly have an opening at DH for a big veteran bat. They’re said to be interested in a reunion with Carlos Beltran. If the Yankees are going to spend on a free agent bat, I would greatly prefer a short-term contract. Short-term as in one year. Napoli, Beltran, Holliday, and Moss make more sense for the Yankees right now than Cespedes or Encarnacion. Remember, the Yankees are still paying Alex Rodriguez. I’m not sure how eager they are to commit big money to another DH at the moment.

How many wins would Matt Holliday add in 2010?

The Yankees’ only lineup weakness exists in left field. Matt Holliday, an All-Star left fielder, remains on the market, mostly because no team has met his current contract demands. It seems the two match up perfectly, yet the Yankees have stated that they will not sign Holliday. Since the team made their budget the theme of the off-season, we can see clearly that in no way could Holliday fit into any budget of around $200 million. But are the Yankees really going to let money get in the way of a perfect match?

Maybe the match isn’t so perfect after all. Dave Cameron at FanGraphs discussed the topic from the lens of marginal value added. Maybe, he argues, the Yankees will stay away from Holliday not because he’s too expensive, but because his salary would not justify the improvement his addition would bring to the Yankees. After all, as Cameron explains, the Yankees are already a near-100-win team on paper. So, when considering Holliday (or the recently signed Jason Bay), the Yankees need to wonder exactly how much they benefit the team.

They are at the other end of the win curve, and it doesn’t make much sense to spend a lot of money there either. The marginal value of the 101st, 102nd, and 103rd win in terms of playoff odds is really quite small. And that’s approximately the upgrade that Holliday would represent over the current production that Gardner offers in left field.

Cameron’s analysis falls short in two areas. First, the strength of the team once it does make the playoffs. The Yankees might win 100 games with or without Holliday, but once the playoffs roll around they need all the ammunition they can muster. Holliday’s value inflates in that situation. Second, it doesn’t take into account future considerations. Maybe Holliday’s marginal value on the Yankees doesn’t project to much for the 2010 season, but that could significantly increase in future years as the roster changes.

Still, I’m sure the marginal value factor plays a large part in the Yankees’ decision making process. If they really do covet the 2010-2011 free agent class, then perhaps they’ll find an even better left field fit in that market. In that case they can avoid signing Holliday this season and a player who provides more marginal value for their 2011 team. It means they’d get more for their money, which, as we’ve discussed many times, is the business ideal.

What does Nick Johnson mean for the left field situation?

Three Yankees who made significant contributions to the 2009 championship filed for free agency this winter: Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Andy Pettitte. By December 18, they’ve essentially replaced all three. Andy Pettitte re-signed last week to fill his own spot. The Yankees traded for Curtis Granderson to replace Damon, and the soon-to-be-announced signing of Nick Johnson fills Matsui’s vacated DH spot. The replacements are not exact facsimiles of their 2009 counterparts, but then again, no one is.

One question many of us had upon hearing of the Yanks interest in Johnson: what does it mean for left field? Melky Cabrera isn’t the worst choice. He was, after all, the starting center fielder on the 2009 team. The problems arise when Jorge Posada needs a day off. That means both Melky and Francisco Cervelli in the lineup. In a normal backup catcher situation that’s not a huge deal, but because we can’t expect Posada to catch more than 120 games (and even that’s very optimistic), it means a lot of both in the lineup.

Had the Yankees re-signed Damon, they could have mitigated the situation for some games. Instead of resting Posada a full day, sometimes he could have played DH, with Damon playing left field. Say Posada catches 110 games this season. Under the current system, the Yankees will have both Melky and Cervelli in the lineup for 52 games, or 32 percent of the season. But, if Posada can DH for 30 more games, for a total of 140, then the Yankees would only have both Melky and Cervelli in the lineup for 22 games. That sounds a lot better.

With Johnson in the fold, that’s not possible. It has made me, and many others, wonder if the Yankees now plan to sign or trade for a full-time left fielder. Though the chances appear remote, the Yankees could still sign Damon, though they’d have to play him in left basically every day. Do they still see him as a full-time left fielder? If not, it creates a logjam at DH, though those usually find a way to become unjammed. In fact, Damon might be the only possibility for another offensive addition. The left field trade market appears bleak, and there aren’t many, if any, free agent outfielders who interest the Yanks.

