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Archive for the ‘Trades’ Category

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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As the Yankees await Cliff Lee’s decision (unless the Marlins are the “mystery team”, at least we know he won’t be taking his talents to South Beach), one thing has become abundantly clear. There is no Plan B.

The Yankees are reportedly willing to pay over $160 million for Cliff Lee’s signature.

Putting all of your eggs in one basket usually isn’t the best strategy, but this offseason the Yankees have one clear cut need and Lee is the only viable solution. From that standpoint, you can’t blame Brian Cashman for having such a singular focus. However, if he fails to reel in his big fish, more than a few people in Yankeeland won’t be so understanding.

During the 2007 offseason, the Yankees were heavily involved in the Johan Santana sweepstakes, but Cashman ultimately decided that the combined cost of money and prospects was too prohibitive. As things turned out, that decision proved to be a wise one because even though the Yankees missed the playoffs in 2008, they were able to retain Phil Hughes and sign C.C. Sabathia the following offseason. Both men not only contributed to a championship in 2009, but remain as the only two reliable starters heading into the 2011 season. But, what would have happened if Sabathia decided to turn down the Yankees’ offer? How then would Cashman’s decision have been viewed (especially if he would up signing Derek Lowe instead)?

This offseason, Cashman is faced with a similar dilemma. Even though Lee’s Rangers booted the Yankees from the ALCS, his decision to hold onto wunderkind Jesus Montero will likely be lauded if the Yankees eventually land the ace lefty in free agency. Should Lee decide to return to Texas, however, history may not be so kind.

Let’s journey back to July 8 (amusingly, the same day LeBron James made his infamous “Decision”) for a moment. According to numerous published reports, the Yankees had acquired Lee from the Mariners for Montero and a package of secondary prospects. The deal was so close to being consummated that Lee even reached out to Sabathia for advice on where to look for a house. The next morning, however, the nomadic lefty found himself headed not to New York, but to Texas. Why? Because the Mariners became concerned about an injury to minor league second baseman David Adams and Cashman refused to substitute Eduardo Nunez or Ivan Nova in the deal.

Although it was first reported that the Mariners backed out of the deal, later clarification revealed that it was actually Cashman who turned them away. Although no one could blame him for being shy about dealing Montero, the fact of the matter is he had already decided to part with the Yankees’ top prospect. In other words, it was really Nunez or Nova who held up the deal.

Could the Yankees’ reluctance to trade Eduardo Nunez end up costing them Cliff Lee?

Compromising the team’s championship chances in one season is sacrifice enough, but if the Yankees fail to sign Lee as a free agent, the opportunity cost will increase exponentially. Presumably, had the Yankees completed the deal for Lee last July, re-signing him would have been much more of a formality. Although many had viewed Lee’s eventual migration to the Bronx as a foregone conclusion, the Yankees are now on the verge of losing out completely. Had Cashman known how difficult it would be to sign Lee, one wonders if he would have allowed Nunez or Nova to scuttle the original deal?

Even if he isn’t able to sign Lee, Cashman can still serendipitously come out smelling like a rose if Montero quickly emerges and comes close to realizing his potential. If that doesn’t happen, however, he’ll likely be given an amount of blame equal to the credit he received for the series of events culminating in the Sabathia acquisition. Although he has no control over Lee’s eventual decision, allowing him to have a good experience in Texas is a worthy second guess. Also open to valid recriminations is Cashman’s failure to be more active for a pitcher like Dan Haren, who if acquired last season would have lessened or even eliminated the need for Lee.

To this point, we’ve dealt with the worst case scenario, but it remains just as likely that the Yankees will be able to sign Lee, in which case Cashman will once again hit the jackpot. After all, putting all those eggs together comes with risk, but it can also offer a great reward. Never afraid to take a chance, Cashman is now in the position of waiting to see how his gamble will payoff. Although he would have liked the process to be over easy, the bottom line is he now needs to hope his offseason plans don’t wind up scrambled.

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

Over the last 24 hours, the Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres have all but agreed to a deal that would send All Star 1B Adrian Gonzalez headed east for a package of prospects. Although no one can dispute Gonzalez’ talents as a player, does the move alone make the Red Sox better?

The Red Sox hope to add Gonzalez’ powerful opposite field swing to their lineup.

