January 2012

Ibanez Joins List Of Possible Yankee DH Targets

With the end of the holidays and the beginning of the new year, the Yankees got busy after sitting out a good portion of the offseason bidding and dealing. Here are some bits and pieces of information and some analysis on what it all means:

THE DH ‘RAUL’

Apparently former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez is on the New York Yankees’ short list of players they might want to sign to take over as the team’s designated hitter, the New York Post reported.

Ibanez, 39, was allowed to walk as a free agent by the Phiilies after a 2011 season in which he hit a career-low .245 but still managed to hit 20 home runs and drive in 84 runs in 144 games. Ibanez is career .280 hitter with 252 home runs and 1,054 RBIs in 16 major-league seasons with the Seattle Mariners, Kansas City Royals and the Phillies.

The right-handed-hitting Ibanez was an All-Star selection in 2009 with the National League-champion Phillies.

With the four-player trade that sent Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners for pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos, the Yankees seem to have an obvious opening for a primary DH in their 2011 lineup. Jorge Posada held the role at the start of the 2011 season.

With one possible candidate, Carlos Pena, re-signed as free agent by the Tampa Bay Rays, it appears the Yankees are looking at free agents including Ibanez and former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.

Damon, 38, played last season with the Rays and wanted to return to the team. However, the signing of Pena likely means the Rays are not interested in keeping Damon after he hit .261 with 16 home runs, 73 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in 150 games in 2011.

Matsui, 37, played last season with Oakland and hit a career-low .251 with 12 home runs and 72 RBIs in 141 games. The Athletics, who are retooling with younger players, seem to be uninterested in bringing Matsui back for a second season as the team’s DH.

The Yankees have not commented publicly about Ibanez, Damon or Matsui. They have said they are interested in looking at 29-year-old former Mexican League star Jorge Vazquez this spring as a potential DH.

Vazquez, who can play either first or third base, hit .262 with 32 home runs and 93 RBIs in only 118 games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season. The right-handed slugger is not consider to be a very good defender but the Yankees have been impressed with his hitting potential.

At this point, it comes down to payroll economics. If the Yankees feel a pressing need to have a professional hitter at the DH spot and they are willing to shell out about $5 million to $8 million to get one of the three free agents, they will certainly do it. But if they feel they can’t afford it, Vazquez will get a shot this spring.

Odds are the Yankees are definitely looking outside the organization. That is why Ibanez’s name surfaced. So look for a free-agent signing real soon to fill the role.

OKIE DOKEY, HIROKI

The Yankees officially announced the signing of right-handed starter Hiroki Kuroda this week.

The former Dodger signed a one-year deal worth a reported $10 million. He left the Dodgers as a free agent after going 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA in 2011. In his five seasons with the Dodgers, the 37-year-old Kuroda was 41-46 with a 3.45 ERA in 115 major-league games, all with the Dodgers.

Kuroda will join Pineda in a revamped Yankee rotation for 2012. With CC Sabathia the unquestioned ace, Pineda figures to open the season as the team’s No. 2 starter and Kuroda likely will be the No. 3 starter. Ivan Nova, 25, after a sparkling 16-7 record and a 3.70 ERA as a rookie, figures to have a starting job locked up also.

That leaves Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and A.J. Burnett to battle it out this spring for the final starting spot.

The signing of Kuroda was a fallback position by the Yankees’ front office. Both general manager Brian Cashman and managing general partner Hank Steinbrenner felt the price of top free-agent pitchers like C.J. Wilson, Edwin Jackson, Mark Buerhle and Japanese import Yu Darvish was too high.

They also felt the asking price in trade for starters such as John Danks, Jair Jurrgens, Matt Garza and Gio Gonzalez was also too pricey.

As it is, Cashman needed Steinbrenner’s assent to pay Kuroda the $10 million he was seeking. That is one reason why the Yankees do not wish to overpay for a DH and add much more money to the payroll.

Kuroda, like a number of other National League pitchers who have been signed or acquired by the Yankees, will be under the microscope when he faces much tougher hitters in the American League, and those particularly in the East.

Pitchers such as Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez and, even to some degree, Randy Johnson have found it difficult to put up good numbers in the A.L. Kuroda, however, is in a somewhat better position than some of those previous pitchers because the Yankees have one of the deepest and best bullpens in baseball heading into the 2012 season.

Kuroda could have his ERA jump a run and he still could win 15 games for the Yankees in 2012.

PRAISE JESUS

The Montero-Pineda trade was made official this week when Montero passed his physical with the Mariners.

There has still been a major flood of angry comments from Yankee fans who are upset the Yankees traded a 21-year-old catcher who looked to be the best power prospect the Yankees have had in their minor-league system since Mickey Mantle was promoted to the major leagues in 1951.

Yankee fans also have pointed out that Pineda faded badly in the second half of 2011 and he has had a history of elbow problems stemming from a very violent follow-through in his motion. That does not bode well for the 23-year-old right-hander’s long-term prospects.

However, just about every analysis of the trade by experienced sports writers such as Peter Gammons and Ken Rosenthal have praised Cashman for making the deal.

What do they know that Yankee fans don’t?

For one reason, Montero’s work behind the plate is in question and will remain in question throughout his development in the major leagues. Though he has made vast progress, the Yankees were concerned they could NOT compete with teams that run a lot like the Rays and the Los Angeles Angels with Montero behind the plate.

They also saw a move to right-field or first base as impossible. Montero would really struggle in the outfield and Mark Teixeira is entrenched at first base and simply is the best-fielding first baseman in the game.

So Montero’s long-term future would have to have been as a DH and part-time catcher. That would limit his impact because manager Joe Girardi would still have Russell Martin as a starter with either Francisco Cervelli and rookie Austin Romine backing him up. Plus, Girardi would have to give veterans like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher some time off at DH during the season.

Also figure that 19-year-old catcher Gary Sanchez is considered the No. 4 catching prospect in baseball. The Yankees and scouts see him as the whole package behind the plate. He is excellent on defense and he has the ability to become a very good major-league hitter. He won’t hit for the prodigious power Montero might. But he will hit for average and power, scouts say.

So the Yankees felt with Montero’s defensive liabilities and the limited nature as a DH and part-time catcher, they could use Montero’s high value to get a pitcher, who not only figures to improve on his 9-10 record and 3.74 ERA in his rookie season, but could eventually become the ace of the staff in a few years.

Pineda projects as a potential No. 1 starter now. With he and Sabathia at the top of the rotation they figure to dominate any three-game series in which they pitch. If you are talking a potential playoff series the possibilities are even better. That is why the Yankees chose to make the deal.

They gave up a potential superstar but they may have got one in return also. What’s done is done. So let’s wait to evaluate the trade five years from now.

JONES REDUX

The Yankees also made it official this week they have re-signed Andruw Jones to a one-year contract for  a reported $2 million plus $1.4 million in incentives.

Jones, 34, batted .247 with 13 home runs and 33 RBIs in 77 games for the Yankees last season. Jones appeared as a DH, outfielder and pinch-hitter, but his calling card was his ability to hit left-handers. He hit lefties to the tune of .286.

