Yankees’ financial might extends to minor league free agency as well

OOTP 15 improves on the already spectacular franchise
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(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

If he continues to hit like he has the first few weeks of the season — he’s shown no signs of slowing down at this point, amazingly — Yangervis Solarte will go down as one of the best minor league free agent signings in baseball history. The switch-hitter has been a godsend for the Yankees, solidifying the infield and adding serious thump to the lineup. It’s been remarkable to watch.

I like to think that I’m pretty well-versed when it comes to prospects and the minors, but even I had never heard of Solarte before he signed with the Yankees. He came out of nowhere. Major League teams sure knew who he was, of course, and the Bombers were not the only team who pursued him over the winter. Joel Sherman says the Tigers were aggressive as well, so much so that they even promised him an opportunity to win their second base job. Here’s more from Sherman:

As a player who had spent eight years in the minors and was consistently — in (agent Peter) Greenberg’s words — “the 41st man” in a sport of 40-man rosters, Solarte wanted to see a road to make a team and perhaps start.

But then Detroit obtained (Ian) Kinsler. The Yanks were aggressive from the outset. They often have trouble convincing minor league free agents to sign with them because those players believe in the organization’s rep to go with stars over unknowns. The Yanks try to use money as a lure, and Greenberg said the $22,000 a month was the most any of his minor league clients ever had been offered, plus the Yankees were willing to guarantee three months of that contract.

Not only had Solarte never been in the big leagues before this season, he had never even been on a 40-man roster either. At least as far as I can tell. Solarte had several years of Triple-A experience though, so, according to Jeff Blank, he was earning upwards of $2,700 per month the last few years. Probably a bit more since he signed with the Rangers as a minor league free agent in both 2012 and 2013, when he had some negotiating leverage. It wasn’t $22k per month though, according to Sherman.

Being a pro baseball player is a good gig if you can get it, and if you injected every player in the world with a truth serum, I’m sure every one of them would say they are in it for the money, at least to some degree. It’s impossible to ignore the millions and millions of dollars on the table. Solarte signed with the Twins for a relatively small bonus as an amateur player out of Venezuela back in the day, and he didn’t exactly make huge bucks in the minors all these years. A $22k a month salary with $66k guaranteed would have been hard to pass up. Now it’s likely Solarte will earn more this season ($500k, the MLB minimum) than he did in his entire minor league career.

Like every other team, the Yankees sign a bunch of minor league free agents every year. Some work out — Solarte is an extreme example of one of these deals working out, but other minor league signees like Jayson Nix, Cory Wade, and Clay Rapada have contributed to the MLB team in recent years — and most don’t, but these deals are super low risk. No 40-man roster spot is required, and in many cases the actual salary is measured in the low six figures (or in Solarte’s case, five figures). It’s a place where the Yankees can flex their financial might by offered those extra couple thousand bucks per month, amounts that barely put a dent in the team’s bottom line.

Minor league salaries and free agency are still a bit of a mystery these days, especially when it comes to guys like Solarte, who have yet to make their MLB debut. He’s an outlier, and building a team around minor league signings is not something that will win titles, but these players are necessary to provide depth and fill out Triple-A (and sometimes Double-A) rosters. Even the best farm systems have holes — the vaunted Cardinals farm system had no shortstops, hence four years for Jhonny Peralta — and this is one way to fill them. It’s another spot where the Yankees can flex their financial muscle and it helped them strike minor league contract gold in Solarte.

OOTP 15 improves on the already spectacular franchise
Shawn Kelley shut down following setback
  • Yangeddard Solarte

    It just goes to show you when you give a kid a chance he can win you a lot of ballgames. Where would we be without Gardner, Teixera, Solarte and Tanaka? Dead last in all of baseball. With Soley’s numbers he should be hitting 2nd or 3rd in the lineup and not 8th or 9th. I do think they start searching for the next Solarte and get him for peanuts on the dollar.

  • The Other Matt

    I had read the exact same article earlier this week and was kind of amazed myself. First off, to offer a guy with no big league experience and who has never been considered a top prospect 22K/month, does seem kind of outlandish to a degree. Even for the Yankees. But reading the article, you see that other organizations, specifically the Tigers, saw something as well in Solarte. It does give you a bit more confidence in the Yankees scouting department in their evaluation of young prospects/minor league players, to see something in Solarte to offer him a deal which exhibits how interested they truly were. And while he wasn’t a guy that they developed through their system, the Yankees do deserve kudos for finding a “diamond in the rough” like him. Like I mentioned last week in a comment to another RAB commenter, Solarte hit below league-average in the PCL (a league notoriously known for it boosting a hitter’s numbers) the past two years, so the Yankees must’ve really saw something they liked when they scouted him. And to his credit, he has been everything and more than I’m sure even they could’ve hoped for. Just think about it, even after this spring where he tore the cover off the ball, there were still legitimate doubt amongst many people as to whether or not he would even make the team. Let alone having him end up with as an everyday player and swung the bat as well as he has.

