December 2011

Yankees Make Smart Move In Re-Signing Jones

The New York Yankees, much like their fans, would like to forget 2011 and look forward to the promise 2012 brings. With that promise the Yankees have made a couple of moves to improve the team and let’s assess those moves and how they will impact the team.

JONESING FOR A RIGHTY

The Yankees on Friday signed Andruw Jones to a one-year, $2 million contract that includes $1.4 million in performance incentives, CBSSports.com reported. The 34-year-old outfielder will have to undergo a physical in order for the deal to be made official.

This is very good news for the Yankees because Jones filled a very important role as the team’s only right-handed hitting outfielder. Starters Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner hit left-handed and Nick Swisher is a switch-hitter. Jones batted .247 with 13 home runs and 33 RBis in 77 games last season. More importantly, he batted .286 off left-handers.

Jones began the season as a fourth outfielder and pinch-hitter but later replaced Jorge Posada as the designated hitter against lefties. Manager Joe Girardi also used Jones to sit Gardner against some left-handers. Jones could be used in that role again in 2012 because Gardner hit only .233 against left-handers in 2011.

If the reports are true, the Yankees also prevented the Boston Red Sox from signing Jones away from the Yankees. Jones is eighth on the active home run list with 420 and he also is among just four major leaguers who have 400 home runs and 10 Gold Gloves along with Ken Griffey Jr., Willie Mays and Mike Schmidt.

OKIE DOKE

The Yankees also added to their bullpen mix for spring training another left-handed reliever.

On Wednesday, the Yankees agreed on the terms of minor-league contract with former Red Sox lefty Hideki Okajima.

Okajima, 36, was an integral part of the Red Sox bullpen for his first three seasons in the majors. But he fell out favor with then-manager Terry Francona the past two seasons and spent most of the 2011 season at the team’s Triple-A franchise Pawtucket.

Okajima pitched in only seven games for the Red Sox in 2011 and was 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA in 8 1/3 innings of work. At Pawtucket, Okajima fashioned a 2.29 ERA in 34 innings over 51 appearances for the PawSox.

In his five seasons with the Red Sox, Okajima was 17-8 with six saves and 3.11 ERA in 261 appearances. During that span he held left-handers to a .218 batting average.

Okajima will have a chance in spring training to claim the team’s bullpen spot as the lefty specialist. He will compete with another former Red Sox left-hander in 22-year-old Cesar Cabral, who the Yankees acquired from the Royals for cash considerations after the Royals selected Cabral in the Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings.

For the past two seasons, the Yankees have relied on Boone Logan as their lone left-hander out of the bullpen and Logan, 27, has been miscast in the role of lefty specialist. Logan was 5-3 with a 3.46 ERA over 64 games and 41 2/3 innings. Left-handers hit .260 against him last season while right-handers hit .262.

If Okajima or Cabral win a job in the bullpen, Logan will revert to a middle-inning reliever and he has been much more effective in that role.

Okajima’s best pitch is his change-up, which Francona termed the “Okie Doke.” But he is going to have to earn his role with the Yankees because in the 8 1/3 innings he pitched last season, left-handers hit .364 off him and he recorded an ERA of 11.57 against them. So his “Okie Doke” better be more than just OK this spring.

TICK, TICK, TICK

The Yankees have until Jan. 6 to sign Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nikajima, who they won the rights to sign by posting a $2.5 million bid in early December.

Nikajima, 29,is primarily a shortstop but he also can play some second and third base. He hit .297 with 16 home runs and 100 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 144 games with the Seibu Lions last season.

If the Yankees fail to sign Nikajima to a contract by Jan. 6, he will remain with Seibu for the 2012 season and the $2.5 million posting fee will be returned to the Yankees. That also would open the door for the Yankees to re-sign free agent infielder Eric Chavez.

Chavez, 34, played first and third base for the Yankees in 2011 and he hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games. The Yankees will not negotiate with Chavez’s agent unless they fail to sign Nikajima.

The Yankees also have Eduardo Nunez, Ramiro Pena and Brandon Laird on the 40-man roster to compete for a backup infield role this spring. Nunez, 24, is favored to win one of the two spots unless he is used in a trade for a starting pitcher before the season begins.

ACHTUNG!

Alex Rodriguez, taking advice from Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, traveled to Germany this month to have an experimental medical procedure performed to help his ailing left shoulder and right knee.

With the Yankees’ approval, Dr. Peter Wehling performed what is termed an Orthokine procedure in Dusseldorf in early December. Bryant claimed the Orthokine procedure on his right knee and left ankle helped him recover movement and relieve pain enough so that he could return to the court with the Lakers.

Rodriguez, 36, took the experimental procedure to the Yankees and team doctor Chris Ahmad and the Yankees checked with the Lakers and with Major League Baseball on Wehling and the legality of the procedure. They then gave Rodriguez the permission to have it done.

The procedure calls for the taking of blood from an arm vein, incubating it and spinning it in centrifuge to isolate protective proteins. The proteins are then injected into the affected areas once or twice a week.

The procedure is said to have anti-inflammatory, pain-reducing and cartilage-protecting effects but not much is known about its long-term implications.

Rodriguez played in a career-low 99 games last season and in some of those games he was playing at less than 100 percent. He hit .276 with only 16 home runs and 62 RBIs.

Rodriguez missed more than a month after undergoing surgery on his right knee in July. In his first game back from the disabled list on Aug. 21, Rodriguez suffered a sprained left thumb, which affected the third baseman’s swing the rest of the season.

He hit only .191 after returning from the injury and he hit just .111 in the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers.

If this procedure helps Rodriguez, the Yankees might consider seeking out an experimental procedure for command-challenged right-hander A.J. Burnett.

Perhaps a doctor can come up with a procedure to inject power-steering fluid in Burnett’s right elbow to ensure he might actually come closer to hitting the strike zone with his pitches.

TRADEWINDS

General manager Brian Cashman enters January with the “open for business” sign out on improving the starting rotation. This despite the fact that the Yankees have acted like they are the cash-strapped Kansas City Royals over the winter free-agent signing season.

The Yankees, hamstrung to a great degree by the lavish long-term contracts already laid out to CC Sabathia, Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Burnett, have been spending pennies while other teams have been waving $100 bills.

Cashman would like to add a starter to the rotation and perhaps unload Burnett. But the costs of free agents like C.J. Wilson, Mark Buerhle and Japan’s Yu Darvish have been higher than their actual worth, according to Cashman. Meanwhile, trade avenues have been blocked by other teams’ insistence the Yankees cough up the jewels of the Yankees’ farm system in Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Mason Williams.

