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.

Roundup: World Series shares, Grapefruit League action, drafting Holliday, Caray fired

To end the workday, a lot of small stories with nothing quite worth its own post. We’ll have a site announcement coming up in the Open Thread at 7 p.m. Meanwhile, the news from around baseball:

Average MLB salary just under $3 million

Despite a nationwide recession, MLB salaries went up again in 2009. Although the 2.4 percent increase was the lowest since 2004, baseball players are still doing quite well for themselves as the average MLB salary is $2.93 million a year. The Yanks were far and away the most generous team as the average Yankee earns $7.66 million a season. This year marked the 11th straight season in which the Yanks led that list. Six of the top eight teams — New York, Boston, St. Louis, the Dodgers, the Angels and the Phillies — made the playoffs with only the Mets and Tigers missing a post in the October dance.

Yanks take home $365K each in World Series share

A few months ago, I speculated that the Yankees, if they won the World Series, would earn the highest per-player share in postseason history, and that reality has come to pass. MLB unveiled the Yanks’ World Series shares today, and each person who earns a full share will take home a bonus of $365,052.73. According to the press release, the Yanks have awarded 46 full shares, 12.25 partial shares and 2 cash awards, and for some of those young kids who made the league minimum this year, their salaries just doubled. Postseason shares are awarded from 60 percent of the gate from the first three games of the Division Series and 60 percent of the gate receipts from Games 1-4 of the AL and NLCS and the World Series.

The Yankees aren’t the only players enjoying a rich and lucrative postseason. The Phillies, World Series runners-up, will earn $265,357.50 per full share, and even the chokers get some money. The Red Sox will each earn $28,263.28 for getting swept by Los Angeles. The Angels, in a very classy move, voted to give Nick Adenhart’s family a full playoff share totaling $138,000.

Yanks announce 2010 Grapefruit League schedule

With pitchers and catchers just 79 days away, the Yankees have unveiled their 2010 Spring Training schedule. Pitchers and catchers will report on Feb. 17, and games begin with an afternoon affair against the Pirates on March 3. The Yankees will match up against the Phillies five times during the Grapefruit League and will play all AL East teams except the Red Sox. As a Spring Training finale on April 3, the Big League club will take on a roster of Minor League prospects. If you have a chance to get to some Spring Training games, check out the action. It’s always a lot of fun. Tickets go on sale next month.

For some reason, MLB.com doesn’t yet have the full schedule up on the Yanks’ official site. But Marc Carig has it as his blog. So just head on over for a full list of the games.

TBS fists Chip Caray out of a job

With more than a little glee, Richard Sandomir of The Times reports that TBS and Chip Caray will part ways prior to the 2010 baseball season. Caray came under fire from, well, just about anyone who watched baseball this October for his terrible announcing and play-by-play job. Sandomir highlights a particularly egregious example. While calling what Sandomir termed “an obvious lineout,” Caray announced it as such: “Line drive. Base hit. Caught out there. The runner tags. Throw to the plate. On target. And in time! A double play!” He won’t be missed.

Yanks ‘considered’ drafting Holliday in 1998

In a piece yesterday, Anthony McCarron noted that the Yanks thought about drafting Matt Holliday in 1998. They opted against making such a move due to Holliday’s football commitment to Oklahoma State. McCarron notes that the Yanks went with Drew Henson, another football/baseball high school star, but the comparison isn’t really apt. Holliday fell to the seventh round due to signability concerns, the Yanks drafted Henson in the third round that year. What the Yanks should not do, however, is rectify a 11-year-old mistake by signing Holliday this winter.

No, Will, the Yankees don’t need Holliday

Back in my college days, Sunday highlighted the week. After three straight days of partying in which I probably drank a keg of Natty Light on my own, I’d sleep until noon, throw on a pot of coffee, and read the Sunday sports columns. For some reason, I actually admired them back then. How naive we are in college. I eventually stopped reading those guys, because they brought nothing insightful to the table. In their stead, I frequented Deadspin, thinking Will Leitch was different. Again, I was naive.

Leitch has since left Deadspin for New York magazine. He still writes in the same Gawker Media style but his subject matter more resembles Mike Lupica than Drew Magary. His latest column deals with the Yankees and Matt Holliday, and he states in no uncertain terms that the Yankees need him. Yes, need. If only Brian Cashman had Leitch on speed dial.

