By Ernie Palladino
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Shin-Soo Choo might truly have looked great in the Yankees’ lineup with his mixture of power and on-base percentage. But the 31-year-old former Red went off to Texas for a seven-year, $130 million deal.
Not that the Yanks didn’t try to get him. They reportedly offered seven years and $140, but pulled the offer in favor of Carlos Beltran, the ex-Met who is six years older than Choo, $5 million per year cheaper than Choo and whose three-year contract spans less than half the length of Choo’s.
This is a curious move on the surface. One would think that with the ever-growing collection of graybeards the Yankees have in their lineup, they might have wanted someone younger; perhaps someone who won’t be quite ready to jump on the Social Security cue once his contract runs out.
But this is the Yankees’ way. And in this case, it might have been a wise move. Beltran has had his knee problems, but if he can stay healthy he may still provide some of the pop the Yanks need in their outfield. Most important of all, his relatively cheaper price tag will free up a little dough to go hard after their real target, Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, if and when Tanaka’s Rakuten Golden Eagles make him available in Japan’s posting system.
With Texas having taken themselves out of any potential Tanaka sweepstakes — the Rangers work on a real budget, after all — the Yanks have a reduced field to compete against. And heaven knows, the rotation could use a guy like Tanaka and his six-pitch repertoire. Hiroki Kuroda, 39, would be the majors’ third-oldest starter, according to the New York Post’s recent roster-age breakdown. And only Mark Buehrle and Tim Hudson have thrown more innings than 33-year-old CC Sabathia, the AL’s seventh-oldest starter.
It’s just a matter of time before both Sabathia and Kuroda head into a final, deteriorative spiral. So the 25-year-old Tanaka, if available, becomes a must-get for Brian Cashman. That $5 million a year they saved by going with Beltran over Choo will then come in quite handy.
Meanwhile, the Yanks seem delighted with the switch-hitting Beltran, wobbly knees or not. And they don’t seem all that perplexed about having spent $283 million on three players — Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann — and another $12 million of smaller contracts on 36-year-old second baseman Brian Roberts, 37-year-old reliever Matt Thornton and 31-year-old (So what’s that child doing in there?) second/third baseman Kelly Johnson.
This is just how the Yanks operate, of course. The win-now attitude precludes long-range rebuilding projects, and therefore lessens the importance of developing homegrown talent down below. The farm system right now looks like something better suited to desert living — lots of sand with a few promising, but ultimately isolated, cactuses sprouting along the landscape.
So they have Beltran as the latest in the collection of oldsters. Alex Rodriguez is 38 and in the midst of a suspension appeal. Derek Jeter turns 40 in June, and who knows if that twice-broken ankle will ever allow him to be an effective shortstop again. Mark Teixeira is 34 and comes off a season lost to a wrist injury.
The rotation is old. The bullpen isn’t young.
It’s all a crapshoot, and Father Time is holding the dice.
The only way this works out is if Cashman lands Tanaka. But the first move is Japan’s, and he can’t control what the Rakuten ownership is thinking.
Still, they have their way, and it has generally worked. For now, the outfield improves with Beltran. And that is enough.
The way the Yanks operate, it has to be enough.
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