Cashman continues to say no to those deals because he does not want to short-circuit the Yankees’ future for a short-term fix.

So the Yankees have struck out on deals for pitchers such as John Danks, Gio Gonzlaez, Matt Garza, Jair Jurrgens and Jonathan Niese.

For now, the Yankees seem to be counting on a return to form of Phil Hughes, who suffered through an injury-plagued 2011 campaign after winning 18 games in 2010. They also do not believe that rookie right-hander Ivan Nova’s 16-win season was a fluke.

The re-signing of 34-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia, who was a respectable 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA, means the only really Yankee concern is Burnett, who was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA last season.

The truth is Cashman, Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild are at their wits’ end trying to figure out what is wrong with Burnett. They seem to agree a change of scenery is in order. But with two years and $33 million still owed to the enigma wrapped inside a conundrum would seem to make dumping him a big problem.

The Yankees have offered to pay $7 million of Burnett’s contract but still have no takers. They might have to offer at least $15 million if they are serious about being rid of him. Of course, the Yankees would seem to be better off adding a starter before making a deal for Burnett because dumping Burnett would likely increase the cost of starter to replace him.

Adding a starting pitcher would be the only major task left for Cashman but he states he is no hurry because the Yankees do have six potential young starters waiting in the wings: Banuelos, Betances, Hector Noesi, David Phelps, Adam Warren and D.J. Mitchell. Any of those six could contribute either as starters or relievers to the Yankees in 2012.

But Cashman is aware that adding an established starter to what the Yankees have would be preferable. So he is pursuing that avenue first. If the pursuit stretches to the trade deadline in July the Yankees might find the asking price of some of starters they like may drop. Cashman is exercising and preaching at the same time for patience.

So like good little Yankee fans we are. We will have to trust him and take him at his word.

STAY TUNED

 

Time To Fire Cashman And Hire Kim Kardashian

Reports and rumors indicate that the New York Yankees did indeed bid on the rights to sign Japanese star right-hander Yu Darvish on Wednesday. But the report also said they bid modestly.

Modestly? What does that mean. Did Brian Cashman hand in the bid to the the league wearing a lace teddy and gold stockings?

I assume that it means that they did submit a bid that was what they presumed to be a losing bid. If that is the case, then why even submit one at all? At a Cartier diamond auction you don’t submit a Quibid of one cent, do you? It seems the Yankees might need to look for a starting pitcher on eBay. They might as well if they bid modestly for Darvish.

I think what would hurt the most is that the Toronto Blue Jays are rumored to be the team that lavished the Nippon Ham Fighters with a bid that may have exceeded $50 million. If that is true, the bid is accepted and Darvish does sign with the Jays the Yankees will have a front-row seat to see how he does against their lineup perhaps as many as six times a season. Ouch!

If Darvish does don a Jays uniform I have a suggestion for Yankee fans. Perhaps it is time for the Steunbrenner family to broaden their financial base and allow the Kardashian family to purchase a stake in the team. The reason is obvious: The Yankees have been short on cash ever since George Steinbrenner gave up control of the team and the Kardashians have plenty of it to throw around.

In addition, the first order of business for the Steinbrenner-Kardashian alliance would be to fire Cashman and name Kim Kardashian as general manager. The reason is she knows what an auction is supposed to be.

Kardashian plopped down $64,900 on Tuesday for three Lorraine Schwartz jade and diamond bracelets that used to belong to Elizabeth Taylor as part of Christie’s auction of the actresses’ jewelry.

If the reality TV star can spot what she wants and be able to resist the temptation to just bid “modestly” to get what she wanted then she would have been able to help the Yankees secure the rights to Darvish.

We already know the Kardashian family are sports enthusiasts. Rumors were abound Kim is thinking of reuniting with ex-husband, Heisman Trophy winner and loser and pro football running back Reggie Bush after her marriage to New Jersey Nets forward Kris Humphries lasted about the same time as a single Yankees-Red Sox game.

Sister Khloe is married to new Dallas Mavericks forward Lamar Odom.

Maybe sister Kourtney will dump that annoying boyfriend Scott Disick and hook up with Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez.

These Kardashian women can scout athletes. Mother Kris is married to former Olympic decathlete Bruce Jenner. They definitely get their men and they know sports.

So it all makes perfect sense. The Kardashians are also great at drawing attention for doing little or nothing. Heck, even brother Rob finished second in the latest installment of “Dancing With the Stars,” although using the word “star” and Rob Kardashian in the same sentence seems a real stretch.

This family can sell the Yankees to a larger audience. So what of the family is hated. The Yankees are pretty well a hated franchise now anyway. Plus having the Kardashian cash in the mix with the Steinbrenners might change the attitude of the team hierarchy to go after great players instead of letting them go to other teams, particularly rival teams in their division.

The final reason Kim Kardashian would make a better GM than Cashman is that if she ever did submit a “modest” bid on a player she would look a heck of a lot better in a lace teddy and gold stockings than Cashman. Though I suspect Cashman would claim it would be closer than you would think.

 

Yankees To Learn If They Are With Or Without Yu

“Sleight of hand and twist of fate
On a bed of nails he makes us wait
And we wait without Yu

With or without Yu
With or without Yu”

                                                                             - Lyrics (with slight revision) of a popular U2 song

After ducking and coyly answering questions about whether the New York Yankees have any interest in Japanese pitching star Yu Darvish, general manager Brian Cashman will finally have to lay his cards on the table on Wednesday by 5 p.m. Eastern time.

That is the deadline for all teams who are interested in Darvish’s services have to come up with what is called a posting (or bid) to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, the team for which Darvish has toiled since he was 18. That bid goes from the team with the highest bid to the Fighters and it only earns the team a 30-day window to negotiate a contract for Darvish. If the team fails to agree with Darvish on a contract the posting money is returned to the American team and Darvish remains with the Fighters for another season.

For all the successes some Japanese players have had in America (Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui and Hideo Nomo) there have also been some monumental failures (Hideki Irabu, Kei Igawa and to some degree Daisuke Matsuzaka). So on which side of this equation does Darvish fit?

Scouts who have been watching him the past six years have seen a skinny 6-foot-5 right-hander mature into a 220-pound dynamo. On the world stage at the Olympics and the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Darvish has shined, winning the Most Valuable Player Award for Japan’s winning WBC team.

