Thursday, December 8, 2011

Rule 5 Wrap-Up

Flying well under the "Albert Pujols/C.J. Wilson Free Agent Mega Orgy" radar today was the Rule 5 draft.  The Yankees had a few guys out there who could have been taken, but ended up not losing anybody through the draft while adding 2 pitchers.  Here's the quick recap.

- To clear space before the draft, the Yanks released Greg Golson.  He wasn't much with the stick despite being a tremendous athlete (copyright: Jay Bilas) and solid defensive player.  Just lessens the back end depth of the "4th OFer" pool.

- Yankees selected RHP Brad Meyers from the Nationals.  Dude throws 4 pitches and has decent MiL peripherals, but injuries have derailed his progress.  He'll be looked at as a candidate to fill the long man role out of the bullpen.

- Yanks also added a LHP through a trade with the Royals, who selected Cesar Cabral from the Fraud Sawx and then shipped him to New York for cash.  Cabral's stuff and R/L splits don't make him an ideal 2nd lefty option, but his high K rate could make him a diamond in the rough.

It's likely that neither Meyers nor Cabral will stick with the Yankees, but it's always good to give yourself cheap options.  I can't imagine they were expecting much from the Cory Wade trade last year and look how that turned out.

The Stove Is Finally Heating Up

It isn't Yankee-related, but big news from the Winter Meeting is breaking this morning as both Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson were signed by the Angels.

ESPN is reporting that Pujols' deal is for 10 years/$250-260 million and includes a full no-trade clause, and Wilson's is for 5 years/$75 mil, less than what he was asking for and less than most people thought he'd get.  Hometown discount, anybody?

The Yanks didn't seem to be major players in the talks with either of these guys, but it will be interesting to see how, if at all, these 2 coming off the market influences their plans moving forward.  With Buehrle coming off the market yesterday and now Wilson today, FA starter options are disappearing fast.

The Nail In A.J.'s Coffin

(Now that the word is out that the Yanks are trying to shop him, we should expect to see a lot more of Bad A.J. in 2012)

There's no point in trying to sugarcoat it.  A.J. Burnett's Yankee career has been an absolute disaster.  It's been dismal.  A.J. has become the latest in the long line of failed Yankee high-profile free agent pitching signings and made himself the newest poster boy for the "He Can't Hack It in New York" argument that people love to use when guys fail in pinstripes.  And with the recent NY Post report that the Yankees are actively shopping A.J. this week at the Winter Meetings and are willing to eat some of his remaining salary to sweeten the deal, the Yankees are now in a position where they basically HAVE to trade A.J.

Let's review his time as a Yankee quickly.  In 2009, A.J. was mediocre in his first full season in The Bronx.  He was more bad than good, and did not show the consistent results and dominance he had shown the previous year.  In the end, though, A.J. was a part of a World Series-winning staff and even contributed to that title with a solid Game 2 outing in the World Series.  In 2010, A.J. nose dived off the productivity ladder, putting up one of the all-time worst individual pitching seasons in Yankee history and almost being left off the postseason roster .  And this past season, the downward spiral continued as A.J. put up comparably bad numbers to 2010, lost his spot in the rotation, and once again found himself the centerpiece of the Yankee playoff rotation as they tried to figure out a way where they did not have to use him.

More maddening than the poor performance, at least for me, has been all the baggage and BS that's come with the last three years of A.J.  The bouts of inexplicable inconsistency, the failure against the Fraud Sawx, the constantly-changing mechanics, the personal catchers, the inability to be objective about his own performance, the different haircuts, the black eye, the arguing with his manager on the mound and cursing him out after being taken out a game in which he was pitching poorly, the 6-man rotation, and the constant efforts by everybody in the organization (teammates, Joe, Cash, Levine) to take turns playing CYA for him along the way.

And now after all of this, the Yankees are out at the Winter Meetings trying to do the baseball equivalent of giving A.J. away, and that's supposed to help him pitch better in 2012?  Not on your life.  This story, which appears to be true, represents the Yankees finally admitting that they don't have confidence in A.J. and don't want him anymore.  And when they've spent the past 3 seasons trying to convince the media, the fans, A.J., and probably even themselves that they did and it hasn't gotten them anything from A.J., why would throwing up their hands and saying, "We've had enough of this clown.  Somebody PLEASE take him!" work any better?  The guy couldn't pitch worth a damn when he had support from the team.  He'll barely be able to function on the mound now knowing that he doesn't, and the team can no longer step up and try to cover for him after this move.  This has to be the end of A.J.'s Yankee career.

By outing themselves for their lack of support, the Yankees have effectively killed any chances they had of getting something positive from A.J. over the next 2 years.  After making these offers, there's no way the Yankees can bring him back and expect anything from him. He's a wasted roster spot.  And the $33 million they still owe him has now gone from being an opportunity cost to essentially a sunk cost for the Yankees.  The majority of the contract is a sunk cost already, so if it's about money you're really just putting a lipstick on a pig at this point.  This isn't the NFL where they can cut him and not have to pay him.  One way or another, A.J. is getting his $33 million that's still owed to him and the Yankees are going to at least pay some of it.  With the contract that Mark Buehrle signed today with Miami, all of the guys the Yankees could target are going to want more than the Yankees are going to be willing to offer.  By admitting A.J. was a mistake and moving him, for anything, the Yankees will pass some of the cost off to somebody else, and give themselves a bit more payroll flexibility to use in the trade market that they seem more involved in anyway.

They'd still be left with CC, Nova, Freddy, a Phil Hughes that they're expecting a big rebound from, and a Hector Noesi that's been turning heads in the DR.  Put that together with the bodies in Triple-A and some potential top-of-the-rotation trade targets, and it's not like the Yankees would be up the creek without A.J.  Sure they're going to end up losers in whatever trade they make for him, assuming any trade gets made.  But when the message the Yankees are sending as an organization right now are that they've given up on A.J., then they've already lost.  And in this case, it'd be better for both sides to just cut the losses and move on.

Yanks Win Posting For Japanese SS

He isn't Yu Darvish, who could be posted today, but the Yankees did win the posting for Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima yesterday for $2 million.  Not a major move by the Bombers, but one that should help bolster the Yankees IF depth if they can negotiate a deal with Nakajima by January 6.

The most important thing about this move may be what other moves it signals the Yankees are interested in making.  Allow me a minute to play hypothetical trade carousel.  If they sign Nakajima, the Yankees essentially cover second base, third base, and short, filling both the Eduardo Nunez and Eric Chavez roles from last season.  This frees them up to use Nunez as a trade chip and they include him in offers to bring in a John Danks or Gio Gonzalez while at the same time coming to an agreement with another team for how much of A.J.'s contract they will eat and moving A.J. for a bag of balls.  That would leave the Yankees with their backup infield covered, some more flexibility to fill the other bench spots, and the upgrade for the rotation that they were looking for through both the addition of solid #2 pitcher and the subtraction of their worst pitcher.

I don't see any way any Yankee fan couldn't be happy with that playing out, but first things first, the Yanks have to sign Nakajima.  If they don't, they just don't pay the posting fee and they're right back where they were.  But if they do, I expect things to start happening and players to start moving quickly afterwards.  Even if they don't make any moves after, adding Nakajima is still a smart, cost-effective move to help fill the bench for 2012.  There's no really downside to this move by the Yankees.