Things are looking up for Yoenis Cespedes as the New York Mets backed up the Brinks truck for him.
Free agency in Major League Baseball is set to begin and the next few months will be a very important stretch for all teams, but especially in regards to the New York Yankees. For the first time since the early 1990’s, the Yankees have failed to qualify for the playoffs in consecutive years. In fact the 84-win season that the Yankees are coming off of is their lowest win total in a non-strike shortened season since 1992 when they only won 76 games. New York has several holes on their team that must be addressed and it is up to Yankee owners Hal and Hank Steinbrenner along with team general manager Brian Cashman to execute a plan of attack that will get the team back to the postseason.
The Yankees payroll of $208 million last season was the second highest in MLB, but a ton of that money was given to veteran players that were mainly injured or who are past their prime. 34-year old starting pitcher CC Sabathia earned $23 million last season. But knee problems relegated him to only making a handful of starts as he was 3-4 with a 5.28 earned run average. For 2015, Sabathia is once again set to earn $23 million and the Yankees can no longer rely on him being a guy that is going to give them 200 innings every season. Last winter there was a huge bidding war for Japanese born starting pitcher Mazahiro Tanaka. The Yankees won out as they signed the Japanese phenom to a seven-year, $155 million contract. Tanaka was as good as advertised as through July 3, he was 12-3 with a 2.27 earned run average and he was in the running to win the American League Cy Young Award. But elbow problems forced Tanaka to miss two months of the season and the injury that he suffered injury smells of a potential Tommy John procedure. This past season Tanaka earned $22 million and he is set for the same number in 2015. Since hitting 39 home runs in 2011, the production of Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira has regressed. Teixeira only batted .216 with 22 homers and 62 runs batted in this past season. Teixeira is set to earn $22.5 million next season. Last off-season, the Yankees signed designated hitter Carlos Beltran to a three-year deal worth $45 million. At 37-years of age, Beltran is not the player that he once was which was evident by his career lows in batting average (.233), home runs (15), and runs batted in (49).
Then there is the case of Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez was suspended for the entire 2014 MLB season due to his multiple infractions in regards to his usage of performance enhancing drugs. Rodriguez is 39-years old and his baseball skills have greatly diminished. Rodriguez is set to earn $21 million dollars next season and for the Yankees it appears that they have “dead money” on their hands with him.
Already the Yankees have $144.6 million committed to next year’s payroll and in spite of the Steinbreener’s publicly refusing to surpass the $189 million threshold, they will give Cashman the Neiman Marcus card in order to improve this team over the winter because they want and need to return to the role of being contenders.
The Yankees have a glaring hole at shortstop as they need to replace the retired Derek Jeter. Guys like Jeter don’t come along everyday and Cashman will have his hands full in replacing him. Hanley Ramirez is the most attractive shortstop on the free-agent market. Ramirez will be 31-years of age next month and with declining defensive skills, he could be a risk for the Yankees at shortstop. There have been “internet” rumors surfacing about Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki seeking to be traded out of Denver and that rumor grew legs when he was spotted in the stands at Yankee Stadium last summer. Tulowitzki is under contract through 2021 and he is still owed $129 million. Tulowitzki has not appeared in at least 140 regular season games since 2011 and like Ramirez, the Yankees could be taking a risk in acquiring him.
The Yankees could be in the market for some more depth in the outfield and with the Baltimore Orioles recently declining to pick up the option for outfielder Nick Markakis, he makes total sense as someone that the Bronx Bombers should pursue this winter. Last season Markakis batted .276 with 14 homers and 50 runs batted in. But Markakis’ biggest contribution came on defense as he won his second Gold Glove Award in helping the Orioles win their first American League East Title since 1997. If the Yankees are willing to go after Markakis, he would join a pretty good defensive outfield in the Bronx with Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner.
But the name of the game in baseball is pitching as it is the deciding factor in winning championships. The Yanks team earned run average of 3.75 this past season was eighth in the AL and with question marks surrounding the health of Tanaka, Sabathia, and starting pitcher Ivan Nova who is coming off of Tommy John surgery , it is time for the Steinbrenners to open up their illustrious vault. This year’s crop of free agent starting pitchers will be highlighted by James Shields, Max Scherzer, and Jon Lester as the Yankees will need to sign at least one of those players. Shields will turn 33-years old next month, but he is coming off of a year in which he helped the Kansas City Royals reach the World Series for the first time since 1985. In the last eight seasons, Shields has thrown at least 200 innings in each year as he has been extremely durable. Scherzer is 30-years old and he won the AL Cy Young Award in 2013 as he went 21-3 with an earned run average of 2.90 to go along with 240 strikeouts for the Detroit Tigers. Scherzer is a power pitcher that the Yankees may go after, but Yankee Stadium historically has not been a pitcher’s park like Comerica Park is in Detroit. The Yankees are very familiar with Lester as he was a thorn in their sides during the last nine seasons with the Boston Red Sox. In nine seasons in MLB, Lester is 116-67 and he knows how to get it done it October as he helped the Sox win a pair of World Series Championships.