Jones can play both corner outfield spots, DH and pinch hit. Because Brett Gardner struggled against left-handers last season, Jones could also be used to replace Gardner against some left-handers next season.

The Yankees have also managed to sign most of their arbitration eligible players in the past weeks including Gardner, Martin, David Robertson and Boone Logan.

The result is the Yankees have managed to improve the team while at the same time being able to hold the line on spending, which Steinbrenner is determined to do.

The Yankees would seem to only looking to add a bench infielder and a DH to the team before spring training.

Eric Chavez, who played first and third base for the Yankees last season is still available to be re-signed if the Yankees wish. We have already discussed the potential free agents available to DH.

ADIOS, JORGE!

Jorge Posada also made it official this week that he was retiring after all 17 seasons with the Yankees.

Posada, 40, thought about offers from other teams such as the Rays and the Mets, but ultimately chose to end his career as a Yankee.

Now the discussion starts as to whether he has the credentials to be inducted into the Hall Of Fame. The fact that he is the only catcher among the group of catchers already in the Hall except the great Yogi Berra, who has either more home runs, RBIs or a better batting average than all of them gives him some standing.

In addition, he has four World Series rings and he was one of the best hitting catchers of his generation.

It will be close, but Jorge stands in Yankee history among legendary catchers such as Berra, Bill Dickey and Thurman Munson. So he has a good chance of having his No. 20 retired by the Yankees at some point.

That would be a fitting tribute to a man who was a leader among the best Yankee teams in a generation. Thank you, Jorge!

 


Bank On It: Hughes Will Start If He’s Healthy

I think it is funny how the same critics who criticized the Yankees’ 2011 rotation and those who said that same rotation would not be as good in 2012 are now claiming that the Yankees have too many starters.

Will you guys stick to a scenario that makes sense!

It is true that when the trade of catcher and designated hitter Jesus Montero for  right-hander Michael Pineda becomes official the Yankees will have seven starting pitchers. That is two too many for a rotation and it also stands to reason that not all of those starters will fit in with the Yankees’ plans for the bullpen either.

I have been reading a lot of stuff from these correspondents with The Bleacher Report who claim to have this “divine” insight on what the Yankees will do with these pitchers. I am glad I read them because I needed a laugh. Their statements and predictions are laughable.

One written by Anthony Pucik stated that Pineda will be the Yankees’ No. 4 starter. Excuse me, Sparky, the Yankees did not trade Montero for a No. 4 starter. Pineda is being slotted as the team’s No. 2 starter behind the unquestioned ace of the staff, CC Sabathia. Anybody with a brain would know that by now.

This same correspondent also said Phil Hughes will start the 2012 season in the bullpen. I understand that it is possible that it could happen. But possible and likely are not the same thing. I am telling anybody who will listen that the Yankees still consider Hughes a starter and he will have to pitch his way out of a job in the rotation.

So that means the rotation will have Sabathia and Pineda in the top two spots and Ivan Nova, on the strength of his 16-win rookie season, and Hiroki Kuroda, on the basis of his $10 million salary, will pitch behind them. It does not matter really what the order they will pitch but Kuroda probably slots at No. 3 and Nova at No. 4.

The Yankee current company line is that Hughes will compete with Freddy Garcia and A.J. Burnett for the No. 5 spot.

Truthfully, the Yankees would love for Hughes to show up at spring training in February with a strong right shoulder and be ready to take back a spot in the rotation. That would give the Yankees a rotation of Sabathia (31), Pineda (23), Kuroda (36), Nova (24) and Hughes (25).

Hughes was really the first jewel in general manager Brian Cashman’s push to rebuild the Yankee farm system through good starting pitchers. He perhaps was rushed to the majors a bit too soon but he made his mark in 2009 when he shined as the setup man for Mariano Rivera in the second-half push that led to the Yankees’ 27th world championship.

His ERA and WHIP as a reliever were even better than Rivera’s, if you can believe that.

But he was switched to a starting role in 2010 and he began the season 10-2 and made the All-Star team. He finished the season 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA. All things considered, Hughes distinguished himself in his first full season as a starter.

The 2011 season was disappointing to be sure. The numbers were bad: a 5-5 record with a 5.79 ERA in 14 starts. Hughes showed up for spring training with a weak right shoulder that slowed his velocity on his fastball to 88 miles per hour. As a result he got lit up like the Fourth of July and then spent two months on the disabled list.

But a lot of people forget that Hughes did pitch well during a stretch after he returned from the disabled list in July.

In his first two starts, he gave up four earned runs in 11 innings (3.27 ERA). Then he ran off a stretch of four starts from July 27 through Aug. 19 in which he gave up only five runs in 25 2/3 innings (1.75 ERA). In his final two starts, Hughes gave up only three runs in 12 innings (2.25 ERA).

You add those seven starts together, Hughes won five of them and recorded an ERA of  2.22 with 30 strikeouts and 13 walks in 48 2/3 innings.

Hughes was unable to make a start after Sept. 12 because of back spasms and, by the time he recovered, manager Joe Girardi had determined Hughes would not be one of his four starters in the playoffs. So Hughes finished the season in the bullpen. Had he been healthy, Hughes might have been selected over Burnett to be the No. 4 starter.

Therefore, it stands to reason that if Hughes is healthy in 2012 (and reports on his offseason progress have been good) he will be the favorite to be the No. 5 starter for the Yankees.

Garcia, 35, was re-signed to a free-agent contract after he was 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA and rightly so. But Garcia signed before Pineda was acquired and Kuroda was signed. Now he looks to be simply an insurance policy in case Hughes (or any of the other four starters) are injured this spring.

Garcia would fill in until that injured starter returns. So it looks like Garcia will open the 2012 season in the old Sergio Mitre role of long reliever and spot starter. He is only being paid $4 million so the Yankees have no real reason to push him into the rotation over the much younger Hughes or Nova.

That leaves A.J. Burnett, also 35. After his stellar work in 2009 (13-9, 4.04 ERA and a dominating victory over the Phillies in Game 2 of the World Series) it has been two seasons of frustration for the erratic right-hander. For the past two seasons, Burnett is a combined 12-16 with a 5.20 ERA.

Last season, Burnett lost both his confidence and his velocity on his fastball. His future as a pitcher with the Yankees looks bleak.

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild was unable to “fix” him and his wildness does not lend itself to pitching in relief. So the Yankees would like to unload Burnett and the two years and $33 million left on his contract. The Yankees have even offered to pay about $7 million of his contract but have had no takers, so far.

But you can count on the Yankees opening the 2012 season without Burnett on the roster. Even if the Yankees have to double the offer to $14 million, they will do anything they can to rid themselves of their enigmatic starter. Teams who are looking for starters capable of pitching 200 innings would want Burnett to help fill open spots in their rotation.

It just comes down to how much the Yankees are willing to pay to be rid of him. But, by all intents and purposes, he is gone.

So the writers at The Bleacher Report might want to get their facts straight.

Garcia will NOT be the No. 5 starter with Hughes and Burnett pitching out of the bullpen. I would be willing to wager on it.