There are two small red flags with Gonzalez. The first is he has played most of his career in one of the weakest divisions in baseball: the National League West. Because performance is best measured relative to competition, the Padres’ 1B may not be as successful playing in the AL East. Again, that’s not really a major concern, but it could suggest a lower level to what should be high expectations. The second question mark deals with Gonzalez’ recent surgery to repair his injured right shoulder. Speaking on XX1090AM in San Diego, the Padres’ slugging 1B indicated the surgery would require a long rehab and that he might not be able to swing a bat for 4-5 months. That was on November 10. Doing the math, it’s possible that Gonzalez will not be ready to take his normal cuts until at least Spring Training, but perhaps as late as Opening Day.  If the latter, it’s very possible that Gonzalez wouldn’t be in peak form until several weeks, or months, into the season.

Even with both of those concerns noted, acquiring Gonzalez is close to a no-brainer for the Red Sox, provided they are able to sign him to a long-term contract. Of course, picking up star players in the trade market also comes with another cost, which in this case could be Casey Kelly (ranked 18th overall by ESPN’s Keith Law), the team’s top prospect. If the combination of money expended (Gonzalez’ 2011 salary is a low $6.3 million, but a renegotiated deal could inflate that figure) and prospects traded prevent the team from making another acquisition (e.g., Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford, Justin Upton, etc.), the end result might not look so good.

Finally, if the deal for Gonzalez is consummated, that likely means the end of Adrian Beltre’s brief time in Boston. Going forward, it’s almost certain that Gonzalez will be a more productive hitter than Beltre. However, it isn’t for sure that he’ll perform much better than Beltre did in 2010. So, when you also consider Beltre’s top-shelf defense at a key position like third, the exchange becomes even less favorable. After all, Gonzalez’ gold glove at 1B will be replacing Kevin Youkilis’, who would be asked to move across the diamond to third, where he isn’t as sound defensively. Even if Youkilis is able to play third base at an acceptable level, he likely will not be in the class of Beltre. As a result, with all things considered, the Red Sox could be taking a step back in terms of infield defense.

With the departure of Beltre and Victor Martinez, the Red Sox have some ground to make up on offense. Without a doubt, Adrian Gonzalez goes along way toward doing just that. However, Boston will need its new acquisition to be healthy as well as able to make a quick adjustment to the AL East. What’s more, after wrapping up the deal, the Red Sox will need to have enough flexibility to make another addition. If everything falls into place, the deal should revive Boston’s standing in the division, but if the questions mentioned above are not answered in the affirmative, the benefit of adding Gonzalez might wind up being a more long-term proposition.

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Carlos Beltran recently stated that he would like to finish his career with the New York Mets, but also suggested that he would accept a trade before his current seven year, $119 million dollar deal expires at the end of next season.

When the Mets signed Carlos Beltran, many thought the Yankees were foolish to let him slip away to Shea (Photo: NY Daily News).

Where has the time gone? It seems like just yesterday that Beltran, fresh off a spectacular postseason with the Astros, hit the free agent market as one of the hottest commodities in recent memory. With Bernie Williams’ decline evident and his days as a centerfielder dwindling, Beltran was regarded as a natural target for the Yankees, who were coming off an embarrassing 2004 ALCS loss to the Red Sox. At the time, however, the Yankees decided that they needed pitching more and couldn’t afford both an ace and top notch centerfielder like Beltran. So, instead, they opted to trade for Randy Johnson and then resign him to a two-year/$32 million dollar extension, which, combined with his 2005 salary and the $9 million sent to Arizona, amounted to a total commitment of $57 million over three years (or about the same annual value as the contract Beltran eventually signed with the Mets).

Even before Johnson proved to be a disappointment in New York, many questioned the wisdom of the Yankees’ choice, especially after Beltran offered the team a last minute discount. Those feelings only increased as Johnson departed just two seasons later and the Yankees struggled to fill their hole in centerfield, all while Beltran put up MVP-type numbers. With Beltran’s contract finally nearing its completion, however, we can just now begin to judge the true impact of the Yankees’ decision.

