Mailbag: Cameron, Prince, Montero, Banuelos

Mailbag time. Lots of questions this week so I tried to keep the answers short. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in any questions…

(Photo Credit: Flickr user surfneng via Creative Commons license)

Orciari asks: Heard Sox just DFA’d Cameron, any interest for NY?  Obviously it would mean removing Jones, who would you rather have?

Neither is great, and they’re basically the same player. Low average guys that will draw some walks and hit for power, mostly against lefties. Also solid defenders that were once great in center. Mike Cameron was cut because he’s been brutal this year, a .216 wOBA in 105 plate appearances including a .232 wOBA against southpaws, which is why they got rid of him in the first place. Yeah, Andruw Jones strikes out a bunch, but so does Cameron, and at least he’s still shown that he can be reasonably productive. It didn’t work for Cameron with one AL East team, I see no need to make the switch.

EJ asks: What percentage of chance do you think the Yankees have in signing Jeremy Rathjen? Who do you think will be the five toughest players to sign from the 2011 draft?

Very small, and in face Baseball America called Rathjen completely unsignable right before the draft. They’ve already taken care of one tough sign in 13th rounder Justin James, who came to terms a few days ago. The other difficult ones will be Jordan Cote (third round), Rookie Davis (14), Hayden Sharp (18), Dan Camarena (20), and Adam Ravenelle (44). I’m confident they’ll get Cote signed (they didn’t take him that high not to sign him), though the others will be tough. My guess today is that they land two of them, likely Davis and Sharp.

Sven asks: If Freddy Garcia is a type B free agent at the end of the year do the Yankees offer arbitration? What about Swisher? If he finishes with say 25 HRs and an .800 OPS do they buy him out and then offer arbitration as a type A free agent?

Garcia is just short of qualifying as a Type-B (as in ~1.5 points short), and I assume he’ll make the jump into Type-B territory if he continues to pitch the way he has. If he does that, he’ll earn all of his incentives, pushing his total 2011 salary to $5.1M. If the Yankees offered him arbitration and he accepted, Garcia would probably get a salary somewhere around $7-8M next season. Is that worth the risk for a sandwich pick? I think it’s a fair salary, but there’s a heightened risk give his age and recent injury history.

I don’t see why the Yankees wouldn’t pick up Nick Swisher‘s option at this point. If you can find me a better right field option for next year that will sign for less than (or equal to) one year and $9.25M (the net cost of Swisher’s option), then we’ll talk about buying him out. But for argument’s sake, if they did decline the option, I’m guessing they’d absolutely offer him arbitration. He’s comfortably a Type-A free agent, and worst case scenario he accepts and they’re stuck with him next year for $12-15M or so. Obviously the option is the cheaper way to go, assuming they want to keep him.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Steve Paluch via Creative Common license)

Nick asks: Why don’t the Yankees focus on signing Prince Fielder this offseason? Prince is not a pitcher but would be a perfect fit for Yankee Stadium and he is about to hit his prime. Prince isn’t one of the free agents on the wrong side of his 30s when the Yankees signed him either.

Of course he’s a great fit for Yankee Stadium, pretty much every left-handed power bat is. Where is he going to play though? Are they going to give him a six or seven or eight year deal just to be the designated hitter? I can’t see why the Yankees would give Prince Fielder a deal like that when they’re going to need that DH spot for Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter in the not too distant future. Would he make the team better? Absolutely. But the cost is astronomical and it would destroy future roster flexibility.

bonestock94 asks: Are you beginning to doubt Montero’s ability to be a star in the majors? Am I just overreacting to a poor 2011 campaign?

It’s been 282 plate appearances, relax. The kid is 21 years old and in Triple-A, if he’s still struggling when he’s age appropriate for the level, then I’ll be worried. That’s at least two years away.

Steve asks: [What do you think about Brian Cashman saying there are no high-end starters available? Could they go after Jered Weaver?]