The Yankees, of course, will not tell you that what I am saying is in their plans. They can’t say it publicly.

It is just like their statement that they want to look at 29-year-old Jorge Vazquez at designated hitter this spring. Oh, they will look at him alright. But they also will have signed Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui or some other veteran player to fill the role by the time spring training games start.

With the Yankees’ front office you have to do a lot of reading between the lines. When it comes to the rotation, the lines are clearly drawn.

 

Damon Among Players Yankees May Want At DH

The Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda trade is not even official yet but the rumors are already swirling about who the Yankees will use to replace Montero at designated hitter.

The reason is that there are a number of free-agent candidates who might be available and a few of them are pretty familiar faces to Yankee fans.

The first name that immediately came to mind was Johnny Damon, who was with the Yankees from 2006-2009 but was let go when Curtis Granderson was acquired. After a lackluster 2010 season with the Detroit Tigers, Damon signed with the Tampa Bay Rays and rebounded to hit .261 with 16 home runs and 73 RBIs last season.

Damon, who lives in Orlando, FL in the offseason, hoped to return to the Rays in 2012 but the Rays signed lefty power-hitting former Oriole Luke Scott and he figures to be a first baseman and DH for them this season.

Damon, 38, could help the Yankees as a spare outfielder, at first base, at DH and as a left-handed bat off the bench. Damon even stole 19 bases in 25 attempts for the Rays in 2011 and he could give the Yankees a spark on the bases. Yankee fans remember his two-base swipe off the Phillies in Game 5 in 2009 that keyed a come-from-behind victory.

The Yankees apparently are speaking to former Rays first baseman Carlos Pena. Pena, 33, was actually selected off waivers by the Yankees last August but the team could not work out a trade for Pena with the Chicago Cubs.

Pena was allowed to become a free agent after hitting .225 with 28 home runs and 80 RBIs in 153 games with the Cubs last season. Pena has indicated that he has been contacted by the Yankees but Pena is looking at other options that allow him to play first base regularly.

Another former Yankee star, Hideki Matsui, could figure in the search. Matsui, 37, is also available as a free agent after hitting .251 with 12 home runs and 72 RBIs in 141 games with the Oakland Athletics last season.

However, because of past knee injuries the Yankees would likely limit Matsui to strictly DH. There is no doubt that Matsui’s return would be hailed because he had a large fan following the Bronx and he was the Most Valuable Player of the 2009 World Series.

An even further stretch could see the Yankees re-sign Jorge Posada. Though Posada reportedly had expressed a plan to retire at age 40 it has not been made official.

Though Posada’s ability to switch-hit and play first base and fill the role of an emergency catcher looked good on paper, the Yankees were disappointed with his hitting at DH last season. Posada lost his role in May as the DH against left-handed pitching to Andruw Jones. In September, he lost the job altogether when Jesus Montero was placed in the role.

Posada ended up hitting .235 with 14 home runs and 44 RBIs. He hit .092 against left-handers.

For now, the Yankee company line is they will look at corner infielder Jorge Vazquez this spring.

Vazquez, 29, hit .262 with 32 home runs and 93 RBIs in 118 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. That came off the heels of a hot spring where he impressed the Yankees with his ability to hit for average and power.

Vazquez, a right-handed hitter from Mexico, is not very impressive as a fielder but he has proven to be a proficient hitter in the Yankees’ system.

The Yankees think Vazquez or Jones could handle the primary DH duties while manager Joe Girardi could use veteran players such as Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher and Granderson to rotate as the DH to give them a rest from playing in the field.

Though it is tempting to speculate about how many home runs he would hit at Yankee Stadium, do not look for the Yankees to make any effort to sign left-handed-hitting first baseman Prince Fielder. After the Yankees paid $10 million to sign right-handed starter Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year contract it is unlikely they will spend very much on a DH.

Looking at the options the Yankees have before them, it appears that Damon would make the most sense. Damon could be valuable as a fifth outfielder, part-time first baseman, primary DH or valuable off the bench as a pinch-hitter or pinch-runner. Damon has always been a popular player when he was in pinstripes and he is well-liked by his former teammates.

STAY TUNED

Get Real, Yankee Fans, Pineda Is Not Ken Phelps

Remember George Steinbrenner ‘s appearance on the “Seinfeld” episode where George’s father lights into him for trading Jay Buhner to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Ken Phelps?

For the last 24 hours the ghost of that ill-fated Buhner-for-Phelps trade has cast a pall around the reported most recent Yankees-Mariners swap of mega-prospect Jesus Montero for pitcher Michael Pineda. Yankee fans are unclear how the Yankees would think that trading their best young hitter for a young right-hander with a history of arm trouble and inconsistent mechanics helps the Yankees in the long run.

They are looking at the so-called “Big Picture,” You know that is the vast uncharted future when Robinson Cano is on a downward slide and Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter are living a life of luxury in retirement. Yankee fans saw Montero as the centerpiece of the Yankees’ 2018 world championship team, hitting .330 with 42 home runs and driving in 130 runs batting fourth in pinstripes.

But mean, old general manager Brian Cashman took that comforting pipe dream away by dealing Montero for a pitcher who could blow out his arm in a bar fight tomorrow. (Yep, a Yankee fan never forgets what could have been with Brien Taylor.)

Nevermind that Montero’s career could come to an end with the next horrific home-plate collision. Yankee fans want to vent so let them vent.

But when have the Yankees ever looked way out to 2018?

I do not think they were thinking of 2018 when they made this trade. I think they were looking at 2012.

That is the Yankee tradition after all. You lose in the playoffs and fall short of your goal in 2011 so you immediately look to improving your team in 2012. That is Cashman’s job.

Cashman, along with Hank and Hal Steinbrenner and any scout in baseball will tell you that the magical 97 wins the Yankees got out of a rotation that included 38-year-old Bartolo Colon and 35-year-old Freddy Garcia was seen as a miracle that could not be duplicated.

The fact remains that besides CC Sabathia and his annual flirtation with 20 wins and a Cy Young Award there is not much to distinguish the Yankees’ rotation. That, keep in mind, is aware that Phil Hughes did win 18 games in 2010 and rookie Ivan Nova was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA last season.

What troubled the Yankees’ front office is that the Tampa Bay Rays made the playoffs in 2011 with a popgun offense and very good rotation of young pitchers behind James Shields, including lefty David Price, Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson and the rookie lefty who blanked the Rangers in the playoffs, Matt Moore.

Despite the fact that the Yankees spent most of Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers down one run and their vaunted offense could not produce it, the Yankees felt they had to bolster the starting staff without adding much to their $200 million payroll.

That is a tough task because free agents like C.J. Wilson, Mark Buerhle and Yu Darvish were so tempting. Trade offers for Gio Gonzalez, Jair Jurrgens, John Danks and Matt Garza held promise but proved, in the end, to be pretty pricey. Heck, even the new president of the Cubs, Theo Epstein, thought Garza was worth Montero and left-hander Manny Banuelos and right-hander Dellin Betances!

