Archive for December, 2012
Winter in the American League East • 12.23.12
The Yankees won the American League East by two games last season, but the rise of the Orioles and the fall of the Red Sox seemed to signal a shift in the division. This winter, the division has been re-sculpted by the aggressive Blue Jays, the rebuilding Red Sox and the creative Rays. Here’s a look at the moves within the division. Where do the Yankees stand?
Free agent additions: Melky Cabrera, Maicer Izturis
Trade additions: R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Josh Tholes, Emilio Bonifacio, Esmil Rogers, Mike Nickeas, Jeremy Jeffress
Notable minor league additions: Alex Hinshaw, Ramon Ortiz, Ryan Langerhans, Justin Germano
Waiver claims: Mickey Storey, Russ Canzler, Tyson Brummett
Re-signed: Rajai Davis
Rule 5 pick: None
Key losses: Yunel Escobar, Kelly Johnson, Carlos Villanueva, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Omar Vizquel, Jason Frasor, Brandon Lyon, Jeff Mathis, Yan Gomes, Travis d’Arnaud (and many other high-level prospects)
The winter’s most aggressive team, the Blue Jays clearly sense an opportunity in this division. The Red Sox are weak, the Yankees are weaker, the Rays are somewhat rebuilding and the Orioles are stagnant. Toronto’s aggressive winter has been a remarkable thing to watch from afar. Quickly compare the additions against the key losses, and it’s a landslide in the Blue Jays favor. In the short-term, anyway.
Free agent additions: None (only major league deals have been re-signings)
Trade additions: Trayvon Robinson, Danny Valencia, Yamaico Navarro
Notable minor league additions: Conor Jackson, Daniel Schlereth, Dan McCutchen, Jason Pridie
Waiver claims: Alexi Casilla
Re-signed: Nate McLouth, Lew Ford
Rule 5 pick: T.J. McFarland
Key losses: Mark Reynolds, Robert Andino, Joe Saunders, Jim Thome, Omar Quintanilla, Endy Chavez, Nick Johnson, Kevin Gregg, Dana Eveland, Ronny Paulino
It’s actually fairly stunning just how quiet the Orioles have been this winter. Rather than build on their breakout season, the Orioles most significant new addition is a Rule 5 lefty. They’ve lost a key power bat in Reynolds, a regular infielder in Andino and a handful of guys who played part of last season helping the Orioles make their surprising run to the playoffs.
Free agent additions: Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona), James Loney
Trade additions: Yunel Escobar, Wil Myers (and other significant prospects)
Notable minor league additions: Mike Fontenot, Jason Bourgeois
Waiver claims: None
Re-signed: Joel Peralta
Rule 5 pick: None
Key losses: James Shields, B.J. Upton, Wade Davis, Jeff Keppinger, Carlos Pena, Kyle Farnsworth, Luke Scott, J.P. Howell, Burke Badenhop, Ben Francisco, Brooks Conrad, Will Rhymes
Kind of a typical winter for the Rays, who seem perpetually in a state of rebuilding while also trying to win now. They’ve lost two huge pieces in Shields and Upton, but they’ve finally found an everyday shortstop and added one of the game’s top position prospects, who could be ready for the big leagues by mid-summer (if not earlier). They’ve done such a great job developing young pitching that they could afford to trade away Shields and Davis.
Free agent additions: Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Ryan Dempster, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, David Ross, Koji Uehara
Trade additions: Joel Hanrahan, manager John Farrell
Notable minor league additions: Mitch Maier, Oscar Villarreal, Drew Sutton
Waiver claims: None (made some claims, but have since lost them)
Re-signed: David Ortiz
Rule 5 pick: None
Key losses: Cody Ross, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Mike Aviles, Ryan Sweeney, James Loney, Scott Podsednik, Vicente Padilla, Aaron Cook, Rich Hill, Scott Atchison
The Red Sox greatest losses from last season are the guys they actually lost before the end of the season. Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto are all gone. So is Bobby Valentine, who was good as gone by early September. To fill the holes, the Red Sox have gone on an offseason spending spree, but they’ve missed out on the biggest names available. Instead they’re banking on bouncebacks from guys like Victorino, Dempster and Drew. They’re still trying to finalize the deal with Napoli.
