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.

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Rosenthal: Cubs sign Scott Hairston

Via Ken Rosenthal: The Cubs (?!?) have agreed to sign Scott Hairston to a two-year contract. The Yankees had some interest in the 32-year-old, who was by far the best right-handed hitting outfield left on the market. They didn’t like the idea of a multi-year contract given the 2014 payroll plan though, so off to Chicago he went. The odds of Matt Diaz and/or Russ Canzler making the team just skyrocketed.

Update: Yankees “pessimistic” about signing Hairston

Tuesday: The Yankees are “pessimistic” about signing Hairston according to Andrew Marchand. As is the case with pretty much every free agent they target for a part-time role, they’re concerned he will jump at the chance for more playing time elsewhere.

Monday: Via Wally Matthews: Free agent outfielder Scott Hairston will make a decision about his next team within “a matter of days.” Both the Yankees and Mets remain involved, but it’s unclear if they’re the two finalists or if other clubs are still in the mix.

“I think he’s a good fit for either team … But there are different roles at each place and Scott is deciding which is the best option for him,” said agent Casey Close. The 32-year-old Hairston is both the best right-handed hitting outfielder left on the market and demanding a multi-year contract. That could knock the Yankees out of the running, which wouldn’t be a complete travesty. Here’s my Scouting The Market post on Hairston if you need a reminder about what he brings to the table.

Yankees likely to continue looking for a right-handed hitting outfielder

Even though they signed Matt Diaz to a minor league contract yesterday, the Yankees are likely to continue looking for a right-handed hitting outfielder according to Ken Rosenthal and Kevin Kernan. They still have interest in Scott Hairston.

Hairston is the (relatively) big name left on the market, but guys like Jeff Baker and Ben Francisco could probably be had on a minor league contracts. Maybe even former Yankee Juan Rivera as well. Melky Mesa is, by far, the team’s best internal option for the right-handed platoon outfielder role, so bringing in as many candidates as possible to compete in camp is the best thing to do if the Yankees are unwilling to give Hairston the multi-year contract he demands.

Winter Meetings Day Two Open Thread

(Elsa/Getty)

The Winter Meetings are only a day old, but they have yet to bring anything resembling good news to the Yankees. Alex Rodriguez will undergo surgery to repair some serious damage in his left hip next month, which will cause him to miss the start of the season. Now the club has to add a stopgap third baseman to a shopping list that already includes a starting right fielder, a starting catcher, a DH, a bench, and various depth players. Thankfully Spring Training is still more than two months away.

Joe Girardi will meet with the media at 5:30 ET today, but those things usually lack major news. Either way, I’ll have a recap. We’ll keep track of all the Yankees-related rumors and rumblings throughout the day right here, so make sure you check back in. Here are Monday’s rumors and here are today’s, with the latest up top (all times are ET):

