The New York Yankees are sick and tired of being burned on long-term contracts.
Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira to name three.
They have six years (and maybe seven because of an option) remaining on Jacoby Ellsbury, who was solid in his first season in New York, and four remaining (five with a team option) on Brian McCann, who was a little disappointing offensively.
They devoted seven years and $155 million to Masahiro Tanaka, who started out like a Cy Young winner and finished by contemplating Tommy John surgery and opting for rest and rehab instead.
Everything in their gut is telling them “No!” on one of the big three pitchers available in free agency, but can they really depend on Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Michael Pineda, who are all coming off injuries? Can they really get another solid year out of Hiroki Kuroda, and do they even know if he wants to pitch or retire?
So, will they put themselves out there again in the next few weeks?
General manager Brian Cashman said of his offseason, “I can restate clearly shortstop, maybe third base. The left side of the infield is definitely a priority.
“I think we have good pitching, but there’s obviously some volatility in it because of the health status and health histories of some of them. Those are two areas I would like to focus on. Bullpen, clearly with the [free agent closer David] Robertson circumstance, is an issue. That’s a handful, right off the bat. I can’t really say if any of the big-ticket items are in play or not in play. I’m just going to say we’re doing everything in our power to improve the club. Ownership has always been very beneficial with the resources to put the team on the field.”
The temptation is so great. After all, the Yankees have gobs of money. As team president Randy Levine indicated last week at the owners’ meetings in Kansas City, the luxury tax ship has sailed, so as much as the Yankees want to conduct their business as a business and do prudent things and keep contracts shorter, if they don’t pull the trigger on obtaining a major free agent and they finish out of the playoffs again, that is not good.
Cashman is one of the best at not showing his hand. He will downplay every possible move the Yankees should or could make, and when it comes down to doing it, the Yankees pounce swiftly.
You don’t think the Red Sox are fretting about the Yankees being the team that swoops in and takes Jon Lester, for all the talk about the Cubs being the competition? Of course everyone is worried about what the Yankees might do.
Last offseason, the Red Sox never expected they’d re-sign Ellsbury, but the Yankees came on like gangbusters and had the deal done very early in the free agent process.
What the Yankees don’t want to do, according to a source, is set the market for anyone. They don’t want to outbid everyone by millions of dollars. They want to get a player at fair market value.
So, Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields have to be topics of conversation at Yankee Stadium. So is Brandon McCarthy, Cashman’s gem at the trading deadline, who overcame a 5.01 ERA with the Diamondbacks and was New York’s ace down the stretch (2.89 ERA). Yes, a guy who actually got better by going to the American League.
This is not the most peaceful time for the Yankees. Not making the playoffs is a big deal. They have the circus coming to town starting in spring training, with Rodriguez returning after a one-year suspension unless Major League Baseball and the Yankees can come up with a legal reason to keep him away.
The Yankees have no idea whether he can play a lick at third base at age 39 with two bad hips.
And who’s the shortstop? The post-Derek Jeter era begins. The Yankees will have feelers out for a number of players, from Stephen Drew to Asdrubal Cabrera to Hanley Ramirez, all free agents. Trade for the White Sox’ Alexei Ramirez? Think big with Troy Tulowitzki?
It’s an organization that doesn’t want to give up its young talent in trade because there isn’t much of it. So, the alternative is buying players.
I asked a dozen or so GMs recently in Phoenix about the Yankees’ situation and not one of them thought the Yankees would stay away from a major signing.
With free agency moving quickly this year, the Yankees probably have to start making decisions on Lester in particular, since he’s already visited Boston, Chicago, and Atlanta, and possibly Toronto in the near future. It appears Lester doesn’t want this process to drag on. The Yankees could pass and wait out Scherzer. Cashman and Scherzer’s agent, Scott Boras, have completed some of the biggest deals in history.
Will they or won’t they? The bet is they will.
Brian Sabean a giant reason for his team’s success
In this age of analytical baseball, how do the old-school Giants do it?
Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ new president of baseball operations, will make anywhere from $7 million-$10 million (depending on incentives) per year, three times more than Giants GM Brian Sabean, who has won three World Series.
In 17 years in San Francisco, Sabean, who loves wearing black and remaining low-key, has done it his way, which is better than anyone else.