In his seven seasons with Nippon Ham he is 93-28 and since 2007 he has recorded ERAs below 2.00 in five consecutive seasons. In 2011, he was 18-6 with a 1.44 and 276 strikeouts and only 36 walks in 232 innings.

He throws in the mid-90s on his fastball and he throws both a two-seam and four-seam variety along with a cutter. He has three breaking pitches and some believe he throws a decent changeup. But unlike Matsuzaka, who throws pitches off the plate to get batters to swing, Darvish attacks the strike zone and is confident in his ability to get batters out.

Will the talents of Darvish translate to American baseball?

New Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, who managed for six years in Japan, certainly knows Darvish well and likes what he has seen of him. The Yankees have scouted him and Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels has seen him pitch in person.

But no club is willing to say out loud they are interested in bidding for Darvish because they know that will only drive up the price of the posting. In 2006, the Red Sox bid $51 million to the Seibu Lions for Matsuzaka. They later signed him to a six-year, $52 million contract.

The posting for Darvish could very well easily eclipse the $51 million Seibu received from the Red Sox. Some say that the absence of quality pitching in the American free-agent market this winter gives teams an opportunity to sign what could potentially be a No. 1 starter for less money than the Angels paid to sign Rangers left-hander C.J. Wilson.

The reason is the posting fee does not count toward a team’s payroll. The only money that counts is the money paid to Darvish. Because Darvish is just 25, a team could structure a long-term graduated contracte that pays Darvish about $10 million the first season and up to about $15 million in the final season. Wilson is being paid $20 million per season by the Angels. So Darvish actually could be a bargain at half the money the first season.

There are also many teams who can’t afford to get into the bidding in the first place due to payroll issues. The Boston Red Sox, for one, are out the bidding because they need to re-sign free agent David Ortiz and his contract will put them perilously close to the $178 million mark in which the luxury tax kicks in. New Red Sox GM Ben Cherington said the Red Sox will not raise their payroll past that level so Darvish will not be a target.

The Angels seem pretty much tapped out after their signings of Wilson and first baseman Albert Pujols. The Marlins have also spent a lot on closer Heath Bell, shortstop Jose Reyes and starter Mark Buerhle.

So just where are the Yankees in all this?

They have spent only $5.5 million to re-sign free-agent starter Freddy Garcia and $2.5 million for the rights to Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima of the Seibu Lions.

Though Cashman looked at the free-agents starters available, he determined that their cost was much more than he thought they were worth. It was, by far, not a buyers’ market for such limited talent available.

So Cashman spent the Winter Meetings last week trying to gauge the availability of starting pitchers via the trade route and came up empty again. He looked at possible deals for pitchers such as Gio Gonzalez of the Athletics, Matt Garza of the Cubs, Jair Jurrgens of the Braves and John Danks of the White Sox.

But each time he asked teams what they wanted in return the names of the Yankees’ best prospects such as catcher Jesus Monetro, pitchers Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos or outfielder Mason Williams came up. Cashman seems loathe to deal away the best prizes of the minor-league system the Yankees have rebuilt over the past five years.

There also was interest in some homegrown Yankee major leaguers such as Brett Gardner, Eduardo Nunez, Phil Hughes, David Robertson and Phil Hughes. But Cashman did not want to go there either.

So just how interested could the Yankees be in Darvish?

My gut feeling is very interested.

The reason is that unlike trades, a free-agent signing means you can keep your young talent. In addition, with the signing of a Japanese pitcher like Darvish the Yankees do not lose a draft pick like when they sign a Type A free agent stateside. Keeping the farm system intact and not having to surrender a draft pick for Darvish appears to be win-win situation for Cashman.

The fact that teams like the Red Sox and Angels are out of the bidding also seems to bode well. The only teams strongly rumored to be interested in Darvish are the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays. The Yankees simply have more financial resources to put toward a bid than those teams. It is a question of just how much of a bid do the Yankees put forward.

The $51 million bid the Red Sox made for Matsuzaka shocked Cashman, who was believed to have bid a little more than half that amount. But the Red Sox were desperate for pitching and they wanted to ensure they would not lose out to the “Evil Empire” that stole Cuban star Jose Contreras away from them years earlier.

This posting looks to be definitely different. There has been less hype and teams have been very circumspect in their public statements.

But if Cashman really wants Darvish, it stands to reason he will be able to convince Hank and Hal Steinbrenner to provide the cash it will take to get it done.

With the time difference in Japan it likely won’t be until Thursday before we find out something about Darvish. The team ownership of the Fighters have four days to accept the highest bid. But I don’t think it will be that long before we hear who has submitted the high bid.

For the sake of Yankee fans, let’s hope that Caahman is the man with the biggest grin this week. Yankee fans need to see some movement towards improving the team for 2012 and Darvish could be the one piece of the puzzle that gets the team just a bit closer to the goal of winning their 28th world championship.

The key to that is pitching, pitching and more pitching. Right now the Yankees just have pitching.

But I can just hear Yankee fans rising in their seats and shouting through the Bronx night air “Yu, Yu, Yu.” Music to my ears!

 

Face Reality, A-Rod, CC Are Yankees’ Pujols, Lee

You are a Yankee fan and you are not happy now.

The reason: General manager Brian Cashman has not made a major splash with a big free-agent signing or a blockbuster trade.

To Yankee fans standing pat is like surrendering to teams like the Marlins and Angels, who tossed around cash this week as if it was only Monopoly money. Some fans are yearning for the days when George Steinbrenner would go after free agents he wanted with the ruthlessness of a pit-bull, never letting go.

However, Hal and Hank Steinbrenner seem to be a lot more pragmatic about spending too much for negligible return. They were willing to spend $150 million for Cliff Lee but they were not going to spend close to $80 million for C.J. Wilson or about $60 million for Mark Buerhle.

There are a lot of reasons the Yankees sat idly by while some teams played “Let’s Make a Deal.”

But perhaps the biggest reason is the Yankees have already lavished their riches on their “Pujols” and their “Lee.” Those are the 10-year, $275 million deal the Yankees committed to Alex Rodriguez in 2007 and the $186 million the team is paying CC Sabathia to be the ace the staff through at least the 2016 season.

Those two contracts are largely why the Yankees are the only team in the major leagues who are subject to the luxury tax. The Steinbrenner family would like for the team to remain competitive and successful while Cashman tries to reduce the annual payroll below the $178 million level where the tax kicks in. or, at the very least, the Steinbrenners would like it to remain steady and not push higher.

