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Archive for the ‘Roster Analysis’ Category

Two of the most influential members of the Yankees’ front office took to the airwaves this morning to promote the upcoming Pinstripe Bowl, and not surprisingly, each interview touched on the team’s offseason plans. President Randy Levine, who was a guest on FOX 5’s Good Day New York, and COO Lonn Trost, who appeared on WFAN’s Boomer and Carton morning radio show (hosted by Kim Jones and Chris Carlin), each fielded several questions about what the Yankees are doing, or not doing, and their responses suggested the organization has a coherent party line.

Randy Levine (l) and Lonn Trost (r) flank Derek Jeter during a ceremony honoring his 3,000th hit. (Photo: Getty Images)

Responding to the question about whether the team’s spending philosophy has changed, Trost dismissed the idea that the Yankees were being more cautious, but stated that the team was trying to be smarter. According to Trost, the Yankees do not believe the dollars being spent in the current market are commensurate with the abilities of the players available, putting the organization in a position to depend on its minor league system. In particular, Trost cited Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Hector Noesi, Jesus Montero, and Austin Romine as prospects that could make an impact next season. He also suggested that because of the team’s high expectations for those players, there hasn’t been a need to overspend as in the past.

Levine’s segment on GDNY was much shorter than Trost’s appearance on WFAN, and the hosts didn’t have the same sports background as Jones and Carlin, but there were several pointed questions about the Yankees’ winter designs. When asked about the team’s need of pitching, Levine responded that the organization was always looking to get better and that if an opportunity presented itself, Brian Cashman would be on it. Levine also touched on the Yankees’ potential interest in Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, stating that it was in the best interest of the organization to keep their level of involvement a secret.

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Closers have been in both high demand and overabundant supply this offseason.  Jonathan Papelbon set the market early with a 4-year, $50 million contract, and since then, the likes of Heath Bell, Joe Nathan, and Frank Francisco have fallen in line. Meanwhile, Ryan Madson and Francisco Cordero remain on the free agent market, while names like Carlos Marmol, Andrew Bailey, and Joakim Soria continue to be mentioned as hot commodities on the trade front.

Papelbon's four-year deal with the Phillies has set the market for closers. (Photo: Getty Images)

When the Yankees signed Rafael Soriano last winter, it seemed like a reach at the time, and this year’s offseason activity has confirmed it. At 3-years and $35 million, Soriano’s AAV of $11.7 million is just a shade below Papelbon’s and well in excess of what the Marlins and Rangers gave to Bell and Nathan, respectively. Such is the advantage of being the only closer available on the market, especially during a year in which the Yankees aren’t trying to stay on a budget.

Despite the market glut, it seems likely that teams still wishing to acquire a closer will have to pay a hefty price in terms of dollars or prospects. That won’t impact the Yankees, however, because the team’s bullpen is both strong and deep. In fact, Soriano projects to be the “seventh inning guy”, which is very impressive when you consider he would be the closer on many other teams. So, perhaps Brian Cashman should be thinking about leveraging the Yankees’ relative strength and using the inflated closer market to help unload a contract he didn’t want in the first place?

With $25 million owed over the next two seasons, Soriano isn’t cheap. However, if the Yankees were willing to eat about $5 million, it would reduce his AAV to $10 million, or just over the $9 million that the Marlins will be paying Heath Bell. At first glance, that still seems too high, but when you compare the two pitchers over their careers, a similar salary seems appropriate. Granted, Bell has been healthier and occupied the closer’s role for longer, but the extra year on his contract could be viewed as the premium for that experience.

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“Not interested” have seemingly become Brian Cashman’s favorite two words, which hasn’t exactly been music to the ears of many Yankees fans (or agents hoping to ignite a bidding war). Although it’s easy to see why Cashman would remain aloof when it comes to big ticket free agents or inflated trade demands seeking the team’s best prospects, the cold shoulder given to pitchers like Hiroki Kuroda and Roy Oswalt has been harder for many to understand.

Is Roy Oswalt the best option for the Yankees? (Photo: AP)

As the winter has progressed, and the Yankees’ Hot Stove has remained without a flame, there has been a growing disenchantment among the fan base. All of sudden, the likes of Oswalt and Kuroda have become “must haves”, and the Yankees’ lack of interest a sign of irrational fiscal restraint. Earlier, I suggested the team might be in a warped version of a rebuilding mode, and apparently, many in the Yankees’ Universe have taken that sentiment a little too much to heart.

Whether or not the Yankees are laying the foundation for when Cole Hamels becomes a free agent next season, there is no reason for the team to make a rash decision on players whom, only weeks ago, most would have agreed weren’t a great fit. After all, is a 34-year old Oswalt, who is coming off a season with a bad back, really what the Yankees need? Is a 37-year old Kuroda, who has spent his brief career in the NL West, any better?

As constituted, the Yankees’ rotation has several question marks, but the only real candidate to be removed for an acquisition would be Phil Hughes. Considering his struggles over the last season and a half, many fans would likely welcome a veteran replacement, but should the Yankees be willing to pull the plug on a pitcher who was not only a highly touted prospect, but has had some success in the major leagues? Granted, penciling Hughes into the rotation represents a risk, but the potential reward (a young, reliable starter under team control for three more years) suggests it should be one the Yankees are willing to take, especially when contrasted against what could be expected from some of the proposed alternatives.

