The LoHud Yankees Blog

A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


Ibanez and the lessons from the past03.19.12

It wasn’t meant to be a hard-hitting question, but it certainly put things in perspective. After another hitless game last night, Raul Ibanez was asked when he’d ever been surrounded by so many reporters after a spring training game.

“First time,” he said, smiling. “First time ever, so congratulations to me.”

In several corners of the Yankees fan base, Ibanez was not a very popular signing in the first place. He was essentially replacing Jesus Montero — who was supposed to replace Jorge Posada — and he was chosen ahead of Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, popular former Yankees who also fit the left-handed DH mold. Ibanez’s overall numbers weren’t very good last year, and although his splits vs. right-handers were better than any of the alternatives, those numbers weren’t overwhelming either. He’s 39 years old, and although he’s cheap and proven with a tremendous clubhouse reputation, he’s just not the kind of addition that sparks a ton of excitement. And his slow start certainly isn’t helping.

Ibanez is clearly not happy with his numbers, but he’s not moping through the clubhouse either. He’s learned to focus on something other than spring training results. Truth be told, so have the Yankees.

Marcus Thames
2010

Two years ago, the Yankees signed Thames to be a platoon designated hitter and occasional corner outfielder. He’d never hit higher than .256 in any big league season, but he also had a career .496 slugging percentage against lefties. The Yankees thought they could maximize his impact with specific at-bats.

Spring training: Thames was on a minor league deal, and made the team despite hitting just .135 in spring training. He struck out 21 times and didn’t homer until the final week.
Regular season: Wound up playing more than the Yankees expected and hitting better than they could have hoped. Thames even produced against right-handers finishing with a career-high .288 average and 12 home runs.

Andruw Jones
2011
Far removed from his superstar days in Atlanta, Jones hit .204/.312/.411 in the three seasons before he signed with the Yankees to be a platoon DH and corner outfielder. The Yankees liked him because he’d slugged .558 against lefties in 2010.

Spring training: In his first stint with the Yankees, Jones hit just .182/.265/.318 in spring training. He had one home run and 10 RBI, and that opened the gate to a slow start once the season began.
Regular season: By the end of the season, Jones had been everything the Yankees hoped. He got most of his at-bats against lefties and hit .286/.384/.540 against them. Turns out he was playing on a sore knee, and after getting that repaired this offseason, the Yankees re-signed Jones to play the same role this season.

Raul Ibanez
2012
With Jesus Montero traded and Jones signed to hit against lefties, the Yankees went looking for a one-year player who could hit right-handers. They settled on Ibanez ahead of familiar left-handed hitters Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, making their choice based on Ibanez’s .440 slugging percentage against righties last season, as well as his ability to play the corners occasionally.

Spring training: It’s been an ugly first impression for Ibanez who’s working with slightly adjusted mechanics and hasn’t been able to consistently hit the ball with any kind of authority. A deep fly ball to left field was one of a handful of hard-hit balls for Ibanez this spring.
Regular season: To be determined…

None of this is definitive. Just because Thames and Jones bounced back from rough spring trainings doesn’t mean Ibanez is going to do the same, but Thames and Jones were in similar situations. They were easy to write off in the spring only to produce in the regular season. At this point, I don’t think anyone can say whether Ibanez will actually hit come April and May, but I’m not sure an ugly spring training is proof that he won’t.

I’m sure patience is hard to have this time of year, but Ibanez isn’t going anywhere. He’s going to be given a chance to hit in the regular season. The Yankees just have to hope his timing issues sort themselves out, and he shows the kind of power the team is expecting against righties.

“I think his attitude has been really good, and he’s went about his work the right way,” Joe Girardi said. “I don’t care who you are, it’s not easy to struggle. We don’t wake up saying, I hope I struggle today. We don’t do it. I’ll probably have some conversation with him if it continues just to tell him to relax and do your thing, just be who you are.”

Associated Press photo

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Jones replacing Thames (in every way)03.28.11

Spring training numbers helped tell the Yankees that Bartolo Colon might have something left and that Eric Chavez might be healthy again, but they weren’t nearly enough to give Jorge Vazquez a shot at the big league roster or win Luis Ayala the setup role.

As a general rule, spring training numbers don’t mean much. And they mean almost nothing for Andruw Jones.

This spring, Jones is hitting just .171/.261/.293, but he’ll certainly break camp with the team, and the Yankees need to look no further than Marcus Thames for proof that a guy like Jones has to be judged on more than the month of March.

