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During the entire off season, the Yankees have been stymied in their attempt to add a starting pitcher. First, Cliff Lee eschewed their hefty contract offer because of the apparent belief that it’s always sunny in Philadelphia, and then Zack Greinke and Matt Garza were both traded to the friendly confines of the NL Central. Making matters worse, Andy Pettitte has spent most of the winter on a beach in Hawaii instead of his gym back in Texas, leaving Brian Cashman with little alternative than to patiently bide his time. Well, it’s time for him to make a master stroke.

Is Rafael Soriano worth losing a first round draft pick? (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Aside from hoping that Pettitte has a change of heart, the Yankees seem destined to enter 2011 with a compromised rotation. Without any viable starters to pursue at this point, the idea of locking down the late innings by adding Rafael Soriano to the backend of the bullpen has surfaced. The only problem with that option, however, is Soriano’s status as a Type-A free agent. So, if the Yankees decided to sign the former Rays’ closer to pitch in middle relief, it would not only cost a pretty penny, but also a first round draft selection (which, to make matters worse, would be forfeited to a division rival).

Despite all the rumors of the Yankees’ interest in Soriano, Cashman has been emphatic to the contrary. In fact, he couldn’t have been more explicit on the topic. “I will not lose our number one draft pick,” Cashman was quoted as saying by the LoHud Yankees Blog. “I would have for Cliff Lee. I won’t lose our number one draft pick for anyone else.”

But, what if the Yankees didn’t have to give up their first round pick to get Soriano? The reporters at LoHud asked Cashman about the possibility of such a “sign and trade”, but he seemed to dismiss it as a “legal maneuver” that was both difficult and rare. Desperate times call for desperate measures, however, so if such an arrangement is possible, the Yankees should keep exploring every option.

For those unfamiliar with baseball’s free agency compensation rules, here’s how it basically works (for a more detailed explanation, click here). At the end of the season, prospective free agents are rated and classified as either Type-A or Type-B. Soriano was labeled a Type-A free agent, so a team that signs him would have to give the Rays their first round pick. However, if that team finished in the bottom half of the standings (ranked 16-30), their first round pick would be protected, meaning they would only have to yield a second round selection (or a third rounder if that same team already signed a higher rated free agent).

As this MLB.com report confirms, sign-and-trade deals are permissible, but only with the prior written consent of the free agent involved. Normally, a recently signed free agent can not be traded until June 15, but a player can waive that requirement of the Basic Agreement. As a result, if the Yankees were to be involved in such a deal, they would not only have to negotiate with another team, but Soriano as well.

In order for the hypothetical sign-and-trade to work, the Yankees would first have to agree to terms with Soriano and then convince another team to sign him on their behalf. Then, they would also have to compensate that team for both facilitating the signing and surrendering their draft selection in the process. Theoretically, any club could serve as the surrogate, but the cost of compensating a team that has to give up its first round pick could itself be prohibitive. Instead, the most likely scenario would involve a team that either has a protected first round pick or already surrendered it because of a prior free agent signing. Of course, the optimal candidate would be a team that qualifies on both accounts, and this year, the Washington Nationals just so happen to fit the bill.

Because of their poor placement in the standings, the Nationals hold the number six pick overall, which, as previously mentioned, is protected. For that reason, when the team signed Jayson Werth, it only had to yield a second round selection to the Phillies. Therefore, if the Yankees came to an agreement with the Nationals, the latter would only have to send a third round pick to the Rays as compensation for signing Soriano (Werth’s Elias rating of 91.807 is just a shade ahead of Soriano’s 91.799).

As things currently stand, the Nationals’ third round selection is 92nd overall (before the first and second rounds is a supplemental round that includes other free agent compensation picks). Although one can never assume the level of compensation that the Nationals would expect for surrendering this slot in the draft, the value would undoubtedly be significantly less than what the Yankees would otherwise have to give up in a straight free agent signing. Also worth keeping in mind is that the Nationals received another first pick as well as a supplemental pick (34th overall) because of Adam Dunn’s departure to the White Sox. Both of those selections are also protected, so Washington essentially has three first round picks. Considering the amount of money it will cost to sign all three of the selected players, the Nationals may actually be eager to give up their third rounder (and the signing bonus that comes with it) in exchange for a cost-controlled minor leaguer.

Could a sign-and-trade deal involving Soriano be the latest "chess move" in the ongoing rivalry with the Red Sox?