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With C.J. Wilson in Anaheim and Yu Darvish reportedly headed north of the border or deep in the heart of Texas, the Yankees’ offseason pursuit of pitching has so far come up short. Unlike last year, however, when the team’s courtship of Cliff Lee was rebuffed, it doesn’t seem as if the Yankees had much interest in Wilson or Darvish, not to mention the many starters rumored to be available on the trade market. For some Yankees’ fans, this level of inactivity has been the cause of great frustration, leading to speculation that the team’s free spending ways may be a thing of the past.

Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman appear to be on the same page about being more prudent in player acquisitions.

Hal Steinbrenner’s unwillingness to open up the checkbook and Brian Cashman’s reticence to part with prospects seem to contradict the team’s “win the World Series or bust” mantra. After all, it’s hard to argue that Darvish, Wilson, Gio Gonzalez, etc. wouldn’t represent a major upgrade in the Yankees rotation, which, after CC Sabathia, consists of major question marks. Even though rolling the dice with such a rotation worked out well last year (assuming, like me, you consider a 97 win season to be a success), doing so again would constitute a major risk, especially in a league getting stronger by the minute.

The Yankees’ mandate is to win the World Series, but that isn’t a short-term proposition. Although fans, and some within the organization, rarely think too far ahead, it’s important to remember the team’s real mission statement is to win the World Series every year (or at least try), not just this year. That’s why Cashman’s cautious approach isn’t a betrayal of the team’s lofty standards. As the Yankees’ GM has repeatedly stated, no deal is better than a bad deal, which basically means the long-term competitiveness of the franchise is more important than an incremental, short-term gain.

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Nakajima lines a run-scoring single during the final game of the 2009 WBC, which was won by Japan. (Photo: Getty Images)

Considered along side the other big headlines being made at the Winter Meetings, the Yankees winning bid for the rights to Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima doesn’t seem like a big deal. However, it could signal the beginning of a new strategy designed to circumvent some of the onerous restrictions triggered by the new CBA as well as mitigate some of the difficulty in building a bench behind a strong starting lineup.

In 10 seasons with the Saitama Seibu Lions of Japan’s Pacific League, Nakajima posted a line of .302/.369/.475 in over 4,500 plate appearances. According to Patrick Newman, who hosts a website dedicated to Japanese baseball, he is a plus defender with a strong enough arm to play all three infield positions. Although statistics and scouting reports about Japanese players should be taken with a grain of salt, all signs seem to suggest he has the potential to be a solid utility infielder.

Hiroyuki Nakajima’s Career Statistics

Source: Nippon Professional Baseball League Official Website

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For the last nine seasons, David Ortiz has been one of the most prolific hitters in baseball and the rock of the Boston Red Sox’ lineup. However, there hasn’t been much love for Big Papi on the free agent market. According to recent reports, the DH’s options seem limited to accepting arbitration or signing a discounted two-year deal with the Red Sox. If that really is the case, the Yankees should make him an offer he can’t refuse.

Brian Cashman has correctly identified pitching as the Yankees’ top priority. However, in the absence of attractive starting pitching on the market (at least not at a reasonable price), maybe that isn’t the best approach? After all, an alternative to preventing runs is scoring them, and adding Ortiz would certainly help the Yankees do just that.

With the exception of Don Baylor from 1983 to 1986, the Yankees have rarely had a full-time DH. Jorge Posada’s 90 games as a DH last year is surpassed by only seven other Yankees and ranks as the third highest total since 1991. So, if the team signed Ortiz, it would represent a philosophical reversal, especially for Joe Girardi, who has grown fond of using the DH as a “half day off” for his aging veterans.

Ironically, the man most likely to fill the DH slot for the Yankees in 2012 is 22-year old Jesus Montero. The most sensible objection to signing Ortiz is the negative impact it would have Montero’s playing time, but even that could be spun into a positive. Instead of settling on the rookie as a DH, the presence of Ortiz could force the Yankees to develop him more as a catcher, which, in the long run, would pay greater dividends.

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Over the past few years, the Yankees have repeatedly talked about operating under a budget, but the team has always been willing to break through those constraints when push came to shove. Just ask Mark Teixeira. However, according to a recent report by Joel Sherman, the new CBA could make sticking to a budget an offer not even the Yankees can afford to refuse.

In 2008, the Yankees’ decided to exceed their “budget” in order to sign Mark Teixeira. (Photo: Getty Images)

There are several components of the new CBA that could increase the burden for teams whose payrolls exceed $179 million ($189 million starting in 2014). The most stringent is the 10 percentage point increase in the tax rate for habitual offenders. Not only would a team like the Yankees be forced to a pay a 50% penalty for every dollar spent over the limit, but by exceeding the barrier repeatedly, it would become ineligible to receive a new revenue sharing refund designed to return money that in the past would have been earmarked to large market teams that qualified for a payout.

So, does this mean Yankees’ fan should expect the Bronx Bombers to embark on a long-term plan of fiscal restraint? Probably not. Instead of representing a complete reversal of economic philosophy, the Yankees’ aim could simply be to play the 2014 season under the luxury tax threshold. By dropping down below that barrier, the team’s assessable penalty would reset at a 17% rate (and not reach 50% again until 2019, assuming the Yankees exceed the limit in every subsequent season and no changes are made in the next CBA). What’s more, the team would also become eligible for the aforementioned revenue sharing rebate because disqualification is only triggered when a team exceeds the limit in two straight seasons. In a sense, the Yankees’ new fiscal policy could be more about pressing the reset button than completely changing the rules.

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