That is the reason Christmas ornaments like Pujols, Wilson, Buerhle, Jose Reyes and Prince Fielder will be dangling on other teams’ trees this December.

So Yankee fans will have to realize that a team that won 97 games last season is still an excellent one even if adds no one of significance this winter. Rodriguez will just have to be our Pujols and Sabathia will just have to pitch like Lee in 2012 to make Yankee fans forget that this free-agent shopping spree was just too pricey for a team already above the $200 million mark in annual payroll.

Rodriguez is the biggest key to the Yankees’ success in 2012. You just have to face the fact that Rodriguez is being paid the most because he is expected to be the best player in pinstripes, period.

Last season, he was anything but that. Oh, he showed a lot of promise in the spring when he showed up lighter and quicker in the field. He also had a spring that portended a monster 2011 season. But, as the previous three seasons proved, Rodriguez was beset by a series of injuries that kept him off the field for 63 games and a shadow of what he was in the other 99.

Rodriguez, 36, hit .276 with 16 home runs and 62 RBIs. If this is the level of performance the Yankees will get from Rodriguez in 2012 they are doomed to fail. Oh, they are talented enough to make the playoffs. But they will not go very far or do very well in the playoffs without what was the most feared hitter in the American League when he is healthy.

But balky shoulders, unsteady knees and painful thumbs can reduce a great player to just a pretty good one real quick. That is what happened to Rodriguez in 2011 and why he needs to arrive in Tampa in Florida fit and ready to go to war to restore his reputation as that most feared hitter.

 

To steal a Reggie Jackson line, A-Rod “stirs the drink.” His health will determine if that drink is a classy Manhattan or just another slow gin fizzle.

 

There is no doubt that Rodriguez is on a slight decline. He has not played in more than 138 games since the 2007 season. From 2004 through 2007, Rodriguez averaged 43 home runs and 128 RBIs. From 2008 through 2010 he has averaged 32 home runs and 109 RBIs. In 2009, Rodriguez barely reached 30 home runs and 100 RBIs on the final day against the Rays but he was healthy at the right time to lead the Yankees through the playoffs and into the World Series as the Yankees won their 27th championship.

So the point is that Rodriguez can average 32 home runs and 109 RBIs and be in decline and still lead the Yankees into a World Series. He just has to be healthy when the playoffs begin. That was not the case last season and the Yankees paid dearly for it in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. They only trailed by a run but it may as well have been 10 runs the way the offense just seemed to sputter with runners in scoring position.

With a healthy and “locked in” A-Rod would the result have been the same? I doubt it.

For all the talk of Robinson Cano and how he has become the best hitter and best player on the Yankees, it is still Rodriguez who can turn a game with his bat that can strike fear into opposing pitchers, managers and teams. Besides the fact is that his ability to hit makes Cano, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner better.

To steal a Reggie Jackson line, A-Rod “stirs the drink.”

His health will determine if that drink is a classy Manhattan or just another slow gin fizzle.

The same can be said of Sabathia. He is, after all, the unquestioned ace.

When he is really dealing he is among the best pitchers in baseball. He is 59-23 in his 101 starts in pinstripes. The Yankees have reached the postseason in the past three seasons largely because of his work in the regular season.

But the past two seasons, his work in the postseason has been not worthy of the status of the one of the best pitchers in baseball. In the past two postseasons he is 2-0 but his ERA in his six appearances (five starts) is 5.84. That stands in stark contrast to his 3-1 record and 1.98 ERA in the 2009 postseason.

In the 2010 playoffs, Sabathia pitched with an injured left knee that required offseason surgery. Sabathia rehabbed the knee and showed up at spring training in February 30 pounds lighter. It helped him get off to unusually quick start and by the All-Star break Sabathia was on the top of his game.

He was 13-4 with a 2.72 ERA at the break. He finished the season 19-8 with a 3.00 ERA. So in his last 12 starts, Sabathia was a very ordinary 6-4 with a 3.66 ERA before imploding the playoffs. Why?

Much of that was was blamed on Sabathia’s noticeable and significant weight gain down the stretch. The heavier he got the worse he pitched.

But the Yankees chose not to allow Sabathia to opt out of his contract and leave via free agency. Considering the things Sabathia has done for the Yankees it was a very wise decision. After all, Wilson. Buerhle, Edwin Jackson, Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda were not going to replace Sabathia.

In order to find another ace like Sabathia would have cost the Yankees prize prospects like Jesus Monetro, Eduardo Nunez, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos. So getting a younger pitcher like Felix Hernandez would have pretty much raped the impressive farm system Cashman has gradually rebuilt the past five years.

So Sabathia will remain a Yankee through at least 2016 (the Yankees have an option for 2017) and the Yankees do not have to bid on overpriced free agents or trade their great young prospects. Sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

Now the Yankees just have to make sure Sabathia stays off the Cap’n Crunch cereal he loves and eats a lot more salad throughout the 2012 season. At age 31, Sabathia is going to have to realize that to extend his career he is going to have to take care of that large frame going forward.

The Yankees could easily add a starting pitcher or two to their roster to improve the rotation. I fully expect Cashman to continue to his efforts to do just that this winter. But the real key to this staff is making sure Sabathia is able to hit the 2012 playoffs in shape and healthy enough to be the ace he is supposed to be.

Without that, and the health of A-Rod, the whole journey to the 2012 playoffs will be just as wasted as the effort in 2011 was.

Like I said Yankee fans, A-Rod and CC are our free agent pickups and we will live or die in 2012 with them.

Cashman Leaves Without Deals But Hopes Alive

MLB WINTER MEETINGS

DAY FOUR – FAREWELL

Pardon me for having a vision of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman ending up in a long, unproductive discussion with a Hotel Anatole bellhop on the best way to turn in his room key. It has just been the way it has gone for Cashman since he arrived on Monday: Long and unproductive.

But to be fair to Cashman, it was exactly what he predicted would happen before he ever stepped foot in the hotel lobby.

While the Miami Marlins were shopping at Tiffany’s the Yankees were checking the clearance racks at JC Penney’s.

The Yankees came into the MLB Winter Meetings with a very short shopping list of parts that could make a team that won 97 games last season just a bit better. The starting lineup remains the same, the Yankees have five starting pitchers with which they can start the season, they boast a deep bullpen and have just a few spots to fill on the bench – though the Yankees would even like to bring back veterans Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones.