One other advantage to this sign-and-trade arrangement would be the Rays would not get a first round pick for Soriano. In fact, they wouldn’t even get a second rounder. Forcing a chief rival to pick as many as 70 slots lower in the draft is not an insignificant consideration. Along those lines, the Yankees could also turn to the Rangers or Tigers if the Nationals prove too unreasonable. Although both of those team still have their second rounders, each has already surrendered its first pick to the Red Sox because of the Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez signings. Because Soriano rates higher than Beltre and Martinez, the Red Sox would have to settle for a second rounder if either the Tigers or Rangers signed the reliever on behalf of the Yankees. Undoubtedly, such an arrangement would cost the Yankees much more than a deal with the Nationals, but it would have the added benefit of lowering the value of the Red Sox’ draft pick.

Most of the time, Brian Cashman has had the luxury of being the bully on the block. This offseason, however, he has been forced to be more of a chess master. To date, the events of the winter have kept the Yankees’ plans in check, so perhaps the time has come for a more creative endgame strategy? It’s Cashman move, but can he find someone else to play along?

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Exactly whom did the Cubs acquire from the Rays in yesterday’s eight-player deal? According to most reputable sources, Tampa agreed to send Matt Garza to Chicago, but at least one Windy City newspaper seems to disagree.

According to the back page of the Chicago Sun-Times (h/t to Rays’ play-by-play man Dave Wills, @SPTimesRays and several retweets on Twitter), the Cubs actually acquired relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit. Talent evaluators around the major leagues had been debating the overall quality of prospects that the Rays received, but in light of this new development, it turns out that Tampa made out like a bandit. You see, Benoit is no longer on the team, having signed a three-year deal with the Tigers back in November. Rays’ GM Andrew Freidman has frequently been cited as one of the best in all of sports, but acquiring five prospects for a player not even on his roster is the ultimate master stroke.

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeU.)

On the same day Andy Pettitte reportedly told the Yankees “to go on without him”, the Tampa Rays delivered the same message to Matt Garza.

Could both the Yankees and Rays be better off with Matt Garza in Chicago?

In an eight-player deal with the Chicago Cubs, the Rays sent Garza to the Windy City in exchange for five second-tier prospects (none of the prospects ranked in either Baseball America’s or Keith Law’s preseason Top-100 list, and only SS Lee Hak-Ju ranked among Law’s top-10 Cubs’ minor leaguers), which for some Yankees’ fans might be perceived as another missed opportunity by Brian Cashman. Of course, such sentiment ignores the Rays likely unwillingness to deal Garza within the division, but the fact remains that yet another starter has changed teams while the Yankees continue to stand pat.

Ironically, although the Yankees continue to remain patient, today’s trade of Garza actually increases their chances of making the playoffs by further weakening one of their most formidable competitors. Despite having a depleted starting rotation, and having to contend with a reloaded Red Sox team, the Yankees will probably enter 2011 with a better chance of making the post season than they did last year. Unless a surprise team emerges from the Central or West divisions (and those teams haven’t done much to improve themselves), the Yankees could face less competition for the wild card, which would allow Cashman to continue biding his time until the right deal comes along.

From the Ray’s perspective, trading Garza isn’t exactly a bad move, even if the prospects they received from the Cubs are less than impressive. Because he is eligible for arbitration, Garza is looking at a very healthy raise that could take his salary to around $6 million. Although Tampa has spent most of the offseason shedding salary, and therefore should have payroll flexibility, such an expenditure could prove to be unpalatable to a team in the process of retrenching.  Assuming the Rays believe they can not contend in the short run, it makes all the sense in the world to turn over a rotation spot to Jeremy Hellickson, shed as much payroll as possible, and accumulate prospects and draft picks in the process.

It should also be noted that Garza’s reputation seems to be a notch beyond his actual performance. Instead of being the ace that many portrayals have suggested, Garza is really more of a middle of the rotation arm. Last season, Garza’s ERA+ was a league average 101, and he ranked 77th among qualified starters with a WAR of 1.8, just behind the Phillies’ Joe Blanton. Over a three-year period beginning in 2008, Garza’s WAR of 7.9 was good for 41st among 67 comparables. Granted, simply qualifying for that comparison usually implies a level of competence needed to accumulate enough innings, but the fact remains that Garza is not an elite-level pitcher.

The point is not to malign Garza. After all, a slightly above league average starter (especially one who pitches in the AL East) capable of throwing 200-plus innings is very valuable. He just isn’t a difference maker. However, the underlying philosophy that his trade represents very well could be. If the Yankees find themselves in the post season this year, the deciding factor may not turn out to be the Brain Cashman master stroke for which so many fans have patiently been awaiting. Rather, what other teams in the American League are doing could end up having a greater impact on the Yankees than their own inaction. Think of it as addition by other team’s subtraction.

