Major League Baseball Spring Training is approaching quickly. The New York Yankees officially open Spring Training when pitchers and catchers report Feb. 19, less than a week from now. The first workout is set for February 20. Some players, including Derek Jeter, are already toiling away in Tampa.
With that in mind, let's look back at the Yankees offseason and try to grade it. To do this, I am going to borrow an idea generally reserved for my work at Big Blue View writing about the New York Giants. Let's look at the Yankees' offseason and judge the moves made -- or not made -- 'Kudos & Wet Willies' style. 'Kudos,' of course, for what we like about general manager Brian Cashman's work. 'Wet Willies' for the moves, or non-moves, we don't like.
Let's begin, breaking down the various moves.
The Jesus Montero For Michael Pineda Trade
This was, of course, the Yankees major move of the winter. After spending months trying to upgrade the team's starting pitching general manager Brian Cashman swung a stunning trade with the Seattle Mariners. He sent slugging catcher/designated hitter prospect Jesus Montero to the Mariners for young pitching phenom Michael Pineda.
This is the kind of trade that almost never happens anymore, with teams swapping potential future stars -- a 22-year-old potential middle-of-the lineup slugger for a 23-year-old potential future ace.
It is also a brilliant stroke by Cashman. The Yankees are flush with catching prospects. They have Gary Sanchez, Austin Romine and J.R. Murphy developing, with 28-year-old Russell Martin coming off a resurgent 2011 season. Montero was the organization's No. 1 prospect, but not at a position of need.
Pineda is a commodity the Yankees needed, and one teams are rarely able to find on the trade market. A young potential ace with an inexpensive contract under team contract under team control through the 2016 season.
There are questions about why the Mariners would trade a hard-throwing young pitcher like this, but it was a gamble the Yankees could not pass up. Pineda went 9-10 as a rookie in 2011 and made the All-Star team, pitching to an ERA of 3.74 and a WHIP of 1.099. He struck out 173 in 171 innings.
Ed Says: 'Kudos' ... Pineda may or may not become the big-time pitcher the Yankees are seeking, but this was an outstanding move by Cashman.
Free Agent Signings
The only real free-agent splash of the winter was signing former Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda. This came after losing out on Darvish and almost immediately on the heels of the trade for Pineda.
As the sole move of the winter, Kuroda would not have been enough. Added to the acquisition of Pineda the move represents a huge upgrade over the rotation the Yankees trotted out in 2011. The fact that the Yankees were able to get the 37-year-old to agree to a one-year deal makes the move even better.
The Yankees were also able to bring back veteran starter Freddy Garcia and outfielder/DH Andruw Jones.
Ed Says: 'Kudos' ... Common sense, solid moves by the Yankees. Nothing splashy, just moves that fill needs.
Jorge Posada's Retirement
The Yankees went through an ugly situation when it was time for them to move on without Bernie Williams. The centerfielder didn't want to go, and it took a few years for the bruised feelings to go away and for Williams to start coming around Yankee Stadium again.
Posada's ego was bruised a few times last season, but it was obvious when the year ended that his career was done. The only question was really whether or not Posada and the Yankees could gracefully navigate the end of the catcher's great career. And both sides did just that.
Ed Says: 'Kudos'
This is a tricky one. New York was expected to be among the most aggressive bidders for the 25-year-old Japanese pitching sensation. They did bid, but came nowhere close to the Texas Rangers winning bid of $51.7 million. The Rangers then signed Darvish to a six-year, $60 million contract -- spending a total of $111 on him.
The Yankees ended up with Pineda and proven veteran right-hander Hiroki Kuroda for about 10 percent of the money the Rangers spent on Darvish.
As much as I may have favored a huge bid for Darvish, the Yankees look brilliant here. Japanese pitchers like Hideo Nomo, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Irabu have had some short-term big-league success -- but none has ever proven worthy of the huge sums of money the posting fee and subsequent free-agent contract force teams to spend. The Yankees got two pitchers who will help them in 2012 -- and one who may be younger and better than Darvish -- for far less money.
Ed Says: 'Kudos' ... These are not George Steinbrenner's Yankees any longer. In this case, that might be a good thing.
Cashman brought in several veteran players on minor-league contracts. Among them are slugger Russell Branyan, relievers Manny DelCarmen and Hideki Okajima, outfielder DeWayne Wise and utility man Bill Hall. Best guess is that Hall, and maybe Okajima, have the best shots at making any impact.
Ed Says: 'Kudos' ... Cashman was able to collect several players who have had solid major league careers. On eor two will likely end up helping the team, and that is really all you are looking for.
The Elephant In The Room
That, of course, is the one major piece of business the Yankees appear close to getting done. That would be ridding themselves of expensive, under-productive starting pitcher A.J. Burnett, and freeing up money to sign a veteran left-handed designated hitter.
If and when a Burnett trade gets done -- likely to the Pittsburgh Pirates -- it will be a move worthy of a 'Kudos,' regardless of what the Yankees get in return. Especially if the Yankees are able to get Pittsburgh toassume a decent amount of the $33 million Burnett is owed over the next two seasons.