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The Yankees have done most of their offseason heavy lifting and are now left with a very specific set of needs: second or third baseman, starting pitcher, and a reliever or two. Those are the most pressing items and rightfully so. The Yankees also need to improve their overall depth — we saw how important that is this past season thanks to all the injuries — and they’ve started doing that with the recent Dean Anna, Russ Canzler, Yamaico Navarro, and Brian Gordon pickups.

Late last night, Bob Nightengale reported the Mariners have made both Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero available in trades following their two first base/DH additions (Corey Hart and Logan Morrison). Smoak has been pretty awful in parts of four seasons now, with almost 500 games and 2,000 plate appearances telling us he’s a replacement level first baseman. Montero has been awful in the show as well, but the sample size is way smaller (182 games and 732 plate appearances) and he’s three years younger than Smoak. Does a reunion make sense? Let’s look, starting with the negatives.

The Cons

  • Montero, who turned 24 last month, just hasn’t hit these last two years with Seattle. He put up a .260/.298/.386 (90 wRC+) line with 15 homers in 553 plate appearances last season and a .208/.264/.327 (62 wRC+) line with three homers in 110 plate appearances this year. The Mariners sent back to Triple-A this summer, where he hit .247/.317/.425 (93 wRC+) in 19 games. His batted ball distance plot isn’t encouraging and he doesn’t draw walks (6.0%) or lay off pitches out of the zone (36.7% chase rate).
  • Big league righties have eaten Montero up. He hit just .227/.263/.347 (68 wRC+) with a 19.9% strikeout rate and a 44.4% ground ball rate against same-side pitchers with the Mariners these last two seasons. That’s terrible.
  • Montero is not a catcher, as we heard time and time again over the years. He threw out only 13 of 94 (13.8%) base-stealers from 2012-2013 and rated as a terrible pitch-framer. Montero ranked as one of the game’s overall worst defensive catchers in 2012 and 2013.
  • Montero can’t run at all. He has never stolen a base in the big leagues (been caught in all three attempts) and he’s taken the extra-base just 20% of the time. That’s basically half the league average. Molina-esque speed.
  • Injuries have been a problem. He missed close to two months this year after tearing the meniscus in his left knee, and back during his minor league days he missed time with a broken finger (2009) and an ankle debridement (2010).
  • Montero was suspended 50 games for his ties to Biogenesis back in August and performance-enhancing drugs raise questions. The Yankees always had concerns about his makeup and work ethic, benching him several times for lack of hustle and insubordination throughout his minor league career.

The Pros

  • Montero, a right-handed batter, has done very well against big league lefties. Over the last two seasons with Seattle, he hit .300/.351/.435 (119 wRC+) against southpaws with a 14.7% strikeout rate. Montero doesn’t strike out a ton in general, just 18.7%, slightly better than the league average rate.
  • He still has the opposite field swing that was seemingly made for Yankee Stadium (spray chart). Almost three-quarters (73.0% to be exact) of Montero’s balls in play over the last two years have been hit to center and right field. That’ll play in the Bronx.
  • The Mariners shifted Montero to first base when they sent him to Triple-A at midseason and he has played the position on occasion in the past, mostly during winter ball workouts. He can’t catch but the transition to first is underway.
  • Montero has at least one and likely two minor league options remaining, so sending him down to Triple-A won’t be an issue. He will not be arbitration-eligible until after 2015 and a free agent until after 2018 at the earliest.
  • Montero made it no secret he wanted to play for the Yankees and was reportedly pretty torn up when he was traded away. I guess wanting to wear pinstripes is a positive.

The trade has been a disaster for both the Yankees and Mariners so far, and let’s not kid ourselves here, there isn’t much to like about Montero at this point. He hasn’t hit since September 2011 and he doesn’t really have a position, plus there are long-standing questions about his work ethic. And he just got popped for PEDs. You’ve really gotta squint your eyes to find some positives. If it wasn’t for the “he’s Jesus Montero and he used to be an awesome prospect for my favorite team” aspect, we probably wouldn’t think twice about him.

The Yankees don’t have a first base prospect at Triple-A (or Double-A, for that matter) and Montero is basically a reclamation project. Maybe getting him away from the Mariners — they’ve seen nearly all of their top position player prospects fall short of expectations (Kyle Seager is the obvious exception) in recent years — and back with the minor league coaches and instructors who helped make him one of the game’s very best prospects back in the day can get his career back on track. It’s a long shot obviously, and remember, we’re talking about a guy who is likely nothing more than a part-time first baseman, part-time DH if it comes together.

I don’t know what it would take to acquire Montero, but it’s clear the Mariners have soured on him. How could they not? The Yankees know him as well as anyone and that may not necessarily lead to the trade, in fact it could lead to the exact opposite. They might steer clear entirely. The fanboy in me says hell yes, go get him and let’s rock. The rest of me says if he comes cheap enough, maybe for a similar post-hype broken prospect (Eduardo Nunez? Austin Romine?), then sure, go for it. I couldn’t give up much more than that, not for a guy with so many red flags and no real position. The Yankees would have the flexibility to send Montero to minors to work on things, but he simply might not be salvageable at this point.

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For the first time in a long time, the Yankees are looking for a second baseman. Well, they’re looking for an infielder. Kelly Johnson‘s flexibility allows them to look for someone to man either second or third depending how the market shakes out. Omar Infante makes a lot of sense since he’s versatile and can play either spot, but Buster Olney says he’s seeking more than $8M annually on a long-term deal. That’s crazy even by today’s standards.

