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"Naturally, the Yankees will get Matt Holliday." Also: Bengie Molina and John Lackey

From the MSM, to commenters on this blog, to Twitter, many people drew a similar conclusion from yesterday's slew of activity:

"The Yankees aren't gonna sign Hideki Matsui now, and they aren't gonna sign Mike Cameron. Therefore, they're gonna sign Matt Holliday."

It's Occam's Razor, right? The richest team commits the winter's biggest contract? And really, the Yankees lost the benefit of the doubt a year ago when they signed Mark Teixeira after already landing A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia.

Except...they didn't fully lose the benefit of the doubt. Because, if you recall, after the Yankees signed Teixeira, there still was one more big free agent out there: Manny Ramirez. And I won a steak dinner in a bet with a pal who insisted _ INSISTED! _ that the Yankees would sign Manny, even after bringing Burnett, Sabathia and Teixeira aboard.

The Yankees didn't like Manny's age or personality, and financially, they indeed felt they were tapped out, in a (successful, it turned out) effort to slightly lower their payroll.

So before looking at Holliday, let's look at that 2010 Yankees payroll. Thanks to Cot's Baseball Contracts, I tallied both the Yankees' actual outlay so far and their luxury tax figure, which you get from adding players' annual average value. I guessed on salary figures for both the arbitration guys (Melky Cabrera, Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre) and the 0-3 guys (Alfredo Aceves, Joba Chamberlain, Brett Gardner, Phil Hughes, etc.).

My ballpark figures (pun intended) are an actual outlay of $193,712,500, and a luxury-tax figure of $177.38 million.

The Yankees' Opening Day payroll in 2009 was $201 million, and they've made it very clear they want to drop that, probably to about the $190 million range. They're already over the luxury-tax threshold of $170 million for 2010, and because they are "repeat offenders," they'll pay a 40-percent tax on every dollar they spend over $170 million.

Now, we know what the Yankees need: Another leftfield/DH type, and another starting pitcher. They've expressed a willingness to pay Johnny Damon. about $10 million a year for two years, and yesterday was a good day for Damon, with both Hideki Matsui and Mike Cameron coming off the board.

Could they blow off Damon, go cheap with the starting pitching and match the Cardinals' reported offer for Holliday? Sure. They can do whatever they want. They're the Yankees, after all.

Will they? I'm still betting against it, for the following reasons:

1) They realize how much they need another established starting pitcher, after resorting to (and getting away with) a three-man rotation in the postseason.

2) Personally, they like Holliday but don't love him. They don't think he's very good defensively.

3) Philosophically, they'd rather not make another nine-figure commitment, with four already on the books. Those commitments are huge risks, no matter how good the player.

That's why they'd rather go two years with the 36-year-old Damon than eight years with Holliday, who turns 30 next month.

Last year, the Yankees were trying to figure out ways to fit Teixeira into their payroll. This year, they're trying to convince Damon to come back.

Now, if the Yankees sign Holliday, I'll simply erase this blog entry, and I'll e-mail with the message, "I knew all along the Yankees sign Holliday. I just didn't want to brag." But I don't think I'll have to do that. Especially now that St. Louis has apparently stepped up with the sort of offer that approaches "common ground."

When you consider that, around Thanksgiving time, major-league officials were predicting that Holliday wouldn't top the $100 million mark, $128 million is a pretty good score.

And if the Mets could actually get Jason Bay at half the price of Holliday, both in years and (roughly) dollars, that wouldn't be too horrible.

--In my column on the Mets, I mentioned that Bengie Molina wants a three-year deal. Which is preposterous. It would make much more sense for the Mets to offer a one-year deal with a high dollar figure to someone like Rod Barrajas, and then see how Josh Thole develops. But my hunch is that Molina eventually relents and accepts that two-year deal for about $12 million bucks or so that we've been discussing.

--Thought this was an interesting piece about John Lackey, by Matthew Carruth of FanGraphs. Again, this free-agent market has no sure things. I think a five-year commitment to Lackey would've been worth the risk for the Mets. But I can't kill them for not doing it.

--All right, I'm taking the rest of today off, so turn to David Lennon and Erik Boland for your baseball fix. See you tomorrow.



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