“What a mix we have goin’ on for the last two innings.
Sitting alone upstairs, owner Gary Wheeler…reportedly has already sold his ball club, the Tigers, to the corporate group in the box to his left.
Now an unconfirmed report beginning to ripple the water…that the corporate’s first business…would be to trade Billy Chapel when the season is over.
So as so often happens in a ball game, there are so many other undercurrents; so many more things that meet the eye.” – Vin Scully in “For Love of the Game” (1999)
The biggest move the Yankees made last off-season was the signing of Rafael Soriano – and some might argue that it wasn’t even a big signing at all. Aside from that and maybe the minor acquisition of Russell Martin, the Yankees who are normally alive during the winter meetings were basically dormant.
The same can be said about this off-season, thus far.
Baseball’s winter meetings kicked off this past Monday in Dallas and there has not been much to report on as far as the Bronx Bombers are concerned. The Yankee brass has not yet signed or agreed to terms with any of the top free agents.
It doesn’t mean they haven’t tried however, winning the bidding to first negotiate with Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima. The 29-year-old middle infielder possesses a lifetime batting average .302 with 149 career home runs, 664 RBIs, and has stolen 134 bases in his career in the Far East.
How that will translate in the United States remains to be seen – as does whether or not the Yankees will sign him. Sources at the meetings said the Yankees may not even land him, despite winning the right to talk with him before any other team.
I mean really, what’s the point of signing him anyway? Unless they believe Nakajima is Derek Jeter’s heir, then why negotiate with him and attempt to sign him in the first place, especially when starting pitching is more vital to the Yankees than another infielder.
If they do sign him, it could mean the end of Eduardo Nunez’s Yankee tenure, one way or another. They could potentially package Nunez in a trade for a starter, then utilize Nakajima as a backup infielder.
Speaking of starting pitching, Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson are both off the market, as they have signed lucrative deals with the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Angels, respectively. Buehrle followed his former manager Ozzie Guillen to South Beach for a contract worth four years and $58 million.
Meanwhile Wilson left the Texas Rangers for the Angels, a division rival. I suppose five years and $77.5 million will make him a richer and happier man – along with having Albert Pujols as a new teammate.
Pujols is coming off statistically his worst season: 147 games played, 37 home runs, 99 RBIs, and a .299 batting average. He is probably the only player in baseball who could call that his worst season, because any average player would kill for that kind of “off year.”
Yet he recovered with a remarkable postseason; five homers, 16 RBIs, .356 BA, and his second World Series ring. And after all that, “Phat Albert” took his talents to the west coast.
It surprised me, considering Pujols is basically the face of the Cardinals’ organization. He will probably be considered a legend in St. Louis for years to come, despite his abrupt and rather unceremonious departure. He now has the opportunity to make himself a legendary name in Anaheim.
Remember: Reggie Jackson’s number is retired in both New York and Oakland.
But I digress; back to the subject at hand: the Yankees and starting pitching. They may have lost out on Buehrle and Wilson but the Bombers may have one last chance to make a splash and sign a big ticket free agent starter:
The 25-year-old phenom holds a professional record of 93-38 with an ERA of 1.99, and has collected several accolades in Japan including the Pacific League MVP twice (’07, ’09).
Last year I interviewed Brian Sweeney, a former Seattle Mariners reliever who played with Darvish in Japan on the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. Sweeney called Darvish “a classy individual” and “an excellent player.”
Any team could always use a classy and excellent player. He’ll most likely fit in wherever he lands.
ESPN insider Buster Olney reported earlier today that the Yankees feel “lukewarm” about bidding on Darvish. Rightfully so, considering the Yankees have had bad luck with highly-regarded Japanese starting pitchers in the past.
Hideki Irabu was thought to be a one of the best hurlers in the Far East, having led the Pacific League in wins (15) in 1994 and ERA in 1995 (2.53) and 1996 (2.40). He also led the PL in strikeouts in 1995 and 1996 (239 in ‘95 and 167 in ‘96).
Those league-leading numbers didn’t help him when he went 34-35 with a 5.15 ERA in the U.S. – and those nice stats were far from everyone’s mind when then-Yankee owner George Steinbrenner called Irabu a “Fat, p***y toad.”