The rest of the infield market is pretty crummy — the Yankees really did a good job by signing Johnson early and at that price, the more I think about it and look at the alternatives — but one player who stands out as a potential fit is veteran second baseman Mark Ellis. The 36-year-old was the token non-star player in the Dodgers’ lineup this past season after spending the majority of his career with the Athletics, and now he’s a free agent. Does he fit with the Yankees? Let’s find out.

The Pros

  • Offensively, Ellis is a contact-oriented guys who hits to all fields (spray chart). He hit .270 (.310 BABIP) this past season with a 15.4% strikeout rate and an 86.5% contact rate. Over the last two years with the Dodgers, Ellis has hit .263 (.303 BABIP) with a 15.3% strikeout rate and an 87.3% contract rate. That’s the 26th highest contact rate among the 190 players to bat at least 800 times since 2012.
  • Ellis, a right-handed hitter, does pound southpaws. He put up a .282/.331/.412 (112 wRC+) line against them in 2013 and a .302/.354/.457 (128 wRC+) line against them from 2012-2013. That includes a tiny 12.7% strikeout rate.
  • In the field is where Ellis earns his money. He’s a standout defensive second baseman who has graded out very well according to the various stats: +23 UZR, +39 DRS, +9 FRAA, and +28 Total Zone over the last three seasons. His defensive spray chart shows just many balls he can get to. Pretty cool.
  • The Dodgers did not tender Ellis a qualifying offer, so it won’t cost the Yankees or any other team a draft pick to sign him.

The Cons

  • Ellis has no power at all. He has hit 25 homers total over the last four years (1,955 plate appearances) and over the last two years he has a measly .093 ISO. As his batted ball distance graph shows, he simply doesn’t hit the ball very far. There’s no reason to think Yankee Stadium will help his power output in a meaningful way.
  • Right-handed pitchers eat him right up. Ellis hit only .265/.319/.325 (83 wRC+) against righties in 2013 and .247/.316/.312 (80 wRC+) against them while with the Dodgers over the last two seasons. He’s just a platoon hitter on a light side of the platoon.
  • Ellis doesn’t provide much on the bases. He’s stolen nine bags in ten tries (hooray efficiency!) over the last two years while taking the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) just 36% of the time. That’s a few ticks below the 40% league average.
  • Ellis may be slick with the glove but he has close to zero versatility. He has played a total 147.2 innings at positions other than second base in his career. That is broken down into 20.2 innings at first (14.2 since 2006), 63.2 innings at short (none since 2005), and 63.1 innings at third (0.1 since 2002).
  • Injuries are a problem. Ellis has been on the DL at least once every year since 2008 and in eight of the last ten seasons. His list of injuries include a torn labrum (2004), broken thumb (2006), another torn labrum (2008), calf strain (2009), hamstring strain (2010 and 2011), acute compartment syndrome surgery on his left leg (2012), and a quad strain (2013). Ellis has played in 130+ games just once since 2007 and twice since 2003.

The Cardinals and Rays are among the clubs pursuing Ellis according to Susan Slusser and Ken Rosenthal, so if nothing else, it’s reassuring to know some smart clubs are looking at him. He’s basically the second base version of Brendan Ryan, only a bit more useful with the bat, especially against lefties. A Ryan-Ellis middle infield would be the team’s best defensive double play combination in a long time, which would be very useful if they acquire an extreme ground-baller like Justin Masterson. That seems unlikely at this point, however.

Ellis made $5.25M in 2013 and the Dodgers elected to pay him a $1M buyout rather than exercise his $5.75M club option a few weeks ago. I can’t imagine he will get a multi-year contract at this point of his career — I said that two years ago, but then Los Angeles gave him two guaranteed years, so what do I know — and a deal similar to Johnson’s seems reasonable. One year and $3M or so. Infante is asking for a ton of money — he looks like a classic case of a guy who had a career year offensively at just the right time, no? — and the trade market is mostly barren, meaning Ellis may be the best realistic option. He’d bat ninth, catch everything hit his way, do some damage against lefties, and be eminently replaceable if someone better comes along.

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My elbow hurts just looking at this. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

My elbow hurts just looking at this. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

When pitching becomes available, the Yankees will undoubtedly show interest. So when we learned yesterday that the Indians are willing to listen on Justin Masterson, it was only a matter of time before some reporter noted that the Yankees are in on him. Sure enough, this morning Bob Nightengale mentioned that the Yankees “would love to grab [Indians] Masterson in a 3-team trade involving CF Gardner.” Plenty of other teams will be interested, of course, and we know the Yankees have limited resources to use in a trade.

Buster Olney might have thrown cold water on the idea, but trades with no legs can sprout legs pretty quickly, especially when every team is in the same place with nothing else really to do except talk trade. Then again, this situation appeared to be a long shot even when we first heard about it. For that reason, we’ll start with the cons of the deal.

Cons

  • The Yankees and the Indians don’t match up directly. With Michael Bourn and Michael Brantley, the Indians have no need for Brett Gardner. That would necessitate a third team, as Nightengale noted. While we saw a three-team trade yesterday, they’re notoriously complex.
  • The Indians, who made the playoffs in 2013 for the first time since 2007, are still contenders in 2014. They already lost Scott Kazmir, and their best 2013 starter, Ubaldo Jimenez, is currently a free agent. Without Masterson they’d have Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar, and Trevor Bauer in the rotation. That’s young, sure, but they’d need more to become a playoff rotation.
  • In fact, they might need more now in order to be a playoff rotation, further confounding the situation.
  • Masterson is a free agent after this year, leaving the Yankees again in a position where they need rotation upgrades. That could be a pro, as Mike wrote yesterday, but how many of those six pitchers will actually make it to free agency?

