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After losing John Smoltz to the Boston Red Sox, the Atlanta Braves wasted little time in adding a new arm to the rotation.  Dodgers Free Agent pitcher Derek Lowe has agreed to terms with the Braves, reaching a preliminary agreement on a 4 year, $60 Million contract.

Lowe is 36, so the contract does carry some risk, but at this point, it seems the Braves did not have any other options.  They lost AJ Burnett to the Yankees and were not able to come to an agreement with the San Diego Padres on a trade for Jake Peavy.  Lowe had been offered 3 years, $36 Million from the NY Mets and although they seemed ready to offer more money, they seemed hesitant about a fourth year.  Now, he will be playing against the Mets, in the same division.

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Now that the Yankees appear to have finished their spending spree this offseason, attention turns to the rest of the free agent pool.  Most notably, Manny Ramirez, Derek Lowe, Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi.  (Disclaimer:  I never really assume the Yankees have ever stopped spending money, that’s why I used the word “appear.”)  But back to the free agents.

Buster Olney addresses the Ramirez situation quite nicely in his blog.  How can any team offer him what he wants (4 years $100 Million) when it doesn’t need to and because of the risk involved.  ESPN has reported that the Dodgers have reopened negotiations with Ramirez, although its doubted they will offer him the $22.5 Million per season they had in November.   Since the only top outfielders left are Abreu and Dunn, its clear that no other outfielder will get anywhere above $14 Million – thus simple economics teaches us that the price for Ramirez should come down, possibly to around $18 Million.

But then again, here we are questioning the risk behind having Ramirez on your team: How do we know Manny will play hard; especially if he is given a salary less then he wanted?  Because of this, Olney asks in his blog if it would be worth it for the Dodgers to overpay for Ramirez in order to ensure he is happy and plays hard.  This is a tough question to ask and supports why I was scared when I heard the Yankees were interested in Ramirez and Derek Jeter say Manny would be a good fit for the team.  Scared because the man is too volatile.  He has amazing skill, but not the attitude the Yankees need or want.  We needed a work horse.  The type of guy that Sabathia and Teixeira embody.  Not a guy who takes a bathroom break in the green monster during a stoppage in play.

Its in this situation, that I am glad I am not a general manager.  Ramirez at his best would be a great addition to any team but how do we know we get the best every game?  Or even at least half of them?  Is an extra $7 Million/year worth it?

So here comes Adam Dunn into the situation.  Dunn has quietly made himself into quite the commodity.  Not the most amazing player but someone who is a decent hitter and can be an average outfielder.  Best of all, he probably comes at a bargain price of $12-14 Million, simply because of how horrible the market is for outfielders.  This is a steal.

Then we are left with Bobby Abreu.  Poor, poor Bobby Abreu.  The man made a cool $16 Million with the Yankees last season.  This year, he’ll be lucky to get $10 Million.  Olney thinks he’ll get $8 Mil.  Either way, that’s a steal.  The man was clutch for the Yankees last year, one of our only consistent hitters.  He is slow on defense, but most corner outfielders are these days.

The market is even bad for pitchers and infielders.  Very few teams seem to be interested in Derek Lowe, and Scott “obnoxious” Boras (Lowe’s agent) wanted $18 Million for him.  Granted Boras always wants the moon and the stars for his clients, but still, the market for Lowe is very, well, low.  Only the Mets appear to have made an offer, and that’s rumored to be in the $12 Mil/year range.

And Jason Giambi – who, by the way, I still think should call Hal Steinbrenner up and say, “Listen, I owe you guys for paying me $160 Million over eight seasons, even though I was only worth it for 2 because I turned out to be a juicer who lost his power when I stopped the juice. So, I will play for you for free,”  Giambi will be lucky to get double digit millions.  And I cannot find any team who appears to be interested in him at this point.  He is 38 and a former juicer.  At the most, he’s got 2 years left.  And that’s not saying much, considering he’ll probably hit only .260.

Jack Curry of The New York Times is reporting that the Mets have made an offer to free agent pitcher Derek Lowe.   The offer is said to be in the 3 Year, $36 Million range.  Lowe’s agent, the obnoxious Scott Boras, confirmed that the Mets made an offer, but not the dollar amount.  If this is indeed the actual monetary amount of the Met’s offer, it is significantly lower then what Boras reportedly wanted for his client ($18 Million for 5 years) or what the Yankees were rumored to be willing to offer (4 years, $15-17 Million) during the Winter Meetings before they moved on to CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett.