  • 8:56pm: The Yankees have asked to see Youkilis’ medicals, though the two sides remain far apart on the dollars. I do not like where this is going. [Barbarisi]
  • 8:19pm: The Yankees remain in the mix for Scott Hairston. [Rosenthal]
  • 7:25pm: Brian Cashman confirmed that they’ve had conversations with both Youkilis and A.J. Pierzynski. [Dan Barbarisi]
  • 7:06pm: The Yankees are one of several teams with interest in Mark Reynolds. [Heyman]
  • 7:05pm: Updated demands! Keppinger is reportedly seeking $12M across three years now. [Heyman]
  • 6:02pm: The Yankees don’t want to break the bank on a third baseman even on a one-year deal. They’re nowhere close on money with Youkilis. [Curry]
  • 4:15pm: The Yankees have met with Chavez’s agent at some point during the Winter Meetings and expressed an interest in re-signing him for next season. This was inevitable following A-Rod‘s injury. [Ken Davidoff]
  • 3:33pm: Scutaro is seeking $24M across three years (!) while Keppinger is seeking $8M across two years. They’re basically the same player except Keppinger is five years younger. [Olney & Ken Rosenthal]
  • 2:01pm: The Yankees have “very strong” interest in Jeff Keppinger and met with his representatives yesterday. The A-Rod injury accelerated their timetable. [Jeff Passan]
  • 1:15pm: Kevin Youkilis is the top third baseman on the free agent market and the Yankees have spoken to his agent. The long-time Red Sox player is apparently open to a one-year contract if the money is good enough. [Jack Curry]
  • 12:55pm: The Yankees have checked in on Shane Victorino, who figures to get multiple years. [Jerry Crasnick]
  • 12:44pm: The Yankees have “likely interest” in Marco Scutaro, which means no one really knows if they have interest and are just guessing in the wake of A-Rod’s injury. [Ken Rosenthal]
  • 9:43am: The Yankees are talking to multiple nameless third base candidates. Speculate at your own risk. [Heyman]
  • 9:30am: The Yankees are open to discussing Curtis Granderson and Phil Hughes in trades. I wrote about what they could expect in return for their center fielder in a mailbag a few months ago, and I have a hard time seeing a realistic deal that would be worthwhile. [Buster Olney & Joel Sherman]
  • Although he intends to play in 2013, the Yankees have yet to talk to Eric Chavez about a new contract for next season. That figures to change pretty quickly in the wake of A-Rod’s injury. [Sherman]
  • Depending on who you ask, the Yankees either are or are not in on Yunel Escobar. I suppose they could have checked in before backing off. Considering their emphasis on strong makeup and character, I can’t imagine they would push hard to acquire him unless he came dirt cheap. [Jon Heyman, Jayson Stark & Olney]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

Winter Meetings Day One Open Thread

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Baseball’s annual Winter Meeting officially kick off today in Nashville, and the next three and a half days will be chock full of rumors, rumblings, trades, free agent signings, and all sorts of neat hot stove stuff. Whether the Yankees get involved and make some moves remains to be seen. They’ve already take care of their major pitching issues by re-signing Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera to one-year contracts.

New York’s needs are rather obvious. They need a right fielder to replace Nick Swisher, a catcher to replace the already departed Russell Martin, as well as most of a bench and miscellaneous depth players. We’ll keep trade of any Yankees-related news right here throughout the day with the latest updates up top. Just check the time stamps (all ET).

  • 6:23pm: The Yankees were not in on Joakim Soria before the agreed to a two-year deal with the Rangers. [Sherman]
  • 4:25pm: The Yankees have some interest in Cody Ross as a right-handed hitting outfielder. He seems like a lock to get multiple years and overpaid. [Jon Morosi]
  • 3:42pm: Brian Cashman confirmed A-Rod‘s injury will not impact the team’s budget. They’re sticking with whatever number this year and will still try to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold next year. They may received some insurance money, however. [Buster Olney]
  • 3:29pm: The Yankees had some trade interest in infielder Chris Nelson of the Rockies earlier this season. The 27-year-old hit .301/.358/.458 this summer, but that’s only a 105 wRC+ when adjusted for Coors Field. Nelson is a second and third baseman. [Troy Renck]
  • 3:21pm: The Yankees are one of several teams trying to sign Scott Hairston, but they don’t want to spend 2014 dollars and he’ll likely require a two-year commitment. [Sherman]
  • 1:55pm: The Yankees were “quietly inquiring” about third base help at the GM Meetings last month. [Sweeny Murti]
  • 12:38pm: Alex Rodriguez‘s new hip injury means the Yankees figure to be even more interested in finding infield help, though they don’t believe Kevin Youkilis, Placido Polanco, and Ty Wigginton can handle the position on an everyday basis. They view Marco Scutaro as a second baseman. [Sherman]
  • 11:00am: The Yankees are interested in Stephen Drew and are “working hard” to sign him. They would presumably use him as their 100-game backup shortstop and third baseman, but there is no indication Drew is okay with playing the hot corner. He has never played a professional game anywhere other than shortstop and figures to get offers to start for other teams at the position. [Jim Bowden & Joel Sherman]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Scott Hairston

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

Regardless of how the Yankees replace Nick Swisher in right field this winter, they’re going to need to bring in a right-handed outfield bat. Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson are both left-handed and you can make a case either guy needs a platoon partner, plus the club has to replace some of the righty power they’re losing as Alex Rodriguez ages and Swisher (and potentially Russell Martin) heads elsewhere.