Epstein may think of himself as the Lord’s holy gift to baseball but mere mortals like Cashman know the First Commandment of the National Pastime: Though shall not deal the best lambs in the stable for a .500 pitcher who is no better than a No. 3 in your rotation.

So give Cashman credit for not allowing Epstein to pull the wool over his eyes. Baaaaaad!!!!

With this trade, however, Cashman has acquired a pitcher who is 22 years old. (OK, he turns 23 on Wednesday if you want to get technical.)

When the Yankees traded for Phelps during the 1988 season he was 34 years old and Buhner was almost exactly 10 years his junior. Of course, history will show that Phelps would hit a whopping 13 home runs for the Yankees from the middle of the 1988 season to the middle of the 1989 season when he was traded away in disgrace to the Oakland Athletics.

Meanwhile, Buhner – beginning in 1991 – started a series of 10 seasons with the Mariners in which in eight of them he hit 21 or more home runs. In fact, from 1995 through 1997, Buhner had three seasons in which he hit 40, 44 and 40 home runs for the Mariners. He ended up with  310 major-league dingers, a total of three came when he was wearing pinstripes.

Now you can understand why Frank Constanza (played by actor Jerry Stiller) was so angry with George in that hilarious “Seinfeld” episode.

It may be why so many Yankee fans might be angry now. It is the ghost of Jay Buhner rearing his ugly head. (Check out Buhner’s baseball card. He was ugly.)

But Pineda is not Ken Phelps. Far from it.

There were times last season that scouts would have told you that Pineda looked better than Felix Hernandez himself. Pineda was rolling through lineups looking like a 6-foot-7, 260-pound Gulliver against a helpless band Lilliputians with matchsticks for bats.

In his first 11 starts he was 6-2 with a 2.30 ERA and 73 K’s in 70 1/3 innings and batters were hitting a woeful .190 off him and he had a WHIP of 1.00. That was pitching for arguably the weakest offense in baseball in the Mariners.

Granted, in his next six starts, Pineda came back to Earth some. He was 2-3 with 3.10 ERA. But he was chosen to represent the American League in the 2011 All-Star Game and he had earned it.

What many rookie pitchers have to contend with is how to continue to pitch well as the innings mount and your team continues to play poorly. The Mariners were simply awful as they ditched the second half in order to play their young prospects over their overpriced veterans like Chone Figgins.

Pineda won only one game the rest of the season. Of course, that game was against the Rays on July 30. But he ended the season 1-5 in his last 11 starts with an ERA of 5.71. The Mariners, seeing that Pineda was a valuable commodity, did not pitch him much in the month of September to protect his arm.

He finished 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA and 173 strikeouts in 171 innings. Batters hit .211 off him and his WHIP was an amazing 1.10. He was right behind Hellickson as the second-best rookie pitcher in baseball in 2011.

But his second-half slide and the fact that Pineda had to be shut down by the Mariners back in 2009 due forearm and elbow stiffness has Yankee fans concerned about this trade. It is true that while a position player can fashion a long career despite injuries, a starting pitcher can be wrecked for an entire career with a severe elbow or shoulder injury.

But, Pineda seems as if he is a reasonable risk at this point because, Yankee fans, Betances at 6-foot-8 and age 23 is in the same boat as Pineda. The only difference is that Betances has already experienced elbow problems and had surgery to repair the damage. So if you are crying because the Pineda was acquired then, in that same breath, you must have to demand that Cashman get rid of Betances immediately because he is another elbow injury waiting to happen.

I guess the foot is in the other shoe, now, Yankee fans!

All I am saying is that perhaps it is better to allow the careers of Pineda and Montero to play out about five years before we say the Mariners have won this trade. After all, it took Buhner until 1991, three long seasons after the trade, to become the player the Yankees wished they had back.

Pineda will begin the 2012 season as the Yankees’ No. 2 starter behind the equally tall Sabathia. That is about as an imposing pair of starters a team can face to open a series. The Yankees can follow that up with Nova, who was the third best rookie pitcher in 2011 and Hughes, who did win 18 games for the Yankees when he was healthy.

And for good measure, Cashman added 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to the mix and Kuroda was 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA for a very mediocre Dodgers team in 2011.

That is not a bad starting five. It figures to better than the Sabathia, Nova, Colon, Garcia and A.J. Burnett quintet with which the Yankees won 97 games last season. Speaking of Burnett and Garcia, neither figures to make the rotation unless there are a few injuries in the spring.

Burnett figures to be on his way out of town if the Yankees can find a buyer for him and Garcia looks to be simply insurance for the injury-plagued Hughes and the other four starters.

So losing Montero for a significantly better rotation does not seem so bad.

His offense will be missed, for sure. I had no doubt that as a designated hitter and part-time catcher Montero could easily hit 30 home runs and drive in 75 or more runs in 2011. But the Yankees have been either number one or number two in runs scored the past three seasons without Montero. It seems they can manage to make it four in 2012 without Montero.

Also remember this important point. The Yankees got younger in their rotation and still have Banuelos, Betances, Adam Warren, David Phelps and D.J. Mitchell at the Triple-A level. Oh, and reports indicate this 6-foot-4 right-hander Jose Campos thrown into the Montero deal, at age 19, is an excellent pitching prospect with a live arm and great control. They also still have the defensively proficient Austin Romine bidding to be the backup to catcher Russell Martin this spring.

And, lo and behold, the Yankees’ No. 1 catching prospect Gary Sanchez turned 19 in December and he is considered to be every bit as good as Montero as a hitter and he is a defensive gem as well. He was ranked as the third-best catching prospect in 2011. Montero was No. 1.

So while you are crying about what Montero will do for Seattle, Sanchez is getting closer to an arrival date in 2014 and he may be very much the ultimate catcher for which Yankee fans have been waiting. Montero with his defensive deficiencies may eventually be the DH or first baseman for which the Mariners have been waiting.

So dry your eyes and let’s wait to see how Pineda develops before we get too emotional. Somewhere Ken Phelps is thinking you are all acting like idiots.

 

Yankees Trade Montero, Land Pineda And Kuroda

One axiom of Major League Baseball is pitching comes at a very steep price.

Yankee fans found just how steep on Friday when general manager Brian Cashman swung a pair of deals that netted the Yankees two starting pitchers and a very good pitching prospect and it cost them their No. 1 prospect and potential Rookie of the Year in Jesus Montero and right-handed starter Hector Noesi.

Though the trade is not official, the Yankees apparently have agreed to ship off Montero and Noesi to the Seattle Mariners for 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda and and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos.

Right after the rumor of that deal surfaced, the YES Network reported that the Yankees reached agreement on a one-year, $10 million contract with 37-year-old free-agent left-hander Hiroki Kuroda.

Pineda burst upon the baseball landscape when he emerged as dominant starter during spring training in 2011. In five games (four starts), Pineda had no record but had a 2.12 ERA and struck out 14 batters in 17 innings, which earned him a ticket to begin his rookie season as the Mariners’ No. 2 starter behind “King” Felix Hernandez.

Pineda got off to a marvelous start, too. Pitching for perhaps baseball’s weakest offense, Pineda was 6-2 with a 2.30 ERA after his first 11 starts as of June 1. He was so impressive he was selected to pitch for the American League in the 2011 All-Star Game.