When you mention Sabean, the response usually is, “He’s the best.”
Yet teams don’t adopt the Giants’ model because it’s not slanted enough toward analytics. Sabean has a staff of analysts, too, but they are not in front of the room, they’re in the back.
Orioles GM Dan Duquette, who was recently named Executive of the Year, might be the closest of that ilk.
Sabean, who grew up in Concord, N.H., and loved the Bruins, Red Sox, and Celtics, actually prefers conversation over e-mails and texts. He learned team-building by studying Harry Sinden and Red Auerbach.
While the rest of baseball staffs tend to be ages 30-40, Sabean’s is more 50-60, people who have seen and evaluated a lot of baseball, as opposed to the younger, Ivy League generation, who are terrific at team-building through analytical models.
Sabean is loyal, employing people such as Framingham’s Bobby Evans, assistant GM; Dick Tidrow, pitching guru; and scouts Paul Turco, Ed Creech, Lee Elder, Fred Stanley, Matt Nerland, and Doug Mapson, who have been around him for a long time.
“I think the best thing I do is delegate,” Sabean said. “I trust the people I have working with me to do their job and I put my trust in them.”
He employs the best manager in baseball in future Hall of Famer Bruce Bochy; employs a bench coach (Ron Wotus of Colchester, Conn.) who has been with the Giants since 1999.
Sabean was a factor in building the Yankees’ latest dynasty, as well. He was scouting director when Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte came through the system.
But the Giants are looked at in the industry as an aberration. Yes, they’re good at what they do with three championships in five years, but they are not the mainstream anymore.
“A lot of it is just common sense,” Sabean said. “We use the analytics, as well. But it doesn’t have to be a complicated formula. We have people in our organization who understand what we need and they make their recommendations. We’re human beings so we’re going to be wrong sometime. That’s just the way it is, but we believe in the people in our organization and trust their judgment.”
Apropos of nothing
1. Tampa Bay special assistant Rocco Baldelli, a Cumberland, R.I., native who played for the Rays and Red Sox, has found a fun hobby in horse breeding. He also races one horse in Louisiana that he owns with a baseball executive from another team. “I’m not so much into the racing as I am the breeding. It’s a fascinating hobby. I love the industry,” Baldelli said. Baldelli evaluates players, Rays and those in other organizations, as well as amateurs for the draft. Baldelli said the Rays will bring back much the same roster as last season.
2. The Rays are expected to make a decision soon on a managerial successor to Joe Maddon. It’s down to former Red Sox catcher Kevin Cash, Raul Ibanez, who just retired as a player, and ex-Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu. Cash, 36, has been the Indians’ bullpen coach and comes highly recommended by Terry Francona. The Rays job is the last one available. Wakamatsu certainly has the most experience. The Rays’ decision means that longtime Maddon assistant Dave Martinez will be bypassed.
3. A Red Sox source was baffled by reports that Pablo Sandoval left Boston without an offer. According to the source, Sandoval knew exactly what Boston was offering when he boarded his return flight on Wednesday. Sandoval had dinner with David Ortiz, while his agent, Gustavo Vazquez, spent time talking contract with Ben Cherington. Sandoval did not meet with Red Sox owners. Heading into the weekend, Sandoval’s choices were Boston, San Francisco, and San Diego, and he was looking to make a decision soon. He was also looking for some separation from the offers, which seemed to center in the five-year, $90 million range.
4. It’s fascinating to watch John Hart, the Braves’ new president of baseball operations, reshape a team. He’s already traded Jason Heyward in a four-player deal to the Cardinals for young righthanded pitcher Shelby Miller. Now Hart is seeking a deal for All-Star Justin Upton, a dump-off deal for B.J. Upton, and he’s pursuing Cuban slugger Yasmani Tomas. If Hart can pull those off, he might be able to fit Jon Lester on the payroll. The Mariners have interest in Justin Upton. Tomas is not a good defensive player and seems to have a future at first base, but he could be Atlanta’s left fielder with righthanded power hitter Evan Gattis playing right.
Updates on nine
1. Jason Hammel, RHP, free agent — Hammel’s agent, Alan Nero, said teams have called but no great advancements have been made on a contract. Nero figures the secondary pitching market may take a while to develop. Also in that boat is Ervin Santana, a shared client of Nero and Jay Alou who is drawing interest but no teams have put their best foot forward.