Pros

  • Masterson improved his game in 2013, increasing his strikeout rate and improving his performance against left-handed hitters. At the same time, he still generates a huge number of ground balls.
  • At age 29 in 2014, Masterson is in position for a monster year. At various points in the past he has shown a decent walk rate (2011), a high strikeout rate (2013), and the ability to pitch over 200 innings (2011 and 2012). If he puts them all together in his walk year, he’ll provide insane value.
  • Since coming up in 2008, and throug his 1013 career IP, Masterson has never hit the DL. That’s only slightly misleading; a ribcage injury last September would have put him on the DL if it weren’t for expanded rosters. True, Masterson did undergo shoulder labrum surgery — but on his non-throwing shoulder. Perhaps that threw him off in his career-worst 2012.
  • After earning just over $5.5 million last season, Masterson appears in line for a $10 million salary this season, according to Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors. That’s easily affordable for the Yankees.

Unfortunately, in a situation like this, the pros also lend themselves to cons. The Indians will likely get more value out of Masterson, especially considering their current state of pitching, than they would in a trade. The necessity of adding a third team pretty much puts the nail in the coffin on this one. Maybe there’s one nail left to be hammered down, leaving just enough breathing room to keep our hopes alive.

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The Yankees have approached the offseason aggressively — Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran are all big money import signings – particularly now that Robinson Cano has joined the most dysfunctional team in baseball Mariners.  The team really can’t afford to stop there though, if they wish to compete in 2014.  A quality second/third baseman along with another solid rotation arm is an absolute must.  Additionally, the bullpen needs some revamping too.  Fortunately, there are several relief options and one such option might come in the form of Joaquin Benoit.  Let’s take a look.

The Pros

  • The man knows how to throw strikes (averaged 9.92 K/9 over the past three seasons) and he’s done it in high leverage situations.  Benoit’s done a good job of keeping the ball in the park as well (averaged 1.06 HR/9 over the past three seasons) which would obviously be important in the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee stadium. According to PitchFX, Benoit’s fastball velocity has consistently sat around 93 miles per hour over the past few seasons.
  • In terms of overall results, in 2013 he pitched to a 2.01 ERA which ranked fifteenth among active relievers (2.87 FIP, 3.16 xFIP).  Over the past four seasons he produced a 2.49 ERA (3.13 FIP, 3.04 xFIP).  In other words, he’s been productive.
  • Benoit has averaged 67 appearances in each of the past four seasons.  Although no player is guaranteed to remain healthy over the course of the year, it’s good to see some semblance of durability and consistency – particularly from a player in a role that is notoriously volatile when it comes to health and production.
  • Despite Benoit’s effectiveness last season, the Tigers elected to not extend him the qualifying offer. If the Yankees sign him, there would be no draft pick compensation.
  • I don’t envy the man who has to take over the closer role now that Mariano Rivera has retired.  In a way, I’d rather have an “outsider” come in and face the ninth inning pressures instead of David Robertson.  It’s not that I doubt D-Rob’s ability, but we know he can excel in his current role and provide a lot of value, so why screw around with a good thing.  In any event, regardless of who closes between the two of them, some much needed depth will be provided to the relief core with the addition of a guy like Benoit.

The Cons

  • Benoit isn’t a kid anymore. Next season, he’ll turn 37 years old. That’s not exactly a deal breaker, but on a team with several older players on its roster already, it’s not exactly ideal either.
  • For what it’s worth, Benoit does not have a long history of closer experience.  Although he earned 24 saves last season in convincing fashion, he really hasn’t spent much time in the closer role for any extended period of time prior. (I do believe he’s shown himself capable of handling that job though).
  • Although there are several closers available this offseason (not to mention Jonathan Papelbon who’s apparently being shopped), Benoit’s price tag will likely wind up being expensive – both in terms of dollars and years ($8-9M / two years maybe?). Multiple years for another aging veteran might not be worth the risk. On the other hand, I suspect most of the quality relief options will require at least two years so maybe that comes with the territory anyway; I suppose the real question comes down to who do you trust out there over the course of a long grueling season.
  • Comerica Park is a pretty big stadium, and is certainly a pitcher’s paradise compared to the small confines of Yankees Stadium.  Benoit won’t turn into a pumpkin overnight, but his stats will inflate some for sure in NY (though this can be said for any pitcher coming to NY really). Fortunately, he does have good strike out stuff which should help.

The Tigers decision to not give Benoit the qualifying offer doesn’t feel like one of those situations where they know something about him that everyone else doesn’t.  I really do think it’s a matter of dollars and cents, though I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Tigers ultimately try to retain his services.  As far as the Yankees are concerned, adding one more quality arm with strikeout ability to the bullpen sounds like a great idea.  I’d be all for it.

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The Yankees have already re-signed Hiroki Kuroda and they will conduct a fifth starter’s competition in Spring Training, but they still need to add another starter on top of that. There’s a chance Masahiro Tanaka will not be posted, but, even if he is, it might not happen anytime soon. Negotiations and finalization of the new posting agreement have dragged on for a while. The Yankees have been connected to him but it’s unclear how long they’re willing to wait.

The best available free agent starters right now are Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, and Ubaldo Jimenez, all of whom come with red flags. Garza was hurt the last two years, Santana was terrible in 2012, and Jimenez was terrible as recently as the All-Star break. It seems like those guys are in something of a holding pattern until the Tanaka situation is resolved, which isn’t all that surprising. He’s the more desirable target. Earlier today we heard New York checked in on with Garza and Jimenez, but nothing on Santana yet.

Rather than hand out another huge contract this offseason, the Yankees could opt for a lower cost starter on a one-year contract if Tanaka is not posted anytime soon (or at all). Another Kuroda type, basically. One of the top such available pitchers is 40-year-old former Yankee Bartolo Colon, who is coming off two very good years with the Athletics (2.99 ERA and 3.49 FIP), good enough that he’s priced himself out of Oakland. Is a reunion for 2014 a good idea? Let’s look at what he brings to the table.

The Pros

  • Colon pounds the zone and does it with fastballs almost exclusively. He has thrown 87.1% fastballs — 36.4% four-seamers and 50.7% two-seamers — during his two years in Oakland while barely throwing his slider (8.2%) and changeup (4.7%). Colon’s veocity (four-seamer and two-seamer) had held pretty steady these last two years despite his advanced baseball age.
  • Bart has been an extreme strike-thrower these last two years. He has a 1.37 BB/9 (3.7 BB%) over the last two seasons, and during that time he led all of baseball by throwing 59.7% of his pitches in the strike zone. Cliff Lee is a distant second at 57.4%. That “pound the zone with fastballs” approach has led to a lot of weak contact and few balls hit further than 300 feet.
  • Since resurrecting his career with the Yankees in 2011, Colon has put together back-to-back 150+ inning seasons. He threw 190.1 innings in 2013 and he would have thrown a similar amount in 2012 had he not been suspended in mid-August. Bart will chew up from innings for you.
  • The Athletics did not make Colon a qualifying offer, so teams will not have to forfeit a high draft pick to sign him.

The Cons

  • Colon neither strikes guys out nor gets ground balls. He had a steady 5.46 K/9 (14.8 K%) during his two years in Oakland — hitters made contact with 88.5% of their swings, the highest rate in baseball since 2012 — and his ground ball rate dropped from 45.7% in 2012 to only 41.5% in 2013.
  • Although lefties did not give Bartolo a problem this past season (lefties had a .297 wOBA, righties .281), they did hit him hard from 2011-2012. Colon held righties to a .245/.275/.330 (.265 wOBA) batting line during those two seasons while lefties tagged him for a .283/.326/.505 (.355 wOBA) line. That would be a problem in Yankee Stadium.
  • Injuries have been an issue since Colon returned in 2011. He has been on the DL in each of the last three seasons because of a hamstring strain (2011), an oblique strain (2012), and a groin strain (2013). At least none were arm injuries, I guess.
  • As I mentioned before, Colon was suspended 50 games in 2012 (the suspension carried over into early 2013) after failing a performance-enhancing drug test. He was connected to Biogenesis this summer but wasn’t suspended since he had already been disciplined. PED guys are always a bit of a question mark.

Jon Heyman reported yesterday that the market for Colon has been heating up, with the Orioles and Mets among the interested teams. The Yankees have not been connected to him. Heyman adds that if Colon takes a one-year contract (likely given his age), it’ll be for pretty big bucks, around $10M or so. He won’t come as cheap as he has the last three years now that he’s shown a) the arm problems are a thing of the past, and b) he can be an effective starter in the AL.

Among the free agent pitchers who are likely to take a one (or even two) year contract, Colon appears to be the best. That crop of players includes Bronson Arroyo, Erik Bedard, Chris Capuano, Paul Maholm, Mike Pelfrey, and Edinson Volquez. There are obvious red flags here — Colon’s arm could explode or he could simply stop getting guys out, among other things — probably more red flags than any other available pitcher who was actually good in 2013. The Yankees know Bart and he knows them, so there is some type of relationship in place and that could help spur along a deal. Colon does fits the team’s needs but boy is he risky.

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The Yankees came into the offseason needing an everyday caliber infielder, and that need still exists after Robinson Cano took a ten-year contract from the Mariners last week. Kelly Johnson is a solid role player but probably not someone the team wants to earmark for 600+ plate appearances next season, though his versatility allows them to search for a second or third baseman. They have some flexibility when it comes to adding that infielder.

One of the best infielders still available on the open market is former Tigers second baseman Omar Infante, whom the Yankees contacted within the first few days of free agency. Jon Morosi recently reported the club even made Infante an offer a few weeks ago. I assume that was just a first offer and they plan to get a little more serious now that Cano is bolting for Seattle. Chances are Infante and his agent will bump up their price a little bit knowing New York just lost their franchise player. Can’t blame them.

Infante, who will turn 32 in a little more than two weeks, definitely fills a need for the Yankees, at least on paper. How good of a fit is he for the roster? That’s another question. Let’s dig in.

The Pros

  • Infante is a pure contact hitter from the right side. He hit .318 (.333 BAIP) with a 9.2% strikeout rate and an 84.5% contact rate this past season and .288 (.306 BABIP) with a 10.3% strikeout rate and an 86.7% contact rate over the last three years. That the 14th lowest strikeout rate and 33rd highest contact rate among 226 qualified hitters since 2011. He’s a classic all-fields hitter.
  • Infante didn’t have much of a platoon split this past season, hitting .326 with a 113 wRC+ against righties and .301 with a 124 wRC+ against lefties. The split is a bit more pronounced over the last three years but not enough to make him a straight platoon player: .283 average with a 90 wRC+ against righties and a .298 average with a 118 wRC+.
  • Although he was a utility man earlier in his career, Infante has settled in at second base over the last three years. The various metrics — +18 UZR, +5 DRS, +9 FRAA, and +29 Total Zone — say he’s been anywhere from slightly above-average to outstanding there. Infante also has a bunch of experience at third, short, and all three outfield positions.
  • Infante isn’t a burner but he is an asset on the bases. He has gone 26-for-33 (79%) in stolen base attempts over the last three years while taking the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) a very good 49% of the time. The league average is around 40%.
  • The Tigers did not tender Infante a qualifying offer so teams will not have to forfeit a draft pick to sign him.