To not sign another left fielder, however, leaves the Yankees vulnerable. Nick Johnson comes with a long medical history, and is no guarantee to stay healthy the entire season. If something happens to him in 2010, the Yanks would be in a very tough spot. Without any further additions, they’d probably move Nick Swisher to DH and have an outfield of Cabrera, Granderson, and Brett Gardner. Defensively that’s stellar, but offensively it would be among the lightest hitting trios in the league. Further, imagine the lineup when Jorge needs a full day off. It’s not a scenario anyone wants to see.

Many Yanks fans, myself included, dream of Matt Holliday in this scenario. From a pure performance perspective, he represents an ideal fit. Not only does he play left field full time, but he provides a middle of the order bat. Just imagine the Yankees batting order:

1. Derek Jeter
2. Nick Johnson
3. Mark Teixeira
4. Alex Rodriguez
5. Matt Holliday
6. Jorge Posada
7. Curtis Granderson
8. Nick Swisher
9. Robinson Cano

The scenario, as of right now, remains unlikely. Without contracts for any of the arbitration-eligible and reserve clause players, the team payroll stands at about $188 million. Add in another $6 to $7 million for Melky, Chad Gaudin, and Sergio Mitre, plus the money to fill out the rest of the roster, and the number gets very close to $200 million. Will the Yankees go far above that for a left fielder? It doesn’t sound like it.

Holliday will not come cheap. As he does for all of his clients, Scott Boras seeks the most possible money for Holliday. The Cardinals reportedly have on the table a five-year offer for about $15 million per year. Even if the Yankees matched that and Holliday preferred New York, that would boost payroll to over $210 million, and close to $215 million. Imagine, then, if they wanted to add another starter. They could easily start the season with a payroll over $220 million. From everything the Yankees have said this off-season, that’s not part of the plan.

As we’ve mentioned many times before, adding Holliday doesn’t just affect this year’s payroll, but the payroll for the next five years. The Yankees might not want to add that kind of commitment when they already have $140 million committed to the 2011 team, and that’s before re-signing Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Cashman has also called next year’s free agency class “incredibly more impressive than this one,” so the Yanks might choose to wait this one out, add one more pitcher and call it an off-season. They can then make a move on perhaps a better free agent next off-season.

There’s a chance, as always, that the Yankees see the sense in adding Holliday at this point and decide to increase payroll for him. At yesterday’s Granderson press conference, Hal Steinbrenner seemed open to the idea, but reluctant. “I’m not saying yay (sic) or nay, but I’m saying we’re operating at this number and that’s that.” The chance is open, but given the immense commitment it would require, I doubt the Yankees move in that direction.

If they’re done shopping for an outfielder, the 2010 Yankees enter the season with a big risk. If healthy Nick Johnson is a great addition, but any injury would leave the Yankees offense in a tough spot. Even if they add another good starting pitcher, that’s a rough bottom of the order. I’d like to see them add a higher caliber left fielder, but given the roster and payroll constraints, I don’t expect it.

The stove gets hotter with updates on Sheets, Holliday, and Bay

The Red Sox struck yesterday, landing both John Lackey and Mike Cameron. How will the Yankees react? In short, they won’t. They might have to alter their plans, given yesterday’s activity, but they’re not going to make some huge signing just to keep up with the Red Sox. They did, after all, bring in a new center fielder last week. In the torrid pace of the hot stove we can lose sight of that.

We kicked off today with a question: which outfielder would you want under current circumstances: Holliday for eight years, Bay for five, Damon for three, or Melky for one. As happens frequently during the off-season, those circumstances have changed. One option appears all but eliminated, and another seems at least a little more attractive.

According to three reporters — Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports and Mark Feinsand of the Daily News — the Yankees have no interest in Jason Bay. Last night’s report that the Yankees had reached out to Bay’s agents was just another routine hot stove item. We shouldn’t have expected otherwise. Bay seems adamant about a five-year deal, and reportedly has one on the table.

That development brings the options down to three, though one of them got at least a little more attractive. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, reports of an eight-year offer to Holliday might not be true. He hears that the Cardinals will “stand on a five-year offer,” though they could alter it a bit. Then again, there aren’t many teams in on Holliday, so we could certainly see St. Louis stay at five years. Sources also tell Olney that they “cannot foresee a situation” in which the Yankees bid on Holliday. I wouldn’t be so sure of that, especially if they’re talking about a five-year deal.