With AJ Burnett having an offer from the Atlanta Braves and the San Francisco Giants reportedly interested in offering CC Sabathia a 5 year contract, the Yankees yesterday have upped their pursuit of free agent pitcher Derek Lowe.

Yesterday Brian Cashman met with Lowe’s agent, “Look at Me, the Omnipresent” Scott Boras. No comments were made by either men, but Mark Feinsand speculates that the two discussed Lowe, Mark Teixeira and Oliver Perez.

Burnett was reported to have gotten a 4 year contract worth $64 million, with a club option of a 5th year based on number of innings pitched. That would figure out to be an AAV of $16 million. I’m surprised the Yankees didn’t think of this first as they could have offered a club option of a fifth year based on incentives such as innings pitched or how many times he was placed on the injured reserve. Just do something, man!

So now the Yankees find themselves on the outside in all the bidding wars between the three top free agent pitchers. Sabathia still hasn’t shown himself in public, Lowe is getting hotter, and Burnett has a decent offer from a team desperate to compete with the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies and the aging New York Mets.

On the bright side? Cashman is supposed to meet with CC Sabathia over the weekend, perhaps as early as today.

I think everyone agrees that the Yankees lost the division this year because they did not have the quality starting pitching that they had in previous years.  The bats still hit, A-Rod and Jeter weren’t having their best years, but overall the lineup did its job.  Ken Davidoff wrote a column in Newsday making the point that the Yanks need a “killer instinct rotation.”  I could not agree with him more.  Check out the column below.

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What the Yankees missed most of all in 2008, you sense from talking to people around the team, is that intimidation factor one gets only from possessing a strong, deep starting rotation.

When the Yankees rode the bus from their Toronto hotel to the Rogers Centre, for instance, and knew they would have to deal with Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett and Dustin McGowan (before his injury) in the next three days, it took something out of them before they even saw a pitch.  So even though the Yankees allowed fewer runs (727) this past season than they did in 2007 (777), they lacked the pitchers – either big names or big stuff – who made clubs dread coming to the ballpark.   That’s what they’re trying to recapture, in addition to the obvious: tangible improved pitching.

“I think the intimidation factor comes from the performance. It doesn’t matter if they have a name,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Friday. “Last year, A.J. Burnett was performing. So Toronto could say, ‘Burnett, Halladay, Magowan – we’ve got those three guys.’ Tampa Bay, out of the blue, had guys like [Scott] Kazmir, [Matt] Garza and [James] Shields. Boston has [Josh] Beckett, [Daisuke] Matsuzaka and [Jon] Lester.

“When we ran into guys like that, there was no breathing room. We could go a full month and not face a layup. If the starters lined up properly, we would’ve had that. We had a rotation, in theory, of [Chien-Ming] Wang-[Joba] Chamberlain- [Mike] Mussina-[Andy] Pettitte.”  Of course, injuries to Wang and Chamberlain and Pettitte’s ineffectiveness ruined that hope.

With that thinking in line, it might make more sense to sign Burnett over Derek Lowe, who is more dependent on the defense behind him. Although Lowe is more reliable, Burnett instills more fear in opposing hitters. Yankees people think Burnett is willing to play in New York.

Would it be worth a five-year investment to get, say, 3 1/2 years of Burnett’s excellence? So far, the Yankees don’t think so. This space doesn’t blame them. But it is interesting to ponder the fear the Yankees would strike in the hearts of opponents with a lineup of CC Sabathia, Burnett, Wang and Chamberlain.

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I would agree with Davidoff that based on last season Burnett would create more imtimidation, but intimidation can be created after just 3 great starts.  No one expected Tampa to have the season they did last year.  They made it to the World Series because of their pitching, but their pitchers did not intimidate anyone until they started pitching as well as they did.  Just because Burnett had a good season last year, does not mean he will have a good season next year, and his career stats prove how inconsistent he is.

Is Lowe a better choice?  Who really knows, but I do know that with some of the young pitchers we have in the system, there is no need to get a guy like Burnett or Lowe for more then 2-3 years.  Sabathia is younger and much more consistent and is definitly worth a 6 year committment.

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