"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Observations From Cooperstown

By Bruce Markusen

The Yankee Rumor Mill—Does It Exist Anymore?

I can’t remember the last time the Yankees experienced such a quiet spring on the trade rumor front. It stands in direct contrast to a long forgotten season like 1989, when rumors infiltrated the Yankee camp in Ft. Lauderdale almost every day, with a busy front office pulling off spring deals for the likes of Steve “Bye Bye” Balboni, Tom Brookens, and Mel Hall. It seems almost every spring that there’s a rumor about the Yankees acquiring a brand-name pitcher, or a center fielder, or an extra arm out of the bullpen—something through the trade route. This year, however, all’s silent on the rumor mill. Other than the never-ending talk regarding a possible return of Roger Clemens—which won’t happen until May at the earliest and would not involve an actual trade—there has hardly been any substantive talk of the Yankees making a deal this spring. I guess that’s the price you pay for having a talented team with few glaring weaknesses. (And it’s not like Balboni, Brookens, and Hall drastically changed the fortunes of the ’89 Yankees, who won only 74 games and finished fifth in the AL East.)

With the phone lines remaining quiet, some writers have been busy trying to concoct trades that might make some sense. Others have been contemplating deals that could happen after the season starts. After all, this is a Yankee team that does have flaws, even for all of its frontline talent. The backup catching situation is a mess, first base could be a disaster if Dougie Mink is given too long a leash, and the back end of the rotation looks something less than sturdy. With that in mind, let’s assess some moves that either could happen, or at least in theory, would improve Yankee fortunes.

Bullpen help to the Phillies for a spare catcher: Earlier this week, Joel Sherman of the New York Post suggested a trade that would make a great deal of sense for the Yankees and a potential trade partner in the National League: Mike Myers to the Phillies for backup catcher Carlos Ruiz. The Phillies need relief pitching like Doug Mientkiewicz needs a corked bat, so Sherman is certainly on the right track. Ruiz, a 28-year-old receiver with solid defensive skills and something more than a lightweight bat, would represent an upgrade over the current backstop brigade of Todd Pratt, Wil Nieves, Raul Chavez, and Ben Davis. Let me add another suggestion to this scenario. If the Phillies don’t like Myers, how about sending Ron Villone to Philadelphia for Chris Coste? Already 34, Coste is six years older than Ruiz, but does bring a potentially stronger bat and the versatility to play other positions, including first base and third base. With Rod Barajas around as the starting catcher in Philadelphia, either Coste or Ruiz should be available—at least in theory.

Carl Pavano going nowhere for now: At the beginning of spring training, we heard whispers that the Mariners, Rockies, and Cardinals had interest in Pavano, but the Yankees responded by essentially taking the right-hander off the market. The reason? Brian Cashman realized that the timing wasn’t right because Pavano’s value remains exceedingly low. (Plus, with recent concerns over Andy Pettitte’s back, Pavano might become more necessary in the grand scheme.) Here’s what Cashman wants to do: open the season with Pavano, hope that he pitches well over the first month and builds up his trade value, and then re-explore trades that might bring back a backup catcher, or first base help, or a prospect. By then, the Yankees could look more seriously at using Jeff Karstens as a fifth starter, or even give some thought to a recall of Phil Hughes or Ross Ohlendorf.

An Alex Rodriguez blockbuster: An Angels blogger claims that the Yankees have talked to Anaheim about a trade that would put A-Rod on the left coast in exchange for a package of three players: catcher Jose Molina, right-hander Jered Weaver, and minor league righty Dustin Moseley (ah yes, another pitching prospect). Pardon me for doubting, but I suspect that Cashman has had little or no conversation with the Angels regarding A-Rod this spring. Even if he had, this particular package doesn’t fit, now that Weaver has been placed on the disabled list and will miss Opening Day. (Plus, the Yankees like Ervin Santana better than Weaver.) The Yankees would also need a third baseman in the deal, necessitating that someone like Chone Figgins be included. Still, I could see a trade like this being discussed sometime after April 1, assuming certain conditions are met. If the Yankees stumble out of the gate badly and A-Rod simultaneously slumps at the plate, rumblings of him exercising his “out” clause will only escalate. Angels owner Arte Moreno absolutely loves Rodriguez, who would be a perfect fit for a Halos team that needs at least one more slugger to team with Vladimir Guerrero. Of course, A-Rod would have to give his consent. He’s not ready to do that, but a poor start coupled with continuing showers of Bronx boos could convince A-Rod to cut his losses and move on to the next stage of his career.

Are any of these scenarios—a deal with the Phillies, a trade of Pavano, a blockbuster involving A-Rod—likely to happen? Of course not. When it comes to trades, especially in this day of complicated contracts, lack of organizational depth for many teams, and a preponderance of conservative GMs, always bet against a trade happening. But these are the kinds of moves that Cashman should be considering, especially if the Yankees duplicate their slow start of 2005. This team has some pitching and depth concerns—and only a fool would consider the Yankees bulletproof, in need of nothing as Opening Day approaches.

Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books, including A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s. His newest book, a revised edition of Tales From The Mets Dugout, is now available from Sports Publishing. Bruce is a resident of Cooperstown, NY.

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