However, the combination poor offensive support and a heavy workload of innings combined to trip up Pineda in the second half. In his final 11 starts, the 6-foot-7, 260-pound Pineda went 2-8 with a 4.74 ERA.

For the season, Pineda was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA and struck out 173 batters in 171 innings pitched. He only walked 55 batters and ended the season with a WHIP of 1.10. He was generally considered as second to only the Rays’ Jeremy Hellickson among rookie starters with the Yankees’ Ivan Nova very a close third.

If the trade is completed, Pineda will join the 24-year-old Nova in the Yankees’ 2012 rotation.

Campos is a 6-foot-4, 190-pound right-hander from Venezuela was 5-5 with a 2.32 ERA in 14 starts with the Mariners’ Class-A Everett team. Campos struck out 85 batters while walking only 13 in 81 innings last season and he is considered one of the best young pitching prospects in the Mariners’ system.

As ardent Yankee fans know, the Mariners were offered Montero and Nova two seasons ago in exchange for left-hander Cliff Lee. But Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik got very greedy and tried to push Cashman into including shortstop Eduardo Nunez in the deal and Cashman balked. The Mariners then shipped Lee to the Texas Rangers in a package that included first baseman Justin Smoak.

Montero was slated to be the Yankees’ primary designated hitter and a backup catcher in 2012 after he burst upon the scene in a September callup and hit .328 with four home runs and 12 RBIs in 61 at-bats. Montero’s power and hitting drew comparisons from scouts to the likes of Mike Piazza and Manny Ramirez.

The doubts about Montero surrounded the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder’s ability to become good enough to be even a passable defensive catcher. Some scouts feel his long-term future was as a DH or first baseman.

Noesi had been a starter throughout his career with the Yankees but spent his rookie season in 2011 pitching mostly in the bullpen. Noesi was 2-2 with a 4.47 ERA over 56 1/3 innings in 30 games (two starts). The Yankees had maintained that Noesi was going to be strictly a starter this season. If he did not make the starting rotation this spring he was slated to pitch at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

If the deal is finalized, Noesi would join Hernandez, Jose Vargas and youngsters Charlie Furbush and Blake Beavan as starters for the Mariners.

With the signing of Kuroda, the Yankees have ended more than two-month search for pitchers to bolster their rotation. Just this week the Yankees opted not to sign free-agent right-hander Edwin Jackson, whose agent Scott Boras was seeking a four-year, $60 million contract that the Yankees believed was too pricey.

Kuroda, 37, was 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA and he recorded 161 strikeouts in 202 innings over 32 starts last season for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound native of Osaka, Japan is 41-46 with a 3.45 ERA in his four seasons in the major leagues, all with the Dodgers.

With the addition of Pineda and Kuroda the Yankees are now overloaded with seven potential starting pitchers.

Pineda and Kuroda will slot in the rotation behind ace left-hander CC Sabathia. Nova, who was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in his rookie season, would seem to have the inside track on a spot. Phil Hughes, who was 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA in 2010 but was hampered with a right shoulder injury last season, would be the odds-on favorite to win the fifth spot if he is healthy this spring.

That leaves 35-year-old right-handers A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia in a very tenuous position.

Burnett suffered through his second straight subpar season, recording a mark of 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA. Burnett’s wildness and lack of command does not lend itself well to the bullpen and he still has two years and $33 million owed on a five-year contract he signed with the Yankees in 2009. The Yankees have offered to pay $7 million of Burnett’s contract to any team willing to take them off their hands but they have received no takers.

Garcia was signed last season as a free agent and he was 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA over 26 appearances (25 starts). The Yankees re-signed him for $4 million in December and he now looks to be an insurance policy against an injury to any of the starters before the season starts. He likely will end up in the bullpen as a long reliever and spot starter.

The trade and the free-agent signing also would allow the Yankees to keep all five of their best pitching prospects – Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps and Adam Warren – at the Triple-A level to continue their development.

The only real downside is the loss of Montero as the team’s designated hitter.

The Yankees are set at catcher with Russell Martin signed for another season as the starter. Francisco Cervelli and rookie Austin Romine will battle this spring for a backup role with the loser likely headed to Triple-A.

With the loss of Montero it is unclear how the Yankees will handle the DH spot. They could rotate it among starting players such as Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher, which is something manager Joe Girardi prefers to do. That would mean bench players such as Nunez and outfielder Andruw Jones could be used to spell the resting regulars.

They also could use the righty-swinger Jones and lefty-swinger Eric Chavez, if he is re-signed as a free agent, in a platoon at DH.

However, in either case, Montero’s spot on the roster would have to be filled. That would seem to indicate that Cashman may intend to use Burnett in a trade to fill that spot with someone who could serve as a DH and play the outfield. It seems unlikely, put still possible, the Yankees could choose to bring back 40-year-old Jorge Posada for another season.

Posada reportedly has decided to retire rather then field offers from other teams.

STAY TUNED

Yankees Finally Get Serious With Pricey Jackson

In what has been a quiet, almost somnambulant, off-season the New York Yankees seem to making strides in signing a free-agent pitcher.

CBSSports.com reported on Wednesday that Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner met with agent Scott Boras to discuss 28-year-old right-hander Edwin Jackson.

When Yankee fans first heard this they must have thought back to last winter when the right-hand of the Yankees, general manager Brian Cashman, did not know that the left-hand, Steinbrenner, was signing free-agent reliever Rafael Soriano to the richest contract ever paid to a non-closer.

Despite losing the draft pick for signing a Type-A free agent and the fact Soriano was ineffective and then got hurt, it was a marvelous masterstroke for a team reeling from the failure to sign Cliff Lee.

Soriano is actually a prize piece to a bullpen that lost Joba Chamberlain last season and ended up being the best bullpen in baseball. They enter the 2012 season armed with Mariano Rivera, David Robertson and Soriano for what again looks to be the best bullpen in baseball. That can sure cover up for what looks to be an average starting rotation, too.

But Steinbrenner is still a bit worried. (Count me there too if any Yankee starting rotation includes A.J. Burnett.)

“Look, we were concerned about pitching last year, and it ended up working out pretty well,” Steinbrenner said. “But I’m still a little concerned about our rotation.”

The Yankees have been doing their version of kabuki theater this winter. They are going through all the showy motions of looking at free agents, exploring trades and scouting for any live arm that can make the Yankees better than the 97 games they won last season.

But they are finding the price tags of the free agents loaded with some dealer fees and markups they weren’t counting on. They passed on C.J. Wilson and Mark Buerhle and they just made a token bid for Japan’s Yu Darvish.

They also have found that general managers looking to trade arms were looking for bushel basket full of prospects from the Yankees’ tree that included Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Mason Williams. That price was just way too high for Cashman, who said that he could make any trade to get a pitcher but the problem was that if he made the trade he would not be a popular guy with Yankee fans.

But now it seems that the Steinbrenner family is on board with Jackson, who was 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA for the world-champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2011. However, Jackson is just 60-60 with a 4.46 ERA in his career and he reportedly is seeking a five-year deal with an annual salary in the $15 million to $17 million range.