Finally, Ken Rosenthal hears that the Yankees are “very interested” in Ben Sheets. That’s good news. He’s a high-risk arm, but he could be fresh after missing all of 2009 with a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow. While any arm injury should give teams pause, Sheets’s case might not be severe. Andy Pettitte underwent the same procedure at the end of the 2004 season, and came back with perhaps the best year of his career in 2005.

There is, of course, the issue of money, and as we’ve discussed before Sheets is looking for about $12 million. It’s doubtful any team guarantees him that much, so it could come down to the team that puts together the best incentives package. Even with that, it could take $8 million guaranteed to sign Sheets. For a team in the Yankees position, that might be worth it.

Do the Yanks really have room for another big contract?

"Holy crap does Julio Lugo suck."Sometimes really good just isn’t enough. Yahoo’s Steve Henson tweets that despite the now official Curtis Granderson pickup, the Yankees “aren’t satisfied” with their outfield, and will still be in on free agent Matt Holliday. A source told Pete Caldera that the Yanks still have room in their budget for one big contract, which amazes me if they actually plan on sticking to the projected $190-200M payroll.

“Maybe the budget is something people laugh at,” Cashman said. “It’s high. Clearly it’s the highest in the game. But it’s very defined and so I won’t exceed it.”

Right now, the Yanks have $177.6M tied up in 12 players. That doesn’t include arbitration raises to Chad Gaudin ($3M?), Sergio Mitre ($1.5M?) and Melky Cabrera ($3M?), nor the money owed to Andrew Brackman and Juan Miranda (about $1M). At least six other guys that project to be on the 25-man roster will be making close to the minimum, so let’s call that another $3M. Add it all up, and we get $189.1M. Gaudin is a non-tender candidate despite his strong work in pinstripes, but hopefully they’d tender him a contract and trade him for even a B-prospect instead. You’d have to think there would be a decent market for a guy like that.

So even if they non-tender Gaudin, that leaves them about $14M of wiggle room, assuming they spend to the maximum of that $190-200M range. Is that enough to land Matt Holliday? Probably not. Scott Boras would need to come back to the Yanks late and offer up Holliday at a “reduced rate,” similar to what he did with Carlos Beltran. If they move Melky Cabrera and fill his spot with a guy making the minimum, maybe through the Rule 5 Draft later this morning, then they might have $17M left to offer. That might get Holliday in pinstripes.

However, is that what’s best for the team? Obviously, Matt Holliday is a tremendous player and instantly makes any team he’s on better, although it would push the Yanks right up against their spending limit, leaving them limited room for in-season moves. Plus they’d be without a designated hitter and short some pitching depth with Ian Kennedy gone and Chad Gaudin non-tendered/traded in this scenario.

Instead of putting all their financial eggs in one Holliday basket, Brian Cashman & Co. are probably better off spreading the money around a bit. For $11M, they could could probably bring in one of Nick Johnson or Justin Duchscherer, plus another half-decent player for depth while keeping Gaudin and the Melkman. Sure, Holliday may end up in Boston, but “our rival might get him” does not justify any move.

I’d love to have Matt Holliday in leftfield and hitting fifth behind A-Rod come Opening Day, however not if it comes at the cost of roster and financial flexibility. Remember, the 25 guys that break camp are never the same 25 guys that make up the playoff roster, and it’s already been proven that Brian Cashman will go out and address a weakness mid-season if need be. Frankly, if they’re going to go out and drop big bucks on one player, I’d prefer a high-end pitcher over a high-end position player.

Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar, AP

Yanks plans don’t include Jason Bay or Matt Holliday

Buster Olney notes this morning that the Yankees sifted through their outfield options during their organizational meetings, and two names that aren’t options (for whatever reasons) are Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. I’m guessing it’s the combination of lots of dollars and lots of years. Olney says that Johnny Damon remains their top target for left field, but only if he comes down to $7-8M for a year or two. Plan B is Mike Cameron, who we’re very much a fan of.

Of course, we heard last year that the team didn’t have enough cash to bring in Mark Teixeira after landing CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, so don’t take this too literally. Cashman is a ninja, he attacks with great stealth.