Yankees’ and Rays’ Key “Subtractions”

Rays WAR   Yankees WAR
Carl Crawford 6.9   Andy Pettitte 2.3
Matt Garza 1.8   Marcus Thames 0.6
Rafael Soriano 1.6   Kerry Wood 0.4
Joaquin Benoit 1.5   Javier Vazquez -0.2
Grant Balfour 1.2      
Jason Bartlett 0.7      
Total 13.7   Total 3.1

Source: Fangraphs.com

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Ten years ago today, the Yankees signed Robinson Cano as an amateur free agent out of San Pedro de Marcoris in the Dominican Republic. Then a shortstop, Cano’s signing was unheralded at the time. In fact, a search of Google’s newspaper database reveals that the first print mention of the young infielder didn’t occur until September 9, 2001, when the Brooklyn Cyclones met Cano’s Staten Island Yankees in the New York-Penn League playoffs (there was one prior report that stated Cano had signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers).

Robinson Cano started out as a shortstop for the Staten Island Yankees before making it as an All Star 2B in the Bronx.

From the day he signed until his major debut on May 3, 2005, Cano was really never considered a blue chip prospect. Baseball America never included him in their top-100 prospect lists, and most published reports referred to him in less than glowing terms. In fact, it seems as if even the Yankees weren’t very impressed, which might explain why he was rumored to be included in just about every deal the team considered in the early part of the decade.

The first mention of Cano’s name in trade rumors was in the New York Post on July 27, 2003. At the time, the Yankees were reportedly discussing a deal with the Reds that involved Ken Griffey Jr. The rumored cost was struggling right hander Jeff Weaver along with a prospect from among a group that included Cano, Alex Graman, Jorge De Paula and Juan Rivera. The validity of the rumor was rendered moot when Griffey sustained an injury on July 17 that ended his 2003 campaign.

After Aaron Boone sustained a serious knee injury while playing basketball in the 2003 offseason, Cano once again found his name bandied about in several trade rumors. Almost immediately following the injury announcement, Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune wrote of a rumored three way deal between the Yankees, Angels and White Sox that would have sent Troy Glaus to New York. In exchange, the Yankees would have sent Cano and fellow infield prospect Joaquin Arias to Chicago and Anaheim (who would also have swapped Paul Konerko and Jose Valentin for Jarrod Washburn and Darin Erstad). That deal apparently fell through, which was a good thing for the Yankees because less than one month later the team acquired Alex Rodriguez in a blockbuster deal with the Texas Rangers. In exchange for Arod, the Yankees sent All Star second baseman Alfonso Soriano to Texas, and also allowed the Rangers to select from a list of prospects that once again included Arias and Cano. Luckily, the Rangers selected the younger Arias, and Baseball America’s scouting reports at the time seemed to agree with that decision.

Although Cano survived the offseason, his name remained a fixture in trade talks throughout 2004. The most persistent rumor involved Cano being part of a package for Kansas City Royals’ centerfielder Carlos Beltran, who was eventually traded to the Houston Astros. As early as June, the New York Daily News reported that Yankees had moved Cano to third base at the request of Royals’ scouts, who wanted to watch the potential trade target play that position. Around the same time, the Daily News also reported that the Mariners might be scouting Cano for a potential deal that could include either Freddie Garcia or Jamie Moyer. However, the Mariners rejected a Yankee offer that included Cano and instead opted to trade Garcia to the White Sox for Miguel Olivo, Jeremy Reed and Michael Morse. Finally by the end of June, the newspaper had Cano being evaluated by the Atlanta Braves in a deal for Russ Ortiz.

With just about every team scouting Cano in the summer of 2004, it’s a wonder he remained with the organization past the trade deadline. During that timeframe, Cano was also rumored to be part of a trade with the Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson. So, when the two teams resumed negotiations after the season, it seemed all but assured that Cano would finally be packing his bags. However, after months of contentious discussion, the Yankees evenutally agreed to send Javier Vazquez along with prospects Dioner Navarro and Brad Halsey to Arizona for the Big Unit. Once again, Cano managed to stay put.

Yankees’ fans and officials are all smiles because several attempts to trade Cano eventually fell through.

Despite failing to trade Cano in the offseason, the Yankees still seemed reticent to give their 22-year old prospect a chance to make the team. So, instead, they signed Tony Womack to play second base, one of the team’s more ill advised decisions under Brian Cashman’s tenure as GM (which is saying a lot considering that same offseason included lucrative deals for pitchers Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright). Ironically, however, Womack’s utter futility eventually forced the Yankees to promote Cano to the major leagues by May 2005, after which there was no looking back for the young second baseman.

Within days of Cano’s ascension to the majors, talent evaluators around the game were suddenly praising his abilities. The scouts that once seemed to doubt his defense or patience at the plate were now heralding his smooth swing, strong arm and athletic ability. Privately, many in the Yankees’ organization expressed gratitude that the team had been unable to trade their burgeoning new star.

Thank God we didn’t trade him. Imagine if he was doing this for someone else? We’d never hear the end of it.” – Anonymous Yankees’ official, New York Daily News, July 29, 2005

I’m so happy they didn’t trade me. I love this team.” – Robinson Cano, New York Daily News, July 29, 2005

Before truly breaking out with an MVP caliber season in 2010, Cano had his ups and downs along the way to stardom. In fact, after a disappointing 2008 season, the second baseman once again found himself at the center of trade rumors, which this time had him going to the Dodgers for centerfielder Matt Kemp. As in the past, Cano remained with the Yankees and returned to his All Star form the next season.

Cano is the epitome of the old adage that states the best trades are the ones you don’t make. With Cano, however, that old bromide has been taken to an absurd extreme. Not only should the Yankees consider themselves fortunate that they never dealt away a man who is now arguably their best player, but countless teams around baseball should also be kicking themselves for failing to snatch him from New York.

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeU.)

The acquisition of Russell Martin hasn't had most Yankee fans doing handstands.

The New York Yankees are in the unfamiliar position of entering a new year without having made any significant improvements to the team. Although the free agent signings of Russell Martin and Pedro Feliciano are both positive complementary acquisitions, the team’s failure to make a big splash has left it vulnerable to a serious of question marks, one of which will become an exclamation point should Andy Pettitte decide to retire. Patience has been this offseason’s theme, and hopefully its virtue, so instead of looking too far ahead, perhaps it would be better to look back at past acquisitions over the last decade? Below is a list of the major names acquired (re-signings generally excluded) after each season (based on conventional wisdom at the time) along with an assessment of the group’s overall performance.

2009: Javier Vazquez, Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson

Fresh off their 27th World Series championship, the Yankees were far from complacent. The team said goodbye to veteran contributors Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui and replaced them Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson. Cashman also sought to round out what had been a top heavy rotation by acquiring what he hoped was a rejuvenated Javier Vazquez from the Braves. On paper, the Yankees got a little younger, if not better, heading into their title defense.

Until Granderson and hitting coach Kevin Long worked on an adjustment in August, Cashman’s three most significant offseason moves all looked as if they would come up snake eyes. Since returning to the lineup on August 12, however, Granderson posted a line of .261/.356/.564 in his final 192 plate appearances, and then followed that with an OPS above 1.000 in both the ALDS and ALCS. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a “rags to riches” end for either Johnson or Vazquez. After getting off to a poor start, Johnson developed his usually spate of injuries and was eventually shutdown for the season. Meanwhile, Vazquez temporarily rebounded from a poor beginning, but eventually resumed his struggles and ended the season with an ERA+ of 80.

2008: Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett

The Yankees rearmed for 2009 with the signings of Sabathia and Burnett.

After making the playoffs in 12 consecutive seasons, the Yankees finished in third place under rookie manager Joe Girardi in 2008. With high salaries like Jason Giambi and Mike Mussina coming off the books, the Yankees pushed their chips all in and came away with a pair of aces and a wild card.

CC Sabathia’s acquisition was the linchpin, and with the big lefty in the fold, everything fell into place in 2009. Although not as dominant, A.J. Burnett turned in one his finest seasons and teamed with Sabathia and Pettitte to form a three-man rotation throughout the playoffs. Meanwhile, Mark Teixeira was everything the Yankees expected, both with his potent bat and golden glove at first. When all was said and done, the three acquisitions played a monumental part in the Yankees’ return to glory.

2007: Alex Rodriguez* and LaTroy Hawkins

Even though Alex Rodriguez was already a member of the team, the whole production surrounding the opt out made his eventual return seem like a new acquisition. Perhaps distracted by the Rodriquez situation, the Yankees made few other significant additions. LaTroy Hawkins was expected to be a sold bullpen contributor, but after raising the ire Yankees fans by wearing Paul O’Neill’s unretired #21, he struggled mightily and was eventually trade to Houston.

Although Alex Rodriguez had a very strong 2008 campaign, he not only declined from his MVP form in 2007, but also missed 27 games. Still, Arod wasn’t the reason the team missed the playoffs. Instead, it was the failure to strengthen the rotation that did the Yankees in, especially when the team’s reliance on Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy backfired. During the offseason, the Yankees were widely expected to trade for Johan Santana, so the team’s subsequent failure was seen as a repudiation of Cashman’s decision to forgo obtaining the Cy Young lefty from Minnesota. However, one season later, Cashman’s decision would be vindicated.

2006: Andy Pettitte and Kei Igawa

Kei Igawa's press conferences provided a rare opportunity for fans to see him in pinstripes.

In 2006, the Yankees had a powerhouse lineup, but the starting rotation proved rather thin. So, in addition to clearing out a few square pegs like an unhappy Gary Sheffield and Randy Johnson as well as Jaret Wright, the Yankees’ focus for 2007 was centered on acquiring a reliable starter. With the rest of the market both thin and overpriced, the team eventually wound up reuniting with Pettitte, who had left for Houston after the 2003 season, and rolling the dice on Kei Igawa, a move that was at least in part a knee jerk reaction to Boston’s acquisition of the more heralded Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Pettitte, who went 15-9 with a 112 ERA+, was exactly what the Yankees needed in 2007. Unfortunately, the rotation was little improved from the previous year because Mike Mussina suffered through the worst season of his career. What’s more, the signing of Igawa proved to be a colossal bust as the Japanese import was quickly exposed as nothing more than a triple-A talent. The Yankees’ continuing rotation crisis forced them to lure Roger Clemens out of retirement one more time, but even the addition of the 44-year old Rocket wasn’t enough. Not only did the team relinquish the division title for the first time since 1997, but its lack of pitching depth was exposed in the ALDS as the Cleveland Indians knocked the Yankees out of the playoffs in the first round.

2005: Kyle Farnsworth and Johnny Damon

The Yankees won their eighth consecutive A.L. East division title in 2005, but didn’t make it past the Angels in the ALDS. During the decade, the Yankees gradually drifted toward being a lineup of mashers that would compensate for a mediocre pitching staff by bludgeoning other teams, and 2005 was the pinnacle of that trend. Still, the Yankees most significant offseason move was to snatch Johnny Damon from the rival Red Sox and continue to gradually nudge Bernie Williams toward retirement. Damon was an immediate success in pinstripes and eventually wound up providing commensurate value over the entire term of the four-year deal, contrary to initial expectations at the time.

On the pitching side, the Yankees brought in Kyle Farnsworth to take the place of the departing Tom Gordon, who had proven to be an invaluable regular season reliever. The team made no adjustments to the rotation, however, despite its collective failure during the 2005 season. Instead, the Yankees seemed to roll the dice that Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina would rebound from disappointing years, while Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright would enjoy better health in their sophomore seasons in pinstripes. Only Mussina panned out, and the Yankees once again found themselves with a subpar rotation.

2004: Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Tony Womack, and Jaret Wright

Carl Pavano also had little use for his home uniform after the press conference announcing his signing.

The 2004 ALCS collapse to the Red Sox was a cataclysmic event that prompted the Yankees to pretty much replace their entire starting rotation. Javier Vazquez, Jon Lieber and Orlando Hernandez were all jettisoned from the staff in favor of Johnson, Pavano and Wright. Although much was expected from Johnson, the initial reaction to the acquisitions of Wright and Pavano was met with justified scorn. Neither would contribute much to the team over the terms of their contracts, but Pavano’s comical 145 innings over four season earned him a special brand of infamy. Luckily, the 2005 season would be saved by two unheralded acquisitions, Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small, who combined to go 17-3, as well as the emergence of Chien-Ming Wang from the minor leagues.

In 2004, Miguel Cairo had surprisingly strong season, but the Yankees smartly decided not to roll the same dice the following year. Unfortunately, they opted to go with an even worse option by signing Tony Womack, who quickly proved to be one of the more futile players in recent team history. Once again, however, fate played a favorable hand when the promotion of Robinson Cano not only added life to the lineup, but also forced the Yankees to incorporate a player who would eventually emerge as a bonafide star. In the meantime, however, Womack continued to be a drag on the lineup as a left fielder.

Although Johnson led the Yankees with a 17-8 record and a respectable 3.79 ERA, he wasn’t the dominant force that team thought it had acquired. Particularly because of the three brutal free agent signings, the 2004 offseason easily ranks as one of the worst in team history. It would take several seasons for the Yankees to free themselves from the mistakes made in the winter of 2004, which only added insult to the injury of that year’s shocking ALCS.

2003: Tom Gordon, Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, Javier Vazquez and Kevin Brown

The Yankees lost the 2003 World Series to the Marlins, but the euphoria from winning a dramatic ALCS against the Red Sox almost seemed to override that disappointment. Nonetheless, Brian Cashman wasn’t resting on his laurels, despite having a lineup and pitching staff that both performed well above average. On offense, the Yankees added a perennial masher in Gary Sheffield (even if Cashman’s preference for Vladimir Guerrero would have worked out better in the long run). However, an offseason injury to Aaron Boone added a significant hole at third base, which the Yankees wound up filling with the shocking acquisition of Alex Rodriguez. The idea of adding Arod and Sheffield to a lineup that already included Jason Giambi, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui seemed like enough to guarantee a return trip to the World Series…and it should have…except for a late season breakdown in the pitching staff.

In addition to a lineup overhaul, the Yankees also revamped the starting rotation by replacing Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens with Javier Vazquez and Kevin Brown. On paper, the swap seemed to favor the Yankees, and the early returns were somewhat positive, but both Brown and Vazquez suffered a myriad of mental and physical breakdowns that quickly made their situation in the Bronx untenable. Both pitchers would contribute in a big way to the team’s game seven debacle in the ALCS and forever be branded as failures in the minds of Yankees fans.

The ALCS collapse also stained Tom Gordon, who had two outstanding regular seasons in pinstripes, and even Rodriguez, who was on his way to being the series MVP before going dormant over the final three games. Because of the team’s demise in the playoffs, the overall contribution of Cashman’s 2003 offseason acquisitions was largely discounted. Collectively, the quartet contributed 18.5 wins above replacement, but it was their high profile failures in the ALCS that would be remembered.

2002: Todd Zeile, Hideki Matsui, Jon Lieber and Jose Contreras

After the 2002 season, the Yankees were feeling the unfamiliar sting of an early exit from the playoffs. It was hard to get too worked up, however, because the team recorded 103 wins and outperformed statistically in just about every phase of the game. So, it seemed as if only minor additions would be needed.

The verdict on the Hideki Matsui signing was two thumbs up.

Along with the addition of some depth in Todd Zeile and a reclamation project like Jon Lieber, the Yankees turned to the international market for reinforcements. Both Hideki Matsui and Jose Contreras were widely acclaimed as stars in their respective countries of Japan and Cuba, so much was expected from the two veterans. Matsui was always ticketed for the Bronx, but the pursuit of Contreras caused the first real resumption of hostilities between the Yankees and Red Sox when Boston General Manager Theo Epstein reportedly trashed his hotel room after learning of the Yankees’ signing. Although the conquest of Contreras also prompted Boston CEO Larry Lucchino to refer to the Yankees as the Evil Empire, it was the signing of Matsui, who hit a key double off Pedro Martinez in the fateful eighth inning of the 2003 ALCS, that would torment the Red Sox for years to come.

2001: Robin Ventura, Steve Karsay, Rondell White, Jason Giambi and David Wells

The Yankees responded to a shocking and bitter walk off defeat in the 2001 World Series by making several significant changes to the team. The most notable was the replacement of Tino Martinez with Jason Giambi, who at the time was one of the most feared hitters in the game. The Yankees also compensated for the retirement of Paul O’Neill and Scott Brosius with the signings of White and Ventura, respectively, before rounding out the bullpen and rotation with the addition of Karsay and the return of Wells.

With the exception of White, all of Cashman’s moves worked according to plan, and the team went onto to an impressive 103-win season, despite getting eliminated by the Angels in 2002 ALDS. Over the long term, however, the addition were mostly stop gap moves, with the exception of Giambi, whose declining skills and defensive limitations (not to mention steroid revelations) eventually made his contract an albatross.

2000: Mike Mussina

The Yankees seldom had “too much pitching” during his tenure, but Mike Mussina was always an anchor of the staff.

In a classic case of the rich getting richer, the three-time defending world champions responded to that season’s sudden decline of David Cone by replacing him with Mussina, one of the game’s best pitchers. The addition of Mussina helped give the Yankees a formidable front-line rotation in 2001 and provided the team with an anchor during a turbulent decade that featured more than its share of mediocre starting pitchers. Unfortunately, Mussina never won a World Series with the Yankees, but his 123-72 record over eight seasons in pinstripes is testament to the quality of the signing.

It’s hard to pinpoint which offseason from the recent past is most similar to the current one. In many ways, by putting all of their eggs in the Cliff Lee basket, the strategy resembles the team’s approach with Mussina after the 2000 season. Would the Yankees have returned to the World Series in 2001 and 2003 without the former Orioles ace? And, more importantly, will they go back soon without Lee?

