By Sweeny Murti
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It doesn't appear the Yankees are too enamored with the pitchers available on the free agent market, at least not at current asking prices, and it seems very un-Yankee like to go through another winter looking for the next Bartolo Colon reclamation project.
So what happens when the Winter Meetings begin in Dallas on Monday? I still believe the Yankees are maneuvering for a trade, and the time is right for them to get creative with the prospects they have accumulated.
You've heard the all the names --- Gio Gonzalez, John Danks, Matt Garza. Throw in a Dan Haren and a Matt Cain or anybody else if you want. Whoever it is, the asking prices are high and usually begin with Jesus Montero and Manny Banuelos. The Yanks have made it pretty clear they don't intend to move either one, and Montero is actually going to be a big part of the major league roster in 2012.
I have maintained through most of the off-season that I have a gut feeling Brian Cashman is going to get aggressive with his prospects and try to pull off a trade for a starter. If he's not willing to deal Montero or Banuelos, what's it going to take to get the type of arm that the Yankees desire?
Well, if you consider Montero a part of the major league roster, we have to find the next great prospect in the Yankee farm system, the next great player whose name you will hear a thousand times before you ever see him play. Meet Mason Williams.
Coming out of high school in 2010 with raw first-round talent, Williams was holding a full ride to the University of South Carolina. The Yankees grabbed him in the fourth round and signed him for $1.45 million, a bonus equivalent to the middle of the first round. This past season Williams, a centerfielder who is now 20 years old, played in 68 games for the A-Staten Island Yankees where he compiled a .349/.395/.468 line (.863 OPS). Drafted at a rail thin 6'0" and 150 pounds, he has added about 25 pounds already, starting to look more like his pop Derwin Williams, a 6'1", 185 pound wide receiver who played three years with the Patriots in the mid-1980's.
Last week when an American League executive told me that Mason Williams is the second-best prospect in the Yankees organization behind Montero, I forwarded that evaluation to some of the Yankee higher-ups. One of them told me it was a fair statement, while another told me Williams could actually be better than Montero because of his potential as a Gold Glove centerfielder.
When I asked another executive from the National League about Williams, he began throwing out names like Mickey Rivers, Kenny Lofton, and Jacoby Ellsbury (minus this year's power stroke). Plate discipline is still an issue (he walked only 20 times in 298 plate appearances), but that's not unusual for a kid this young.
As the Yankees involve themselves in significant trade talks, not only this winter but over the next couple years, Mason Williams will be the name you will start to hear more often. Montero and Banuelos, and even Dellin Betances are so close to major-league ready that trading them away could have an immediate impact, something that isn't as big a concern with a kid who hasn't played in a full-season minor league yet. That doesn't mean the Yankees will jump at the chance to trade Williams. It just means that his name is sure to be part of a lot of trade discussions for the foreseeable future.
Whether the Yankees are busy or quiet, there is always plenty to talk about from the Winter Meetings. You can hear me throughout the day on WFAN and wfan.com next Monday through Thursday from Dallas.
**Now that he has spent five full seasons retired (even if he's never actually used the R word) Bernie Williams is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. Bernie will get some support for his 16-year career that ended with a .297./.381/.477 line, five All-Star games, four Gold Glove Awards, one batting title, and—of course—four World Series rings.
But his chances of actually getting a plaque are not great. Of the top ten batters statistically similar to Bernie on baseball-reference.com, many are All-Stars (Bobby Abreu, Paul O'Neill, Will Clark, Reggie Smith, Edgar Martinez), but none are Hall of Famers.
Results for the Hall of Fame class of 2012 (which could include last year's highest non-inductee vote getters Barry Larkin and Jack Morris) will be announced January 9th.
Meanwhile, Bernie is moving his annual fundraiser for The Hillside Food Outreach to Danbury, CT. The date is January 28th and his special guest and honoree is Don Mattingly.
I've had the privilege of hosting part of this event for the last several years. Its always a fun night for a great cause. Come out to support Bernie and Donnie by visiting www.hillsidefoodoutreach.org for tickets.
**Allow me to close by reminding you that there are still plenty of good things that happen at my alma mater, Penn State. Like the annual dance marathon held every February to raise money for the fight against pediatric cancer.
Known throughout the Penn State community simply as THON, it is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world (that is fact, not hyperbole). Last year alone they raised a record $9.59 million, of which nearly 97% went directly to the Four Diamonds Fund, which helps cancer patients at Penn State's Hershey Medical Center.
If you're able to be in the giving spirit this holiday season, check them out at www.thon.org. When you hear "We Are…Penn State!" this is the kind of thing we are talking about.
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