Jones is basically the new Thames. His responsibilities are to hit for power — primarily against lefties —  and to play occasionally in the outfield corners. Last season, Thames was terrific in that role. His defense wasn’t good, but it was generally passable, and he hit .288/.350/.491 while playing more often than expected.

Such a season came after Thames hit just .135/.182/.269 in spring training. Those numbers were even worse before he homered twice in the last six games.

“You don’t get too caught up in spring training numbers,” Joe Girardi said. “You go more on a history.”

The fact Jones hit .230/.341/.486 last season carries considerably more weight than his slash line this spring. Jones’ batting average was low last season, but the power is what the Yankees want. They especially like that he hit .256/.373/.558 against lefties.

“I’ve watched his at-bats,” Girardi said. “He’s worked on some things. We brought Andruw in to play against left-handers, and the majority of his at-bats (this spring) have been against right-handers. I’m happy with what he’s done.”

Associated Press photo

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One week later01.24.11

I quite literally lost myself in the back bowls of Vail last week, but when I came back to New York, I found myself right at home with the unavoidable Yankees topic of the offseason. I guess it’s hard for the Yankees to escape Andy Pettitte these days. I tend to agree with Jesse’s morning post — I’m not sure Pettitte’s a Hall of Famer — but right now the Yankees don’t need a Hall of Fame addition to their rotation.

They’ve built a remarkably deep bullpen, their lineup is still arguably the best in the league and they have some new power on the bench. What they don’t have (still) is depth in the rotation. It’s an issue that’s going to linger, and until Pettitte gives a definitive answer about his future, his name will never fall out of offseason speculation.

As for recent events, I actually missed a fairly active week. A few highlights:

Rafael Soriano became official
Press conferences for new free agents are fairly predictable. The team is happy to have the player. The player is happy to be with the team. Those situations are interesting only because it’s a new face in a new uniform, not because there will be any sort of interesting news or realization. This week, though, the Yankees signing of Rafael Soriano became official, and the team had to address the obvious: That the general manager wasn’t in favor of the signing and ownership ran the show in signing the team’s biggest winter addition. This topic has been discussed over and over again, and there’s no sense rehashing it here, but I will say that this was one of the few press conferences that I actually thought might be legitimately interesting. I was on an airplane at the time.

Rumor became fact, Andruw Jones became a Yankee
At some point around the first of the month, the Yankees and Andruw Jones became a constant rumor. They were talking. They were interested. They were sorting the details. Last week, it was done, with Jones taking a one-year deal worth $2 million plus incentives. It fits into the going rate for similar players, and I like the signing. As I’ve written before, I think Jones made the most sense for the Yankees. Of the outfielders in this market, only Matt Diaz might have been a better fit, and he got a regular gig with the Pirates. Jones isn’t what he used to be, but the Yankees don’t need him to be what he used to be. They need him to hit for power and play the outfield corners. He can still do those things, and he can do them without costing much this season or putting the Yankees on the hook for any long-term risk.

The Yankees avoided arbitration with everyone
No arbitration hearings this year, which is probably better for everyone involved. Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan all settled on 2011 contracts last week, locking up the only arbitration eligible players still on the Yankees roster (Sergio Mitre had already re-signed, Chad Guadin had already been released, and Dustin Moseley had been non-tendered). I actually thought all three might get more money than they did, but my ability to judge arbitration value is suspect at best. Those three are still a year or two away from becoming truly expensive for the Yankees.

Johnny and Manny together again
While the Yankees settled on their fourth outfielder, the Rays also completed their outfield picture by signing Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez to one-year deals. Damon seems likely to get most of his playing time in left field, Ramirez at designated hitter. To me it’s a nice signing for the Rays, but not a big loss for the Yankees. Neither Damon nor Ramirez exactly fit the Yankees needs – defense plays a role here, so does Damon’s left-handed bat – but the Rays had a wide-open DH situation and an outfield in flux, stuck somewhere between Carl Crawford and Desmond Jennings. To an extent, Jones, Damon and Ramirez each made sense for both the Yankees and Rays, but it seems to me that the Yankees got the guy who best fit their needs and the Rays got the guys who best fit their needs.