More than ever the time is now for the Yankees to strike as the American League East in 2015 could be there for the taking. Like the Yankees, the big-market Red Sox missed the playoffs this past season and they have already begun the process of re-tooling. After winning the AL East this past season, the Orioles have some key players that need to be re-signed and it still is not clear whether or not that they will be able to keep their team in tact. The Toronto Blue Jays still have a ton of questions in regards to their starting pitching rotation while the departure of manager Joe Maddon from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Chicago Cubs sent shock waves around Major League Baseball as he appeared to be the glue that kept Tampa Bays together as far as being a very formidable foe. The opportunity is there for the Yankees front office to make big things happen this winter.
Sources: Baseball-reference.com, Baseballprospectus.com
After winning 97 games in the 2013 Major League Baseball regular season, the Boston Red Sox would go on to win their eighth World Series Championship in franchise history. This season hasn’t been as smooth for the Red Sox as they are currently have a record of 36-44. The Red Sox are currently in fourth place in the American League East as they’re eight games behind the first place Toronto Blue Jays. Barring a turnaround over the summer the Red Sox are staring down the barrel of their second losing campaign in the past three seasons and they would also be the second consecutive defending World Series Champion to have a losing season. Surprisingly one man that could benefit from the problems in Boston this season is starting pitcher Jon Lester.
Lester is in his ninth MLB season (all with the Red Sox) and he is set to be an unrestricted free agent this winter. In spring training the Red Sox and Lester attempted to negotiate a contract extension, but with both sides far apart on the finances they walked away from the table. Lester and his agent John Yates are not expected to negotiate with the Red Sox for the remainder of the regular season which will allow Lester’s value to potentially increase heading into the winter. By the time that the 2015 Major League Baseball season rolls around Lester will be 31-years of age and like the other 29 MLB teams, the Red Sox should be wary of offering Lester a long-term deal. But will they do it?
This season Lester is leading the Red Sox pitching staff in wins (8), earned run average (3.14), and strikeouts (109). Lester’s 3.14 earned run average is the lowest of his career and he is also on pace to throw 200 innings for the sixth time in the past seven seasons. Regardless of how this season will pan out for the Red Sox they could face some competition in order to retain Lester in the off-season.
Lester is making $13 million this season and he and Yates know that the pending free-agent market for left-handed starting pitchers is a slim one. Lester won’t be the highest sought after pitcher this off-season as that distinction will fall upon Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Max Scherzer. But more than likely Lester is going to want a six-year deal in the range of $120 million and he’ll get it and more if pitching is at a premium.
Unlike his predecessor Theo Epstein, current Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington plays it closer to the chest in negotiating with pending free agents. But the strategy has already hurt him.
After seven seasons with the Red Sox, outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury hit free agency last winter. Ellsbury is represented by super agent Scott Boras who is infamous for having “mystery teams” that want the services of his clients. Cherington chose not to get into a bidding war for Ellsbury who would go on to sign a seven-year, $153 million with the New York Yankees.
This season the Red Sox have the second oldest team in MLB and if Cherington’s track record is any indication, he could be willing to allow Lester to leave Boston.
In recent years we have seen teams suffer after giving players over the age of 30 long-term deals. The Los Angeles Angels have found this out the hard way over the past few seasons with the lucrative deals that they handed out to first baseman Albert Pujols and outfielder Josh Hamilton respectively. In Epstein’s last season with the Red Sox, he signed outfielder Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million deal. Crawford was coming off of a career year with the Tampa Bay Rays and he would turn 30 midway through his first season with the Red Sox as he never lived up to the hype before he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012.
Since 2000, the Red Sox have been one of the best MLB franchises as far as drafting and developing their players which is why they have won more World Series Titles (3) than any other Major League Baseball team over that span. The Red Sox will need to be revamped in the outfield and at shortstop in the off-season. And with those glaring needs I doubt that Cherington will go all out in the effort to retain the services of Lester which means that following the 2014 World Series, the bidding war will begin for his services.