The Cons

  • Outside of hitting for contact, Infante doesn’t provide much else with the bat. He hit 30 doubles and 12 homers (.144 ISO) last year and 24 doubles with ten homers (.132 ISO) this year, so the extra base hits are few and far between. As the batted ball distance plot shows, he simply doesn’t hit the ball very far. Yankee Stadium doesn’t figure to boost his power output all that much.
  • Infante doesn’t walk, like at all. He drew a walk in 4.2% of plate appearances this year and 4.4% from 2011-2013, both well-below-average. Basically half the league average. Because he puts the ball in play so easily, he rarely works deep counts and has averaged only 3.40 pitches per plate appearances over the last three years.
  • Injuries have been a problem throughout his career, specifically hand injuries. Infante missed a little more than a month with a left wrist sprain this year and two weeks with a broken finger in 2011. He had surgery to repair a broken bone in his left hand in both 2008 and 2009, and also had a sports hernia repaired during the 2010-2011 offseason.
  • If you are concerned about such things, Infante has stunk (62 wRC+) in his limited postseason action (30 games and 119 plate appearances). He has played for contending teams in Atlanta and Detroit, so that won’t be a new experience.

Infante had the best offseason season of his career in 2013 (.318/.345/.450, 117 wRC+) and it came at a good time, right before free agency. From 2011-2012, he hit .275/.308/.400 (90 wRC+) in over 1,200 plate appearances. If he hits like he did this year, Infante is an above-average player thanks to his defense. If he hits like he did from 2011-2012, he’s average at best. Jon Heyman says the Royals are among the other clubs trying to land him, so the Yankees have competition.

A contract in line with Marco Scutaro’s three-year, $20M pact with the Giants would seem appropriate, but the market is crazy and Infante could wind up with three years and closer to $30M instead. That strikes me as pretty pricey for a guy with one above-average offensive season in the last three years and just two in his ten full seasons. His versatility is more reputation than reality at this point as well — it’s been fours years since he last played more than 30 innings at any position other than second — so I’m not sure how flexible he really is. Infante might be the best option at second base, but he also might be a guy who disappoints because he had his best season with the bat at just the right time.

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Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

Update: Lookee here: Jeff Passan of Yahoo! reports that the Yankees are showing interest in Anderson, and that he’s expected to be dealt next week at the Winter Meetings. Though given the flurry of recent activity, especially involving the A’s, it doesn’t appear anyone is waiting for the yearly conference to conduct their business.

While improving the offense appears to dominate the Yankees’ free agent agenda early this off-season, the pitching staff still presents a number of issues. Brian Cashman said he had to find 400 innings, meaning two reliable starters, this off-season. They could get 180 or so of those innings if Hiroki Kuroda accepts their offer, but they still have a huge number of innings to fill and not many attractive options on the free agent market.

The trade market looks fairly thin as well, yesterday’s deal involving Doug Fister notwithstanding. David Price might become available, but the Yankees don’t have the pieces to land him even if the Rays deigned to trade him within the division. Beyond that, it’s difficult to identify a team willing to part with an impact starter (except maybe the Red Sox, which is out of the question). That leaves the free agent market, which could inflate given the lack of trade options. Does anyone want Matt Garza for four years and $60 million, or to give up on a draft pick for the two good years Ubaldo Jimenez has produced in his career?

Make no mistake: the Yankees absolutely need two reliable starters this off-season. Getting cute with rotation construction will only compound the issue as the season wears on. Yet two reliable starters will give the Yankees four definites, including CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova. For his part, Nova has yet to put together a full, effective season, so he remains something of an unknown. Behind him are David Phelps, Michael Pineda, and Vidal Nuno, all unreliable for one reason or another.

It might seem folly to add yet another unreliable arm to the fold, but it might be a gamble the Yankees need to make. This week we’ve learned that one potentially solid, but unreliable, pitcher has become available. Rumors started early in the off-season that the A’s could trade Brett Anderson, and with the addition of Scott Kazmir (two years, $22 million) and Jim Johnson (projected arbitration of around $10 million), they’re almost certainly looking to shed Anderson’s $8 million salary. In fact, just this morning we learned that the A’s are currently discussing an Anderson trade. While the Yankees aren’t mentioned, they could be players if Anderson remains on the A’s for a few more weeks.

Why it works

Bringing in a wild card like Anderson can work if the Yankees get their 400 additional innings from more reliable sources. In that case they’ll have Phelps, Pineda, and Nuno to battle for the fifth spot. Still, given the utter uncertainty of that group, why not add a guy who can perform considerably better than the typical fifth starter on a first-division team?

Despite a poor 2013 outing, Anderson has produced a 3.81 ERA during the parts of his five seasons in the majors (109 ERA+). His strikeout numbers haven’t been particularly impressive, but he has displayed good control a a decent ability to keep the ball in the park (though at Oakland Coliseum). Before he came up Baseball America rated him the No. 7 prospect in the game, a potential he’s shown signs of fulfilling, if it weren’t for that one big issue.

Injuries have plagued Anderson throughout his career. He spent 96 days on the DL in 2010 with elbow problems, and then underwent Tommy John surgery in the middle of 2011. Even after he returned in late 2012 he got hurt, finishing the season on the DL with an oblique strain. In 2013 he suffered an ankle sprain after a rough start in April, but he did come back to strike out 16 in 12.2 innings out of the pen to close out the year.

