October 16, 2005 -- Hardball's five significant deals the Yankees should make
RANDY Johnson and Alex Rodriguez were imported to The Bronx over the past two seasons to assure what cannot be guaranteed, a parade up The Canyon of Heroes.
Johnson and Rodriguez, instead, turned into the symbols of first-round failure against the Angels, expensive duds who crumbled in October. But the Yanks - and their fans - have to move on now. The organization is up to a next phase, and that is a phase in which Johnson is again going to be the ace and A-Rod the best every-day player in the lineup. The Yanks are up to 2006 now, and harping on Johnson and A-Rod simply is wasting time.
Besides, Johnson and A-Rod were not the lone Division Series culprits. Over six months, the Yankees revealed that their defense was limited, their set-up relief core atrocious, their bench depth dubious and their graying roster troublesome. That all manifested against the Angels, as well. These are the areas the Yanks must now hone in on. Because the most noteworthy revelation in 2005 was not that the Yankees are unable to guarantee a championship, but that they can no longer just assume they will even make the playoffs.
The Yanks, though, face an offseason with this double trouble: The free-agent market is thin and so is their farm system, limiting ready-made answers and the ability to make trades. To address their needs, the Yanks probably will have to use established players, and the most obvious candidates to do something significant are Jorge Posada and Gary Sheffield.
Posada will be difficult to trade because of a combination of age and salary at such an onerous position, and just as difficult to replace. Whatever you think about his decline, Posada was still one of the majors' most productive catchers. Sheffield will be difficult to deal mainly because teams will worry about his combination of age and history of disenchantment. But the paucity of difference-making bats available makes him the more likely candidate to go.
Now here a few things to remember about the five trades we are proposing in hopes of heading off some of the insightful crayon scrawls I get in the mail when I annually tackle this issue: 1) These are my ideas, not something that is in the works or has been told to me by a team, though I did run the ideas by about 10 executives for their insights. 2) The main point of the exercise is to show what kind of stuff the Yanks should be looking to do. Now the proposals:
Craig Counsell, Carlos Quentin, Kaz Matsui, Aaron Heilman, Anderson Hernandez and Ron Villone to the YANKEES; Carlos Delgado to the METS; Gary Sheffield and Carl Pavano to the MARLINS; Mike Cameron and Paul LoDuca to the Diamondbacks.
WHY THE YANKEES WOULD DO IT: This is similar to the December 2003 trade in which the Brewers dealt a slugger, Richie Sexson, to Arizona and did not receive a star back, but rather addressed multiple issues. The Yanks would be creating massive financial flexibility, better major-league depth with Counsell and Matsui as athletic utility infielders, and Heilman and Villone in the pen while increasing their minor-league depth with Hernandez and Quentin, who probably go a long way together, for example, to getting Barry Zito.
WHY THE METS WOULD DO IT: Cameron, Heilman and Hernandez was similar to what they were willing to do for Manny Ramirez, and Delgado has less emotional baggage and a better contract (three years, $48M left). Plus he proved last year he could hit in a big NL park and flourish in a pennant race. The Mets defray some cost by dealing Matsui ($8M) to perhaps the only viable landing place.
WHY THE MARLINS WOULD DO IT: Without a new stadium finalized, the Marlins face a money crunch. By removing Delgado, LoDuca and Villone in exchange for Sheffield and Pavano, they save $18.5 million overall. The Marlins, of course, are familiar with Pavano, who could replace departing free agent A.J. Burnett. Sheffield offsets the offensive loss of Delgado or could be spun again to save even more money.
WHY THE DIAMONDBACKS WOULD DO IT:
Arizona might demand giving up a lesser prospect than Quentin, though the D'backs upgrade two areas of immediate need: a catcher with offensive skills and a defensive center fielder.
Torii Hunter and Justin Speier to the YANKEES; Orlando Hudson and Alexis Rios to the TWINS; Gary Sheffield to the BLUE JAYS.
WHY THE YANKEES WOULD DO IT: Hunter fractured his left ankle and did not play the final two months. But he should be fine. He is what the Yankees need. He is 30, in his prime years, has played in big games, is an exceptional defender in center, is great in the clubhouse and would be a substantive upgrade offensively in center on what the Yanks had in 2005. Don't discount the value of Speier. He pitched to a 2.57 ERA, a .198 batting average against and held the four AL playoff teams (Yanks, Red Sox, Angels, White Sox) to two runs in 18 innings.
WHY THE TWINS WOULD DO IT: Hunter is owed $10.75 million in 2006 from the small-market Twins with a 2007 option of $12 million or $2 million buyout. Lew Ford played well in Hunter's absence and Minnesota also has top prospect Jason Kubel returning from injury. They get two players that fit their mode in Rios and Hudson, athletic, defensive minded and inexpensive. With the money saved from Hunter, they could be more aggressive than normal in trades/free agency.