Free agent additions: Kevin Youkilis
Trade additions: None
Notable minor league additions: Bobby Wilson, Gil Velazquez
Waiver claims: Jim Miller, Josh Pence, David Herndon (all have since cleared waivers and stayed in the organization)
Re-signed: Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Ichiro Suzuki, Jayson Nix
Rule 5 pick: None
Key losses: Nick Swisher, Rafael Soriano, Russell Martin, Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Freddy Garcia, Andruw Jones, Derek Lowe, Cory Wade, Casey McGehee
The Yankees have committed significant money toward re-signing four of their own, but their only significant addition has been Kevin Youkilis, who became necessary largely because of Alex Rodriguez’s upcoming hip surgery. Right now, the Yankees seem perfectly willing to move forward without replacing Martin. Two of their most significant additions could be healthy seasons from Mariano Rivera and Brett Gardner, who were hurt most of last year, but that remains to be seen. They’re banking heavily on an aging roster remaining productive for one more year.
Headshots of Dickey, McLouth, Escobar, Victorino and Youkilis
On my phone at the airport so not able to provide a link right now, but Mark Feinsand is reporting that Nick Swisher has signed a four-year, $56-million deal with the Indians. It includes a vesting, $14-million option for a fifth year.
Week in review: Letting another one get away • 12.23.12
For several weeks now, Brian Cashman has said over and over again that he’s more than willing to stick with his in-house options at catcher. It just might be time to believe him.
This week, the free agent market’s last standout catcher signed a one-year, $7.5-million contact with the Rangers. A.J. Pierzynski had been the last go-to catcher available after Russell Martin and Mike Napoli came off the board, but the Yankees never showed any sign of interest. Pierzysnki is a primarily offensive catcher coming off a career year, and the Yankees have prioritized defense at the position.
In-house options Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine — as well as recent minor league signee Bobby Wilson — are certainly better known for their gloves than their bats, but none has ever really been a big league regular (Cervelli did start 80 games for the Yankees in 2010, but that certainly wasn’t according to plan).
The best options still on the market are names like Yorvit Torrealba, Rod Barajas and Kelly Shoppach — guys with more experience than the in-house options, but who aren’t sure things to be upgrades.
• Although the Yankees had interest in re-signing Raul Ibanez, the team’s late-season and postseason hero agreed late Saturday night to a one-year deal with the Mariners. Without Ibanez, the Yankees DH spot is still wide open.
• A right-handed outfielder is also a glarring need for the Yankees, and the market’s best option came off the board when Cody Ross signed with Arizona.
• Vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said that Cesar Cabral and Michael Pineda are each doing long toss in Tampa. Jose Campos is ahead of them, already throwing off a mound and expected to be ready for spring training.
• Right-handed reliever Jim Miller cleared waivers and was sent outright to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. So was left-handed reliever Josh Spence.
• Casey McGehee followed Andruw Jones’ lead and signed a deal to play in Japan.
• Nick Swisher is still looking for a new team, and the Indians are working hard to sign him.
• The Yankees released seven minor leaguers, including moderate prospects Damon Sublett, Yadil Mujica and Ryan Flannery.
• After realizing a math mistakes, Major League Baseball sent the Yankees a new luxury tax bill. The Yankees will pay roughly $400,000 more than originally expected.
• Hiroyiki Nakajima — the Japanese shortstop who the Yankees negotiated with but never signed last winter — signed with the Athletics. Also, the Mariners made a trade for Kendrys Morales and the Blue Jays continued their winter overhaul with a deal for R.A. Dickey.