As mentioned, from the time Beltran signed with the Mets until the present day, the Yankees have had several centerfielders (from Bernie to Bubba to Damon to Melky and then some). So, in order to do a fair comparison, the first order of business is to create a composite player for each season under consideration. To do that, we’ve determined each player’s percentage of playing time in centerfield and then multiplied that rate by both runs created and salary. Although this approach doesn’t exactly isolate performance compiled while playing centerfield, or account for economic issues like sunk costs, it does provide a useful approximation of the resources the Yankees spent on the position as well as the performance they received from it.

Yankees’ Centerfielders, 2005 to 2010

2010 Inn  PT% RC RC*PT% Salary Salary*PT%
Granderson 1120 77.7% 82 63.7 $5,500,000 $4,270,857
Gardner 305 21.1% 75 15.9 $452,500 $95,687
Total       79.5   $4,366,544
2009 Inn PT% RC RC*PT% Salary Salary*PT%
Cabrera 806 1/3 55.6% 67 37.3 $1,400,000 $778,529
Gardner 628 2/3 43.4% 37 16.0 $414,000 $179,495
Total       53.3   $958,024
2008 Inn PT% RC RC*PT% Salary Salary*PT%
Cabrera 973 2/3 67.5% 42 28.4 $461,200 $311,483
Damon 285 19.8% 102 20.2 $13,000,000 $2,569,942
Gardner 160 2/3 11.1% 13 1.4 $41,400 $4,614
Total       50.0   $2,886,039
2007 Inn PT% RC RC*PT% Salary Salary*PT%
Cabrera 1072 2/3 73.9% 70 51.8 $432,400 $319,730
Damon 377 26.0% 83 21.6 $13,000,000 $3,378,447
Total       73.3   $3,698,176
2006 Inn PT% RC RC*PT% Salary Salary*PT%
Damon 1086 2/3 75.3% 108 81.3 $13,000,000 $9,785,269
Williams 200 13.9% 59 8.2 $1,500,000 $207,804
Crosby 117 8.1% 7 0.6 $354,250 $28,710
Total       90.0   $10,021,783
2005 Inn PT% RC RC*PT% Salary Salary*PT%
Williams 862 2/3 60.3% 56 33.8 $12,357,143 $7,451,138
Matsui 222 1/3 15.5% 114 17.7 $8,000,000 $1,243,243
Womack 150 10.5% 27 2.8 $2,000,000 $209,692
Crosby 144 2/3 10.1% 10 1.0 $322,950 $32,656
Cabrera 49 3.4% 1 0.0 $322,950 $11,061
Total       55.4   $8,947,791

Note: Players with less than 2% contribution excluded.
Source: Baseball-reference.com and Cots Contracts

Now that we have a snap shot of what the composite Yankees’ centerfielder looked like for each of the last six seasons, we can make a comparison to Beltran.

Cost and Production Comparison: Beltran vs. Yankees’ CF

  Carlos Beltran   Yankees CF’er
Year RC Salary $/RC   RC Salary $/RC
2005 82 $11,571,429 $141,115   54 $8,947,791 $165,700
2006 127 $13,571,428 $106,862   90 $10,021,783 $111,353
2007 109 $13,571,429 $124,509   73 $3,698,176 $50,660
2008 121 $18,622,809 $153,908   50 $2,886,039 $57,721
2009 66 $19,243,682 $291,571   53 $958,024 $18,076
2010 34 $19,401,569 $570,634   80 $4,366,544 $54,582
Total 539 $95,982,346 $178,075   400 $30,878,358 $77,196

In the 2005 ALDS, Bubba Crosby’s collision with Gary Sheffield proved costly. Since that season, the Yankees have had eight different centerfielders see significant time at the position.

As illustrated by the table above, the Yankees have spent over $100,000 less per run created from center field than they otherwise would have for Beltran, assuming he would have performed at similar levels in the Bronx. Obviously, Beltran’s injuries over the last two seasons have heavily tilted the scales toward the Yankees’ centerfield committee, but when you are assessing long-term deals, health becomes a major consideration. What really makes the comparison one-sided, however, is the Yankees’ ability to inexpensively create runs from centerfield (or in at least half the season, their willingness to accept very little production).

To this point, we’ve left out the defensive side of the argument, which is no small exclusion when you consider the importance of the position as well as Beltran’s glorified reputation for playing it. Unfortunately, defensive metrics do not allow for the same level of reliable analysis, but nonetheless, the UZR/150 rates for both Beltran and all Yankee centerfielders are presented below.

UZR/150 Comparison: Beltran vs. Yankees’ CF

Year Beltran Yankees CF
2005  -2.6 -37.2
2006 11.6 -12.2
2007 2.9 -9.8
2008 12.2 5.4
2009 -6 12.6
2010 -8.6 4.9

Source: http://www.fangraphs.com

As you can see, the Yankees were pretty awful in centerfield over the first half of the period, but since then have really picked it up. Beltran, meanwhile, only posted two outstanding defensive seasons, according to UZR/150. Again, these figures probably should be taken with a grain of salt, but that doesn’t mean Beltran’s overall superiority on defense should be ignored. Having said that, the Yankees strong defensive play in center has significantly mitigated that edge and probably doesn’t drastically change any conclusion derived from the offensive comparison.

The Yankees usually count success in terms of championships, so one could probably make the argument that Beltran’s 2006-2008 contribution would have made a World Series victory more likely in each of those seasons. Then again, one could probably also argue that Beltran’s 2009 salary would have prevented the Yankees from obtaining both Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia, and we all know the implications of that scenario. In other words, it’s probably best to narrow our focus to the individual (or composite individual) performances of the players involved. On that basis, it seems as if the Yankees have been better off for not having signed Beltran.

One final note. This year, the Yankees are facing a similar decision to the one they encountered in 2004: sign an ace lefty (Cliff Lee) or a two-way outfielder (Carl Crawford). Although Lee is younger than Johnson was then, and Beltran was a better player than Crawford is now, the similarities are still intriguing. Based on early indications, it seems as if Brian Cashman has already opted for the pitcher, but if history is the judge, it may be wisest for the Yankees to ignore both.

The heck with history…go get Cliff Lee!

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Brian Cashman is on his way to Arkansas to meet with Cliff Lee, so he may need a little reading material on the plane. What better time for the third installment of our blueprint series? The first two proposals (click here and here) dealt with bigger names like Carlos Zambrano, Colby Rasmus and Matt Kempt, but teams also need to properly fill in the bottom of the 25-man roster. With that in mind, it’s time to turn an eye toward the Yankees’ unsettled catching position.

The catching tandem of Posada and Cervelli struggled on defense in 2010 (Photo: The Star-Ledger).

With the exception of Derek Jeter’s free agency, no topic in Yankee land has been more widely discussed than the role that Jorge Posada will play in 2011. Adding further intrigue to the story, the New York Times is reporting that Posada will undergo surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. The procedure is considered a minor one, but at age 39, any kind of injury has to be taken seriously. As a result, Brian Cashman has reportedly told Posada to prepare to come into camp as a catcher, but also expect to spend considerable time at DH. What’s more, several sources have also stated that the Yankees have every intention of giving wunderkind Jesus Montero a real shot at winning a significant role on the team. All of that makes perfect sense, and yet, something still seems to be missing in the equation.

In 2010, Posada and Francisco Cervelli nearly split the catching duties down the middle, and in the process became the first pair to record over 300 plate appearances as a catcher in franchise history. Even with Cervelli’s paltry .694 OPS factored in, Yankees’ catchers still finished first in the American League with a wOBA of .339. However, on defense, the tables were completely turned. Not only did the Yankees’ lead all of the majors with 21 errors from behind the plate (Cervelli’s 13 and Posada’s 8 actually led the ballclub), they also ranked dead last in CS%, trailing even the Red Sox abysmal rate of 19.9% by a full five points.

Like Candy from a Baby: Ten Easiest Teams to Steal Against

Team

Inn E SB CS CS%
Yankees 1442.1 21 132 23 14.8%
Red Sox 1456.2 8 169 42 19.9%
Cubs 1436.2 8 114 31 21.4%
Pirates 1411.2 12 116 32 21.6%
Rangers 1455.1 12 116 35 23.2%
Angels 1449.1 17 133 41 23.6%
Brewers 1439 11 100 31 23.7%
Diamondbacks 1432 3 115 36 23.8%
Orioles 1436.1 8 83 27 24.5%
Rays 1453.2 11 89 30 25.2%

Source: fangraphs.com

If you haven’t figured it out yet, one of the Yankees’ greatest weaknesses in 2010 was defense behind the plate. So, how do they go about filling that hole?

Free Agent Acquisition: Miguel Olivo

Jesus Montero is expected to get a chance to go north with the club in 2011.

Unfortunately, the defensive reputation of Montero is not very encouraging. Scouting reports have labeled his skills behind the plate anywhere from awful to acceptable, so his defensive contribution will remain a question mark, to say the least. Fellow prospect Austin Romine, who is also reportedly being considered for a roll in 2011, does enjoy a more flattering defensive reputation, but all signs point to his starting the year in Scranton. So, aside from Montero and Posada, that pretty much leaves Cervelli as the only other option. In others words, unless an acquisition is made, the Yankees shouldn’t expect much defense from behind the plate in 2011.

There is, however, a potential free agent who would fit the Yankees’ need: Miguel Olivo.

The Blue Jays recently acquired Miguel Olivo from the Rockies and then promptly declined his option, deciding instead to offer him arbitration. Because Olivo is a type-B player, the Blue Jays would receive a supplemental pick if he were to sign with another team, which is presumably exactly what Toronto would like him to do. Assuming he doesn’t accept arbitration, Olivo would be free to field offers.

Olivo is a decent bat for a catcher, making up in power for what he lacks in getting on base. In particular, he is a more than competent stick against lefthanders, posting a .284/.318/.503 line in 896 career plate appearances. The Yankees aren’t looking for offense from the position, however. What makes Olivo attractive are his defensive skills, particularly his career caught stealing rate of 35.4%, which ranks just behind Joe Mauer for 12th best among all active catchers.

Active Caught Stealing Percentage Leaders

Rank Player (age) CS%
1 Yadier Molina (27) 46.82
2 Ivan Rodriguez (38) 44.49
3 Henry Blanco (38) 42.93
4 Alberto Castillo (40) 41.46
5 Jose Molina (35) 39.45
6 David Ross (33) 38.55
7 Gerald Laird (30) 37.94
8 Brian Schneider (33) 37.09
9 Mark Johnson (34) 36.61
10 Brandon Inge (33) 36.31
11 Joe Mauer (27) 35.75
12 Miguel Olivo (31) 35.03

Note: Minimum 200 SB attempts
Source: Baseball-reference.com

How He Fits

If the Yankees were able to land Olivo, they could pretty much use him in a 40/40/20 platoon with Montero and Posada. Of course, if Montero

Miguel Olivo could help the Yankees fill in a defensive gap behind the plate (Photo: Getty Images).

blossomed either behind the plate or in the batter’s box, that could be adjusted, but at the very least, the Yankees would have a strong defensive minded backup plan in the event he required more seasoning (or Posada’s injuries prohibited him from catching at all). Also, with three catchers on the roster, the Yankees could more easily pinch hit in high leverage situations, thereby reducing the negative impact of Olivo’s below average bat. In other words, the Yankees could enjoy the best of both worlds by strategically employing Olivo’s defense without enduring too much of a negative impact from his low on base percentage.

At this point, someone is likely to point out that Cervelli’s OPS+ was just a shade below Olivo’s, but with a much higher on base percentage. If only the Yankees could be sure Cervelli would provide above average defense, they might be just fine employing him as a third catcher, especially considering the reduced cost. Unfortunately, however, Cervelli’s defense was so poor (his second half offense was equally bad) that the Yankees can not take that chance. 2011 is going to be a year of transition behind the plate, and there really is no room for a third party who can neither hit nor play defense at an acceptable level.

Money Matter$

There are two potential problems with this plan. The first is Olivo could wind up accepting arbitration. After making $2 million in 2010, he could actually do better by avoiding free agency. Of course, that could ultimately work to the Yankees’ advantage. If the Blue Jays were to get stuck with Olivo at an inflated price, they’d likely be willing to dump him at a discount. Under such a scenario, the Yankees could get their man for less than they would have in free agency.

The second hurdle would be Olivo’s willingness to enter an uncertain situation. Over the last five seasons, he has pretty much settled into the role of an everyday catcher, so being a part-time player might not be an attractive proposition. It remains to be seen if other teams would be willing to promise him more playing time, but if so, the Yankees would probably have to look elsewhere. The only other similar option appears to be Gerald Laird, who although a better defender than Olivo, is much weaker with the bat and would therefore require a more flexible deployment. With few better options readily available, the Yankees can’t let their pursuit of larger fish allow a minnow like Olivo to slip through the net.

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As the Yankees continue to lay in waiting for the services of Cliff Lee, the Captain’s Blog continues the exercise of crafting a blueprint for the 2011 roster. In part one, I advocated a deal of A.J. Burnett for Carlos Zambrano, so now it’s time to turn to the offense.

Trade Option 1: Joba Chamberlain and Brett Gardner for Colby Rasmus

Brett Gardner’s hustle has made him a fan favorite, but it may be time for the Yankees to sell high (Photo: NY Post).

One of the nicest surprises for the Yankees in 2010 was the play of Brett Gardner. According to fangraphs.com, Gardner was worth a whopping 5.4 wins above replacement. Regardless of how much credibility you place in WAR, Gardner was an above average offensive performer playing an all-world left field in 2010.

Looking behind the numbers, however, one can see the beginning of a disturbing trend. In the second half of the season, Gardner posted a line of .232/.364/.330,which wasn’t much better than his performance in the second half of 2009 (albeit in many fewer at bats). Although some have defended Gardner’s second half swoons by citing the hand injuries he suffered in both seasons, that actually speaks to the concern. Gardner’s game is built upon speed and hustle, and that no-holds barred style has a tendency to wear a player down late in the season. Without any noticeable power, Gardner’s productivity rests solely on staying healthy and getting on base, something he hasn’t been able to do over the course of a full season.

It’s been a while since the Yankees have seen the “fist pumping Joba”, so perhaps a change of scenery is in order?

What more can be said about Joba? In the span of three seasons, he has gone from a potential top of the rotation starter to Mariano Rivera’s heir apparent to an afterthought in middle relief. Despite being only 24, it sure seems as if the ship has sailed on Joba’s days in pinstripes.

Once again, however, we need to take a closer look. In 2010, Chamberlain’s nine-inning hit and strikeout rates of 8.9 and 9.7, respectively, were both impressive. Again according to fangraphs.com, his FIP of 2.98 suggests that the right hander was more unlucky than erratic. What’s more, Chamberlain also rediscovered some of his lost velocity in relief, increasing the speed on his fastball from 92.5 mph to 94.6 mph. The talent is still clearly there, but where are the results?

Colby Rasmus was drafted by the Cardinals with the 28th selection in the 2005 amateur draft (a pick awarded to the Cardinals as compensation for the Red Sox’ signing of Edgar Renteria). After being selected, he quickly shot up through the ranks of highly touted prospects before making his major league debut at 22 in 2009. Despite struggling in his rookie season, Rasmus was given the chance to start in 2010, and he rewarded the Cardinals with a line of .276/.361/.498 in 534 plate appearances. However, for some reason, the young outfielder’s relationship with manager Tony LaRussa went bad. As a result, it was reported that Rasmus demanded a trade. Although he later denied doing so, it was no secret that the tension between player and manager was real.

Why the Trade Makes Sense for the Yankees

Colby Rasmus’ left handed swing would fit right into the Yankees’ lineup for years to come.

Although they would be selling low on a talented arm like Chamberlain, he may simply need a change of scenery. On the other hand, Gardner’s value may never be higher, so unless the Yankees believe he still has room for improvement at the plate, it might be time to cash in on his 2010 season.

As the core of the Yankees’ offense ages, a commodity like Rasmus would be exactly what the Yankees need to replenish their lineup. Adding a left-handed centerfielder with power to a second baseman like Cano and catching prospect like Jesus Montero could give the Yankees an up-the-middle foundation similar to what they had in Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada at the start of the recent dynasty. Even if Gardner proves his 2010 was just the beginning of an ascent, and Joba rediscovers his earlier promise, adding such a component would still be well worthwhile.

Why the Trade Makes Sense for the Cardinals

Once again, a big part of the rationale behind this trade stems from the rift that may or may not still exist between LaRussa and Rasmus. If it does, the Cardinals may have no choice but to put their talented young centerfielder on the market. Although there would be plenty of competition for Rasmus, acquiring two major league ready players like Gardner and Chamberlain (who combined had a much higher WAR than Rasmus in 2010) would probably be of interest to an older Cardinals team that will be seeking to resign Albert Pujols in the offseason. In particular, one area of desperate need for the Cardinals’ offense is at leadoff hitter (.306 OBP in 2010), and Gardner would certainly fit that bill. Meanwhile, with Dave Duncan as pitching coach, St. Louis could either mold Chamberlain as a starter or turn him into their closer, replacing the 37-year old Ryan Franklin.

