Monday, February 6, 2012

Talks with Ibanez heat up

Via River Avenue Blues -
Via Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees are in serious talks with Raul Ibanez after showing interest in him last month. He’s willing to take less money to wear pinstripes. Joe looked at him as a DH option a few weeks ago, and his analysis still stands. Buster Olney says the Yankees could have a new left-handed DH within a week, whether it be Ibanez or someone like Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui.
I wrote about the possibility of signing Raul Ibanez here, and I'm pleased with this news. Of course it comes down to how much it would cost, but seeing that he's willing to take less money to wear pinstripes sounds good to me. I think the DH duo of Raul and Andruw could be pretty sweet in the 7-hole of the lineup.

The Day The Evil Empire Was Born

Being borrowed from Mike Axisa over at River Avenue Blues. This is a must read for any Yankees fan who embraces the evil empire moniker. 

Yes We Are... And We Love It
Get Greedy!!!

It’s easy to forget just how big Jose Contreras was in Cuba. He was the country’s undisputed ace in international play for nearly a decade, helping Cuba to the silver medal in the 2000 Olympics and gold is numerous other events. Contreras first popped up on the big league radar in March of 1999, when he struck out ten Orioles in eight shutout innings during an exhibition game in Havana. Later in the year he struck out 13 in eight innings on one day’s rest against Team USA in the Pan Am Games, the first time Team USA was allowed to use professional players.
Contreras defected from Cuba in October of 2002 while in Mexico for a tournament, leaving his wife and young daughters behind. Contreras made his way to San Diego and eventually gained asylum in the United States, where he and agent Jaime Torres started fielding offers from Major League teams even though he wasn’t yet a free agent.
“Most of the organizations I thought were going to contact us have contacted us, and that includes the Yankees,” said Torres a little more than two weeks after the defection.
The Yankees needed to clear money to pursue their top two targets that offseason, Contreras and Hideki Matsui. They also wanted to re-sign Roger Clemens. Mike Stanton and Ramiro Mendoza were allowed to walk as free agents, and rumors circulated that they may trade Andy Pettitte and his $11.5M salary to free up more payroll room. Doubts about Contreras’ age persisted (he was listed at 31 at the time), but nonetheless the Red Sox and Mariners got heavily involved in the bidding. Contreras had been working out with Torres in Nicaragua that winter, and Boston went so far as to buy out every room of the hotel where he was staying.
“The Boss, that was something that was a one up on us when they did that, it was a shrewd move,” said Brian Cashman recently, “and [George Steinbrenner] was not going to be denied.”
“We were smoking cigars with Contreras and drinking rum until about 4 o’clock in the morning,” said then-Red Sox GM Theo Epstein recently. “He told us he always wanted to be a Red Sox, and then the next morning the Yankees offered him about $10 million more.”
The Yankees signed Contreras on Christmas Eve, giving him four years and $32M. Coincidentally, the contract became official on this date in 2003. Orlando Hernandez, who had spoken to Contreras by phone a few times after his defection, was traded to the Expos in January to further free up some money. Matsui had agreed to a deal a few weeks earlier, and Clemens would re-sign a few days later. The Yankees got all their men.
”The Evil Empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America,” said Red Sox president Larry Lucchino after news of the signing broke.
The Yankees and their fans have since embraced the Evil Empire moniker. The Imperial March — Darth Vader’s theme music in Star Wars — is a pregame staple at Yankee Stadium, and you can buy unlicensed Evil Empire merchandise right outside the Stadium on River Ave. Everyone knows the Yankees spend more money than every other team, and Lucchino gave us all something to rally around. No one tries to hide from the bloated payroll, which is something Lucchino’s Red Sox can certainly be accused of in recent years. We’ve embraced it.
Contreras’ contract drew the comment from Lucchino, but the Yankees have been operating this way for decades. They’ve always been in the hunt for big money free agents, always been at or near the top in payroll. It’s become the Yankee way, and they’ve been really successful going it. The Evil Empire crack did a fine job of relaying Lucchino’s frustration, but it’s also an acknowledgement of the team’s success and continues to be to this day.

The future of the Yankees outfield

According to Jon Heyman the Mariners inquired about Mason Williams when discussing trading Michael Pineda. I really don't think the Yankees could have gotten Pineda by packaging Williams with Hector Noesi, so it's more likely that Seattle brought up packaging Williams with Jesus Montero. Mike Axisa at River Avenue Blues said it best, "there’s no way they could have done both Jesus Montero and Williams in the same package without getting Felix Hernandez back". I don't think Mike was saying Montero and Williams could actually get Felix, just pointing out that Michael Pineda is not enough for that duo of players.