• Derek Jeter wins the Yankees Good Guy of the Week award for calling the mother of a Sandy Hook Elementary victim to brighten what had to be one of her worst days.
Associated Press photo
The Yankees were known to be interested in re-signing Ibanez — Brian Cashman had admitted to having conversations with his agent — but reports this week indicated that Seattle was interested and Ibanez was itching to make a decision. He will almost certainly settle into an outfield role with the Mariners, who already have the DH spot covered in the wake of this week’s Kendrys Morales trade. The Mariners outfield is a spot of weakness.
As for the Yankees, Ibanez would not have been a perfect fit — they certainly don’t need additional left-handed outfield depth — but he did seem to be one of the better options on the free agent market. Losing out on Ibanez leaves the Yankees DH spot wide open.
Yankees release seven minor leaguers • 12.22.12
Over at Baseball America, this week’s minor league transactions include no new Yankees additions, but they do include a list of nine players who have been released by the organization.
Most of these names — if not all of these names — should be unfamliar, but three stand out at least a little bit for me.
• Flannery was mentioned on this very blog just yesterday. Although he’d never been remotely overwhelming, he’d always shown impressive command in the lower levels of the minor league system. Through his five pro seasons, he has a 2.44 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, but his numbers slipped in Double-A last season. I suggested that he could get back on the radar if he re-discovered his command — after all, he had been terrific the previous year in Tampa — but Flannery is about to turn 27 years old and has clearly been passed by multiple relievers in the organization. Probably best for him to get a look in a different organization.
• Sublett was, once upon a time, considered a legitimate prospect. Probably the biggest prospect of this bunch. He was seventh-round pick in 2007, originally a second baseman but moved quickly to the outfield. Injuries cost him quite a bit of development time, and last season was his third attempt at Double-A. He hit just .214/.333/.314. With Abe Almonte re-signed, and with a standout crop of outfielders ready to surpass him next season, Sublett no longer had much of a place in this system.
• Mujica might have generated more initial buzz than anyone else on this list. He was signed out of Cuba in 2011, and because there wasn’t a ton of hard information about him, there seemed to at least the possibility that he might be a truly elite talent who’d fallen through the cracks. Instead, he quickly emerged as more of an organizational guy. He played a kind of utility role in Trenton in 2011, then bounced around, filling holes at three different levels last season. He was a .229/.291/.278 during his time with the Yankees.
Other familiar names from this week’s minor league transactions: Warner Madrigal and Nelson Figueroa (veterans who spent some time in the Yankees sytem) have signed with Arizona; John Maine (who pitched for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year) signed with Miami; Cory Wade has signed with the Cubs; Xavier Nady signed with the Royals.
Headshots of Sublett and Flannery
Eight months after he was designated for assignment, Justin Maxwell would be a very good fit for the Yankees.
He’s 29 years old. He’s making the league minimum. He bats right handed. He hit .272/.387/.505 against lefties last season. He can play all three outfield positions. He can run, he can hit for power, and he’s had success as a pinch hitter. He’s exactly what the Yankees are looking for in a fourth outfielder, and at this time last year, the Yankees had him on the roster.
Last spring, they let Houston have him for nothing. They let Maxwell go in favor of Andruw Jones.
Nothing about that decision that’s not regrettable.
Now for the reason this post is unfair:
For whatever reason, I spent a lot of time talking to Maxwell last spring. We talked about college basketball. We talked about the places where we grew up. We talked about the International League, where he’s spent time as a player and I’d spent time as a writer. I liked Maxwell. He was friendly, the people I knew in Scranton raved about him, and it was impossible to see a guy with such obvious athletic ability and not think he could be a very good big league baseball player.
But even I didn’t think the Yankees should have kept him over Jones.
Those who did want the Yankees to keep Maxwell conveniently ignored the fact that he had missed most of the 2011 season with an injury, and they ignored the fact that he’d been given several chances in the big leagues only to produce a .201/.319/.379 career slash line. They ignored the fact that spring training numbers are often meaningless, and that Jones had been absolutely perfect for the Yankees in 2011, hitting .286/.384/.540 with an especially good second half.
