Gentlemen, start your negotiating!
The Winter Meetings opened this morning in the racing capital of Indianapolis and there are a litany of teams out to do some (Matt) Holliday shopping. Some teams are looking for a few good luxury items. Others are out for stocking-stuffer bargains.
Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman arrived with a far scaled-back shopping list compared to last season’s $435 million bonanza he eventually doled out to CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira. After winning their 27th world championship, the Yankees are looking to use pruning shears on the roster rather than a hacksaw.
Cashman is always one to hold his cards close to the vest. Few expected him to land Teixeira after sitting out all of the early rounds of negotiations last season. What surprises are in store this season?
Let’s look at some possibilities:
THE PETTITTE DECISION
Cashman already knows that Andy Pettitte has decided that he wants to return to pitch for the Yankees in 2010. According to ESPN.com Pettitte rejected the Yankees’ initial offer of $10 million for one season.
Pettitte, who earned $16 million in 2007, rejected the Yankees’ offer of $12 million last season only to be left helpless as the free-agent market imploded. He was signed in late January for a base deal of $5.5 million with incentives that brought the deal to $11 million. So though Pettitte took a major salary haircut in 2008, he is looking to cash in on his success in 2009.
Pettitte was 14-8 with a 4.16 ERA but shined in the playoffs, having won all the important clinching games for the Yankees: the pennant clincher, the American League Division Series clincher, the American League Championship Series clincher and the World Series clincher.
Pettitte is 229-135 with a 3.91 ERA in his career and he is third on the all-time Yankees win list with 192. He only trails Yankee legends Whitey Ford and Red Ruffing.
Sources say that Pettitte and the Yankees are likely to come to an agreement soon and the fact that Pettitte is aboard for 2010 would mean the Yankees now might not be looking for a top-flight starter such as John Lackey or Roy Halladay.
THE SECOND TIER
Before the Winter Meetings began, the Yankees convened organizational meetings in Tampa. Even “The Boss,” George Steinbrenner, participated in those meetings. Cashman also was given his budget for 2010 and it looks as if the Yankees want to trim $15 million off their 2009 payroll of $201 million.
That likely means the Yankees will not be actively pursuing the “big prizes” of Lackey, Holliday, Halladay and Jason Bay.
Instead, the Yankees might be looking at second-tier starting pitchers like righthander Rich Harden and lefthander Randy Wolf.
My sources tell me that Harden is of particular interest to the Yankees because scouting reports indicate he is healthy and coming off a solid season with the Cubs. He was 9-9 with a 4.09 ERA but what has the Yankees excited about him is strikeout to walk ratio. He had 171 strikeouts and 67 walks.
Harden also just turned 29 and the Yankees feel he can put his past arm problems behind him. After his breakout 2004 season with the Oakland Athletics where he was 11-7 with a 3.99 ERA, Harden has been plagued by recurring arm problems.
In his past two seasons, he has made 51 starts and is a combined 19-11 with a 3.67 ERA with Oakland and the Cubs. He was 10-2 with a 2.09 ERA in 2007 for the A’s and Cubs before struggling last season.
But because the Yankees would only need him as a No. 4 starter behind Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte, Harden would not be counted upon to be the ace he was in Oakland and his past arm problems will certainly lower his price tag.
Wolf is older than Harden at age 33 but he is coming off a very good season with the National League West-champion Dodgers. He was 11-7 with a 3.23 ERA. Wolf, like Harden, also battled arm problems from 2004 through 2007.
But Wolf has recovered to make 67 starts the past two seasons. He has averaged 161 strikeouts and 65 walks the past two years, which is better than a 2-1 ratio. Though Wolf is older than Harden, the Yankees look at Wolf as less of gamble health-wise.
Signing either one of these pitchers would give the Yankees some flexibility with Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes.
Though the Yankees are not saying it because they can’t — yet — the front office now believes Chamberlain is better suited as a bullpen setup man and the eventual successor to Mariano Rivera as the team’s closer.
After struggling last season with his command and showing an inability to go deep into his starts, Chamberlain’s postseason work out of the bullpen convinced the Yankee top brass that he could be of more value working in relief.
Hughes, on the other hand, would be returned to a starting role. But because of the same rules that applied to Joba, Hughes would be limited to about 130 innings as a starter in 2010. So Hughes likely would open the season as the No. 5 starter and then be shifted to the bullpen at midseason to keep his innings pitched down.
Chad Gaudin, who was acquired as a swingman last season, would likely take over as the No. 5 starter for Hughes.
The signing of either Harden or Wolf would also allow the Yankees to trade either Hughes or Chamberlain in a mega-deal to acquire Halladay from the Blue Jays. If Chamberlain is dealt, Hughes would be converted to a reliever and become a setup man in the bullpen. If Hughes is traded, Chamberlain would not be needed as a starter at all.
But the likelihood of a Halladay deal would fade if the Red Sox back out of the negotiations. The Yankees’ interest in Halladay is predicated strictly on keeping him from going to the Red Sox.
If the Blue Jays swung a deal for Halladay with the Cubs, the Yankees would be pleased because they would have saved their prize prospects like Hughes, Chamberlain, catchers Jesus Montero and Austin Romine and outfielder Austin Jackson. They also would save money in any long-term contract they would have to strike with Halladay to keep him from free agency in 2011.