About two weeks ago we learned the Yankees “continue to have conversations” with free agent outfielder Scott Hairston, the younger brother of former Yankee Jerry Hairston Jr. The 32-year-old Scott is coming off a career year with the Mets (.263/.299/.504, 118 wRC+) and is well-known for his ability to pound left-handed pitching. Just ask Gio Gonzalez or Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee or Hamels again, they’ll tell you. Let’s see if Jerry’s little brother is a fit for the outfield-needy Yankees.

The Pros

  • Hairston will be paid to hit lefties, and he does it very well. He produced a .286/.317/.550 (135 wRC+) batting line against southpaws this year and a .263/.308/.464 (110 wRC+) batting line over the last three years.
  • Although he is known as a platoon player, Hairston can at least hold his own against righties. He hit .239/.281/.457 (100 wRC+) against them this year and .218/.289/.420 (96 wRC+) over the last three years. You can live with that from a fourth outfielder.
  • Hairston came up as an infielder but has since moved to the outfield full time, and the various metrics rate him as an average defender in left and a tick below (but still playable in a pinch) in center.
  • It’s not a big part of his game, but Hairston can steal the occasional base. He swiped eight bags in ten tries this year and 15 in 19 tries over the last three years. He’s also about average when it comes to taking the extra base.
  • Hairston obviously has some experience playing in New York given his two years with the Mets, plus they did not make him a qualifying offer. He won’t require draft pick compensation to sign.

The Cons

  • If he doesn’t get a hit, he’s not going to reach base. Hairston is a hacker who walked in just 4.8% of his plate appearances this year and 6.9% over the last three years. He’s consistently swung at ~30% of the pitches seen outside of the strike zone, leading to a below-average strikeout rate (21.2% since 2010).
  • Hairston has been on the DL seven times since making his debut in 2004, including once a year from 2005 through 2011. Most of the injuries were various strains (oblique, hamstring, quad, etc.), but he did have some more serious shoulder problems earlier in his career. He did avoid injury this year, however.
  • He’s limited to left because he can’t throw to save his life — this little rainbow is about the best you’re going to get from his arm. Maybe the early-career shoulder problems are to blame. Hairston only has about 446.1 career innings in right field.

Jonny Gomes did Hairston a favor by signing a two-year, $10M contract with the Red Sox and setting the market for right-handed platoon outfielders. The Yankees are looking to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold by 2014, so therefore any multi-year contract has to be viewed through the prism of average annual value and its impact on next year’s payroll limit. Assuming he signs a contract similar to Gomes, Hairston will be a very pricy fourth outfielder at $4-5M annually.

I liked the younger Hairston quite a bit two years ago, when the Yankees opted to instead sign Andruw Jones to serve as their left-handed pitching masher. Jones worked out wonderfully in 2011 but didn’t help at all this season. We’ve gathered some more data on Hairston these last two years and I do worry quite a bit about his complete reliance on power. If he stops hitting the ball out of the park, he’ll be useless offensively because he never walks and only hits for a decent average. Jones, for example, still drew more walks than Hairston this year (28-19) in 108 fewer plate appearances. Imagine second half Andruw without the walks, and that’s what you’re getting from Hairston when the bat speed starts to slip.

With Gomes signed and Reed Johnson slipping with age, the free agent outfield market is devoid of quality right-handed platoon bats. I’d love to think Brian Cashman & Co. could get Hairston to sign a one-year contract like they have so many veterans the last few years, but he’s been a fringe roster player for most of his career and he’s coming off the best season of his life, so I have to think he’ll look to parlay that into the biggest payday possible. Hairston makes a ton of sense for the Yankees, but he’s a risky (and limited) player who will command multiple years as a free agent.