Because of the potential clamor for Rasmus, the Yankees might have to add a solid prospect to the deal, which shouldn’t be off the table, assuming it isn’t someone like Montero or Manny Banuelos. If that still isn’t enough to pry Rasmus away, Cashman would probably be better off turning to our second option.

Going to WAR

Player WAR
Brett Gardner 5.4
Joba Chamberlain 1.4
Colby Rasmus 3.7

Source: fangraphs.com

Trade Option 2: Gardner and Chamberlain for Matt Kemp

Before the start of the previous two seasons, one popular rumor was a potential trade of Robinson Cano for Matt Kemp. However, after the latter’s disappointing 2010 campaign, it’s hard to imagine both players in the same class.

Not only did Kemp regress in just about every meaningful offensive category, but by most metrics, he also performed extremely poorly in the field. Adding further insult, Dodger’s GM Ned Colletti repeatedly criticized Kemp’s play, even insinuating that his commitment may have lessened after signing a new deal. In other words, the Dodgers, whose finances have been ravaged by a divorce dispute, may be very eager to part with Kemp, whose 2011 salary escalates to $7 million before heading to arbitration in 2012.

Why the Trade Makes Sense for the Yankees

Matt Kemp’s development took a step back in 2010. Could a rebound in pinstripes be in the offing?

Like Rasmus, Kemp is still a young and talented centerfielder who could be a centerpiece on the Yankees for years to come. Unlike Rasmus, however, Kemp would be a buy low candidate, meaning the Yankees would face less competition from other potential suitors. Furthermore, Kemp’s higher salary would also make his acquisition more prohibitive to other teams. As a result, the Yankees would be the team demanding that a prospect be included in the deal. Of course, considering the dysfunctional state of the Dodgers, it might even be possible for the Yankees to steal Kemp without including both Chamberlain and Gardner in the trade, but for now, we’ll assume some level of sanity in LA remains.

Why the Trade Makes Sense for the Dodgers

Even if the Dodgers were confident that Kemp would rebound from his disappointing 2010 season, the chance to acquire two cheaper players would still be compelling. Also, keep in mind that Don Mattingly was sitting in the dugout when Joba Chamberlain was dominating opposing batters in 2007. Therefore, the new Dodgers’ skipper may be more willing than most to take a chance on Chamberlain’s dominance returning.

Matt Kemp’s 2010 Season of Discontent

Year PA SB% BA OBP SLG OPS+ UZR* WAR*
2009 667 81% 0.297 0.352 0.490 124 3 5.0
2010 668 56% 0.249 0.310 0.450 107 -24 0.4

Source: Baseball-reference.com and (*) fangraphs.com

Money Matter$

Option 1

Brett Gardner and Colby Rasmus each have one more season of cost control left, while Chamberlain can go before an arbitrator for the first time this off season. Considering his near minimum salary and less than stellar performance in 2010, Chamberlain probably wouldn’t be in line for much of a raise.

Option 2

Matt Kemp is the only player with a price tag included in the two potential deals. In 2011, he will make $6.95 million, after which he has one more year of arbitration eligibility before heading to free agency. In other words, even with only a solid season, Kemp could be looking at a 2012 salary of around $10 million.

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The baseball hot stove was officially fired up on Sunday with the beginning of the free agent negotiating period.

According to numerous reports, the Yankees have already reached out to Cliff Lee’s agent to let him know an offer is forthcoming. Getting Lee’s signature on a contract has clearly been established as job one in the off season, so while Brian Cashman stays busy with that mission, we’ve decided to help him out with a blueprint for crafting the rest of the 2011 roster. Over the course of the next few days, we’ll present a series of trades, free agent acquisitions and roster adjustments that will position the Yankees for a successful run at number 28 in 2011.

Trade: AJ Burnett for Carlos Zambrano

AJ Burnett’s tenure in the Bronx has had its share of ups and downs, but mostly left everyone scratching their heads (Photo: AP).

