Should the Yankees be in on Marlins Madness?

Mike Ehrmann

The Marlins' fire sale is rumored to continue. Should the Yankees be in on the bidding for Logan Morrison and (gulp) Ricky Nolasco?

Sometimes life just depresses you. The day after the Toronto Blue Jays redrew the face of their team by taking advantage of the Miami Marlins' chronic insincerity, we get word that the Yankees have begun preliminary talks on bringing back Raul Ibanez. A division rival is getting fat by using the Marlins as their personal expansion draft, while the Yankees are thinking of bringing back a soon-to-be 41-year-old DH who had some heroic moments in the postseason but otherwise was completely a phenomenon of Yankee Stadium.

There isn't anything wrong with Ibanez having a stadium-sized crutch -- not every player can lift balls to right-center the way Ibanez did -- but it still leaves something to be desired given that a team plays half its games on the road and a decent portion of its games (in the Yankees' case, about a third of the schedule) against left-handed pitching. That means only so many plate appearances in which a player like Ibanez can be useful, if a 41-year-old can be useful, which is never a sure thing. A few 41-year-olds have been valuable hitters, guys like Barry Bonds, Stan Musial, Carlton Fisk, Honus Wagner, and Carl Yastrzemski, but they are the clear outliers. It is far more likely that as you push a player for just one more season, you'll get something like this:

Player

Year

Age

AVG/OBP/SLG

OPS+

Nap Lajoie

1916

41

.246/.272/.312

79

Pete Rose

1983

42

.245/.316/.286

69

Reggie Jackson

1987

41

.220/.297/.402

89

Rickey Henderson

2000

41

.233/.368/.305

78

Craig Biggio

2007

41

.251/.285/.381

71

And so on. Even with great players, it's a sucker bet for a team to take at a seven-figure price. Meanwhile, there are still ways for the Yankees to get younger if they want to deal with their old pal Jeff Loria. The self-styled LoMo is apparently on the market. A left-handed hitter and a left-fielder/first baseman with power and some patience, Morrison had a lost year due to knee surgery after his right petallar tendon blew its brains out. He has also had lengthy visits to the disabled list every year going back to 2009. The Marlins have treated him about as well as they have anyone else in their organization, getting on him for his Twitter habit, sending him down in 2011 for what were apparently punitive reasons. They sure haven't helped him get back to his rookie .283/.390/.447 performance, and 2011's .247/.330/.468 seems very far away.

As you know, the Yankees are short a corner outfielder and a designated hitter at the moment; given Morrison's knee problems and lack of defensive prowess even before the injury and the Yankees' eternal commitment to Mark Teixeira, a pinstriped LoMo would mostly be a designated hitter. That would be fine, because he's left-handed and 25, or 16 years younger than Ibanez and eight years younger than the typical Yankee. Over the last three seasons, the average designated hitter hit .258/.334/.429, and Morrison should be able to surpass that if healthy. He's also still a year away from becoming eligible for arbitration and four years away from free agency. So, it won't happen, but that's why we're here in November, to talk about things like this, dream of a better world, etc.

Now, the one difficulty of this little dream sequence involving young outfielders is that Morrison is making only $480,000, not an amount the Marlins will be as eager to give away as they were some of their higher-priced items (then again, the Marlins might prefer to do away with players making even the major-league minimum, but Lincoln freed the slaves -- and Marvin Miller freed the players). The Marlins talked to the Red Sox before turning to the Blue Jays as their trading partner; though they were asking the acquiring team to pick up a great deal of money, they still asked Boston for everything that wasn't nailed down by a heavy contract, including third baseman Will Middlebrooks, pitcher Felix Dubront, and the organization's top prospect Xander Bogaerts. That was apparently the opening bid. What would they ask for in return for a player who isn't costing them that much?

It may be a moot point, because the Yankees don't have a top positional prospect as close to the majors as Bogaerts. Still, we can imagine a cut right off the top of the team's deck -- Gary Sanchez, Mason Williams, Tyler Austin. Even more likely, they might ask the acquiring team to swallow a poison pill to get Morrison in the form of right-handed starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco, a 30-year-old (as of December) who has been frustrating the Marlins for years because his results never match his stuff. Nolasco has excellent control, walking 2.0 batters per nine innings over the last five seasons while striking out 7.6. Those kinds of peripherals usually lead to good results, but Nolasco has been a home run machine, with the result that he has a career ERA of 4.49 and has been fairly consistent at that level since 2008, the last time he posted a park-adjusted ERA better than league average.

Nolasco has gotten his home run addiction under control the last couple of seasons, but he's only become more hittable in doing so, and though a dramatic decline in his velocity has not been observed, his strikeout rate has declined in three consecutive seasons, plunging from 9.5 in 2009 (a season in which he posted a 5.06 ERA) to 5.9 in 2012. These are not good omens, particularly for a pitcher who will make $11.5 million in 2013, the last year of his current contract.

With Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda sailing the free agent seas, the Yankees don't have much of a rotation just now. Could they take on Nolasco for a year, shove him in the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation while hoping for the best, then waive buh-bye at the end of the season? Sure. Would it be likely to work out? Not in Yankee Stadium; even though Nolasco has limited his gopheritis, there is every likelihood that it would reemerge in New York -- batters slugged .392 against him in the Marlins' new boondoggle, and .457 on the road. You wouldn't want to bet on which of Nolasco's tendencies might assert itself with Ibanez's friendly fence behind him.

Still, pitchers are highly changeable, and perhaps Larry Rothschild can see something that the Marlins missed. It wouldn't be at all unusual for that to be the case. Perhaps the risk is tolerable if the Yankees were able to reload with a promising property like Morrison.

Of course, even that depends on whether the Marlins are willing to be realistic in their demands for an expensive flop and an injured DH. Given that they were expecting the Red Sox to pay through the nose despite having to take on something like $160 million in salary, that seems unlikely. A phone call only costs a dime (it did when I was a kid, anyway), so Brian Cashman can certainly risk an inquiry if he even cares about reloading with youth. More likely, he's crying in his beer because the Tigers signed his most recent late-30s crush has signed with the Tigers. Well, if you can't have Torii Hunter, and the Marlins remain delusional, you can always get Ibanez back and qualify the roster for its AARP subscription that way.

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