Ouch! Talk about your sticker shock.

Steinbrenner feels that Jackson is too pricey now. But the meeting with Steinbrenner was requested by Boras, which may signal that the agent every general manager loves to hate may be willing to deliver Jackson to the Yankees for something less.

Cashman has been restricted by the Steinbrenner family’s desire to reduce or, at the very least, keep the payroll at around the $200 million range. That is why the Yankees have been so quiet since the 2011 ended and the only moves they have made is to sign back players they had last season (Freddy Garcia, Andruw Jones and maybe Eric Chavez.)

But the fact Steinbrenner took the meeting with Boras is a sign the Yankees are indeed serious about adding a starting pitcher. Should the talks for Jackson break down over price, the Yankees still have two viable options in free agents Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda, who are seeking less years and less money than Jackson.

If the Yankees do add a bona fide starter they will have the ability to seriously shop Burnett and his bloated two-year, $33 million contract. The team offered to pay $7 million of Burnett’s salary but they got no bites on the line. With another starter signed they could increase that salary payment offer to $14 million and still come out ahead on the deal.

The real issue now comes down to how much does Jackson want to pitch for the Yankees and what can he accept in terms of annual salary. If Boras is willing to compromise there is room to make a deal. If there is no wiggle room the Yankees will have to a pass on him.

Just knowing Steinbrenner was willing to help the Yankees acquire a durable 200-inning pitcher is enough for me to show that there is a willingness for the team to get better. It was not apparent for most of this offseason.

 

One Last ‘Hip-Hip, Jorge’ For A Very Classy Yankee

Every spring training game at George M. Steinbrenner Field those of us in Section 205 would see No. 20 in Yankee pinstripes striding toward the plate. At that point we would train our eyes toward a longtime Yankee fan with full-flowing mustache rise from his seat and yell at the top of his lungs “Hip, Hip” and the surrounding crowd of regulars in the section would reply with a raucous “Jor-ge,” which he and the rest us would repeat two more times before every home at-bat.

It was not just a token cheer stolen from our brethren in the Bronx. No, it was a absolute homage to one of the very best catchers in Yankee history. It was done with love and great admiration.

But it has been a foregone conclusion this winter that the ritual of Section 205 would no longer be carried out in 2012. There was a chance the cheer might have rang out if Jorge Posada chose, at age 40, to continue his career in another uniform. But, alas, that will not happen either.

According to an anonymous source reported by WFAN in New York, Posada has elected not play another game and retire as a Yankee after 17 years and 1,574 games behind the plate. Only Bill Dickey (1,708) and Yogi Berra (1,695) played in more games catching for the Yankees.

In hearing the news, my first reaction is sadness, of course. Posada won five World Series titles and was part of the famous “Core Four” along with Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, which is now down to the “Flair Pair” of Jeter and Rivera.

From 1996 through 2001, the New York Yankees won four world championships and Posada was in the middle of just about every one of them, though he was somewhat overshadowed by Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, Jeter, Rivera, manager Joe Torre.

But history speaks for itself and Posada hit .273. He is seventh on the Yankees’ all-time list with 379 doubles and 936 walks, eighth with 279 home runs and 11th with 1,065 RBIs. There is no doubt that Posada, a converted second baseman in the minors, was a major cog in Yankee teams that made the playoffs in every season he played for them except 2008.

Posada was greatly disappointed with his final season.

He came to spring training for the first time as non-factor as a catcher. Russell Martin was signed as the new starter and rookies Jesus Montero and Austin Romine were being groomed as replacements. Posada’s catching gear collected dust as he tried to adapt as the team’s switch-hitting designated hitter.

Unfortunately Posada got off to a slow start, particularly against left-handers and lost that part of his duties early in the season. Then on May 14, Posada spotted his name in the No. 9 spot in the batting order in a game against the Boston Red Sox and pride would not allow him to participate in that game.

By September, Posada was also being phased out of the lineup altogether. However, when he was given chances to play in the final few weeks, Posada began to consistently reach base on hits and walks. On Sept. 21, Posada stroked a two-run game-winning single against the Tampa Bay Rays that clinched the American League East title for the Yankees.

Playing a hunch, manager Joe Girardi used Posada in the A.L. Division Series against the Detroit Tigers and Posada responded by hitting .429 (6 for-14) in the series.

But Posda knew that with his four-year $52 million contract coming to an end in 2011 that he would never play for the Yankees again. If he wanted to continue to play it would have to be in a foreign uniform. Posada even began working out on Nov. 1 in anticipation of some offers to play with other teams.

They came. Posada considered them.

But, in the end, Posada realized perhaps it was time to end his career, a grand career at that, as a New York Yankee.

There are those who claim Posada is not worthy of the Hall of Fame. But when you look at the numbers he compiled, you can make a pretty good case for the gritty veteran from Santurce, Puerto Rico.

Posada’s 246 home runs as a catcher are only second to Berra’s 306 on the club’s all-time list. Of the 13 catchers that are currently in Cooperstown, only Berra has better career numbers in all three categories of batting average, home runs and RBIs.

Those numbers are for those who will vote in five years to chew on. But Posada can make a compelling case for joining that group.

He already joins a great lineage of former Yankee greats at catcher, which includes Berra, Dickey and Thurman Munson. His star may not burn as bright as those three but his star certainly burns bright enough to have his number retired somewhere down the road.

Posada apparently will make his decision final in about two weeks. But it won’t take Yankee fans that long to agree that he was certainly one of the classiest leaders of one of the Yankees’ most successful string of teams in their history.

Yogi will always be No. 1 in Yankee hearts but will we never forget what Jorge did in his 17 seasons with the Yankees.

OK. Section 205. One last time and let’s hear it loud and proud: “Hip, Hip, Jorge! Hip-Hip, Jorge! Hip-Hip, Jorge!”

Yankees’ Actions Show Desire To Stand Pat In 2012

With the clock finally having run out on the Yankees in their effort to sign Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima it is now becoming obvious the the team will enter the 2012 season with virtually their entire roster from 2011 back.

The Yankees seemed shocked when their $2.5 million bid for Nakajima was the winning bid and they dealt with the 29-year-old Seibu Lions star as if he were just going to be paid as a backup infielder, which is, of course, what he was going to be.

But Nakajima was not happy with that offer and the 5 p.m. deadline came and went without a contract. As a result, the Yankees keep their $2.5 million posting and Nakajima returns to play out his contract with Seibu in Japan.

The Yankees, meanwhile, are now free to make an offer to bring back backup first and third baseman Eric Chavez, who hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees last season. Chavez, who has been hampered by injuries for the past five seasons, missed just over two months of the 2011 season due to a fractured bone in his left foot.

But the Yankees can use Chavez, 34, and his left-handed bat as a backup to Alex Rodriguez at third base, to Mark Teixeira at first base and as possible designated hitter or a power bat off the bench.

If Chavez does re-sign with the Yankees he will join outfielder Andrew Jones, infielder Eduardo Nunez and catcher Francisco Cervelli as the same members of the Yankees’ 2011 bench. However, Cervelli would have to win the backup catching job he has held for the past two seasons from rookie Austin Romine in spring training.

