With their big winter moves in the books, the Yankees will now focus on filling out their roster. That leaves open the possibility of a trade; we know the Yankees prefer to trade for a DH rather than sign a free agent. Mostly, though, they’ll fill the roster by signing low-level free agents to minor league deals. It appears they could be close on the first such deal. This morning Ken Rosenthal reported that the Yankees are in “serious talks” with Bill Hall, who could fill a utility role for the team.
If the two sides do work out a deal, chances are high that it would be of the minor league variety. The Yankees currently have a full 40-man roster, and Hall isn’t the type of player for whom you sacrifice someone. With a number of 40-man spots opening up soon enough — 60-day DL stints for Joba and Feliciano, plus the potential returning of the two Rule 5 picks — a minor league deal could work out well for both sides. That also takes the pressure off the Yankees to carry Hall. Considering his recent past, he deserves no guarantees.
For two seasons Hall looked like a solid regular. He hit .280/.344/.525, a 119 wRC+, while playing a solid third base (in terms of defensive metrics). In those two years he led the Brewers in hitting numbers and WAR. Unfortunately, that was 2005 and 2006. In 2007 the Brewers moved Hall to the outfield so they could play Ryan Braun at third. Hall was a vocal opponent of the move, and his numbers reflected his attitude: .254/.315/.425. Yet as it turns out the decision to move him was wrongheaded. The Brewers moved Braun to the outfield in 2008 and started using Hall in a utility role. His numbers continued to decline from there.
Since his move from third base five years ago, Hall has produced exactly one above-average season at the plate. That came in 2010 for the Red Sox, where he hit .247/.316/.456 in 382 PA. He also filled many roles for them, playing all three outfield positions, including 48 innings in center field, second base, third base, and shortstop. He parlayed that into a one-year, $3 million deal with the Astros, which included a $4 million mutual option for 2012. But before even the halfway point the Astros had already released him due to his .224/.272/.340 line. The Giants then signed him, but after he hit .158/.220/.221 in 41 PA they, too, gave him the axe. He spent the remainder of the season in AAA.
At age 32, Hall could still have another useful season in him. He did show a decent amount of pop while with the Red Sox in 2010, and he actually hit for more power on the road than at home (so he wasn’t just a product of Fenway). In addition, the Yankees have long been interested in Hall’s services. They explored a trade for him in 2008, though at the time his contract made that a non-starter. Last winter the Yankees tried to sign him as well. Hall has worked with Kevin Long this winter, so presumably Brian Cashman is working with that input.
Signing, or not signing, Bill Hall will not make a huge difference this off-season. There is almost no chance of this being a major league deal, so it’s just like every other minor league deal. Every team brings a number of these players to camp every year. Having Hall makes sense, because he’s had some success in the recent past. It’s tough to ignore his 2011, but just a year before that he put up numbers befitting a good bench player. That’s all the Yanks can really ask out of a minor league signee.