Then again, with the Yankees anxiously awaiting a final decision from Andy Pettitte, this offseason could wind up resembling the 2006 winter when the veteran lefty’s return gave the Yankees’ rotation enough rope to hang on until a midseason reinforcement. We know it won’t end up looking like the treasure troves acquired after the 2003 and 2008 campaigns, but by the same token, Cashman’s philosophy of patience should help avoid the long-term negative ramifications from an offseason similar to 2004.

Unlike all of the offseasons mentioned above, the one difference from this year is there are still three more months until Opening Day. Although very few attractive free agents remain, there is still the possibility of a trade. From a historical perspective, Yankees’ fans just have to hope that if such a transaction occurs, it will turn out to be more like another Arod trade than the one for Randy Johnson.

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeU.)

Everybody knew that Zack Greinke would be traded before Spring Training, but the suddenness of the deal, not to mention the destination, was somewhat of a surprise. However, despite attempts to suggest the contrary, the Yankees were not caught off guard by the transaction.

In 2009, Zack Greinke was the best pitcher in baseball, but the rest of his career has been much less dominant (Photo: SI).

As soon as Cliff Lee finally made up his mind, Greinke trade rumors became the new fuel for the hot stove. Because the Yankees and Rangers were both jilted by Lee’s decision, the natural assumption was that both would be the front runners for the Royal’s ace, but once again, a “mystery” team emerged from the pack. Not surprisingly, Greinke’s trade to Milwaukee was portrayed as another blow in the Yankees’ off season of discontent, but in reality, it was really evidence of a firm hand steering the ship.

Without a doubt, Greinke is a very talented pitcher, but some of the recent analysis of the trade seems to be based on the notion that the right hander’s real plateau is his 2009 Cy Young season, in which he had a WAR of 9.4 and ERA+ of 205, and not the more “normal seasons” that have surrounded it. That’s not to suggest Greinke isn’t a top of the rotation starter, however. In particular, WAR likes Greinke enough that his 2008 and 2010 seasons both ranked among the top-20 pitchers in all of baseball. Although ERA+ is less kind (ranked 21 in 2008 and 61 in 2010 among all qualified pitchers), Greinke’s performance before and after his Cy Young season has been strong enough to suggest continued success, especially with a move to the weaker NL Central, but that doesn’t mean he should be viewed along the lines of Lee or any other top ace in the major leagues.

On the Strength of a Historic 2009 Cy Young Season, Zack Greinke Has Ranked Among the Best Starters in the Majors Since 2008

  2008 2009 2010 Total Rank
WAR 4.9 9.4 5.2 19.6 4
ERA+ 126 205 100 133 11
xFIP 3.76 3.15 3.76 3.55 11

Note: Minimum of 450 innings.
Source: baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

It remains to be seen how well the Royals made out in the deal (respected evaluators like ESPN’s Keith Law and BP’s Kevin Goldstein disagree somewhat), nor is it certain that the Yankees could have offered a similar package without including higher end prospects like Jesus Montero. Regardless, it seems as if the Yankees made an informed decision that Greinke’s past health issues and overall performance, combined with the asking price, all conspired to make him a less than ideal alternative to the team’s failed pursuit of Lee. In other words, there likely wasn’t any panic in the Yankee offices when the Greinke deal was announced.

So, if Greinke wasn’t the best fit for the Yankees, who is? Even with the return of Andy Pettitte, the Yankees will still need to fill one rotation slot. Mark Buehrle seems to be an ideal candidate, but White Sox GM Kenny Williams has stated that the veteran lefty is not on the trading block. One pitcher rumored to be available is the Rays’ Matt Garza. However, even if Tampa was willing to trade within the division, the volatile right hander’s declining peripherals suggest that he wouldn’t qualify as a frontline starter, nor be worth the expected cost. In fact, he has the hallmarks of another A.J. Burnett, and the Yankees likely have their fill of pitchers with that profile.

Considering the lack of attractive options, the Yankees may well decide to entrust the role to rookie Ivan Nova and then bide their time for a midseason acquisition. Patience has been the off season-long theme for the Yankees, and the Royal’s trade of Greinke shouldn’t trigger a change of course. It might be hard as a fan to accept, but as long as Brian Cashman practices what he preaches, the 2011 season remains in good hands, even if the Yankees seem to be lacking the necessary arms.

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In the wake of losing out on Cliff Lee, Brian Cashman has preached patience, but can the Yankees afford to wait on filling the team’s most pressing needs?