So the Yankees used these meetings to kick the tires on potential trades for a starting pitcher, they won the right to negotiate with a Japanese infielder and they selected two players in the Rule 5 draft on Thursday that could have an impact on their bullpen this spring.

The moves won’t spur much of a surge of season ticket sales but Cashman hopes the seeds sown here will lead to something more fruitful down the road.

First, let’s look at the two additions to the pitching staff:

The Kansas City Royals used the fifth pick in the draft to select left-handed reliever Cesar Cabral from the Red Sox and then traded him to the Yankees for cash considerations. Cabral, 22, will be given a look this spring as a potential second left-hander in the bullpen to go along with Boone Logan.

Cabral was 3-4 with a 2.95 ERA in 36 combined appearances with Class A Salem and Double-A Portland last season. He struck out 70 batters in 55 innings and Cashman likes his 94-mph velocity and the fact he can get left-handers out consistently.

Cabral was selected in the 2010 Rule 5 draft by the Rays but later was returned to the Red Sox.

With the 29th pick in the draft, the Yankees selected right-handed starter Brad Meyers from the Washington Nationals.

Meyers, 26, was a combined 9-7 with a 3.18 ERA in 25 games (24 starts) in stops at Class A Salem, Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse last season. He struck out 116 batters in 132 2/3 innings and walked just 15. In 2009, the 6-foot-5 hurler was named the Nationals’ Minor-League Pitcher of the Year.

Though Meyers is a starting pitcher, the Yankees will look at Meyers as a potential long reliever because the team intends to use Hector Noesi as a starter this season.

The Yankees entered the draft with 39 players on their 40-man roster. The addition of Cabral and Meyers meant that the Yankees had to release 26-year-old outfielder Greg Golson. Golson hit .195 with no home runs and two RBis in 40 games over four seasons with the Phillies, Rangers and the Yankees.

The Yankees might add some depth to their bench by obtaining the right to sign 29-year-old infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima of the Seibu Lions in Japan. Nakajima is primarily a shortstop but he also can play second and third base. He hit .314 with 20 home runs and 93 RBIs in 130 games in Japan last season.

The Yankees posted a bid of $2 million for Nakajima and now the Yankees have until Jan. 6 to reach contract agreement or the $2 million fee is returned to them.

The Yankees are saying Nakajima would give the Yankees some options if Chavez does not re-sign. But it also gives the Yankees the option of trading Eduardo Nunez for a starting pitcher because the Yankees also have backup infielder Ramiro Pena on the 40-man roster.

As for the search for starting pitching, Cashman made it clear he believed that clubs were not going to overpay for free-agent pitchers such as C.J. Wilson, Edwin Jackson, Mark Buerhle and Roy Oswalt. So Cashman has been seeking out possible trades for pitchers like John Danks of the White Sox, Matt Garza of the Cubs, Jair Jurrgens of the Braves and Gio Gonzalez of the Athletics.

Late Wednesday, the Yankees even inquired about Jonathan Niese of the Mets.

The problems Cashman has had in making a potential deal for any of these pitchers is teams are asking for the Yankees’ best prospects in catcher Jesus Montero, pitchers Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos and veterans like Brett Gardner, Ivan Nova, David Robertson and Phil Hughes in return. These are players Cashman does not want to trade.

But with the free-agent signing season in full swing, there is likely to be teams with changing circumstances, agents who might have to lower their price for some free agents and trade demands get lowered as spring training approaches. Cashman sees this period in January as an window of opportunity that may allow the Yankees to get a No. 2 or No. 3 starter via trade or free agency.

Oh, and do not buy the Cashman party line about his mild interest in Japanese ace right-hander Yu Darvish.

The Yankees are not tipping their hand but it is a pretty good bet that Cashman and the Yankees might go all out to win the bidding when Darvish is posted. Though the posting fee will easily top the $50 million the Boston Red Sox ponied up for Daisuke Matzusaka, that posting fee does count against the team salary level.

Darvish, 25, is also young enough that the Yankees could structure a graduated long-term contract worth $120 million over eight years that could be worth $10 million the first year. That is half of the $20 million C.J. Wilson is seeking in a six-year deal. Darvish is six years younger and the Yankees believe he has a much higher ceiling than the 31-year-old Wilson.

So do not write off Cashman and the Yankees this winter based on their relative lack of activity in the winter meetings. The hares may have a nice head start for now but the tortoises are going to be coming on strong in January. Cashman just hopes that the Yankees are one of those tortoises.

 

Yankees Face Obstacles To Unloading Burnett

MLB WINTER MEETINGS

DAY THREE

Though the New York Yankees have not created any shockwaves at the Hotel Anatole in Dallas in baseball’s annual Winter Meetings they are beginning to send out some tremors of where they are heading in 2012.

As manager Joe Girardi arrived in Dallas on Tuesday to join general manager Brian Cashman, it has become very obvious that the Yankees want to divest themselves of enigmatic right-hander A.J. Burnett. This confirms what I had posted on Nov. 11 when the Yankees chose to re-sign veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia.

The Garcia signing gave the Yankees five starting pitchers available to them in 2012, including Burnett, Garcia, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and the ace CC Sabathia, who signed a lucrative extension rather than opt out of his contract. With Cashman testing the pulse of other clubs for trades of starting pitchers such as John Danks, Gio Gonzalez, Matt Garza and Jair Jurrgens and looking at free agents such as Mark Buerhle, Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda it seems obvious the Yankees are not completely satisfied with those five starters.

The Yankees do have six pitchers who are 24 years old or less in the minor-league system who can help next season, including Hector Noesi and the Yankees’ top two young pitching prospects in Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos.

But it seems obvious the Yankees are looking to make a deal to add a potential No. 2 or No. 3 starter to allow themselves the luxury of being able to dump Burnett and the two years on his contract that will pay him $33 million. The Yankees have offered to pay $8 million of that contract if there is any team interested in the 34-year-old right-hander, according to the New York Post.

But, at this point, there have been no takers. Burnett was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA in 32 starts last season.

Moving Burnett does have some obstacles. For one, Burnett does have a partial no-trade clause which limits the Yankees’ potential trade partners. A second issue is that the Yankees likely would like to have the deal for  that additional No. 2 or No. 3 starter in place before making a trade shipping Burnett to another team. Finally, the Yankees might to have to sweeten any potential deal for Burnett by offering to pay more than the roughly 25% percent they are offering. A fairer number may be closer to 50% if they truly want to be rid of Burnett.