I had to shorten that question up, Steve got a little wordy. One of the many things I’ve learned in recent years is to never believe a word Cashman says. He never says anything that will tip his hand one way or the other, which is exactly what he should do. From here it doesn’t look like any ace-caliber pitchers will be available, but who knows. The trade deadline is a month away and things have a way of changing. I’m sure he and his staff are working diligently to find a high-end starter.

I have an irrational dislike of Weaver, so I might not be the guy to ask. He’s having a great year, but I can’t imagine the Angels would trade him away before at least attempting to re-sign him. I think they’d sooner trade Dan Haren to free up some money for Weaver.

CS Yank asks: At the start of the season, we were seeing 3-4 IP from ManBan and it seems like they either were going off a PC or pacing his IP. In seeing his [69.1] IP YTD, seems like it will likely be a two year build-up of innings (as AA is better than 50% done) as AA is typically over by Labor Day … so do you think his target was around 120 or will they have him go 6-7 from here on out to bring him up to around 150 IP this year? I’m guessing the ship has sailed (with the DL time, BB issue, etc) on any realistic chance to see him in the bigs in 2011.

The short starts early in the year had to do with with Spring Training and his blister. Remember he didn’t have a normal camp because he was with the big league team, so he was throwing 2-3 innings at a time rather than being stretched out normally. Once he got going with Trenton, he had to be shut down with the blister. He (and Dellin Betances) are on 90-100 pitch counts, but because of their control issues that usually means just five innings. They’ll go six innings if possible.

Banuelos only threw 64.2 IP last year because of the appendectomy and he’s already over that, but he did throw 109 IP in 2009. I’m guessing they’d like to get up around 120-130 IP, though remember that they can send him to a winter league (Arizona Fall League again, most likely) to get even more innings. Plus there’s Instructional League, all sorts of ways to get those innings in. But yeah, 120-130 IP this year seems like a reasonable target, then 150-160 next year.

This is what Matt Moore looks like from the third base line. (Photo Credit: Flickr user tedkerwin via Creative Commons license)

Reggie asks: Would you be in favor of a prospect trade : Jesus Montero to the Rays, Matt Moore to the Yankees.

I think it’s fair value and it fills a need for both teams. Tampa could use another big bat to pair with Evan Longoria, and they could stick Montero at first long-term. The Yankees could always use a young, hard-throwing left-handed starter, so it’s easy to see why they’d want more. Fair and logical is one thing, but I think it goes without saying that neither team will ever make the trade. Every team loves their prospects more than everyone else’s, plus there’s the whole intra-division thing. That sure would be fun though, prospect-for-prospect trades don’t happen too often.

Would I do it? Yeah I would. Free agent hitters are safer bets, so it’s better to grow your own arms rather than throw money away. The more pitching prospects the merrier.

Kevin asks: What kind of a contract is Bartolo Colon looking at this offseason? Also, do the Yankees look to retain him or let him go and keep their lightning in a bottle from this year?

I have absolutely no idea. There’s no precedent for a situation like this, so anything I say is just guesswork. If he comes back from the hamstring injury and pitches like he did in April and May, can’t he go out on the market and say he wants $10M a year, maybe even for two years? I think in a perfect world, they’d re-sign him for one year and $5M with a bunch of incentives, assuming he continues to pitch as well as he has. At the end of the day, he’s still 38 years old with a bum shoulder. Who know how the stem cells will hold up.

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Intriguing Rumor of the Day: Center field options

So here’s a fun puzzle to play with a pair rumors from Joel Sherman. First, he says via Twitter, that the Cubs “want Mike Cameron for CF, but so might Yankees, which could be interesting since Cubs like Melky Cabrera.” Then, in his next update, he says that a team official from a club interested in Curtis Granderson believes the Yanks “really want” the 28-year-old for their outfield. So what do you think? Sign Cameron for a short deal, acquire Granderson and flip Melky to the Cubs for some prospects? If only it were that simple.

Cameron not an option for the outfield?

One candidate for the Yankees’ left field vacancy might not be one for much longer. Mike Cameron was a decent alternative to Damon, but he may no longer be an option. Will Carrol tweets that the Cubs are ready to sign Cameron, pending a trade of Milton Bradley.