WHY THE BLUE JAYS WOULD DO IT: Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi has made winning within the next two years his mandate and the club is elevating its payroll dramatically to do that. The Jays had the majors' worst OPS from their right fielders, so Sheffield is exactly what they need in replacing Rios. Aaron Hill can step in for Hudson and the Jays believe they have depth to compensate without Speier in the pen.
Aaron Rowand, Neal Cotts and Jerry Owens to the YANKEES; Sheffield to the WHITE SOX.
WHY THE YANKEES WOULD DO IT: Rowand is an affordable ($3.25M each of the next two seasons), superb defensive center fielder who has 20 homer/20 steal possibilities. Cotts is the kind of dominant lefty reliever the Yanks have not had. He had a breakout season: 4-0, 1.94 ERA, .179 BA against, 1 HR in 60.1 IP. Among pitchers with 50 IP, Cotts had the fourth-best OPS against (.527). Owens is an athletic Double-A outfielder. This trade is dangerous for the Yanks because they are gambling on small samples from Rowand and, especially, Cotts, and also that they can find an impact bat elsewhere such as free-agent Brian Giles to replace Sheffield. It may be that the White Sox have to give a better prospect than Owens to balance the trade.
WHY THE WHITE SOX WOULD DO IT: They were willing to add Ken Griffey Jr. in season to slug better and now there is a strong belief that their best power source, Paul Konerko, will leave for either the West Coast or Red Sox in free agency. It might even behoove the Yanks to see if they could get in the middle of a three-way trade with the Reds in which the White Sox get Griffey, the Yanks get Rowand and Cincy gets prospects from both (the Yanks don't lose Sheffield in that scenario). Chicago can certainly afford to move Rowand. Scott Podsednik could slide over from left to center, and in Brian Anderson at Triple-A and Chris Young at Double-A, the White Sox have two of the majors' best center-field prospects nearly ready.
Torii Hunter and Rod Barajas to the YANKEES; Gary Sheffield and Scott Proctor to the RANGERS; Alfonso Soriano and Bubba Crosby to the TWINS.
WHY THE YANKEES WOULD DO IT: The Hunter rationale was explained previously. Barajas would provide the Yanks with an all-around quality catcher who would lower the workload on Posada.
WHY THE RANGERS WOULD DO IT: No one should believe the facade. The Rangers, notably Buck Showalter, do not like Soriano. For about the same price, they promote top prospect Ian Kinsler to play second and have a better all-around bat than Soriano's in Sheffield manning what was a weak area last season, right field. Sheffield's numbers would probably improve in Texas' hitter-friendly environment, though his relationship with Showalter might be a reality TV series.
WHY THE TWINS WOULD DO IT: Soriano would instantly become the best power bat the Twins have had in their recent run of success. He is not a defender like the Twins like, but maybe Minnesota can convince him to either play the outfield and/or be a near full-time DH. His cost is similar to Hunter's, and perhaps the Yanks and Rangers each throw in a million bucks and/or a prospect to complete a deal.
Jim Thome to the YANKEES; Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright and Tony Womack to the PHILLIES.
WHY THE YANKEES WOULD DO IT: How convenient. Thome is due $43.5 million over the next three years and the Yankee trio is owed $42 million. This is the crossroads of desperation and inspiration. Philadelphia is desperate to move Thome because he had back and elbow ailments, but mostly because likely NL Rookie of the Year Ryan Howard needs to play first. It is possible that the Yanks are the only team capable of absorbing such a substantial contract for such a dubious player. The Yanks rid the roster of the questionable personalities of Pavano and Womack, and the questionable physical conditions of Pavano and Wright. They meld three risks into one huge one: That Thome is healthy enough to share first base/DH with Jason Giambi, giving the Yanks a patient masher to feast on the short porch. Thome is a good guy, also. Meanwhile, they eliminate three huge mistakes from last offseason, and with Pavano and Wright gone, they could go into the trade market for rotation help such as Barry Zito or the free agent market for Jarrod Washburn.
WHY THEY PHILLIES WOULD DO IT: Howard has to play. Thome has to go. Because Randy Wolf is hurt, the Phils could use rotation help, and back in the NL Pavano and/or Wright could be better. The Phils can either non-tender Vicente Padilla or move his great stuff from the rotation to where it might work better, in late relief. Womack is simply the price of doing business. In fact, Philly is so desperate to excise Thome that the Yanks might cherry pick another useful body, such as reliever Ryan Madson or spare outfielder Jason Michaels.