Burnett does have value to the Yankees, according to Cashman, because he is capable of pitching 200 innings. However, the issue has never been the innings Burnett can pitch; it has been the quality of those innings. Burnett has logged two consecutive seasons with ERAs over 5.00 and he is always among the league leaders in wild pitches and batters hit by pitch. His lack of control does not make him a good option to shift to the bullpen. So Burnett limits the Yankees’ choices.

Despite the fact that Burnett did pitch well in Game 4 of the American League Division Series with Detroit, Yankee fans have pretty much gotten tired of his act on the mound and seek a more stable pitcher in the rotation. Cashman obviously agrees but he also knows it could be difficult to unload Burnett this winter.

Meanwhile, the Yankees did have one bit of news on Wednesday.

The Yankees have won the rights to negotiate with Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima, a source confirmed.

Nakajima, 29, was a memeber of the Seibu Lions and is a career .300 hitter since his debut in 2002. The right-handed hitting Nakajima would be a potential backup to Derek Jeter.

According to CBSSports.com the Yankees winning bid to the rights to sign Nakajima was $2 million. Nakajima batted .314 with 20 home runs, 93 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 130 games with the Lions this season.

You can also read this potential signing as another clue as to where the Yankees might be headed in 2012.

Last season, Eduardo Nunez hit .265 with five home runs, 30 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 112 games mostly as backup at shortstop, second base and third base. At age 24, Nunez has his future progress with the Yankees blocked by Jeter, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez.

The Mariners sought Nunez (in addition to Nova and Jesus Montero) in a trade for Cliff Lee in July 2010, which Cashman rejected because he did not want to part with Nunez. Teams this winter have inquired about his availability in trade and Cashman would the flexibility to deal Nunez once the Yankees are able to sign Nakajima.

The Yankees also have reserve infielder Ramiro Pena on the roster. Pena lost the reserve infielder spot to Nunez in spring training last season but did hit .100 with one home run and four RBIs in 23 games with the Yankees in 2011. Though Nunez is the better athlete, has better speed and a better bat, Pena is much more reliable in the field and he is the team’s best bunter.

So if the Yankees do sign Nakajima and they have Pena on the roster it is pretty clear the Yankees would be willing to trade Nunez as part of a package to obtain a starting pitcher. This is no real secret but the Nakajima signing makes it obvious the Yankees are willing to go through with the move if the Yankees can get a good starting pitcher in return.

The Nakajima bid also may be revealing one other even more important point. The Yankees might be setting the stage for a bid for Japanese pitching star Yu Darvish of the Nippon Ham Fighters.

What better way to make Darvish’s transition to American baseball smoother than by giving him another player on the roster to translate, room with and adapt to the major leagues. I could be reading too much into this but I do not see it as that far-fetched the Yankees might be thinking this way.

Darvish, 25, is a 6-foot-5, 187-pound right-hander who was 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA for the Ham Fighters in 2011. He also struck out 276 batters in 232 innings. Unlike countryman Daisuke Matzusaka, Darvish has a mid-90s fastball and he attacks the strike zone rather than relying on his breaking stuff to fool hitters into swinging at pitches out of the strike zone.

If Darvish is posted, as the owner of the Nippon franchise has promised Darvish he would, the Yankees could make an all-out effort to sign him.

The Yankees have had only lukewarm interest in Rangers left-hander C.J. Wilson, who is considered the top free-agent pitcher available this winter, because he is seeking $20 million per season. The Yankees believe Wilson projects as a No. 3 starter, at best, and they do not seem willing to invest that much money in him.

Darvish, however, could be a different story. The posting fee for him does not count against the payroll cap and Darvish is young enough that the Yankees could structure a long-term deal that would pay him considerably less than $20 million a season and scouts believe Darvish has a far superior upside than the 31-year-old Wilson.

So the bid for the rights to sign Nakajima may not seem so insignificant if you dig beneath the surface a bit.

Girardi, meanwhile, on Wednesday was making the case for the return of the Yankees’ two senior bench player sin 2011: Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez.

Girardi signaled to the players’ agents that the Yankees would be interested in keeping them both.

Jones, 33, played in the outfield and also was a part-time designated hitter. The right-handed hitting Jones batted .247 with 13 home runs and 33 RBIs in 77 games and hit .286 against left-handed pitching.

Chavez, 33, missed 2 1/2 months of the season with a fractured bone in his left foot and hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games. He started 33 games at third base, two first base and five at DH.

Girardi said with the veteran club the Yankees have, he would like to have Chavez and Jones back in order to give regular days off to his veteran starters, He was happy with what Jones and Chavez contributed to the club last season.

However, Cashman said the bench will have to take a back seat until the Yankees look at all their options with filling out their pitching needs this winter.

There is just one more day left for these meetings in Dallas. So far, it seems the Yankees have been one of the most obvious wallflowers in the grand ballroom. But sometimes the tempo needs to be set for the real dance to begin.

It looks like Cashman will be doing most of his waltzing in January.

 

Marlins Land Big Fish As Cashman Casts Wider Net

MLB WINTER MEETINGS

DAY TWO

The mood at the Hotel Anatole in Dallas is edgy as there is just one major player this winter and it is not the New York Yankees.

Nor the Boston Red Sox.

Nope, it is the Miami Marlins, who seem to be like the woman who used pepper spray on other shoppers at a Wal-Mart on Black Friday. They have landed a closer in Heath Bell, a shortstop in Jose Reyes and they are trying to land the biggest fish (pardon the pun) in the free-agent waters in Albert Pujols with a 10-year offer.

OK, Red Sox Nation, where are the angry posts and tweets about the Marlins trying to buy a pennant?

Yankee general manager Brian Cashman has not been invisible but he is finding potential moves to improve the roster frustrating. To carry the Marlins pun a bit further, the big fish are at the deep end of monetary limits and Cashman is finding it hard to find the right bait on the hook to land the mid-priced filets.

The Oakland Athletics are shopping 26-year-old Gio Gonzalez, who was 16-12 with a 3.12 ERA in 2011. Gonzalez figures to command a lot of money come arbitration and the A’s know they likely can’t afford to keep him. However, the A’s are looking for a young power-hitting outfielder in return. The Yankees do not have anyone fitting that description on their roster. So it is not likely that this will be a trade that bodes promise.

The White Sox dealt their 2011 closer Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays on Tuesday and now general manager Ken Williams is saying that it is unlikely that they will trading anyway of their other pitchers.

“As we currently sit, I do not like what is currently being offered for any of our valuable veteran pieces,” Williams told reporters, “so I’m of the mindset that … we’ll probably keep most of the pitching intact.”

