Yanks, Dotel seem close to agreement
BY DAVID LENNON
December 20, 2005
The Yankees appeared close to an agreement with reliever Octavio Dotel before talks cooled last night. But they still seem to hold a slight edge over the Mets, Indians, Rangers and Red Sox, with a deal expected as early as this afternoon, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.
General manager Brian Cashman, to no one's surprise, has identified the bullpen as the 2005 Yankees' most glaring weakness. He hopes to add Dotel as the latest in a series of offseason moves designed to bolster the relief corps.
Dotel, 32, appeared in only 15 games for the A's last season before undergoing Tommy John surgery in June. After breaking in as a starter with the Mets in 1999, the hard-throwing Dotel was transformed into a reliever who can be dominant at times, though inconsistent.
He had 36 saves in 45 opportunities while splitting time with the Astros and A's in 2004, striking out 122 in 851/3 innings, but had a tendency to blow leads in spectacular fashion. Obviously, the Yankees won't need him to close games as long as Mariano Rivera stays healthy, and with Dotel still recovering from last season's operation, he probably won't be ready to pitch until late April.
While the Yankees have the lure of a perennial contender, Dotel also has shown interest in joining the vastly improved Mets, the team that signed him as an amateur free agent in 1993 and ultimately packaged him with Roger Cedeño in the trade for Mike Hampton. The Mets currently have Aaron Heilman in a setup role for Billy Wagner, but they plan to have open auditions once spring training starts.
To that end, the Mets signed Darren Oliver, Pedro Feliciano and Jose Parra yesterday to minor-league contracts. Oliver, 35, apparently changed his mind after announcing his retirement last May 21. Feliciano, 29, and Parra, 33, had previous stints with the Mets, but both pitched in Japan last season. The club also released Kaz Ishii, who was 3-9 with a 5.14 ERA in 19 appearances.
If the Yankees sign Dotel, he will join lefthanders Mike Myers and Ron Villone and righthander Kyle Farnsworth, completing a whirlwind makeover of their previously suspect bullpen. Short of signing Johnny Damon to play centerfield, it doesn't seem as if the Yankees have much left on their agenda. Damon was expected to decline arbitration from the Red Sox last night, meaning Boston has only until Jan. 8 to negotiate with him.
Damon said earlier this month that he would welcome the opportunity to join the Yankees, but they are reluctant to go beyond four years at this stage -- and Scott Boras' starting price is seven years for $84 million. Unless that number comes down, the Yankees seem content to go with Bubba Crosby in center, and even Derek Jeter shrugged yesterday when asked about the team's direction this offseason.
"I don't know exactly what we can do," said Jeter, stopping at Yankee Stadium yesterday as part of his Turn 2 Holiday Express. "There's not too many things our team can do. But if something happens, I don't think it will be that surprising. We have a way of surprising people sometimes. I just don't see it this year."