The Angels showed what desperation really looks like
Whether true or not, there was something about the Yankees Soriano signing that seemed desperate: It wasn’t a perfect fit or a good contract, but at least it gave them a significant addition. However, when it comes to perceived desperation, the Angels took the prize this week when they traded for Vernon Wells. I like Wells and wouldn’t be shocked to see a repeat of 2010, but his contract is an absolute mess that the Blue Jays have clearly wanted to dump for a while. Not only did they dump it, they dumped that contract – all of it! — for two solid young players, and to a team that didn’t necessarily need an overpaid center fielder. It’s like the Soriano level, only on a whole other level: Wells might make the Angels better, but does that mean he’s worth this sort of cost and risk?

Marcus Thames remembered his glove
Last winter, Marcus Thames was – pretty much without question – Brian Cashman’s best offseason signing. He came to camp on a minor league deal and settled into a significant and productive role as a semi-regular. Thames has some very real power, and he can really hit against lefties, so it’s easy to see why the Dodgers signed him last week. Of course, you might have noticed that the Dodgers are a National League team without a designated hitter. Thames is best left out of the defensive game plan, but to be honest, if he hits like he did last season, his bat will be more than enough to make up for shaky left-field defense. That’s my guess, anyway.

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The timing of transition01.05.11

For Jorge Posada, the transition away from catcher has always been a matter of time. Even during his remarkable decade-plus stretch of durability, it was clear that at some point — either because of age, production or health — the Yankees were going to have to make a change behind the plate.

That time has come. It’s been three years since Posada started more than 88 games at catcher, and last season he was so banged up that Joe Girardi was understandably hesitant to start him behind the plate more than two days in a row. Posada was an everyday catcher in name only.

In the big picture, the timing of this transition is perfect. Posada got here gradually, and the Yankees have young players ready to take over. Short-term, though, it’s hard to look at the free agent market and not wonder if the Yankees might have been tempted to press their luck one more year.

You could look at the timing Posada’s transition based on two positions: Catcher and designated hitter. Catcher is the long-term positive. DH is the short-term regret.

Passing the torch
The Yankees minor league system is ready to takeover behind the plate. At the very least, it’s ready to give the Yankees options and reason for optimism. Jesus Montero’s second half of 2010 suggested a player growing into his enormous talent, and even if doesn’t prove Major League ready behind the plate, Austin Romine is coming quickly behind him. The Yankees have both talent and depth, and they have each of those things on the cusp of the big leagues.

Two years ago there was unproven talent. One year ago, that talent had shown some results, but it still wasn’t ready for the show. Today, there are catchers on the verge. The past two years, Posada gave the Yankees enough behind the plate that they didn’t feel compelled to rush their young players or aggressively sign a replacement. Posada bridged his own gap, with some space-fillers helping along the way.

As an added bonus, this happened to be the winter Russell Martin became a free agent. Because of their catching depth, and because Posada can still catch occasionally, the Yankees could afford to take a shot on Martin rediscovering his old self. If it works, great. If not, it only gives the young guys a little more development time. In theory, this is what a catcher transition should look like: The old guard is still around and the new talent is eased in.

Filling the hole
With one more year on his contract, Posada isn’t finished just yet. He’s not longer an everyday catcher, but he can be a productive hitter. Even in a down year, when he clearly played hurt a lot of the time, Posada still hit for power and gave the Yankees production. He’s only one year removed from a vintage Posada slash line.

To keep Posada’s bat in the lineup, while keeping his body healthy, the Yankees will make their former catcher a more-or-less full-time designated hitter. It’s a natural fit, and the spot was wide open. No more Hideki Matsui. No more Jason Giambi. No more Nick Johnson.

Then again, if ever there was an offseason to go DH hunting, it was this one. The free agent market is always full of potential designated hitters — quite literally, any available hitter could theoretically fill the spot — but this winter’s crop is loaded with players who can still hit but are best kept away from any sort of glove.

Matsui and Adam Dunn have already signed, but the free agent market still has Giambi, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. A second tier offers Marcus Thames, Russell Branyan, Jose Guillen and maybe Jermaine Dye. The price for each of them must be dropping by the day, and it’s hard to imagine any of them getting more than a one year deal. Those are bats that could help the Yankees, if only there were a place for them.

Associated Press photo of Posada, headshots of Martin and Thome

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Notes and such on a snowy Christmas Eve12.24.10

It’s snowing in Missouri. Two years in a row with snow on the ground Christmas is pretty unusual where I grew up, but it makes my mom happy, so that makes me happy.