Which means that any potential interest the Yankees might have had in 26-year-old left-hander John Danks is pretty much dead in the water. The White Sox were asking for a combination of young Yankee prospects including catcher Jesus Montero and lefty pitching prospect Manny Banuelos or right-hander Dellin Betances. In other words, the Chisox were seeking two of the Yankees’ three  best prospects.

That price may be bit too high for Cashman.

Cashman has also heard trade offers for Phil Hughes, David Robertson, Ivan Nova and Brett Gardner. But it does not seem to make much sense to open an outfield spot, a starting rotation spot or give up an important piece of the bullpen in order to acquire a No. 2 or No.3 starter in return.

Oh, and by the way, you notice that teams are asking for the Yankees’ homegrown talent? For all the talk about the Yankees “buying pennants” they have made significant strides in bringing up talented players out of their minor-league system and this winter we are seeing how valuable those commodities are to other teams.

One potential Yankee free-agent target could be 37-left-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who apparently has dropped his objection to pitching in New York. The Yankees actually discussed acquiring Kuroda last July but the deal fell through and Kuroda ended up 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA wit the Dodgers. Besides never having pitched in the American League, Kuroda also is 36. So there are some concerns with the former Japanese All-Star.

Cashman is still listening but he feels he can wade through the offers carefully since the Yankees can leave Dallas empty-handed and still be happy about their current roster. At some point the GMs positions will have to soften and the agents representing the free agents might have to lower their sights.

Cashman is betting on that. But the timing for those bargains will not be in Dallas. It likely will come in January. In this game, patience can be a virtue.

Fortunately, Cashman has lots of it. Like the Marlins, he can do a little fishing of his own.

 

Cashman Playing Waiting Game In Buyers’ Market

MLB WINTER MEETINGS

DAY ONE

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is holed up in his suite at the Hilton Anatole like a trappist monk.

He is not meeting face-to-face with other GMs or sharing his thoughts with player agents. The reason is he arrived at these annual meetings from what he considers a position of great strength.

After all, his club won 97 games last season and came within two runs in Game 5 of the American League Division Series of going to the American League Championship Series for a third straight season. It also is a club that was one of the best, if the not best, offensive clubs in baseball and the entire group of starters are signed, sealed and ready to go.

Sure there are questions behind CC Sabathia in the pitching rotation. But they have five starters returning and Hector Noesi heads up a group of six young pitchers who are 24 years old or younger who could contribute to the Yankees’ rotation next season. With Rafael Soriano’s decision not to opt out of his contract the Yankees are assured of having the nucleus of what was baseball’s best bullpen back next season. Of course, a second lefty reliever to go along with Boone Logan would be nice.

The bench will need some work because Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez are free agents (though the Yankees would love to have both back). The backup catcher spot would seem to come down to a battle between Francisco Cervelli and rookie defensive whiz Austin Romine. Jesus Montero seems to be the favorite to become the team’s everyday designated hitter, replacing veteran Jorge Posada, who will be allowed to sign with another club if he does not retire. Eduardo Nunez seems to be a lock to return as the team’s primary infield backup.

So there are not a lot of needs Cashman has as the meetings kicked off today. He is likely looking at possibly acquiring another veteran pitcher to add to the starting staff. However, Cashman does not seem too eager to spend the $14 million a season it would take to sign 31-year-old lefty C.J. Wilson of the Rangers, who heads the list of potential free-agent starters.

The Yankees have also been very quiet about lesser free agents such as Mark Buerhle, Edwin Jackson, Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda. They even have not tipped their hand as of they intend to pay a potential posting fee of $75 million or so to gain the rights to sign 25-year-old Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish, even with his ridiculous career-low 1.44 ERA this season.

Because they do not need offense they are not a major player for top-line free agents such as Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Carlos Beltran or Jose Reyes.

It is as if Cinderella tossed off the glass slipper after it fit and said no thanks to the prince (with apologies to Mr. Fielder of the Brewers for the pun). The Yankees have always seemed to be major players at the winter meetings but they are taking a back seat this time.

They are not alone. The Boston Red Sox will be perilously close to the $178 million payroll mark that would kick in the luxury tax after they spend the money they will need to bring back free-agent DH David Ortiz. After letting closer Jonathan Papelbon walk as a free agent and their desire to let go veterans like J.D. Drew they are staring at a more than a few major holes in their starting rotation, their bullpen, in right field and on their bench.

But they can’t spend the money to fill all those holes without incurring the luxury tax and they traded away most of their best minor-league prospects in the past few seasons to acquire Victor Martinez and Adrian Gonzalez.

The Bosox are also dealing with a new GM and manager who have their own particular likes and dislikes and ways of running things.

So it is not a great winter to be a free agent when some of the so-called “big market” teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Dodgers and White Sox can’t afford the lavish contracts those free agents are seeking.

That means it will be a buyers’ market this offseason and Cashman, well aware of that, is looking to delay any decisions he makes until the middle-tier free agents have to drop their demands enough that they become bargains.

When other GMs approach Cashman offering pitchers in trade such as Jair Jurrgens of the Braves, Matt Garza of the Cubs and John Danks of the White Sox, they are asking for in return prospects like Montero, Nunez and pitchers like Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos. Cashman would prefer to sign a free-agent pitcher and lose a draft pick rather than have to trade his best prospects.

In the case of Danks, the veteran left-hander could become a free agent after this season. So why deal for Danks, give up Montero and Banuelos and then have Danks walk as a free agent after one year? That doesn’t seem to make much sense to Cashman and it would be a hard sell to the fans in the Bronx no matter how much Danks would help the 2012 rotation.

So Cashman remains hidden away in his suite quietly waiting and waiting and waiting for the right time to dip his toe in the market. If you are expecting the Yankees to be part of a blockbuster deal involving three teams and 10 players you just may as well get it out of your head right now. It is just not going to be one of those winters for the Yankees.

It will be much quieter. I sure hope Cashman has Angry Birds on his I-Phone to keep himself busy.

STAY TUNED

Secrecy Veils Cashman’s Trip To Winter Meetings

NEW YORK YANKEES WINTER MEETINGS PREVIEW

One person you are not likely to see much of at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas on Monday is Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

As baseball’s 2011 Winter Meetings open, Cashman habitually spends most of his time in his suite. And it is not because he is diving into the honor bar. Cashman is in “bunker mode” hoping to make a deal or signing or two that will help the Yankees improve for the 2012 season.