Kei Igawa was another pitcher the Yanks had on their radar and eventually signed for five years and $20 million. They had such high aspirations for him, taking his numbers in Japan into account: 86-60, a 3.14 ERA, and 1,174 Ks.
His overall numbers at the MLB level in the U.S., dating back to when the Yanks signed him prior to 2007: 2-4, 6.66 ERA and just 53 strikeouts.
Igawa obviously did not turn out to be what the Yankees had hoped for. In the eyes of most Yankee fans, the team spent $20 million for two wins and a minor league starter.
That being said, anyone can understand the Yanks’ reluctance to go after another Japanese starter in Darvish. If the Bombers do go after him and he happens to land in the Bronx he will be expected to accomplish a lot. Maybe not 20 wins in his first season, but a convincing winning record and a low ERA are not out of the question.
And that can be said of whatever team he goes to, not just if he goes to the Yanks.
We probably won’t know for a long time where Darvish will go – and we’ll have to wait even longer to find out if he lives up to the hype.
I don’t usually agree with people associated with the Red Sox – very rarely does that ever happen. But Boston manager-turned-baseball analyst Terry Francona said probably the smartest thing an analyst can say about the winners and losers of the winter meetings:
“Winning the winter meetings doesn’t mean winning the pennant.”
Francona should know that better than anyone. Looking at last year, the Red Sox won big at the winter meetings and didn’t even make the postseason, suffering a gigantic September collapse.
The Red Sox spent a fortune and signed big ticket free agent after big ticket free agent, only to choke worse than Mama Cass did on that…ham sandwich.
Bottom line: on paper does not win ballgames. I hope the Angels and Marlins both understand that.
As for the Yankees: they have a chance to make a splash – and even a chance to make a blockbuster trade – before they head to Spring Training.
But at least for now, like last year, all is quiet on the Yankee front.
The Major League Baseball Winter Meetings are in full-swing and so far a number of deals have been completed. There are players on the move, players staying put, and some free agents who have drawn interest from teams, but so far nothing has happened.
Here’s a little rundown of some Winter Meeting notes and thoughts. As always, I’ll begin with the Yankees:
· Derek Jeter was reintroduced…well, not technically, but he had a press conference yesterday to announce his new deal with the Yankees. He told the media that he was upset with them because his negotiations became public. He wanted to keep his talks with the Yankees private.
I can’t blame Jeter for getting upset about it. If he wanted everything kept under wraps, in terms of negotiations, and did not want everything to become public knowledge, the media should have respected that. I suppose that’s the press these days; they stir the pot and bring out the worst of everything in professional sports.
I love how Jeter responded by saying he didn’t like the way he was portrayed. In fact, I’m glad he finally spoke up for himself. In his words, “All the sudden I have an ego? I’m greedy?”
Jeter has had respect for the media his whole life. Yes, I understand his interviews are about as boring as watching an entire soccer game, but he never crosses the line; he never breaks down and makes a spectacle of himself. Jeter never explodes in front of the cameras and microphones. He always gives the media a professional sound bite–which is his job as captain of the New York Yankees.
You would think after all those years the papers would have a little more respect for him. You would think they wouldn’t photo-shop his face on a Mets or Red Sox uniform. Well, I guess we all have to think again.
Jeter simply laughed at photo-shop nonsense.
At any rate, I’ve already offered the majority of my thoughts on the Jeter deal in my last video blog. Now that the deal is complete and I have offered all of my thoughts on Jeter’s “return,” I will no longer mention anything about it.
Jeter is back and we all knew he wasn’t going anywhere from the very beginning.
· Brian Cashman apparently sat down for dinner with Carl Crawford and his agent last night. Interesting, but he is also set to meet with the Los Angeles Angels. I don’t really expect him to come to the Yanks. However, it has been said that if the Yankees don’t sign Cliff Lee, they will probably make a bid for him.
I think the Angels will land him, or another team like the Red Sox will make a huge push for him. The Rangers are also looking to sign Crawford, as reported today by MLB.com, so Texas could be in his future. Although sources are now saying he is most likely headed to L.A. Right now nothing is certain.
What is certain is that Crawford’s deal is basically being held up because of, well… Lee. And…
· According to reports today, the Yankees offered Lee a preliminary deal. Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker claims a team is out of the sweepstakes (he wouldn’t say which club) and also stated he has “zeroed in on a few things.”