As things stand, the Yankees need to fill the following holes: at least one above average starting pitcher, a competent relief pitcher (preferably a lefty if Damaso Marte’s prognosis has not improved), and a right handed bat with some defensive utility.

According to a report from John Heyman, the first, and most important of those needs, is likely to be met by the return of Andy Pettitte. If the veteran lefty does eventually decide to come back, the Yankees will essentially be returning a 95-win team that was one game removed from the best record in baseball. However, the roster has suffered to two key subtractions, each directly feeding into the other two main deficiencies on the team.

Kerry Wood had a 0.69 ERA in 26 innings with the Yankees.

With Marcus Thames likely ticketed to Japan and Kerry Wood packing his bags for Chicago after signing what seemed to be a steeply discounted deal with the Cubs, the Yankees find themselves in the market for their replacements. Unfortunately, two seemingly ideal targets, Bobby Jenks and Josh Willingham, both came off the board yesterday, which leads us back to original question about whether being too patient is a bad thing?

Considering the contracts signed by the likes of Scott Downs, Joaquin Benoit, Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain (all three-year deals worth at least $4 million annually), Wood’s decision to turn down a $3.5 million offer from the White Sox and take $2 million less from the Cubs was somewhat surprising (although taking less money to play in a preferred spot seems to be in vogue this offseason). The Yankees offer to Wood has not been reported, but based on the White Sox offer, it doesn’t seem as if Wood would have returned to New York for anything less than $4 million. Although many might argue that such a price would have been reasonable, it’s important to remember that Wood has averaged less than 50 innings per season since 2005. So, even though his dominant performance (0.69 ERA in 26 innings with the Yankees) at the end of the 2010 season is still fresh in many people’s minds, it shouldn’t overshadow his more relevant injury history. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that the Yankees rode Wood pretty hard down the stretch, and it’s doubtful that the fragile righty would have been able to shoulder a similar workload in 2011.

One potential replacement for Wood was rumored to be Jenks, but that went by the wayside when the Red Sox inked the former White Sox closer to a two-year deal worth $12 million. Although Moshe Mandel at TYU makes a compelling case for Jenks, it’s hard to get too optimistic about the prospects of a 30 year old reliever who has been out of shape for most of his career, even if his peripherals suggest a rebound season. At a more modest salary, Jenks may have been worth a gamble, but $12 million over two seasons is a significant outlay for middle relief. Besides, the Yankees already have a hard throwing fastball, slider, curve reliever in Joba Chamberlain, who is five years younger and will be making considerably less money. Although many Yankees fans have been down on Chamberlain because of his inconsistency, it is worth noting that Chamberlain enjoyed some of the same positive peripherals (xFIP of 3.34; K/9 of 9.67; BB/9 of 2.76) as Jenks, so any bullish case for the latter would apply to the Yankees’ enigmatic righty as well.

When in the lineup, Josh Willingham has wielded a potent right handed bat.

Marcus Thames quietly had a very productive 2010 season with the bat, posting an OPS+ of 122 in 237 plate appearances. Thames wasn’t a viable option in the field, however, which mitigated his overall value, so his departure isn’t really a significant loss. One seemingly ideal replacement would have been Josh Willingham, but he was just traded to the Oakland Athletics. Even if the Yankees could have acquired him, however, the relative lack of playing time might not have been appealing to a player one year removed from free agency. Also, Willingham’s recent injury history also suggests that he might not be a reliable option. As evidenced by Nick Johnson last season, impressive numbers on paper can’t overcome the negative impact of inevitable injury. Willingham probably isn’t in that class yet, but the trend isn’t encouraging, so maybe the Yankees failure to obtain him will wind up being for the best.

Patience really is a virtue, particularly if you are the General Manager of the New York Yankees. Although it may seem as if this week has been one of missed opportunities, there is still plenty of time until Spring Training. On the relief side, high profile targets like Rafael Soriano and Brian Fuentes remain, but an under the radar guy like Pedro Feliciano could turn out to be the best fit. Meanwhile, the solution to the team’s need for a righty bat might be someone like Bill Hall, whose versatility would also give the Yankees added flexibility.

Clearly, Brian Cashman has his work cut out for him, but there really is no need to make any rash judgments. Patience is not something normally associated with the Yankees, but considering the current circumstances, it seems to be the best course. As long as Cashman is able to fill the Yankees’ holes before the spring, the team should be well positioned for the playoffs, not to mention a major player at the trading deadline. Then, at that time, all patience can be put to the side. In the meantime, however, it will have to be in full supply.

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