Of course, Cashman has already done a few important things that will help the Yankees in the upcoming season.

The most important mission he had this offseason was keeping ace left-hander CC Sabathia from opting out of his contract and becoming a free agent. Cashman was able to get Sabathia to sign an extension through 2016 worth $122 million. So that took what would have been the most-prized pitcher off the market and kept him with the Yankees.

Determined to ensure the Yankees enter 2012 with a solid starting rotation, Cashman set the Yankees priorities as “pitching, pitching and pitching.” That is why the Yankees picked up the options on Nick Swisher and Russell Martin and is allowing Jorge Posada to go as a free agent.

The only major signing of a non-pitcher this winter was the signing of infielder Jayson Nix to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training. Nix, primarily a second baseman, can also play third base and has logged some time in the outfield.

Nix, 29, played for Toronto in 2011 and hit .169 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 136 at-bats in 46 games. He has hit .209 over the span of four major-league seasons.

Nix is an insurance policy in case reserve first baseman and third baseman Eric Chavez decides to retire or signs with another club as a free agent. The Yankees have made it clear they would love to have Chavez and free-agent outfielder Andruw Jones return to the team next season.

So when it comes to the Yankees’ starting lineup and bench, the Yankees pretty much are looking at a status quo with rookie catching prospect Jesus Montero expected to be the team’s primary designated hitter in 2012 replacing Posada.

Cashman proved how important he values pitching by re-signing Freddy Garcia to a one-year contract worth between $4 million and $5 million. Garcia, 35, was selected as a starter out of spring training after he signed $1.5 million contract over the winter. Garcia posted a 12-8 record with a 3.62 ERA in 25 starts (over 26 games).

With Garcia’s signing the Yankees rotation features Sabathia, rookie surprise Ivan Nova, a recovering Phil Hughes, enigmatic veteran A.J. Burnett and Garcia. That starting five does not exactly appear to be a championship caliber staff if you ask most Yankee fans. So the speculation has been that Cashman would dip into the Yankees’ rich financial reserves to pony up some big money for free-agent pitchers C.J. Wilson, Mark Buerhle, Roy Oswalt or Edwin Jackson.

Or Cashman might look to make a substantial posting bid for 25-year-old Japanese pitching star Yu Darvish.

The Yankees have also been linked in trade rumors for pitchers such as Matt Cain of the Giants, Jair Jurrgens of the Braves and Matt Garza of the Cubs.

Of course, Cashman has a collection of six pitchers in the organization who are currently 24 years old or less who could advance to help the major-league club as starters or relievers in 2012 including Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, D.J. Mitchell, Hector Noesi, David Phelps and Adam Warren.

Noesi compiled a 2-2 record with a 4.47 ERA in 30 games (two starts) over four separate stints with the Yankees last season. Cashman has been getting glowing reports about how Noesi is throwing this winter in the Domincan Republic and he is touting Noesi as the “next Ivan Nova.”

So the Yankees could go in a lot of directions this winter with their pitching staff: (1) they could stand pat, (2) sign a free agent, (3) trade for a starter or (4) look to shore up the staff with a young pitcher in their minor-league system.

But any addition to the staff surely would mean that one of the current five starters would either have to go to the bullpen or leave the team entirely. That will not include Sabathia, Garcia or Nova. So that means Hughes and Burnett might be in the crosshairs should the Yankees decide to add another starter.

Hughes was 5-5 with a 5.79 ERA in an injury-plagued 2011 season. However, if you throw out his first three starts when he was pitching with a weak right shoulder and two consecutive starts in August in which he gave up 12 runs in 8 1/3 innings, Hughes was 5-3 with a 3.38 ERA in his other nine starts.

What this would indicate that is if Hughes is healthy at the start if spring training there is a good possibility he could return to his 18-8 form of 2010. The Yankees have heard good reports about Hughes, 25, who is working out in his native California this offseason.

Hughes has pitched well in the bullpen before as he did in the Yankees’ championship season in 2009, however, the Yankees are stocked with right-handers Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and a recovering Joba Chamberlain. There does not seem to be much room left for Hughes here. So, for now, Hughes is a starter.

Burnett, 34, is another story altogether.

Though Burnett’s Game 4 start against the Tigers in the American League Division Series was excellent, he is coming off two seasons in which he was a combined 21-26 with a 5.20 ERA. Because the Yankees owe Burnett $65 million he has been the proverbial albatross around the Yankees necks and he possibly could remain that way for another two seasons.

The Yankees could hope that Burnett somehow finds a way to consistently put the ball in the vicinity of the plate and cuts down on his gopher balls or they could also decide – like a malignant tumor – he must be removed from the roster even if it means that the Yankees have to pick up most, if not all, of his contract to pitch for another team.

Yankee fans are certainly rooting for the latter. They have seen enough of “Bad A.J.” to know that it is time to bring the curtain down on his bad act.

Other than that potential shift in the rotation, the only other move Cashman likely could make is to add a left-hander to the bullpen.

Boone Logan, 27, has been the lone lefty in the bullpen for two seasons. Though he did OK with a 5-3 record and a 3.46 ERA in 2011, he is not, by definition, a real lefty specialist. He has been pressed into that role due to injuries to Damaso Marte and Pedro Felciiano the past two seasons.

But Marte has been released and Feliciano has undergone shoulder surgery and he won’t pitch at all under the final year of his two-year deal with the Yankees. So the Yankees do need to explore obtaining a lefty who can consistently retire left-handed batters.

Cashman could really help the Yankees out a lot by finding the one piece of the puzzle that would make the Yankees’ bullpen even better than it already is.

Also do not be surprised if Cashman comes up with a surprise or two, much like he did with Granderson deal two winters ago.

Cashman always plays his cards close to the vest and he never really signals what he is likely to do. That is why if a rumor surfaces about the Yankees interested in making a deal, I automatically discount it. Cashman does not make deals that are rumored in the press. He does it with cunning and stealth.

Although Cashman has signed disasters like Burnett and Kei Igawa, he also has made some nice deals such as the Granderson and the Swisher deals. Although it appears Cashman is likely to use a scalpel and a Band-Aid rather than a hacksaw to this winter’s roster, you never really know if players like Swisher, Eduardo Nunez, Montero or Betances could be traded in order to obtain the pitching help the Yankees seem to need.

If you do not see Cashman much in the hotel lobby you can almost be assured he is stoking the fears of his rival GMs. That is just the Cashman way.

 

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