My brother-in-law is slowly making his way down I-55, and I’m excited about spending the holiday with friends and family tonight and tomorrow. Whether you’re celebrating or not, I hope you all enjoy the weekend and get to be around some of the people closest to you.

For now, just a few notes from a predictably slow day for baseball news.

• Good stuff from Ben Shpigel, who writes that Andy Pettitte’s decision about whether to return might impact his chances of getting into the Hall of Fame.

• Jack Curry has heard that the Yankees have discussed the idea of signing Manny Ramirez, but Manny being Manny in the Bronx seems even less likely than the Yankees bringing back Johnny Damon.

• Speaking of players unlikely to come back, Buster Olney thinks it’s unlikely that Marcus Thames will return to the Yankees.

• At the top of that Olney link is poll of 16 talent evaluators who were asked to pick the top rotations in baseball. They agreed with Olney that the Phillies and Giants are Nos. 1 and 2 by quite a bit. Not good news for the Yankees: They ranked Boston and Tampa in a tie for third.

• Over at MLB.com, Jonathan Mayo profiled the Yankees farm system and the success it had this year. “We don’t sit around patting ourselves on the back,” Mark Newman said. “We had good fortune this year. We had a bunch of guys come back from injury and a bunch of guys have good years.”

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Fewer missing pieces than you might expect12.24.10

On the day Cliff Lee signed with Philadelphia, Brian Cashman said this:

“We have a championship caliber team. There are areas that could be improved upon. There are players in this marketplace currently that could assist there, but will we solve all the problems that we have right now? I don’t want to mislead people and say, ‘Yeah, we’ll take care of that right now this winter.’ It doesn’t have to happen in the winter time. We have up through the summer to get everything we need necessarily fixed.”

Those words didn’t carry much weight because the Yankees seemed to have too many holes to ignore. But then again, consider the 2010 Opening Day roster. Aside from Andy Pettitte, the changes from then to now haven’t been especially significant, and most should be considered addition by subtraction. The roster concerns seem to have more to do with performance than personnel.

ALCS Rangers Yankees BaseballLineup
Derek Jeter SS
Still with the team. This time he’s coming off the worst season of his career, not a near MVP season.

Nick Johnson DH
Gone. He had 12 hits last year.

Mark Teixeira 1B
Still with the team. A model of consistency the previous six years, last season he slugged below .500 for the first time since he was a rookie.

Alex Rodriguez 3B
Still with the team. Had 125 RBI in a down year.

Robinson Cano 2B
Still with the team. Emerged as one of the game’s elite players.

Jorge Posada C
Still with the team. Nagging injuries took their toll last season. This time he’ll be the primary designated hitter.

Curtis Granderson CF
Still with the team. Made significant improvements down the stretch last season.

Nick Swisher RF
Still with the team. Finally had an all-star season and moved up from the No. 8 hole.

Brett Gardner LF
Still with the team. A complete unknown at this time last year.

ALCS Rangers Yankees BaseballBench
Francisco Cervelli C
Still with the team. Likely to return to the exact same role as last season.

Ramiro Pena INF
Still with the team. Could return to the utility role. Could be replaced by Eduardo Nunez or an outside candidate.

Marcus Thames OF
Gone. Wasn’t with the Yankees at this time last year. Didn’t sign until just before spring training.

Randy Winn OF
Gone. Also wasn’t with the team at this time last year. Brian Cashman tried to buy low, but Winn made 16 starts before being designated for assignment.

ALCS Rangers Yankees BaseballRotation
CC Sabathia LHP
Still with the team.
Still at the top of the rotation. Still a Cy Young candidate.

A.J. Burnett RHP
Still with the team. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine he could be any worse than he was last season.

Andy Pettitte LHP
Unknown. While he’s considering retirement, he’s also considered the rotation’s most significant missing piece. Injury limited him to 21 starts last season.

Javier Vazquez RHP
Gone. Last winter’s big rotation addition managed 26 largely forgettable starts.

Phil Hughes RHP
Still with the team. And this time he doesn’t have to fight for a spot in spring training.

ALCS Yankees Rangers Baseball

Bullpen
Mariano Rivera RHP
Still with the team. Same as always. Age would be a factor if he were anyone but Mo.

Joba Chamberlain RHP
Still with the team. Not fighting for a rotation spot this time.

Dave Robertson RHP
Still with the team. Had a 2.27 ERA and held opponents to a .207 batting average in the second half last season.