Why the Yanks can use a wild card

Again, the entire idea of Anderson is predicated on the Yankees acquiring two other reliable starters. To rely on Anderson for 100 innings might not be the best bet. But it’s a bet the Yankees can make, given their current makeup. In fact, if they do find those 400 innings elsewhere, Anderson can be a huge strength.

If the Yankees get two starters, the fifth starter competition is between David Phelps, Michael Pineda, and Vidal Nuno. Phelps is the clear frontrunner before camp even starts, given his experience. At the same time, his value is in his flexibility. The Yanks have shown they can put him in the pen and then have him spot start if the need arises. Given the depletion of the bullpen, he could be valuable in a setup roll, and then come out to make a spot start if needed.

Given Pineda’s recovery from shoulder surgery, he likely should start the season in the minors. He could, for all we know, come out guns blazing in camp after a full off-season of healthy recovery. Who knows. But given what we saw from his rehab efforts, that’s not something anyone can count on. Consider him the first depth option. Nuno is essentially a depth option, not really a fifth starter on a playoff contender (though he has proven people wrong before).

With Anderson in the fold, the Yankees would have depth they could pull from both the bullpen and the minors. That’s the kind of flexibility that allows teams to endure injuries. If Nova isn’t as effective as he was in the second half, if they want to give Kuroda a breather (if he re-signs), if Sabathia gets hurt, they’ll be somewhat covered with depth.

Why it doesn’t work

It’s hard to overlook a guy who has missed, on average, more than 100 games per season in the last four years. There are players who start out as injury guys who, as they reach physical maturity, just stop getting hurt. Anderson, who turns 26 just before pitchers and catchers report, is entering the prime years of his career. He could be one of those guys.

Yet even if he is, it might not happen this year. If Anderson continues to get hurt in his age-26 season, but starts staying healthy at age 27, it does little to help the Yankees. If he spends another year mostly on the DL, they’re not going to pick up his $12 million option for 2015.

As it stands, he’s an $8 million lotto ticket, who will cost the Yankees prospects in addition to the cash. While Oakland might be eager to trade him, they’re still not going to take zeroes in return. Anderson could well fit better on a team with more room to experiment, or a team that’s not trying to sign a number of big free agents.

Whether the Yankees show interest in Anderson depends on their taste for risk. Obviously they’ll first have to address the tangible holes in their rotation. If the A’s decide to deal Anderson before they do that, the Yankees have no shot. While they don’t have to acquire players in order of need, they certainly want to focus their resources on reliably filling their 400-inning gap. After that, if they have the stomach for the risk, Anderson could be an interesting player to watch. When else does a 26-year-old, left-handed, potential No. 3 starter hit the trade market?

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The Yankees have an awful lot roster questions to answer this winter, including a bunch on the infield. Robinson Cano is a free agent, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter missed all of 2013 due to injury for all intents and purposes, and Alex Rodriguez may or may not be suspended in the coming weeks. There’s not a single sure thing on the infield at the moment.

New York has reportedly agreed to re-sign Brendan Ryan as insurance for Jeter, but they’ll need more help than that. They need to figure out a plan at third base regardless of what happens with A-Rod because even if his suspension is overturned, they can’t count on him to stay healthy for a full season. The Yankees have reportedly shown interest in bringing back Eric Chavez to provide depth on the corner infield spots, but the trade market could offer some help too.

According to Andy Martino, the Mets are open to trading infielder Daniel Murphy, mostly because his style of hitting doesn’t fit the organizational philosophy. I’m guessing this is a “if someone makes a nice offer, we’ll move him” situation rather than a “oh my goodness we have to dump this guy” situation. Either way, should the Yankees even have interest? Let’s dig in.

The Pros

  • Murphy, 28, is an excellent contact hitter who consistently hits to all fields produces solid batting averages. He hit .286 with a .315 BABIP in 697 plate appearances this past season and is a career .290 hitter with a .320 BABIP in a little more than 2,400 plate appearances as a big leaguer. His strikeout (13.6% in 2013 and 13.0% career) and contact (88.5% in 2013 and 88.2% career) rates are both well-above-average.
  • Believe it or not, Murphy is a borderline elite base-runner. He stole a career-high 23 bases in 26 attempts (88.5%) in 2013 and is 42-for-56 (75.0%) in his career. Murphy also took the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) an insane 61% of the time this past season (49% career). Some nice hidden value there.
  • Murphy offers some versatility. He came up through the minors as a third baseman but moved to second in deference to David Wright. The Mets have also had him dabble in left field and at first base. The left field thing was a disaster but he can play the three non-shortstop infield positions in a pinch.
  • Matt Swartz projects Murphy to earn a reasonable $5.8M in his second trip through arbitration this winter. He will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2015 before becoming a free agent in two offseasons.

The Cons

  • The contact and batting average comes with no walks and little power. Murphy drew a walk in just 4.6% of plate appearances in 2013 (6.1% career) and his career-high 13 homers came with a below-average .129 ISO (.134 career). Yankee Stadium will help as a left-handed batter, but not a ton because he goes the other way so often.
  • Although his average doesn’t really suffer, Murphy does have a big platoon split. He hit .273/.292/.324 (73 wRC+) against lefties and .292/.331/.459 (122 wRC+) against righties this past season, and for his career it’s .274/.301/.375 (86 wRC+) against lefties and .295/.344/.441 (115 wRC+) against righties.
  • Murphy can play all over the field, but that doesn’t make him good defensively. The left field experiment was a disaster, as I said, and the various defensive stats (-26 DRS, -13.3 UZR, -12 Total Zone) indicate he stinks at second. The sample sizes at first and third are too small to take any numbers seriously, but his defensive reputation isn’t good.
  • Injuries have been a bit of a problem. Murphy missed just about all Spring Training this past season with an intercostal strain, and he also missed close to two months in both 2010 and 2011 with MCL sprains in his knees — right knee in 2010, left in 2011.