The only change in the Yankees’ 13 position players appears to be rookie Jesus Montero, who figures to be the primary DH and third catcher, replacing longtime veteran Jorge Posada.

The Yankees also re-signed Freddy Garcia to a contract this winter, which means the Yankees rotation of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett and Garcia figures to return in 2012. Of course, the Yankees are in pursuit of one additional starting pitcher that would allow the team to perhaps unload Burnett and the two years and $33 million owed on his contract.

The Yankees have avoided getting into a bidding war for free-agent pitchers C.J. Wilson and Mark Buerhle and they only made a token bid for Japanese star Yu Darvish. They also have balked at trades for pitchers such as John Danks, Gio Gonzalez, Jair Jurrgens and Matt Garza because teams have asked for top prospects such as Montero, pitchers Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances and outfielder Mason Williams in return.

The Yankees have had discussions with Scott Boras, the agent for right-hander Edwin Jackson, who was 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 32 games (31 starts) for the world-champion St. Louis Cardinals last season. However, the Yankees are not likely to pay the $15 million to $17 million per season over four years that Boras is seeking for the 28-year-old right-hander.

The Yankees are looking to bring Jackson’s price down some or they may take a pass on him as well. General manager Brian Cashman said he would like to avoid making a long-term commitment to a pitcher like he did with Burnett, a pitcher who may end up being a mistake in the long run.

The Yankees also might have interest in free-agent left-hander Hiroki Kuroda.

The bullpen, with Rafael Soriano opting to stay with the Yankees, also will return pretty much the same nucleus from last season. Soriano and David Robertson will set up the legend of all closers in Mariano Rivera in 2012. Left-hander Boone Logan and right-hander Corey Wade also are back.

Joba Chamberlain is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and he hopes to be ready when spring training begins. However, the Yankees intend to bring the 26-year-old right-hander along slowly and he may not see action until July.

So that means the Yankees will be looking for two pitchers for the bullpen. One likely will be a left-hander to replace Logan as the lefty specialist. The Yankees signed for former Red Sox lefty Hideki Okajima to a minor-league contract. He will compete this spring with Cesar Cabral, who the Royals sent to the Yankees for cash considerations after they selected him from the Red Sox in the Rule 5 draft in December.

The other spot could go to Hector Noesi, who filled that role for portions of last season. But the Yankees have said they consider him a starter and they do not want to use him a long man in 2012 if they can help it.

But, here again, the stand-pat nature of the Yankees may be reaffirmed. The Yankees also have said they would not mind having 38-year-old right-hander Bartolo Colon back as a long man out of the bullpen. Colon was 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA but actually pitched much better than the his record indicated.

Colon was actually 8-6 with a 3.31 on Aug. 11 before going 0-4 with four no-decisions and an ERA of 4.93 down the stretch. He was not even placed on the team’s postseason roster for the American League Division Series. The Yankees believe Colon is better suited as a long man and spot starter and they would offer him a contract to return to the team only in that role because they no longer think he can make 33 starts at his age.

Should the Yankees re-sign Colon that means the only change in the pen could be Okajima or Cabral as a second left-hander replacing right-hander Luis Ayala, who was allowed to become a free agent after going 2-2 with a 2.09 ERA last season.

I can’t recall a season in which the Yankees had less turnover on their roster. It is very odd, indeed, for a team that has prided itself in having the winning tradition, the facilities and the cash to get just about any player they could want in the George Steinbrenner era.

However, Hal and Hank Steinbrenner are at the helm of the ship now and they seem to have a tighter lid on the cash flow. Cashman has been forced to do more with less since the Yankees made their huge splash in 2009 with the free-agent signings of Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira, which led to their 27th world championship that October.

Of course, the team did win 97 games in 2o11 and had the best record in the American League. They did it without significant contributions from Rodriguez, Chamberlain and Hughes and off years from players like Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher.

Perhaps the addition of the powerful bat of Montero, a second lefty in the bullpen and healthy seasons from A-Rod, Joba and Hughes will be enough to carry the Yankees to another A.L. East title and the playoffs. The concern then turns to how well the starting pitchers stack up heading into the playoffs.

Do not forget that there are a few very good pitchers who will be free agents in 2013 and teams might be looking to unload them before the July 31 trade deadline. One is right-hander Matt Cain of the Giants and another is lefty Cole Hamels of the Phillies. Cashman has the patience and the dearth of young prospects to pull off a deal to bolster the staff at any point this season.

So maybe this lack of turnover is not such a bad thing. The team stays strong without adding much in the way of payroll and remains flexible enough to pull off some deals to make a push in the playoffs.

I see nothing wrong with that. Some of the best deals are the ones you don’t make.

 

Yankees’ Bid For Garza Is Going, Going, Gone!

For those fans expecting Matt Garza to be modeling Yankee pinstripes in 2012, your dream is not likely to come true.

The Yankees did have an interest in the 28-year-old Chicago Cubs right-hander. But the team’s president of baseball operations Theo Epstein must have been smoking some of that fraternity stash of his lately. His asking price for Garza, who is 52-54 with a 3.83 ERA in his career, is two of the Yankees’ top three prospects.

Yes sir! Epstein and the Cubs want slugging catcher Jesus Montero and either left-hander Manny Banuelos or right-hander Dellin Betances, according to a report by Jack Curry of the YES Network.

Needless to say, Yankee general manager Brian Cashman nearly choked on his Nathan’s hotdog when he heard that request. Although the Yankees would love to obtain Garza to bolster their starting rotation, the asking price for a pitcher who was just 10-10 with a 3.32 ERA in 2011 would seem to be excessively steep.

The Cubs might as well go all the way and offer back-up outfielder Reed Johnson even up for Curtis Granderson. Or how about catcher Geovany Soto for Robinson Cano? You can criticize Epstein for a lot of things but you have to give him credit for having cojones.

This overpricing of pitching has been a trend this winter and it is one of the reasons why Cashman has had to decline big-money offers to overpriced free agents such as C.J. Wilson and Mark Buerhle. The Rangers paid $51 million just for the right to negotiate a deal with Japan’s best pitcher, Yu Darvish.

Teams like the Padres and Athletics have exacted a cartload of prospects for pitchers such as Mat Latos and Gio Gonzalez. The Cubs are trying to do the same with Garza.

But the Yankees have apparently bowed out of the sweepstakes, leaving the Blue Jays and Tigers as the players left interested in Garza unless the Cubs begin to start lowering their demands.

This is is exactly what I was predicting in my last post when I stated that Cashman should proceed with caution in talks for Garza and not succumb to desperation at the expense of the building blocks to the Yankees’ future. You have to know when to fold your hand and leave the table.

Cashman, it appears, has done just that.

Montero, 22, is simply the best power-hitting prospect the Yankees have developed since they promoted Mickey Mantle in 1951. The jury may be out on his skills to be a creditable defensive catcher but scouts have compared his ability to hit to players such as Mike Piazza and Manny Ramirez. You do not trade players with this much upside.

