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Yankees Waiting on Pujols and Mauer?

Columns, Featured — By Scott Ham on January 4, 2010 4:32 pm

Uh….  what?

Pujols is talking a good game with the Cardinals. But can he really ignore the 10-year, $27.5 million-per-year deal that Alex Rodriguez got from the Yankees two years ago, when he was older than Pujols will be when his contract ends after the 2011 season? The difficulties tying up Fielder and Gonzalez with the Brewers and Padres are self-evident.

Nothing happens in a vacuum, including the relative lack of spending by the Yankees and Red Sox this offseason. Executives with other clubs believe baseball’s two biggest spenders are sitting out the Matt Holliday sweepstakes because they want as much flexibility as possible to land one of baseball’s four horsemen at some point in the next two years.

The Red Sox have been pursuing a Gonzalez trade. Given Kevin Youkilis’ ability to play either infield corner and their holding a club option on David Ortiz’s contract for 2011, they would be a fit for any of the four.

The Yankees are keeping the DH spot clear, for the time being, as a potential way to accommodate Pujols, Fielder or even Gonzalez playing alongside Mark Teixeira. They have advanced catching prospects ( Jesus Montero and Austin Romine) to offer if the Twins reach a choking point with Mauer, which Mauer will dictate more than the club.

That’s Phil Rogers at the Chicago Tribune and this discussion is fairly ridiculous.

I agree that the Yankees have been holding off signing another large contract this winter for a reason.  Maybe even two reasons.

One of those reasons is that Matt Holliday is not worth the money or years that he is going to get.  Ditto John Lackey.

Another reason is that there is a fairly good free agent class next year, one that probably addresses the Yankees needs more than the current one.

The Yankees unwillingness to drop a large sum on players this offseason is a matter of practicality.  Most people don’t go out and overpay for things they don’t really want or need and neither does Brian Cashman.

Rogers is taking this idea a bit too far.  I’m sure the Yankees would have some interest in Pujols.  Who wouldn’t?  He’s one of the most well-rounded players to come around in some time.

Is it really reasonable to think that the Yankees have Pujols in mind for designated hitter though?  The guy is one of the best defensive first baseman in the game, arguably much better than Teixeira.  It makes little sense for the Yankees to try and take his glove away and even less sense for Pujols to willingly give it up.

Prince Fielder is a DH in waiting but that doesn’t mean he’ll just give up first base either.  He hasn’t been an average first baseman defensively, but he actually has improved in each of the last three years, giving him little motivation to devalue himself at DH.  Same goes for Adrian Gonzales.

Joe Mauer is a whole ‘nother story.   Mauer is the rare player who excels offensively and defensively at a typically weak position like catcher, making the the cost of acquiring him the biggest stumbling block.  Cashman didn’t give up the farm for Johan Santana because there was a free agent waiting in the wings named CC Sabathia.  There was no need to lose prospects and money when just money would get the job done.  The Yankees are flush with catching talent which doesn’t guarantee a future All Star catcher but it does raise the odds.  Trading a batch of grade A prospects and paying Mauer’s $20 mill/year salary is a lot more costly than having Romine or Montero succeed at the major league level with minimum salaries along the way.

There is precedent, though.  The Austin Jackson/Curtis Granderson trade taught us that a prospect is tradable if the player you get in return matches that prospects ceiling.  Nobody knew what to expect from Austin Jackson, but if he turned into Curtis Granderson, everyone would be happy.  Therefore, swapping AJax’s potential for Granderson’s resume makes sense and lessens the gamble of the prospect not working out.

In all of this discussion, we have to remember that we’re talking about the catcher position.  Catchers in the AL last season held a .724 OPS, the 2nd worst position ranking in the league (shortstop was worst at .719).  Having a catcher like Mauer in his prime (27 years old  in 2010) is a rare and valuable thing.  A league average left fielder last season had a .780 OPS, .803 in right field.  Paying premium for top shelf talent at catcher is a significant upgrade over the average character and creates a deeper lineup.

If Mauer became available this coming July, would the Yankees give up the farm for him?  Probably.  Posada wouldn’t like it and is signed through 2011, but he could be the backup catcher and DH going through the end of his contract.  Jesus Montero and Austin Romine would have good trade value whether in acquiring Mauer or through other trades.  It would be a win-win for the Yankees as their catching depth in the minors would play very well in acquiring other pieces such as corner outfielders or starting pitching.

Then there’s also the possibility Mauer decides to become a free agent.  If that happens, all bets are off.

Tags: Adrian Gonzales, Alex Rodriguez, Austin Jackson, Austin Romine, Boston Red Sox, Brian Cashman, David Ortiz, Jesus Montero, Joe Mauer, Johan Santana, John Lackey, Kevin Youkilis, Mark Teixeira, Matt Holliday, Phil Rogers, Prince Fielder

1 Comment

  1. The Yankees should concentrate more on pitching like getting guys like Cliff Lee and maybe Josh Beckett.

    Offensively the Yankees are okay.

    Getting Mauer will depend on the developments of Yankee prize prospect Jesus Montero.

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