So the Yankees just are in defense mode with Halladay. They will only get into the bidding if it looks like the Red Sox are close to getting him. Otherwise, they will look elsewhere.
Cashman’s only other real assignment this off-season is to find a leftfielder or designated hitter.
Currently, the Yankees have an opening in leftfield with Johnny Damon a free agent. The same for DH Hideki Matsui. Insiders say in order to meet the team demands to trim some payroll, the Yankees can only offer a deal to keep one of the two.
Before the playoffs began, the Yankees reportedly were leaning on keeping Damon. But Matsui’s World Series MVP performance had them recalibrating their strategy. Matsui is the team’s only legitimate No. 5 hitter to protect Alex Rodriguez.
Matsui has also made it known that he does not wish to return to Japan and he only wants to play for the Yankees. But the sticking point is the health of Matsui’s knees. Matsui was unab
le to play the outfield last season and the Yankees are not sure if Matsui can play the outfield anymore.
Because manager Joe Girardi would like to rotate the DH position among his veterans like Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mark Teixeira, the Yankees might let Matsui walk and re-sign Damon.
But Damon and his “pain in the rear end” agent Scott Boras are seeking a four-year deal and the Yankees are looking to offer perhaps just two years. Damon also will be seeking more money. Matsui, because he was limited to DH and has fewer options, would cost considerably less to sign and he may accept two years.
Either way he goes, Cashman has a difficult choice to make.
Lost amid Cashman signings of Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira was the “steal of a deal” Cashman made with the White Sox last season.
Cashman shipped off utility infielder Wilson Betemit to the White Sox for outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher. Swisher originally was acquired to replace free agent Jason Giambi as the team’s first baseman.
However, when the Yankees decided to get into the Teixeira talks and landed him, Swisher became a backup outfielder. But when Xavier Nady blew out his elbow in April, Swisher eventually took over and became the starting rightfielder.
Swsiher ended up hitting 29 home runs, driving in 82 runs and had an on-base percentage of .371 because he drew 97 walks.
In many ways, this may have been Cashman’s best off-season move because after the loss of Nady, Swisher saved the Yankees’ season by playing so well in right.
Rumors surfaced the Yankees were offering Swisher in trade talks this winter. But I have heard this is not true. Swisher is signed through 2011 and the Yankees can’t afford to deal Swisher with Damon and Matsui on the market as free agents.
But what deals might Cashman make?
The only crying need will be the bench because the Yankees likely will let backup catcher Jose Molina and utility players Jerry Hairston Jr. and Eric Hinske go to save payroll dollars.
Rookie Francisco Cervelli seems to deserve a shot to back up Posada and Ramiro Pena could end up replacing Hairston. The Yankees may look to make a trade for a backup outfielder to replace Hinske or Juan Miranda might be given a shot to make the team as first baseman and DH.
The Yankees do have some prospects they could deal. They also have a glut of relievers to dangle out as bait this winter. But the Yankees seem determined to keep Phil Coke, Alfredo Aceves and David Robertson as the heart of their younger bullpen. The Yankees also will keep veteran lefty Damaso Marte, who redeemed himself with a sparkling postseason.
But do not be surprised if Brian Bruney is shopped. If Chamberlain returns as a reliever, Bruney would seem to be expendable. Young Mark Melancon could also go.
NOTE: After this was written, the Yankees announced they had sent Bruney to the Washington Nationals for a player to be named later. The fact no prominent player was involved shows how little value Bruney had after two injury-marred seasons.
There also have been rumors the Yankees might deal Robinson Cano but I doubt this serious talk. There simply is no one in the organization ready to start at second base and it would seem silly to deal Cano’s smallish contract for a veteran who might demand more. So do not look for a return of Orlando Hudson to the Bronx.
RED SOX ARE BUYERS
The Red Sox signing of Marco Scutaro to take over their revolving door at shortstop shows they intend to be aggressive in addressing their needs at the Winter Meetings.
But because Jason Bay rejected their ridiculous low-ball offer of four years and $60 million and the signings of Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito by the Braves, the Red Sox are going to have to dole out some serious bucks to get back into contention in the AL East.
If they lose Bay, they will be forced to overspend to get Holliday. If they really want Halladay, they are going to have to part with Clay Buchholz and three or so other minor-league prospects.
If they do that, they will not have a package of players on hand to pry first baseman Adrian Gonzalez away from the Padres. And GM Theo Epstein really covets Gonzalez. Sources say he wants him more than he wants Halladay.
But any way you slice it, the Red Sox have a lot of holes to fill plus their desire to unload Mike Lowell this winter. They also are rumored to be shopping Jonathan Papelbon before he walks as a free agent in 2011.
But if they do not land Bay or Holliday to play left, they may be sunk.
The Mariners are making a big run at Bay because Bay is a native of nearby British Columbia. The fact they have signed Chone Figgins shows they are legitimate players this offseason.
Rumors also have it that Holliday would prefer to remain the National League because of his hellish brief stay in Oakland last season. That would be very bad news for the Red Sox.
You can honestly say their payroll will have to increase dramatically this winter. If they win the championship in 2010 can the Yankees claim they bought it?
Stay tuned . . .