Banuelos, 20, is the best left-hander and the best pitching prospect in the Yankees’ organization and Betances, 23, is the second-best pitching prospect. Neither of the two have had an opportunity to show the Yankees what they can do at the major-league level. Both rose from Double-A Trenton to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season. Both project as potential top-of-the-rotation starters. The Yankees have no other starters in their farm system with that capability.

So why trade any of the three for Garza, who only is two seasons away from free agency and is likely to earn $20 million over the next two seasons in arbitration? Garza is essentially a .500 pitcher. He is not more than a No. 3 starter. If Garza was a flavor of ice cream he would be vanilla. Plain vanilla.

You don’t trade your best prospects for vanilla. You tell Epstein, “Fudge you!”

Which is exactly what Cashman has done.

ACTION JACKSON

With any potential deal for Gaza apparently gone, the Yankees are now looking at free-agent right-hander Edwin Jackson, according to CBSSports.com.

Jackson, 28, was 12-9 with a 3.73 ERA and 148 strikeouts for the world-champion St. Louis Cardinals last season. He reportedly is looking for a contract in the $15 million to $17 million range for 2012. The Yankees might be unwilling to go that high on the veteran right-hander, who is 60-60 a 4.86 ERA and 801 strikeouts in his career.

The Yankees are apparently trying to find a middle ground that Jackson and his agent could accept. The Yankees see Jackson as a potential reliable and durable No. 3 starter.

The Yankees already have five potential starters in CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia. They also have six potential young starters in Hector Noesi, D.J. Mitchell, Adam Warren, David Phelps, Betances and Banuelos.

But they have made no secret of the fact the would love to unload troubled right-hander Burnett and his $33 million salary paid over the next two seasons. The Yankees have reportedly offered to pay up to $7 million of that contract but have received no takers so far for Burnett.

The signing of Jackson would allow the Yankees to continue to develop their prize minor-league prospects and renew their efforts to unload Burnett.

SAYONARA

It is looking as if the Yankees will not be signing Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima to a contract by the Friday deadline, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.

A source told the Ledger that the talks have been “slow” and the Yankees are unlikely to complete a deal for Nakajima, 29, by the 30-day deadline called for in the posting process. The Yankees wish to pay Nakajima as a backup infielder and Nakajima has been paid as a starter in Japan. So both sides are not close to a deal.

The Yankees posted a $2 million bid for Nakajima in early December and won the right to negotiate a contract. If the two sides can’t agree on a contract Nakajima’s team in Japan, the Seibu Lions, will return the $2 million to the Yankees and Nakajima will remain with the Lions.

The Yankees looked at Nakajima, who hit .297 with 16 home runs and 100 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 144 games with Seibu in 2011, as a potential backup infielder at second, third and shortstop. The negotiations for Nakajima precluded the Yankees from making a deal to re-sign 34-year-old veteran Eric Chavez.

However, if the Nakajima talks fail the Yankees could, if they wish, can contact Chavez’s agent to get the 34-year-old corner infielder back for the 2012 season. Chavez hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees in 2011. He missed two months of the season with a fractured bone in his left foot.

STAY TUNED!

 

Yankees’ Position On Garza Should Be Cautious

Reports indicate that the New York Yankees are among a handful of teams interested in acquiring Chicago Cubs right-hander Matt Garza.

It is no secret that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is seeking another starting pitcher and the Cubs, under the direction of new team president Theo Epstein, are seeking a bevy of young prospects on which they can build a foundation for their future.

One report indicated they are “seeking the moon.”

The Chicago Tribune reported that the Yankees and Americam League East rivals Toronto and Boston are in the mix of trade talks. There are rumors that the Detroit Tigers might be willing to part with 20-year-old pitching prospect Jacob Turner for Garza. Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com first reported that the Miami Marlins, seemingly not through after signing free agents Jose Reyes and Mark Buerhle, have also made inquiries about Garza.

One reason Garza, 28, is attracting attention from A.L. East clubs is his 23-15 record with a 3.34 ERA in 56 games against teams in the division. Garza was 10-10 with a career-low 3.32 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 198 innings for the Cubs in his first season in the National League in 2011.

Garza is currently under contract through the 2013 season and he is expected to receive about $9 million and $10 million through arbitration for the 2012 season.

Would this be a good move for the Yankees?

On the surface it seems that it could be just the move they could make to add a starting pitcher who would likely slot as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter and it would allow the Yankees the opportunity to rid themselves of mercurial right-hander A.J. Burnett, who will turn 35 on Tuesday.

Garza has a career record of 52-54 with a 3.83 ERA. The odd thing is that he never fared well against the Yankees in his three seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays. In 12 games (11 starts) he was 1-10 with a 4.48 ERA. However, against the Red Sox he was 7-4 with a 3.83 ERA in 19 games.

He also has pitched 184 or more innings in his last four seasons with a 44-41 record. On paper, and perhaps in reality, he is a better option and more reliable as a starter than Burnett.

That said the prime targets the Cubs are looking for to build around is young pitchers. The Yankees have a slew of them, including 25-year-old Phil Hughes, 24-year-old Ivan Nova and 24-year-old Hector Noesi, who have reached the majors. In addition, they have D.J. Mitchell, Adam Warren, David Phelps, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos who have all reached the Triple-A level.

However, the Cubs certainly will not part with Garza and settle for a package that did not include either Banuelos or Betances. Epstein is not a fool, though his own perceived self-worth and burgeoning ego does sometimes cloud his judgment. The Victor Marrinez fiasco and the John Lackey signing comes to mind.

The Yankees do have a lot of other pieces they can offer at other positions such as backup infielder Eduardo Nunez, third baseman Brandon Laird and outfielder Mason Williams, which might tempt the Cubs to settle for Phelps, a Notre Dame alum, instead. There also is the specter of Jesus Montero sitting out there and Epstein would definitely like to see him play on the North Side.

Cashman must play this one very carefully in order to not overspend for what is essentially a .500 pitcher and a No. 3 starter. As such, why part with top minor-league prospects like Banuelos, Betances and Montero?

At the same time, the Marlins, Tigers and Blue Jays have even more of a need for starting pitching and they seem to be pretty determined to get it. The Tigers offering Turner gives Epstein the wedge to use to get the Yankees to throw Banuelos into the deal. The Marlins also can offer an attractive package of young players.

The Blue Jays are reportedly dangling former No. 1 prospect Kyle Drabek and four others including Anthony Gose and Deck McGwire.

So the bidding on Garza seems pretty serious, not to mention intense.

Cashman, at some point, might walk away if the deal will cost the Yankees too much of their future for such a short-term return. Garza could walk after two seasons and that would hurt a lot if Banuelos or Williams went on to become stars for the Cubs. That is the tradeoff Cashman must weigh before making too big an offer.

Garza is certainly worth the effort into inquiring into his availability and what the Cubs might be seeking in return. But caution is the ever-present watchword. Once the price for him goes too high, Cashman must be willing to fold his hand and walk away from the poker table.

The great poet Kenny Rogers once said, “You got to know when to fold them.” My guess is Cashman knows this full well.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.