The Yankees and Mets have not made a trade involving a player of Murphy’s caliber since the David Justice-Robin Ventura swap in December 2001. They’ve gotten together for a couple of minor deals involving relievers (Mike Stanton, Armando Benitez) since then, but nothing major. This isn’t a Yankees-Red Sox thing though — I don’t think either Brian Cashman or Sandy Alderson would balk at a trade that made sense for their team just because it involved dealing with their crosstown rival.

Infielders traded two years prior to free agency in recent years include Jed Lowrie (Astros to Athletics), Aaron Hill, and Mike Aviles (Blue Jays to Indians). Lowrie (and a reliever) was traded for six years of Chris Carter and two okay prospects. Hill was mostly a salary dump for a year and a half of Kelly Johnson. Aviles (and a prospect) was dealt for an iffy reliever. Lowrie probably fits best a comparison but it’s not perfect — he had a much longer injury history, he was more productive when healthy, and he could legitimately play shortstop. Seems like it’ll take at least two pieces to get it done though, including one that is Major League ready. That sounds like it’s in the ballpark.

The Mets have a bunch of needs, specifically in the corner outfield and bullpen. They’d also need a second baseman to replace Murphy. The Yankees could offer a smorgasbord of fringy big league ready guys like Zoilo Almonte (outfielder!), Dellin Betances or Preston Claiborne (reliever!), and David Adams or Corban Joseph (second baseman!), something like that, but that package is more quantity than quality. Who knows, maybe Alderson would take it, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Murphy makes a ton of sense for the Yankees as a part-time corner infielder/DH would could step right into the lineup everyday at first, second, or third in case of injury, but finding common ground with the Mets figures to be tough.

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Lost amid a flurry of news and rumors yesterday were the pronouncements of two veteran pitchers who wish to return in 2014. Perhaps the news was lost because the pitchers just aren’t that good. Brad Penny last pitched in 2012 and hasn’t cracked 4 K/9 since 2010. Roy Oswalt has gotten knocked around in each of the last two seasons despite extended off-seasons. So what does either seemingly washed up pitcher have to do with the Yankees?

For Penny, there’s nothing. He looks as done as done can be. Oswalt, after a disastrous and injury-shortened performance in 2013, might also appear finished. But there is a glimmer of hope for Oswalt’s future. It might just coincide with one of the Yankees’ desires this off-season.

Late last week we learned that the Yankees want to add a late-inning reliever. Given that they just lost the best who ever lived, that’s an understandable item on the off-season shopping list. They’ve spoken to Joe Nathan, but like most other viable late-inning options on the free agent market, he’ll cost more than the Yankees can probably afford if they want to stay under the $189 million luxury tax threshold.

So if the best options — Nathan, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, and even Edward Mujica — are priced out, where can the Yankees turn? One place you can get creative in roster construction is the bullpen, and the Yanks might have an opportunity here. Roy Oswalt might be the kind of guy they seek.

Why would a guy with an 8.63 ERA last year — in the NL — and a 6.80 ERA in the last two years appeal to the Yankees? Because instead of starting, his primary role in his disastrous 2013 campaign, the Yankees could target him as a reliever. There are a few factors that could play in his favor if he were to transition from the rotation to the bullpen. Combine that with a likely manageable price tag, and it could be a deal that fits the Yankees’ needs and plans.

Starting with the most general, Oswalt still has quality peripherals. In Texas during the 2012 season he gave up a few too many homers, but he still struck out a batter per inning and walked fewer than two per nine. That walk rate jumped a bit in 2013, but his home run rate — while pitching at Coors Field no less — dropped back to normal levels. At the same time, he struck out more than a batter per inning. In both cases he ended up with an above-average FIP, despite a below-average ERA.

A decline in stuff has marked Oswalt’s recent seasons. His fastball has dropped from around 93 mph in 2009 and 2010 to about 91 mph in 2013. Yet that averages his starts and relief appearances. In two relief outings towards the end of last season he averaged over 93 mph with his fastball, topping out at around 94.5. That is to say, he can still reach back and get some gas on the ball. He also fared fairly well in Texas’s bullpen in 2012, further demonstrating that his 2014, if he has one, lies in the pen.

Oswalt has said that he’d like a return chance in Colorado, but that seems unlikely at this point. They just signed LaTroy Hawkins as their interim closer; he’ll hold the job for either Rex Brothers or Adam Ottavino. With those three in late-inning roles, it appears Oswalt will have to try elsewhere. A few teams are reportedly interested in him as a reliever, but even so the price likely won’t get too high. It’s hard to justify a raise over your ~$3 million salary coming off that kind of 2013 season.

The Yankees, who could use some late-inning bullpen help at a reasonable cost, could play this situation to their advantage. Oswalt would require only one year, while the other late-inning options could require multiple. Given his performances, he probably can’t ask for much in terms of salary. At the same time, there are indicators that he could perform in a late-inning role — if not as closer, than as setup man for David Robertson.

There are other relievers on the market who could perhaps more effectively fill the Yankees’ needs. At the same time, almost all relievers come with a large degree of risk. Given the ages of most available relievers, the Yanks will be gambling wherever they choose to spend their money. Why not go with a guy who could come at a relative bargain, and who has shown the potential to succeed as Oswalt has?