2. Wade Miley, LHP, Diamondbacks — Miley has become a popular trade target of a few teams, and while the Diamondbacks will listen, it will take a haul to get him. A lot of teams would give up a reasonable amount of prospects to get this young veteran, who is emerging. He made 33 starts last season and pitched 201⅓ innings, though he was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA.
3. Cole Hamels, LHP, Phillies — The Phillies just want a fair package for Hamels, one of the best pitchers in baseball, and they haven’t heard one. GM Ruben Amaro is often criticized for holding out for too much, but some of the offers presented to him are really not good deals for a team that needs to rebuild. It would hurt the Red Sox to part with at least one among Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Henry Owens, and Blake Swihart to get a deal done, let alone two. So they’d rather steer the conversation toward Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, and a young positional player. Hamels has spent his career at the bandbox known as Citizens Bank Park, where he’s allowed a .234 batting average, a .282 on-base percentage, and a .668 OPS. His cost: five years at $110 million.
4. Carlos Ruiz, C, Phillies — Ruiz can still catch and hit at age 35, and the Phillies will shop him. Plenty of teams need catchers. Two problems: his age and his contract. He has two years remaining at $8.5 million per, with a $4.5 million option for 2017 where he can bought out for $500,000.
5. Dexter Fowler, CF, Astros — Fowler, who had a decent year with the Astros, is available in a deal, as is catcher Jason Castro. The Astros wouldn’t mind dealing for bullpen help. The switch-hitting Fowler hit .276 with eight homers and 35 RBIs, good for a .375 on-base percentage and .774 OPS. He also had 11 steals and is only 28 years old. His splits were better righthanded, .327 with two homers, 15 RBIs, and an .887 OPS. While lefthanded, he hit .260 with six homers, 20 RBIs, and a .737 OPS.
6. Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, Orioles — The feeling in Baltimore is that if pitching coach Dave Wallace can’t straighten out Jimenez, it’s going to be a difficult process. Jimenez has filthy stuff but sometimes can’t make it work. The Orioles have received interest from teams who feel the magic touch with their pitching coach will make a difference. Cleveland’s Mickey Callaway certainly did the best fix-it job on Jimenez, transforming him from a struggling pitcher in April of 2013 to an All-Star the rest of the season. Dan Duquette, who doesn’t miss on many, signed Jimenez to a four-year, $52 million deal.
7. Jay Bruce, OF, Reds — At 27, Bruce might be an attractive outfielder despite a terrible season in which he hit .217 with 18 homers and 66 RBIs. In the past in this space we’ve proposed an Allen Craig-for-Bruce swap, given that Boston needs a lefthanded hitter. Bruce is still owed $24.5 million over the next two years with a $13 million option for 2017. Both Craig and Bruce are coming off seasons in which they dealt with injuries. Both appear to be good comeback candidates.
8. Andrew Miller, LHP, free agent — There’s a feeling that Miller could wind up staying in the American League East. The Red Sox are one of several teams who have engaged in serious discussions. But the Blue Jays and Yankees are also interested, and the Orioles would love to have him back. Miller had more than 20 teams show interest, which may make him the most desired free agent on the market.
9. David Ross, C, free agent — Ross wonders whether his status with the Red Sox depends on whether they sign Jon Lester. Lester and Ross are connected after their successful run in 2013. Ross said he’s begun to field interest from other teams. He also said he plans to get together with Lester after Thanksgiving. Lester has drawn interest of various degrees from the Red Sox, Cubs, Braves, Blue Jays, and Cardinals.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Over the last five seasons, from the right side of the plate Pablo Sandoval has 45 extra-base hits (12 homers), 48 walks, and 116 whiffs.” . . . Also, “In the 2014 AL MVP voting, no Yankee or Red Sox received a vote. The last time that happened was never.” . . . And, “No catcher in 2014, who played at least 100 games, had as high an OBP as Russell Martin at .406.” . . . Happy birthday, Brandon Snyder (28), Robert Coello (30), Jonathan Papelbon (34), Dave McCarty (45), and Luis Tiant (74).