Damaso Marte LHP
Injured. Likely to miss all season. Essentially replaced by Pedro Feleciano.

Chan Ho Park RHP
Gone. Wasn’t with the team at this time last year. Allowed one more hit than Rivera, despite pitching fewer than half of the games.

Alfredo Aceves RHP
Gone. Non-tendered after missing almost all year with a back injury. Pitched in 10 games last season.

Sergio Mitre RHP
Still with the team.
Actually coming off a pretty solid season, in a much better spot than at this time last year.

Associated Press photos of Jeter, Cervelli, Sabathia and Rivera

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Panic and patience12.20.10

At some point yesterday morning, around the time the Zack Greinke news spread to major media outlets, the state of panic in the Yankees fan base seemed to reach a new peak for this offseason.

The concern was very mild when the Derek Jeter negotiations turned sour. Then the Red Sox traded for Adrian Gonzalez. Then the Red Sox signed Carl Crawford. Then Philadelphia got Cliff Lee. Then Milwaukee landed Greinke. One by one, big pieces have come off the board, and all the Yankees have done is re-sign two of their own plus a catcher who hasn’t hit in two years.

My question is this: Is the concern centered on wanting the Yankees to do something or wanting them to do anything? In other words, is there something specific Brian Cashman has done wrong and needs to fix, or are his patience and silence making things uncomfortable?

Cashman hasn’t done much, but I’m not sure he’s truly missed out on very much either. I would never argue that he’s had a good offseason, but looking at a few common complaints, it might also be too early to claim he’s had a bad one.

Red Sox CrawfordTop free agents got away
Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford signed before Cliff Lee, and that essentially kept the Yankees out of the running for either of them. Outfield wasn’t a priority, pitching was, and Lee might or might not have been a fair fight. Otherwise, the biggest free agents who fit with the Yankees, signed with the Yankees: Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.

Trade targets have gone elsewhere
There was obvious frustration yesterday when Zack Greinke landed in Milwaukee for a package of young players that did not include a single premier prospect, but the Yankees didn’t match what the Royals were looking for in up the middle talent. It’s not even certain the Yankees considered Greinke a viable option in New York. Otherwise, most completed trades have been for players who either didn’t fit for the Yankees (Adrian Gonzalez, Dan Uggla) or are infinitely replaceable (Brendan Ryan, Josh Willingham). Those deals to not make or break the Yankees season.

ALCS Rangers Yankees BaseballThe lineup has not improved
The lineup didn’t need to improve. The Yankees scored the most runs in baseball last season, and that was despite down years from Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. The one position that needed a boost, catcher, has been addressed with a reasonable $4-million deal with Russell Martin. It would have been surprising to see the Yankees overhaul the lineup. Staying with more or less the same starting nine is not a shock, nor should it be a cause for concern.

The rotation still has holes
This is true. Andy Pettitte still hasn’t made a decision, and that’s as expected. Lee was supposed to make everything better, but he signed elsewhere despite a bigger offer from the Yankees. At the time, Cashman said he would be patient, that the cost in terms of both free agents and trade chips would go through the roof for a while. That was less than a week ago. In that time, who, aside from Greinke, has come off the board who would have helped the Yankees rotation?

ALCS Yankees Rangers BaseballThe bullpen still has holes
Perhaps the most legitimate gripe of the Yankees offseason. The team hasn’t necessarily been stingy — it did award the second largest left-handed reliever contract of the winter — but it hasn’t been aggressive either. The relief market still has plenty of viable options, but the a lot of late-inning options have come off the board (some on surprisingly large and lengthy deals, but that’s the going rate for relievers these days).

Eduardo Nunez is the best hitter on the bench
Not to knock on Noony, but the Yankees bench remains incredibly young and inexperienced, but it should come as no shock that Cashman is taking his time finding reserves and role players. Last year he let the market for Marcus Thames fall all the way to a minor league deal, and that was arguably his best offseason signing. The Randy Winn deal, of course, didn’t work so well. The Yankees still have a very real need for a fourth outfielder, and an experienced utility man wouldn’t hurt, but there are plenty of those options available.

Associated Press photos of Crawford, Rodriguez and Kerry Wood

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The danger of assumption and projection12.18.10

ph_425844At the end of a slow day in baseball, I’ll turn the floor over to Joe Posnanski.