The Yankees currently have a whole host of questions in their starting rotation. Signing Lee and having Andy Pettitte return would go along way toward answering many of them, but even if both occurred, that would still leave the enigmatic AJ Burnett in the fifth slot. Although he seems to be a pretty good teammate, the uncertainty surrounding his performance has become too great to tolerate. Even if they are able to build a strong quartet around him, the Yankees shouldn’t accept so much doubt every five days.

Wanting to trade Burnett and finding a willing partner, however, are two different things. In other words, the Yankees need to find another team with an equally high-priced enigma. The Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano seems to be exactly that man.

Since signing a five-year/$91.5 million extension in 2007, Big Z has been a major disappointment for the Cubs. Although his relative performance has remained above average, his behavior has been erratic and his commitment and conditioning frequently questioned. Those concerns culminated in a demotion to the bullpen and eventual suspension following a dugout tirade on June 25, 2010. Zambrano eventually returned to the team, and the rotation, after undergoing anger management, but you couldn’t blame the Cubs if they’ve had enough of Big Z.

AJ Burnett vs. Carlos Zambrano, Last Three-Year Comparison

  W L GS IP ERA WHIP K/9
Burnett 41 34 100 614 1/3 4.42 1.41 8.36
Zambrano 34 19 78 487 2/3 3.71 1.36 7.36

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Why the Trade Makes Sense for the Yankees

From the Yankees’ perspective, they’d not only rid themselves of having to constantly address Burnett’s bi-polar pitching personality, but they’d also eliminate the need to employ a personal catcher for the right hander. Although the Yankees have been successful despite Burnett’s reticence to throw to Posada, removing this potential rift from the clubhouse, especially during a time when Posada’s role will likely diminish, could be a plus.

In return, the Yankees would get a pitcher who is four years younger and marginally better, albeit in a much less competitive league and division. If the Yankees were able to keep Zambrano focused, he could have the potential to return to his All Star form. As an added bonus, Joe Girardi was a teammate of Big Z for two seasons, so he might be in a good position to get the most out of the volatile righty.

Why the Trade Makes Sense for the Cubs

Carlos Zambrano has given the Cubs more than few headaches over the years, including several confrontations with teammates, managers and umpires.

Although the Cubs would be acquiring an older pitcher coming off a very bad season, Burnett has actually been more durable, even taking into account Zambrano’s demotion and suspension. Also, from a scout’s perspective, Burnett would probably out-rate Zambrano, and that might make him an attractive project for Mike Quade. Although Burnett’s “dominant stuff” may have lost its effectiveness after five seasons in the AL East, it could translate very well to the weak NL Central.

The new Cubs’ skipper has said all the right things about Zambrano, but the opportunity to start fresh without a significant vestige of the team’s troubled past might ultimately be the most compelling part of the proposed deal. Do the Cubs really want to risk another midseason blowup from the cantankerous Zambrano? If not, they might be more than willing to swap headaches with the Yankees.

Money Matter$

Carlos Zambrano will make $17.9 million in 2011 and $18 million in 2012, while Burnett will earn $16.5 million each season. So, the Cubs would come out ahead by approximately $3 million over the next two years. In 2013, however, Zambrano’s contract contains a $19.3 million vesting option, while Burnett’s deal holds another guaranteed year at $16.5 million.

From the Cubs standpoint, they’d enjoy a short-term savings, but because Zambrano’s option isn’t likely to vest (top-2 in 2011 CY Young voting or top-4 in 2012 CY Young voting), they’d pay for that discount in the long-run. As a result, the Yankees would likely have to include a significant amount of cash in the deal contingent upon Zambrano’s option not being triggered. How much exactly would likely be determined by each team’s respective desire to make the deal, but the Yankees should not be averse to chipping in at least half of Burnett’s 2013 salary.

Contractual Obligations: Burnett vs. Zambrano

  Zambrano Burnett
2011 17,875,000 16,500,000
2012 18,000,000 16,500,000
2013 19,250,000* 16,500,000
Total 55,125,000 49,500,000

* Zambrano’s 2013 option vests if the he finishes in the top-2 in CY Young award voting in 2011 or the top-4 in CY Young award voting in 2012, and is healthy at the end of the 2012.
Source: Cot’s Baseball Contracts

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