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I feel like this was inevitable. At some point this winter, the Yankees would be connected to David Freese. It made too much sense. The Cardinals don’t need him anymore with second baseman Kolten Wong ready (Matt Carpenter would slide back to third) and the Bombers need some help at the hot corner. Add in the big-ish name, past postseason success, and familiarity with a baseball-crazy market and pennant races and all that, and it’s a match made in rumor heaven.

The Yankees have long had their eyes on Freese — they reportedly agreed to acquire him from the Padres for Kei Igawa back in 2007, but George Steinbrenner backed out because he didn’t want to eat any of Igawa’s contract — and sure enough, Mark Feinsand reported yesterday two sides have been talking trade. Later in the day we found out a deal is unlikely because they don’t match up well, or, in other words, the Cardinals don’t have much interest in what New York has to offer. That doesn’t mean a trade is off the table completely though, the offseason is still young and these two clubs have months to find common ground. Does he fit the Yankees’ needs though? Let’s take a look, starting with the negatives.

The Cons

  • Freese’s power was absent in 2013. He slugged only nine homers with a .119 ISO in 521 plate appearances, down from the almost perfectly league average .150 ISO he posted from 2009-2012. Freese saw his HR/FB rate drop from 18.8% in 2011-2012 to 10.5% this year.
  • His batted ball profile did not change (no sudden spike in ground balls, for example) and his .320 BABIP this past summer was actually a career-low by more than 30 points. He’s a high-BABIP hitter who managed a career-worst .262/.340/.381 (106 wRC+) in 2013.
  • Freese is pretty bad defensively regardless of whether you want to use the eye test or the various fielding stats: -14 DRS, -13.1 UZR, -12.5 FRAA, and -19 Total Zone in his career. If you watched the postseason at all, you saw how positively statuesque he is at third.
  • Freese won’t give you anything on the bases. He’s gone 6-for-12 in stolen base attempts in his 466-game big league career and he’s taken the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) just 34% of the time, below the 40% league average.
  • The injury history is rather long. Freese missed time with back trouble this season (started the year on the DL) and he’s had three surgeries since breaking into the show: left heel debridement (2009), right ankle tendon reconstruction (2010), and a left hand fracture (2011). He’s also had a lot of day-to-day stuff over the years (mostly hamstring and wrist).
  • I usually try to steer clear of off-the-field stuff here, but Freese has three alcohol-related arrests in his recent past and that seems like something worth mentioning. He was arrested for DUI in 2002 and again 2009, and was also arrested for public intoxication and resisting arrest in 2007. The second DUI was a violation of his probation stemming from the 2007 arrest.

The Pros

  • Freese didn’t hit this past season but he has hit every other year of his career, putting up a .296/.363/.446 (125 wRC+) line from 2009-2012 and .293/.372/.467 (133 wRC+) with 20 homers in 567 plate appearances in 2012 alone. Both his walk (career 8.6%) and strikeout (21.0%) rates are right in line with the league averages.
  • As a right-handed batter, he does most of his damage against lefties (career 134 wRC+) but can still hold his own against righties (114 wRC+). Even this past season, the worst of his career, he managed a tolerable 98 wRC+ against righties. He doesn’t need a platoon partner.
  • We have to mention the postseason, right? Freese is a career .289/.357/.518 (141 wRC+) hitter with seven homers in 185 plate appearances across 41 postseason games, but I have to point out those numbers were built almost entirely during that monster 2011 run (245 wRC+). He was okay in 2012 (106 wRC+) and downright awful in 2013 (50 wRC+).
  • Matt Swartz projects Freese to earn $4.4M through arbitration next season — for some reason I thought it was over $7M — and he will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2015 as well. He won’t be eligible for free agency until the 2015-2016 offseason.

Freese isn’t a bat first player, he’s a bat only player. He doesn’t help on defense and you can’t count on him to play 140+ games either — he’s only done that once in his career (144 in 2012) — so if he doesn’t hit, he’s a replacement level player (like he was this summer). There’s a chance his subpar 2013 season at the plate has to do with his back problem, which means he could rebound next year if he’s healthy or continue to get worse since back injuries have a way of lingering forever. I think it’s very clear Freese’s reputation, which was boosted by 2011 postseason heroics, far exceeds his actual worth right now.

Now, that said, the third base market is a wasteland. The best available free agent is Juan Uribe, who was very good this past season but a release candidate in both 2011 and 2012. The alternatives are Michael Young and Mark Reynolds. So yeah, the free agent market doesn’t offer much help. With the Padres reportedly hanging onto Chase Headley and Pablo Sandoval only kinda sorta on the market, Freese figures to be the best third baseman on the trade block this winter barring something surprising. He’s the best of an underwhelming lot of players.

The Yankees don’t have much to offer the Cardinals in the trade, hence St. Louis’ reluctance to pull the trigger. There is a chance the Cardinals will non-tender Freese prior to the December 2nd deadline rather than risk paying him $4.4M to be a bench player in 2014, at which point New York could simply sign him as a free agent. Maybe this is a repeat of the Russell Martin situation — the Yankees offered Frankie Cervelli to the Dodgers for Martin, who balked and eventually non-tendered their backstop days later. Maybe they low-balled St. Louis and are content with waiting to see if he gets cut loose next month (when they might have a better handle on the Alex Rodriguez‘s situation) before upping their offer. Freese would help the Yankees but only at the right price. I don’t think he’s someone they should go all out to acquire regardless of their third base needs and the lack of alternatives.

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