After Derek Jeter and Cliff Lee took their turns in the offseason spotlight — a place where speculation and wild guesswork are disguised as viable forms of analysis — it’s now Zack Greinke’s turn. And no one has covered Greinke as well as Posnanski, who wrote about him again this week:

I don’t know how Zack Greinke would do in New York or Chicago or any other big market. How could I know? But when I see people question his toughness or his psyche — either in direct words on Twitter or, infinitely more annoying, in read-between-the-lines quotes and stories — I guess they don’t know him any better than I do.

Feel free to debate the merits of the Yankees trading for Greinke — would he be worth the prospects, would he thrive in this market? — but that debate must always end with the realization that no one knows for certain.

Posnanski makes the argument that Kansas City might actually be the worst place for him, that pitching in games that matter would actually bring out the best in Greinke, and that a team of superstars would let him blend in rather than standout. Posnanski also acknowledges that, despite all the time he’s spent with Greinke, he can only guess what a move to New York might mean.

I also think it’s possible that the New York Yankees — with all of their money, their background checks, their good scouting and everything else — don’t know Greinke any better than anyone else.

And now a few more links and notes from a quiet Saturday.

• The Red Sox continue to build, signing reliever Dan Wheeler to help in their bullpen. Wheeler, Bobby Jenks and Daniel Bard give Boston some right-handed depth leading into the ninth inning.

• Boston is still reportedly interested in signing an additional left-handed reliever.

• Marcus Thames was being chased by Japanese team earlier this offseason. Now it seems he has some big league clubs interested in using him in left field. The Dodgers have been linked to him, and so have the Orioles. He could still fit for the Yankees as a right-handed corner outfielder, but the team would have to hope that his bat is good enough to make up for his glove.

• Hideki Matsui’s deal in Oakland has a partial no-trade clause that prevents trades to some of the worst teams in the American League. Of course, it’s hard to imagine any of those teams — except maybe the Twins — actually wanting to trade for him midseason.

• From the random, non-baseball events of my life category: This afternoon I put on an old live album called General Admission by the Pat McGee Band, one of my absolute favorites back in college. There’s no point to this paragraph, I’ve just been listening to that CD all day and felt like sharing an underrated band and an underrated album. PMB hit its peak with a studio album called Shine that seemed to come out about seven years too late, after the initial buzz of vaguely similar groups — Dave Matthews Band, Counting Crows, Blues Traveler — had died and given way to lesser forms of pop music.

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Window closing with no Yankees re-signed11.06.10

The clock will strike midnight with none of the Yankees free agents re-signed.

The Yankees do not expect to work out any sort of deal before tonight’s deadline, meaning all of their free agents — including Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera — will hit the open market at 12:01 tomorrow. The Yankees have had exclusive negotiating rights since the end of the World Series, but no deals have been reached.

This hardly comes as a surprise. The team has given no reason to expect a quick resolution with Jeter or Rivera, and Andy Pettitte has always been expected to take his time deciding whether to come back next season.

The Yankees will also not re-sign either Austin Kearns or Marcus Thames within the exclusive negotiation window, leaving both outfielders free to sign elsewhere.

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Exclusive negotiating window closing11.06.10

ALCS Yankees Rangers BaseballThis is the Yankees last day of exclusive rights to their own free agents. The negotiating window closes at midnight. At 12:01 Sunday morning, the frenzy begins. Already the Yankees have bumped Chad Guadin off the roster, and Royce Ring has declared free agency.

Much bigger decisions are looming.

In his radio interviews on Tuesday, Hal Steinbrenner was already preparing the fan base for the possibility of a lengthy negotiating process with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. No one seems to expect Andy Pettitte to make a decision any time soon.

Assuming those three aren’t going to sign in the next few hours, the Yankees immediate decisions are limited to two players who had as many as 70 at-bats this season.

Austin Kearns
In some ways, he makes sense: Right-handed hitter in a left-leaning outfield; can play both corners plus center field in a pinch; probably won’t cost a lot. That said, he was bad enough in 2008 and 2009 that he accepted a minor league deal this offseason, and although he hit a little bit for Cleveland, he did next to nothing for the Yankees.

Marcus Thames
If the Yankees could get him on the same deal as this season — minor league contract with an invitation to big league camp — he would be a no-brainer, but Thames had a good enough year that he should certainly test the market for a Major League contract. He was terrific this season, but given the Yankees need to keep the designated hitter spot open, he might not make much sense this time around. Probably best for both sides to explore their options before entering into a quick agreement.

Associated Press photo of Thames

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