Given their needs and their roster — and the fact Maxwell was out of options — the Yankees made the decision that made sense, and it hurt them. It continues to hurt them. Maxwell’s breakout season came at the same time that Jones hit rock bottom.
I can’t fault the Yankees for the decision, but I can’t help noticing that Maxwell would look pretty good on this roster right about now.
Associated Press photo
The top right-handed outfielder is now off the market.
Cody Ross has signed a three-year deal with the Diamondbacks, and it’s reportedly worth $26 million with an option for a fourth year. With that contract, the Yankees were clearly never in the market. They’ll still go hunting for a right-handed bat, but Ross was too high of a commodity.
As for a left-handed bat, the Yankees have acknowledged discussions with Raul Ibanez, and today the New York Post reports that the Mariners have “serious interest” in Raul Ibanez. It was previously reported that Ibanez wants to choose a team fairly soon, and he came up through the Seattle system. Could be a fit if he’s interested in going back.
The Yankees have plenty of left-handed outfielders as it is, but the current market is so thin that Ibanez still looks like one of the better DH options out there.
The 25-man roster as it is today • 12.22.12
This is the last weekend before Christmas, which means it’s probably time to expect a quiet offseason to grow silent for a few days. It’s not a given — something could happen in these next few days — but it seems like a fair time to take a look at where the roster stands.
One year ago, the Yankees still had Jesus Montero as their projected designated hitter. They had A.J. Burnett in the rotation, Ivan Nova projected as their No. 2 starter, and a guy named Brad Meyers was still in the mix for the bullpen.
A little less than two months ago, Alex Rodriguez was still the starting third baseman, Chris Dickerson was the best option in right field and Adam Warren was penciled into the rotation.
Here’s a potential 25-man roster, based on players under contract today.
I’m still guessing that Gardner will shift to center field next season, and think it’s entirely possible that we’ll see Nunez playing some part in the DH situation (though do I think the Yankees will sign someone to take most of those at-bats). I also expect the Yankees to sign some sort of veteran catcher at some point — at least a non-roster invite just to compete for the job — but if they do stay in-house, my mind has shifted a few times between expecting Romine to get the job and expecting one of the defensive backups to get it.
Chris Stewart C
Jayson Nix INF
Chris Dickerson OF
Ronnier Mustelier 3B/OF
Even though he doesn’t hit right-handed, Dickerson seems to be the clear option for the fourth outfielder right now. But I’m sure that’ll change. As for Mustelier, I still don’t have a good feel for just how seriously the Yankees would take him as a big league option out of spring training. He’s a right-handed hitter who can play the corners — which means he could have some value on this roster — but it’s a matter of the Yankees believing he can handle the job defensively and offensively. He’s never so much as been invited to big league camp.
This is the biggest change since I last did this sort of “as it is today” post. By re-signing Kuroda and Pettitte, the Yankees have essentially locked up their top four starters. The fifth spot should be a competition between Nova and David Phelps. There’s a solid chance that I’m giving it Nova right now largely because Phelps seems to be the more natural fit in the bullpen. If Phelps proves he’s better in spring training, I don’t think the Yankees would hesitate to go with him.
Assuming Phelps doesn’t land in the rotation, I would actually consider these seven to be pretty heavy favorites for the Opening Day bullpen. Cody Eppley was good last year, but he has options remaining. Cesar Cabral could compete for a spot, but he might not be healthy in time to break camp. The biggest unknown here is probably Aardsma. His track record is strong, but he didn’t have time to show much last season when he was coming back from Tommy John. He and Chamberlain could be the make-or-break pieces that determine whether the Yankees have a dominant bullpen or have to go searching for mid-season help.