It’s not that Leitch makes a terrible case. Holliday would look “downright gorgeous batting fifth, behind A-Rod.” There’s no doubt that Holliday would make the Yankees lineup stronger in 2010. Leitch makes that case clear, but in doing so he neglects to note the negatives of signing a player to a multiyear contract. In Holliday’s case, I believe the negatives outweigh the positives.

Leitch’s basic argument is that the Yankees should forget sentimentality and let Damon and Matsui walk. They’re older players, and the money used on them could go towards Holliday. The problem, unacknowledged by Leitch, is that both Damon and Matsui figure to land short-term deals, while the Yankees would almost certainly have to commit five years to Holliday. At, say, $18 million per season, that puts the Yankees commitments at over $110 million for 2013, plus Derek Jeter at presumably another $20 million.

Even worse, that $130 million would be spread among just six players: Jeter, Holliday, CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira. If the Yankees intend to keep their payroll around $200 million for the next few years — and there’s little indication that they plan to raise it — that would mean just $70 million for the other 19 players on the roster. That will be tough with both Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes in their third and final arbitration years. If those two pan out, the Yankees could then have over $150 million committed to just eight players.

Towards the end of his unconvincing argument, Leitch wonders, “If you’re not paying for someone like Holliday, why do you have the money?” The answer, of course, is to pay A-Rod, Sabathia, Jeter, Teixeira, Burnet, Rivera, Posada, Cano, Swisher, and Marte, all of whom are under contract for 2010, and who make a combined $165 million. Again, unless the Yankees commit to spending more than $200 million on payroll — not just in 2010, but for many years down the road — adding Holliday to that ledger is not responsible. It is simply too much money committed to too few players.

As an idea, I love Hallday playing left for the Yankees. Practically speaking, I can’t see it happening. He’s a good player, maybe a great player, but the Yankees can’t just sign every good to great player who hits the market. They made three huge commitments last off-season, knowing that it would hinder their future spending. But they saw the three guys they wanted and pounced. That limits their flexibility this off-season. Perhaps in another off-season, without so many dollars committed to future payrolls, the Yanks would pounce on Holliday. But in the winter of 2009-2010, it doesn’t appear that the Yankees have the room.

Yankees off-season behavior will change with the year

A year ago Saturday, the Yankees opened the free agent signing period by offering CC Sabathia six years and $140 million. It was an aggressive offer from a team that promised to be active in the free agent market. The Yankees had many holes, and as luck had it the free agent class featured a number of players who could fill them. Sabathia was the center piece, but it was known that the Yankees wouldn’t end with just one acquisition. Brian Cashman himself said he was bringing home two pitchers.

It was the perfect time for the Yankees. The free agent class was strong, with a few elite and otherwise high quality players. Because a few contracts had just expired, the team had money to spend. Other teams helped too, but restricting spending at a time when the Yankees freed up resources. It all came together, and the Yankees struck. That doesn’t happen all the time, and given the Yankees current situation and the strength of the market, it doesn’t appear that the Yankees will make a similar play this year.

Cashman recently commented on the free agent situation, saying that, “You won’t see offers right out of the gate.” It signals that the Yankees will be a bit more patient with this class, knowing that adding any of the top players means yet another long-term, high-salary commitment. Over the last two off-seasons the team has added four contracts of five years or longer. I’m not sure the team is ready to add another.

This means that the Yankees probably won’t sign Matt Holliday. On his newly minted Twitter account, ESPN’s Buster Olney says that the Yankees “are not interested in signing Holliday.” In a different year, maybe the Yankees make a play for Holliday. But the Yankees already have $92.912 million committed to their 2013 roster. That does not include Derek Jeter, whose contract is up after next season and who will presumably sign a new, lucrative deal that will cover 2013. Adding Holliday (and Jeter) would put the 2013 figure close to $130 million.

Last year the Yankees took advantage of a robust free agent market. They had the money, and the players were right. Neither is true this year. The Yankees have some money coming off the books, but they also have holes to fill. While it’s nice to think of Holliday roaming left field in 2010, it means he’d also play there in 2013 and beyond. That doesn’t appear to interest the Yankees this off-season.