Cubs signing of Mike Cameron is waiting on deal of Milton Bradley, which has been “imminent” for about 72 hours.

The Rays seem to be in the lead for Bradley, with Pat Burrell heading to Chicago. Then there’s the issue of money — Bradley still has two years and #21 million left on his contract, so the Cub will probably pay a portion of that to off-set the dollar discrepancy.

If Cameron is off the table and Bay and Holliday aren’t options, it looks like Damon is the last hope. He’s not atop the priority list, but it looks like he’ll be important for the Yanks if they want to upgrade their current left field situation, which would presumably be Melky Cabrera.

Glove slap, the recently redesigned TYU.

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.

If Damon departs, Cameron could be the man

Open season in the free agent market began a week and a half ago, yet we haven’t seen any major activity. Andruw Jones signed with the White Sox and Alex Gonzalez signed with the Blue Jays, but those aren’t the types of deals baseball fans crave. Absent this year were the big deals early in the season. Two years ago the Angels signed Torii Hunter in time for Thanksgiving dinner. Last year the Yankees already had a six-year, $140 million offer out to CC Sabathia. This year we’ve had nothing of the sort, and yesterday’s activities explained why.

At midnight, the deadline passed for teams to offer their own free agents arbitration. If a team signed a Type A or Type B player before his former team decided whether to offer him arbitration, the former team would receive compensation. The Angels signed Hunter and the Yankees made a huge offer to Sabathia because it was assumed that their teams would offer them arbitration. Things weren’t so certain this year. Of the 21 Type A free agents eligible for arbitration offers, only 10 received them. Teams proceeded with caution, not wanting to get stuck with a player at the wrong price.

Johnny Damon was among the Type As not offered arbitration. While this doesn’t make the Yankees’ desire to retain Damon any clearer, it does tell us that they do not want to pay him $15 million next season. If they do want him back, they want him on a lesser contract. Maybe that’s one year, maybe it’s one with an option, maybe it’s two. But the AAV of any contract will not be in the $13 million range, or else the Yankees probably would have made the offer.

(This actually made me think of Buster Olney’s quip from Monday, about the Yankees “getting the right player at the right price.” Maybe Damon is the right player, but his arbitration price would not be right. Hence, they declined. Compensation draft picks are nice, but not when they interfere with your major league roster construction.)

As he does with all of his clients, Scott Boras has been talking up Damon. He dropped a mention of “three to four teams who are seriously interested,” but that was in the hypothetical. It’s not quite clear which teams are interested in Damon, but if one of them is willing to offer Damon three or four years, he’ll soon be an ex-Yankee. Even if a two-year deal emerges, there’s no guarantee the Yankees will match. Again, they want their player at the right price. Those are two tough parameters to reconcile, but it seems to be the Yanks M.O. these days.

Even though Damon could return, the Yankees will likely move forward planning for life without him. Since an outfield of Cabrera, Gardner, and Swisher is not ideal, the team could look for help on the open market. That brings us back to a familiar name: Mike Cameron. Though the Yankees have not said anything about the free agent center fielder, they have expressed interest in him as recently as last winter. He was under contract with the Brewers then, but now, as a free agent, he could attract the Yankees.

Buster Olney opens a blog post with a bit on Cameron, who, at age 36, is one of the oldest center fielders in the league. Even so, he ranked third in the majors in UZR at his position, and eighth in wOBA. He wouldn’t match Damon’s offense, especially as a righty at Yankee Stadium, but he could help compensate with his defense. Combine that with a one-year contract, and Cameron might be, to borrow Olney’s phrase, a fit for the Yankees.

It sounds like Cameron could be interested, too, given the quote Olney provides.

“I feel like I can still play one of the better center fields in the game,” Cameron said the other day. “I feel like I can play with the best of them. At the same time, you have to understand if you want to be in the right spot, [moving to corner outfield] might be an option you want to take. … I’m just trying to get in the right spot to get in the playoffs.”