Associated Press photos
Friday night notes and links • 12.21.12
Just a few notes and links as we head into the weekend before Christmas. At this point, things seem pretty quiet with the Yankees and might stay that way until after the holiday.
• Earlier this week, a group of fans gathered at City Hall to protest the Yankees upcoming ticket resale agreement with Ticketmaster. There’s another protest planned for tomorrow. The events have been organized by a group called the Fan Freedom Project, but the Daily News reports that some funding for the protests has come from StubHub, the online ticket seller that’s losing business because of the Yankees deal with Ticketmaster.
• Add another team in the mix for right-handed outfielder Scott Hairston. The Braves are now reportedly in pursuit. It’s looking less and less likely that Hairston will be forced to settle for a one-year deal.
• Former Yankees corner man Brandon Laird — who got a little bit of big league time in 2011 — was claimed off waivers by the Astros late last season and has now cleared waivers and been outrighted to Houston’s Triple-A roster.
• A man who tried to sell a fake Babe Ruth glove was given two years probation and a $25,000 fine.
• Down in D.C., Adam Kilgore reports that the Nationals want to settle on a decision — one way or the other — with free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche. If LaRoche won’t re-sign, the Nationals seem likely to move Michael Morse to first base. If LaRoche does re-sign, the Nationals will almost certainly look to trade Morse. That right-handed power bat, and ability to play the corners, could certainly appeal to the Yankees. Of course, getting Morse would cost something significant, and might require someone already on the big league roster considering the Nationals are clearly ready to contend.
Associated Press photo
What to do with Eduardo Nunez • 12.21.12
Here’s a question the Yankees might not answer until spring training.
What’s Eduardo Nunez’s role in all of this?
Ideally, he would be the third baseman; a guy who made Kevin Youkilis unnecessary and gave the Yankees an in-house placeholder for Alex Rodriguez. He would have taken a step forward last season, improved his defense, proven himself on offense and been ready to step into regular playing time.
At the very least — after opening the previous two seasons on the big league bench — you’d think the Yankees would be able to count on Nunez as a dependable and tested utility man; an obvious choice as the Yankees top infield reserve. He’d be locked into a big league role, backing up Youkilis and Derek Jeter while providing speed and a pretty good right-handed bat off the bench.
But neither of those is a comfortable option at this point.
Instead, Nunez remains a mystery. There’s still a lot to like about his bat, and it’s easy to see the tools on defense, but he hasn’t developed any sort of consistency. The Yankees believe he’s better off staying at shortstop, which makes him an odd utility choice — the rare bench player who can only play short — but is he going to gain any of that missing consistency by playing the field once or twice a week? Is there really anything to learn from another stint in Triple-A?
So what role should Nunez play next season? What role can he play next season?
How about backup shortstop and platoon designated hitter? Has that combination ever existed?
If the Yankees re-sign Raul Ibanez, they’ll need to pair him with a right-handed hitter. Nunez could be that guy. And the combination would be especially effective if the Yankees find a right-handed fourth outfielder with power. Against lefties, the fourth outfielder would take the place of either Brett Gardner or Ichiro Suzuki in the field, and take the place of Ibanez in the lineup. Nunez would take the place of Ibanez at DH, and take the place or either Gardner or Ichiro in the lineup. Power for power. Speed for speed.
Once or twice a week, Jeter could DH or sit while Nunez plays the field. In fact, it might work out just as well to label Jeter as the DH against lefties, while Nunez essentially serves as a platoon shortstop. Might help Jeter stay healthy through the first half of the year, and the plan could be adjusted when Rodriguez returns.
The Yankees bench — with a right-handed outfielder, a backup catcher and Nunez — would still have room for one more, either a true utility man — someone like Jayson Nix — or a four-corners guy to primarily help at third base and occasionally play the outfield. If Nunez has to play second base three or four times during the year, that might be a risk the Yankees have to take.
Bottom line is: If the Yankees aren’t going to trade Nunez, they might as well find a way to use him.
Associated Press photo