But what could Mason Williams, packaged with somebody like Adam Warren and another lower prospect, get in return? How about a replacement for Nick Swisher for 2013? That was my initial reaction when I read about Mason getting rave reviews, since Mason is still a ways away from MLB. But honestly I've never felt good about not having Swish on the team anymore, because frankly... I love the guy. All I need to do is look at the following picture to be reminded of Nick's greatness...

But the team can't let personal feelings get in the way of doing what's best. And while Swisher has done a fine job for the team (plays solid defense in RF, hit .267/.368/.486 with 81 HR, for a bWAR of 11.0, in three seasons), the team could probably do better. Well, not with next year's crop of free agent outfielders, but in a trade for sure. After thinking about the whole "$189 million in 2014" thing again, I'm not sure that would be best.

Curtis Granderson may be the better player (Grandy had a bWAR of 5.2 last season, while Swish's was 3.4), but they are closer than you may think. Looking at last year's numbers Granderson's batting average was only .002 points higher than Swishers (.262 to .260), Nick's OBP was 10 points higher (.374 to .364), before last year Curtis had never hit more than 30 HR in a season (I don't see him hitting 40 again) while Nick has averaged 27/season for the Yankees, and thanks to playing in shallow RF at Yankee Stadium Nick actually had a better UZR/150 than Granderson (8.8 to -5.3). Age-wise they are only 4 months apart as Nick was born in November of 1980, while Curtis was born in March of 1981. But the one place these two will be different, which will be more clear once we see what each man gets as a free agent (Nick will be a free agent after this season, while Grandy will be a free agent after next season), is in their salaries.

Although Nick Swisher is the better player, Michael Cuddyer's contract with Colorado (3 years, $31.5 million) is a good indication of what Swish may cost after the season. Although Cuddyer only produced a bWAR of 2.2 for Minnesota between 2010 and 2011, while Swisher produced a bWAR of 7.6 over that same time frame, last season their bWARs were 3.4 to 3.0 in favor of Swish. Michael has also averaged 22 HR a season over the last 3 years, only 5 short of Nick's average over the same time period. And Nick will turn 32 in November, which is the same age Cuddyer was when he signed his lastest deal with the Rockies. So while Cuddyer got 3 years and $31.5 million, I can't see Swisher getting more than 4 years and $52 million (I'm guessing 3 years with an option, with an average annual value of $13 million).

I don't have a strong feeling of what Curtis Granderson would receive as a free agent, as there was nobody this past season that compares to the Grandy-man. Looking at the 2010 offseason though there was Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth. I was first thinking of using Crawford to try and make a comparison, but Carl was coming off his age 28 season while Curtis will be coming off his age 32 season (assuming the Yankees pick up his option for 2013), and Crawford had a bWAR of 6.1 which is higher than Curtis' great 2011 season in which he garnered a 5.2. But Werth was coming off his age 31 season, and was coming off a season with a bWAR of 5.2, so I don't think comparing the two is bad at all.

Before I go further, I fully admit that Werth's contract with Washington is a tad ridiculous due to it being for 7 years. But the AAV of $18 million isn't so bad, and helps me figure out what Curtis will get. If Granderson is anything in 2012 like he was in 2011, then I can easily see him signing a 5 year deal with an AAV of $17 million.

I can hear some reactions so far... "wait, you're comparing the two players as if it's a 'one or the other' thing, but the team can sign both". But can they? I'm not so sure. At least not if $189 million is a legit goal for the team. The Yankees already have over $83 million tied up in 3 players (Rodriguez, Sabathia, and Teixeira), will need to pay big for Cano (he'll be a free agent after 2013), Hughes will be a free agent, Gardner and Robertson will be in their final years of arbitration, and there will still have 18 spots to fill on the active roster. Add in the possibility of Cole Hamels being signed for over $20 million a season, and cuts will have to be made somewhere.

So, at this point, it comes down to signing a 32 year old Granderson for $17 million a season for 5 years, or a 31 year old Swisher for $13 million a season for 4 years. I'd rather go with Swisher. The team could bring back Swisher next offseason, let Granderson go after 2013, and let Mason Williams take Grandy's place on the team in 2014 or later. That "or later" part may mean a season or two with a stop-gap, but due to Brett Gardner probably being able to man CF in 2014, I don't see a big problem acquiring a good left fieder.

It would be great if Mason Williams was a bit older, as by the beginning of the 2014 season he will only be 22, but I can see him being Granderson's replacement eventually. Mason played 63 games at CF for Staten Island last season, and his athleticism could keep him there for years to come. Mason is a few years away from seeing any MLB time, so it's hard to feel really strong about letting Granderson go while counting on Mason to replace him, but it may be the best way for the team get to that $189 million goal while fielding a World Series caliber team again.