Sunday, December 6, 2009

Playing The Waiting Game (And Winning At It)

TAMPA -- He might not be out front anymore, but that doesn't mean George Steinbrenner has lost his hunger for victory.   When Yankees brass entered Steinbrenner's South Tampa home yesterday afternoon, The Boss made it very clear what he wants from the 2010 season: a 28th World Series championship.

"He was all business," GM Brian Cashman told The Post at the end of Day 1 of the organizational meetings, shortly after 5 p.m. yesterday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.  "Obviously, he wants another [World Series title]."

Hal Steinbrenner, team president Randy Levine, COO Lonn Trost, manager Joe Girardi and Cashman huddled at the ballpark in the morning and then left for The Boss' house at noon. There they spent two hours filling in Steinbrenner about what possible moves will be made to fill the two biggest voids: left field and starting pitching.  According to Cashman, The Boss was in good spirits.  "We went to his house like we did last year and had a business-type lunch," Cashman said.

Cashman refused to divulge what The Boss thought of the GM's ideas to keep the Yankees on top of the baseball universe, but did shoot down speculation the Yankees were getting close to a deal with outfielder and leadoff hitter Johnny Damon.

"We haven't held any negotiations with anybody yet," Cashman said.

While Cashman said he has had contact with the agents for Andy Pettitte, Hideki Matsui and Damon, none of them has been made a priority.  "They all knew we are having these meetings," Cashman said of the gathering that will end this afternoon. "They know there is nothing happening with us.  They know they aren't losing ground to anybody else. The business we discussed [yesterday] was done internally. There were no outgoing phone calls."

Naturally, Cashman didn't reveal what was discussed at the ballpark -- where Hank Steinbrenner surfaced in the afternoon after attending a wake for a long-time Steinbrenner family friend -- or at The Boss' house.  A request by The Post to meet face-to-face with Hal Steinbrenner was declined.

However, the smart money was on Cashman bringing the Steinbrenners up to speed on what the Blue Jays are doing with stud pitcher Roy Halladay, and what the agents for John Lackey, Matt Holliday and Jason Bay are looking for.

Since Girardi was on hand, what to do with Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain was likely discussed.  Should one be returned to the rotation, the Yankees will see what it will take to sign free agent right-hander Rafael Soriano, whose power arm has seduced some Yankee scouts. (story courtesy of the NY Post)

Another day, another brilliant tactical move by the Yankees' brass.  While some teams are paying big money for 32-year-old slap hitters, and Fraud Sox Nation is holding a press conference to announce the signing of a lifetime .265/.337/.384-hitting shortstop who's only a year younger than Jeter, the Yankees' head honchos are kicking back in Tampa, shooting the shit, and quietly forming their plan of attack.
This business luncheon at Casa de Steinbrenner is good for 2 reasons.  1) it allows the Yankees to get everybody together and get on the same page with where they want to go this season, something that was a glaring omission to many of their previous offseason schedules; and 2) it allows them to get George up to speed on exactly what happened this season and what moves they want/have to make during this offseason, since he surely thinks it's still the trading deadline in 1996.
This tight-lipped approach to their offseason plans is also a good move in helping to negotiate with their 3 big free agents and whatever targets they may have outside the organization.  It was no secret last offseason that the Yankees were going to make a big push at CC and A.J. Burnett, and after they locked them up, everybody automatically assumed they were out of the Mark Teixeira Sweepstakes.  Then out of nowhere they swooped in and stole him right out from under Boston and Baltimore's noses and next thing you know it's Title 27.  Nobody even knew the Yankees had an offer ready for Teix and by the time they figured it out, he was signing his name on the dotted line.
No one will comment on what has and hasn't been said to Damon, Pettitte, and Matsui and their people, but between the Yankees' silence and just enough rumors floating around about players who play those same positions (possible Granderson trade, potential interest in Jermaine Dye, mentioning Halladay's close relationship with Burnett, etc.), the Yankees are basically forcing the hands of those 3 and making them have to put their money with their mouths are when it comes time to make a decision and choose between winning and playing with the teammates they say they love in the city they say they love or chasing the dollar signs to somewhere where their chances of contending for a title and, through association with that title chase, remaining relevant in the game are much lower.
In the past the Yanks always seemed to make it public knowledge which guys in their organization they wanted back and which guys outside the organization they coveted.  Once other teams knew this, they could bid the Yanks through the roof and force them to blow their money just because they knew George would spend it.  With George acting more like the Queen of England than the Prime Minister these days, the Bombers' approach has changed.  They're sitting back and letting Scott Boras and Co. do their work for them; running his mouth about how many years he's looking for and what other teams are interested.  As soon as one of these supposed teams makes their pitch, the Yankees will be in position to counter-offer and then it'll be up to John, Andrew, and Godzilla to make their choice.
With this patient offseason approach, the Yankees have effectively taken all the pressure off themselves and put it on their free agents.  This leaves them with more time to focus on how much they're willing to spend on each of these guys and also devote time to looking for this year's Nick Swisher, a cheap, last-minute signing that ends up providing big returns.  It could be Dye, it could be Randy Wolf as a bargain-cost 4th or 5th starter, it could be Marco Scutaro to provide bench depth for Jeter and A-Horse.  Oh wait, that's right.  Boston already overpaid him to make him their everyday shortstop and continue the carousel of guys who can't live up to Nomar in his prime.  If that's the first step in their "full-court press" to get Halladay then Roy might just want to sit back and play out this year in Toronto so he can earn his big payday and have a realistic chance at a championship with the Evil Empire in 2011.
The bottom line is, I love what the Yanks are doing right now and they aren't even doing anything.  Imagine if they would have taken this approach in the mid-2000s?  Maybe they wouldn't have wasted so much money on the Randy Johnsons, Kevin Browns, and Javier Vazquez's of the world.  Either way, this new Yankee precedent of sitting back and letting everybody blow their wad and then show their hand is something I'm signing up for 25 hours a day, 8 days a week.
Johnny, Andy, Hideki, it's your move.