    • The Great Gonzo

      ‘ Just think about it, even after this spring where he tore the cover off the ball, there were still legitimate doubt amongst many people as to whether or not he would even make the team’

      IN FAIRNESS, there was alot of doubt because the incumbent was already on the 40-man roster, and the Yankees are notorious for letting the logistics of the roster dictate their moves (in the event of a tie, at least)…

      That said, they had just about had an impacted assful of waiting for Nunez to do something of value, and Solarte pushed the issue by having the best spring for a non-roster invitee in recent memory (sorry, Ronnier).

      • The Other Matt

        Agreed. Even with that being said, it just goes to show how his revelation this season was that close to not even being an opportunity.

    • qwerty

      I think the yankees were simply looking for any cheap alternative they could find and got lucky. Let’s not forget they also signed Sizemore and Anna as well. Those two are barely surviving AAA pitching right now. If you do enough dumpster diving, which the yankees tend to do a lot of, you’ll eventually get lucky.

      • Kenny

        Of course, Anna hit .331 against AAA pitching last year, in 500+ pa’s. I know, I know, it’s the PCL, etc., but I doubt it’s as much inferior to the IL as the present stats might indicate (after only 90 pa’s). Anna’s nose may be seriously out of joint after the dismissal.

    • NapLajoieOnSteroids

      I wonder if it has anything to do with his friendship with Manny Ramirez. Whatever drugs and other nutty things that guy did, he clearly had an eye and temperament for hitting. If you are a scout who hears Manny praising this kid as a “major league bat” from both sides of the plate and you see him giving him hitting tips/lessons throughout the year, maybe you don’t put so much weight into lower numbers and try to find out a bit more about the kid and take a cheap chance on him as at worst organization filler.

      Still, it’s nice to know that the Yankee scouts were not the only ones interested.

      As of now, if Solarte turns into an Aaron Small-pumpkin tonight and never hits another xbh in his life; he has been a total success for the scouting department, and a bigger contributor than anything they could’ve gotten out of Nunez or Anna for a full season.

  • Slu

    $2,700 per month, which is only paid during the season, is terrible money. Let’s face it, these guys in the minors may dream of a big MLB payday, but nobody in the minors who is not a bonus baby is playing baseball for the money. Especially since one could probably make more money working at Target than playing minor league baseball.

    • The Great Gonzo

      They may be playing for the chance to someday get a veteran paycheck. And I would venture a guess that most players in professional ball believe they are good enough to make it to The Show.

      They can’t all be Mike Trout, but I would assume your average everyday Chris Leroux thinks they can, with a couple good things breaking their way, crack a major league roster.

  • Squints

    Why would this Godsend be hitting the lower half of the lineup and Jeter who cant hit the ball to the wall be hitting 2nd?

  • chris

    Yeah I agree with this and the Yankees have just done a great job in finding these diamonds in the rough.

  • vin

    Yangervis is a big win for the Yankees’ pro scouting. Maybe not as much as we thought, after finding out other teams were in hot pursuit, but still a very nice get.

    • hornblower

      Is Adonis Garcia next up if Beltran can’t go?

      • The Great Gonzo

        Wait, that’s not how you spell Kendrys Morales at all!

        • I’m One

          If half the vowels are silent, it’s close enough.

          • Jorge Steinbrenner

            Stephen Drew already signed somewhere else.

      • Need Pitching & Hitting

        They already called up Almonte.
        I’d expect them to see what the Almonte/Ichiro combination can do in increased playing time before they even consider Garcia.
        Johnson could see increased playing time as well (as 1B or DH, with Soriano in RF).
        There really isn’t a current need for another OF.

        • vin

          I agree. If you squint hard enough, Zoilo is still almost a prospect at age 25. Adonis is 29 and not on the 40 man. He’s closer to “break glass in case of emergency” than 6th OFer in the organization.

          • The Other Matt

            ‘break glass in case of emergency’. IETC.

            I would have to agree with that assessment as well, regarding Adonis Garcia. They still have Ramon Flores on the 40 man roster as well, although there are more than enough left-handed hitting outfielders on the team right now. Flores has swung the bat well so far this season, though he has struggled a bit since the beginning of the month (227/306/347, 84 wrc+). But his overall numbers this year in Scranton are pretty decent (255/353/408, 116 wrc+).

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    This is why you don’t deride these signings in December, as way too many fans often do. They’re not a waste of time. They matter.

    Very happy for Solarte. Here’s to hoping the glass slipper never comes off.

  • Chris Z.

    Funny question, outside of Tanaka, is Solarte this teams MVP? Take stats out for a second. Without him, players would be all over the place in the infield. There would be no depth anywhere, no quality AB’s from 2nd or 3rd (and 1st when Tex went down). He as allowed them to weather the storm here.