Just some random stuff on this Saturday after the Winter Meetings…
• Even with Omar Infante off the board, I stand by my position on the proposed Gardner-for-Phillips trade. Obviously the Yankees could use the help at second base, but the combination of age, contract and declining numbers doesn’t make Brandon Phillips a particularly attractive trade candidate. I think Brett Gardner is worth more than that, and frankly, I think there’s a good chance Gardner can help the Yankees more in 2014 than Phillips can. According to Baseball Reference, Phillips was a 1.6 WAR player last year. Gardner was a 4.2 WAR player.
• Beyond the idea of a one-for-one swap, I don’t think the Yankees are off base when they talk about the advantages of playing both Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury in the field. That could be helpful. The last time Gardner spent a full season in left field, he was a Fielding Bible Award winner (and I’d put more weight into those than the Gold Gloves). Also, it’s worth acknowledging that without Gardner, the Yankees are extremely thin in center field, and they’d need to lean more heavily on Ichiro Suzuki so that both Carlos Beltran and Alfonso Soriano can get a DH day now and then. Four dependable outfielders is a good thing for this team. To give up that depth and flexibility, I think the Yankees would need something other than an expensive second baseman in decline.
• At this point, I fully expect Kelly Johnson to be in the lineup on Opening Day (assuming right-hander Scott Feldman is pitching for the Astros that day). I don’t think Alex Rodriguez will be active, and I think the Yankees will have to settle for a platoon at either second base or third base. If they can trade or sign a full-time player at one of those two positions, great. And if they can find a full-time option at both, even better. But it’s not the worst thing in the world to have a platoon of Johnson and some right-handed hitter — maybe Mark Reynolds? — at the other spot. It’s just not a good market to go searching for two everyday infielders.
• Here’s one reason I think Vernon Wells might have a better chance of making the Yankees roster than Ichiro Suzuki: Because Ichiro has more trade value. Granted, I don’t think Ichiro has much trade value, but he’s a left-handed hitter who has some speed and might appeal to a team looking for a fourth outfielder and a veteran presence. Maybe if the Yankees eat $4 million of his $6.5 million salary, they’ll be able to move him for a low-level non-prospect. If not, both Ichiro and Wells might come into camp legitimately fighting for a job. Ichiro could be a pinch runner and solid defensive replacement in right field. Wells’ greatest value would be his hypothetical ability to pinch hit against lefties.
• I’ve had people ask whether I think Rule 5 pick Tommy Kahnle will stick with the Rockies. The easy answer is that I have absolutely no idea, and neither does anyone else. I understand why he was drafted — the kid throws hard, and his minor league numbers aren’t bad — but the jump from Double-A to the big leagues is a big one. For every Rule 5 pick, the smart money is on being offered back, so that would be my guess with Kahnle. I don’t think he’ll stick, but that’s only because I never think a Rule 5 guy is going to stick. If he throws strikes this spring, the Rockies might give him a real look and think about keeping him.
• Have you heard the Glen Hansard cover of Drive All Night? It’s tremendous.
• Random moment from yesterday’s post-press-conference interviews: Brian Cashman was asked by a Mets writer to comment on Bartolo Colon, and specifically to explain why the Yankees signed Colon in the first place three years ago. Cashman explained that it was all because of the Yankees scouts who told him Colon was pitching well in winter ball and might deserve a non-roster invitation. Cashman said he wanted to dismiss the idea completely, but the Yankees scouts convinced him to give it a shot. Worked out incredibly well.
• I’m a little bit stunned the Yankees haven’t signed a reliever by now. I realize the relief market hasn’t moved much, and bullpens often come together mid-season rather than mid-winter, but the current Yankees bullpen is incredibly thin. I like Dave Robertson and all, and obviously Shawn Kelley is coming off a very nice season that’s put him in line for some sort of role, but I’m not sure the Yankees have anyone locked into a spot beyond those two. Could be a real opportunity for a minor league starter to make an impression in spring training and basically force the Yankees to try him as a reliever. I’m looking at you, Jose Ramirez.
• Speaking of pitching, the situation has changed considerably, but I still think the Yankees will — and should — go all in to sign Masahiro Tanaka. Maybe he won’t be posted, in which case the whole thing will be out of the Yankees hands, but if he is posted, Tanaka will be, essentially, a free agent starting pitcher who has legitimate upside and is still just 25 years old. When’s the last time one of those hit the market? When’s it going to happen again? Of course there’s giant risk in giving a big contract to a guy who’s never pitched in the big leagues, but that’s the price the Yankees have to pay for not developing a front-line starter in the past decade.
• If the Yankees don’t sign Tanaka and can’t find a full-time option at either second base or third base, we could see some very interesting non-roster guys brought to big league camp. Pitchers would see a legitimate chance to win either a rotation or bullpen job — giving someone like Johan Santana a real chance to prove himself, without costing the Yankees much at all — and hitters might see the chance to get platoon at-bats or at least play some sort of meaningful bench role. Every year a few non-roster guys end up playing significant roles throughout baseball, and the Yankees have benefited from that. When it works out, it’s awfully beneficial to everyone. Can’t really count on it, though.
Associated Press photos