So he’s willing to move to a corner, and he wants to play for a playoff contender. It sounds like maybe, just maybe he was hinting at the Yankees. He could have been hinting at other teams, of course — perhaps the Red Sox would show interest if Jason Bay and Matt Holliday sign elsewhere. But there is definitely a fit with the Yankees. Hey, he even stays in touch with former teammate CC Sabathia, with whom he played for just half a season.

If Damon leaves the Yankees for a larger contract, I would think Cameron sits next on the list. He and Matsui, both on one-year contracts, would help the Yankees’ lineup in 2010 without tying up those positions long-term. That essentially buys the Yankees another year to evaluate their young players and come up with a longer term solution in the outfield. For Cameron it would mean playing for a contender — he could even play center, too, with Cabrera moving over to left. That would create a good defensive alignment while providing ample offense.

Checking in on the center field battle

In 17 days, the Yankees will begin their inevitable march toward a 27th World Series championship. Meanwhile, they still have no set center fielder. With Grapefruit League action a-dwindlin’ in Tampa, it’s time to check in on everyone’s favorite positional battle.

We start with a Jayson Stark rumor:

GLOVE AFFAIR: The most-heard observation about the Yankees this spring: That team could have serious, and potentially fatal, defensive issues. They’re range-challenged in left, in right and at shortstop. (Ed. Note: That’s a shot at Jeter.) They have reliability issues at second. Alex Rodriguez is now a major question on every level. And nobody knows what kind of defensive catcher Jorge Posada is capable of being over the long haul. There are rumblings the Yankees are poking around again on Mike Cameron’s availability.

So basically, that paragraph boils down to blah, blah, blah, and oh, yeah, the Yanks are back on the Mike Cameron bandwagon. If Stark’s sources are telling the truth, I’m not really sure what the Yankees see in Cameron. He’s having a terrible spring for the Brewers; he’s old; and he’s not cheap. The Yanks have two center fielders in camp who could do the job, and while Cameron may still be a better defender than Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner, a weaker hitter, is just as good, if not, better at getting to fly balls.

Cameron, a few months older than Johnny Damon, doesn’t fit the Yankees’ move toward younger, more versatile players either. Perhaps the Brewers are trying to stir up interest in a contractual albatross, but I just don’t see Cameron arriving in the Bronx any time soon. Meanwhile, the Brewers are denying any and all trade rumors, and this looks like a big nothing from Stark. Shocking, I know.

Back in Tampa, Bryan Hoch checked in with Melky Cabrera. The displaced starter now battling for his position feels as though he has a shot at the job, and Joe Girardi is conceding nothing. “This offseason, I worked really hard, so when the opportunity came, I’d be ready to play,” Cabrera said to Hoch. “I worked on defense and hitting and was working out every day. It’s helping a lot. I’m ready to go.”

For his part, with a few weeks of spring games left, Girardi is not giving the spot to either player. “Melky’s playing at a very high level, as well,” Girardi said. “I’m happy with the way Melky is playing. He’s really started swinging the bat, and you see him doing little things — bringing the defense in with drag attempts and shooting balls by them.”

For what it’s worth, Brett Gardner is far outhitting Melky in Spring Training. Cabrera is hitting a Melky-ian .250/.341/.361 through around 40 PAs, and Gardner is hitting .382./447/.765 in the same span.

The Yanks though are far from finished with the auditions. According to Hoch, the team likes Cabrera’s arm in center, and the decision may come down to defense, a factor that should favor Gardner’s speed and range. In the end, Hoch notes that the Yanks could carry both players, and considering that Melky is out of options, they very well might so as not to lose the youngster. I wouldn’t, however, pencil in anyone but Gardner for that Opening Day spot quite yet. Who emerges as the center fielder by game 100 is anyone’s guess.

Stick a fork in it

According to Kat O’Brien, the Mike Cameron trade talks are “officially” dead. I say “officially” in quotes because a trade such as this one is never dead. However, the Yanks seem to have taken Joe’s plea to heart and aren’t rushing things when they don’t have to. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this deal consummated before Spring Training, but the free agent market has to shake down first. There’s a long way to go on that front.