What that means, I have no idea. What I do know is that the Yankees and Rangers (obviously) are not the clubs that were eliminated from the sweepstakes. Today Cashman said that he is willing to “get serious” about Lee and the Yanks could possibly offer him six years at around $140-150 million.
Now that the Jeter drama has ended, I am tired of hearing about the Lee drama. I know he is the hottest free agent on the market this off-season, and all the teams that were contenders last year want to try and get him.
Yet, he is making himself look bad; it’s almost like the LeBron James decision revisited. I understand he is good enough to earn a fat contract, but he needs to make a decision already. I really hope wherever he goes, he wins a lot of games next year. God help him if he doesn’t. A lot of other deals are being held up because of him, including the future of…
· Andy Pettitte. According to ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian, Joe Girardi said he was going to reach out to Pettitte in a couple of days to see whether or not he has made a decision on his future.
Originally reported, Pettitte was leaning towards retirement. But other sources have now said he may want to pitch in 2011. If he does come back, I cannot imagine him pitching anywhere else but New York.
There was a report a few weeks ago claiming the Rangers contacted Pettitte. The report was later denied by Rangers’ President Nolan Ryan, who said the team never talked to Pettitte or tried to lure him away from New York.
Again, his future depends on what Lee does. If the Yankees sign Lee, their efforts to bring Pettitte back might subside, or at least dwindle. If the Yankees don’t land Lee, however, his decision regarding his future will certainly have an impact on the Yankees.
If you ask me, the Yanks should make a run for Pettitte any way it goes. If Pettitte chooses to pitch next season and the Yanks sign Lee, the starting rotation will be phenomenal. Lee would join CC Sabathia at the top half of the rotation, which would mean practically two aces pitching in success of each other. Both starters are capable of winning 18-20 games per season.
Add Pettitte to that mix along with Phil Hughes, who won 18 games last season. And even if A.J. Burnett has another off-year and only wins another 10 games, it’s not bad; if a team receives 10 wins from the fifth spot in the rotation, in my mind that’s a plus.
But as stated before, Lee needs to make a decision first–preferably sooner than later.
· Today the Chicago Cubs signed former Tampa Bay Rays’ first baseman Carlos Pena. He received a one-year deal at $10 million. Not bad for only averaging .196 this past season.
I’m just glad we don’t have to face him anymore. I was pretty tired of watching him these past few seasons, blasting the ball over the Yankee Stadium right field wall. I see it as a plus for the Yanks. Obviously Pena is not a great hitter for average but he does have pop. Maybe he can help the Cubs out.
· Jayson Werth went to the Washington Nationals on Sunday, agreeing to a seven year, $126 million contract.
I hope money buys happiness. Werth went from the Philadelphia Phillies, a team that in recent years is always contending and usually winning the NL East, to the Nationals–a team that basically fights for last place every year.
Werth has never driven in 100 runs in his career and at best is a good, above average right fielder. I don’t think he really deserved that much money and time. He is a good player, but not good enough for $126 million.
We’ll see if he lives up to that contract, and maybe in the distant future, the Nats will get better. I think they might be going in the right direction in terms of players–perhaps building around Stephen Strasburg and now Werth. But they won’t be making an immediate impact, that’s for sure.
· The A’s are interested in Hideki Matsui. Don’t do it, Godzilla!!!
· ESPN said yesterday that Kerry Wood might come back to the Yankees. I sure hope he does. Wood solidified the bullpen last year and was the only reliever worth anything in the postseason.
· Paul Konerko re-signed with the White Sox. Good for him! I look at him almost like Jeter. He has been with the organization for a long time and I cannot picture him with another team.
The Baseball Winter Meetings will conclude tomorrow in Orlando. Rule 5 drafts will take place and hopefully this Cliff Lee nonsense will end.
As I said, it’s like LeBron James. He and his agent are making things difficult and negotiations are taking a long time, probably because he can’t decide where he wants to go or what he wants to do.
Why don’t they just give him an ESPN hour-long special? Where will Lee take his talents next? All I know is, he better decide. Soon. Because I’m quickly becoming tired of hearing about it.