By Sweeny Murti
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Here we go again. It’s time for the hot stove season to kick in as the GM Meetings wrap up and teams get ready for next month’s Winter Meetings.
Among the important nuggets to come out of Florida this week from Ken Rosenthal were Brian Cashman saying he is open to trading anyone to improve the roster, and from Jon Heyman that that could apply to Andrew Miller after just one season as closer on a four-year deal.
How any of this plays out is a guess at this point. Do I expect trades of the blockbuster variety? No, I don’t. But I also know to expect the unexpected when it comes to Yankee movement on the trade front. Last winter’s deals that netted Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi came out of the blue.
But it will take more creativity to get real change on this roster. Heyman’s report about Miller is a perfect example. I also heard from a rival GM recently who thinks the Yankees will be aggressive in trading Carlos Beltran, who is entering the final year of his contract and does have some no-trade protection.
It doesn’t mean any of these deals will actually get done. It just means the Yankees are well aware of their roster inflexibility and are trying all avenues to see where improvements can be made.
Some other thoughts on the roster as it now stands:
— The Yankees are thought of as an old team, but take a closer look. Their three oldest position players had the best offensive numbers on the entire team. Alex Rodriguez (40 years old), Beltran (38), and Mark Teixeira (35) combined for 83 home runs and had the three highest OPS+ numbers on the team (Teixeira 147, A-Rod 131, Beltran 122).
The Yankees had seven pitchers who made at least 10 starts, and only one (CC Sabathia, 35) was over 30 years old. The other six are Michael Pineda (26), Nathan Eovaldi (25), Masahiro Tanaka (27), Ivan Nova (28), Adam Warren (28), and Luis Severino (21).
And they have a 25-year-old shortstop in Gregorius, and a 24-year-old backup catcher in John Ryan Murphy.
Here is the truth about why the Yankees failed to win the AL East and advanced no further than the AL Wildcard Game: they lost because the core players in their prime failed them, not the older ones. Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Brian McCann, and Chase Headley are the only position players signed beyond 2017, all of them played their age 31 seasons, and they all underperformed, especially in the second half of the season. After Sept. 1, this Core Four (shudder) combined to hit .189 (79 for-418) with eight home runs.
Yes, A-Rod disappeared in the final month, too, and Teixeira literally disappeared as he was injured and didn’t play at all, but the guys who are supposed to be in their primes are the ones that let the Yankees down the most.
— Dellin Betances has been the Yankees’ best pitcher the last two years and he is also their biggest bargain since he still has another year before he is even arbitration eligible. This is the type of cost certainty that makes small market teams thrive.
If the Yankees were able to move Miller it doesn’t mean Betances automatically moves into the closer’s role. The prevailing thought among executives and agents I have spoken to is the Yankees would make a move for another closer type, such as Craig Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman. In which case, Betances would continue to be the set-up man and likely stay under much better cost control when he does hit arbitration next winter, since closers rank higher on the pay scale.
Want a big return in a trade? Move Betances. But does that make you better?
— A question I get just about every day is “Why don’t the Yankees trade Mark Teixeira and make Greg Bird the every day first baseman? HAVE TO GET YOUNGER!!!”
Okay, first of all see the note above about the whole getting younger thing. And see the note above about the older players being the most productive. Teixeira’s injury, slow diagnosis, and eventual shutdown frustrated everyone — not to mention that it frustrated Teixeira more than anyone.
But the Yankees are a better team with Teixeira and Bird both on the roster (and when I say roster, I think AAA where he can play every day and continue to improve and develop, and not be a backup).
What happens if Bird struggles early or gets hurt, himself? Are you really ready to throw away a guy who hit 31 home runs without even playing in September for a kid (a good looking one, but a kid nonetheless) with less than 200 major league at-bats? It’s a little like entering 1991 by thinking you can trade Don Mattingly because you have Kevin Maas. Now, Bird is a much better prospect than Maas was, so I’m not slamming Bird here. It’s just worth noting that it’s not a large enough sample to throw away a productive bat like Teixeira’s. And don’t forget that Bird is still learning how to be a better first baseman, while Teixeira was a Gold Glove finalist this year.
— Daniel Murphy? Yes, he’s a lefthanded hitter and, yes, the Yankees are looking to upgrade at second base. But this isn’t the right fit. Mets hitting coach (and former Yankees hitting coach) Kevin Long told me that his ridiculous October run aside, Murphy can be a 20-home run guy. Still, his career high is 14 and that’s enough to overlook his defensive shortcomings. He’s a good hitter and I’m told by folks who’ve played with him he’s a great teammate. But Murphy will have to get his four years and $50 million somewhere else.
— David Price? Zack Greinke? Johnny Cueto? The Yankees haven’t ventured into this end of the pool for a while. Tanaka? Yes, but at age 25, which none of these guys are. If they didn’t bite on Jon Lester last year I don’t think they will bite now. They might have to make a trade for a better option than the middle or back end rotation guys that are out there now.
— Bernie Williams turned out some sizzling guitar work when he took the stage last weekend in Danbury, Connecticut, and jammed with his special guest, Paul Shaffer. It was all part of Bernie’s continuing involvement with the Hillside Food Outreach, helping to feed our hungry neighbors in the Hudson Valley. Check them out, and if you can, help out the cause this holiday season at http://www.hillsidefoodoutreach.org.
Follow Sweeny Murti on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN