Yankees re-sign Erik Kratz to a minor league deal, probably

Kratz isn't here to play, he's here to party. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)
Kratz isn’t here to play, he’s here to party. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

The Kratzken is back. The Yankees have re-signed journeyman catcher Erik Kratz to what I assume is a minor league contract, his representatives at JMG Baseball announced. He was on the roster as the third catcher in September after coming over in a cash trade with the Indians. The Yankees outrighted him and he elected free agency after the season.

Kratz, 37, went 2-for-2 with a double in September and is the all-time franchise leader with a 2.500 OPS (min. two plate appearances). True story. Kratz hit .270/.359/.472 (132 wRC+) with 13 homers in 86 Triple-A games before the trade. He is a career .203/.250/.366 (63 wRC+) hitter in the big leagues, though 24 homers in 649 plate appearances is pretty cool.

My guess is the Yankees are penciling Kratz in as Kyle Higashioka‘s backup with Triple-A Scranton next year, though I suppose it is possible he will get a chance to wrestle the big league backup job away from Austin Romine. Kratz traveled with the Yankees throughout the postseason even though he wasn’t on the roster. He must’ve made a nice impression.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Another fun day at the Winter Meetings. The Yankees salary dumped Chase Headley (and Bryan Mitchell), which I honestly did not think would happen, and they were connected to a bunch of young starting pitchers as well. Headley could be frustrating because he was sooo streaky, but he was also a pretty cool guy who played well for the Yankees overall and did whatever the team needed. I’m sure he’s bummed to be leaving the Yankees given their current state. That’s the business though.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks, Nets, and Devils are all playing, plus there’s some college hoops on the schedule as well. You folks all know how these open threads work by now, so have at it.

2017 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Tuesday

Cole. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
Cole. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

The first day of the Winter Meetings came and went with little activity. At least aside from that big Giancarlo Stanton press conference, of course. There were a few low-profile signings and the usual array of rumors, yet most of the top free agents remain unsigned. That’ll change soon enough. Will the Yankees sign one of those free agents? Eh, hard to see it after Stanton.

“We have to do more. We have unfinished business,” said Brian Cashman following the Stanton press conference yesterday. “We have payroll space because we have more work to do. (The Stanton trade) fits because we still have room to accomplish all of our stated goals, but obviously it takes up some of that space, clearly.”

Yesterday we learned the Yankees have interest their 2008 first round pick, Pirates righty Gerrit Cole. Pitching help was mentioned more than a few times after the Stanton press conference. Once again, we’re going to keep track of all the day’s Yankees-related rumors from the Winter Meetings right here, so make sure you check back for updates. All timestamps are ET.

  • 5:18pm: The Yankees are working hard to add a starting pitcher, so says Aaron Boone. Boone is still new here. I don’t know if he’s just saying that to say it, or because the Yankees are moving down the line with a trade or free agent. Probably the former. [Kuty]
  • 4:47pm: Brian Cashman has been talking to Frazier’s agent now that third base is open. [Bryan Hoch]
  • 2:46pm: It is very possible the Yankees will add two starting pitchers. In all likelihood, they’d trade for a younger pitcher under control and re-sign CC Sabathia [Kuty]
  • 2:31pm: The Yankees are one of several teams to check in with the Royals about lefty Danny Duffy. There is currently no traction with any team, though that can change quick. [Joel Sherman]
  • 12:20pm: If you’re thinking about a Todd Frazier reunion in the wake of the Headley trade, Frazier has let teams know he wants a multi-year contract. [Brendan Kuty]
  • 11:17am: The Yankees have traded Chase Headley and Bryan Mitchell to the Padres for Jabari Blash. The deal clears Headley’s entire $13M salary. Here’s our post.
  • 10:27am: The Yankees are trying to trade for a starter and have both Michael Fulmer and Patrick Corbin “on their radar in early talks.” Corbin will be a free agent next year. Fulmer is under control for another few years. [Bob Nightengale]
  • 9:30am: The Pirates are willing to listen to offers for Cole, though they are not actively shopping him and they do not appear to be particularly motivated to trade him this week. [Buster Olney, Rob Biertempfel]
  • 9:30am: It is “unlikely” Jacoby Ellsbury will waive his no-trade clause to leave the Yankees. He is no higher than fifth on the outfield depth chart, but hey, the Yankees look pretty good. I wouldn’t want to leave either. [Mark Feinsand]
  • 9:30am: At some point between the Shohei Ohtani rejection and the Stanton trade, the Yankees expressed interest in Carlo Santana. That’s not happening now, obviously. [Ken Davidoff]

(Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.)

The back of the bench [2017 Season Review]

Higgy looking for hits (Al Bello/Getty Images)
Higgy looking for hits (Al Bello/Getty Images)

We’ve gone through just about every player who made an appearance for the Yankees this year. The good ones. The bad ones. Now let’s get to some of the players in between, the players who are easy to forget. These are the players that you miss on the 2017 New York Yankees Sporcle quiz.

First, let’s go a little more in-depth on a few players I went over in the miscellaneous first basemen review and then touch on the true bottom of the roster.

Rob Refsnyder

While Refsnyder had a five-game stint at first base, the Yankees didn’t use him primarily at first this year. He was called up on May 2 to replace an injured Greg Bird on the roster. Six days later, he was sent down for Chad Green.

In all, Refsnyder was up-and-down three times in May, once for the single-admission Derek Jeter/Mother’s Day doubleheader and another time to take the spot of Jacoby Ellsbury post-concussion.

I’ve already gone into his inability to hit this year. It was painful. But his fielding also reared its ugly head. The moment that sticks out was when he replaced Dustin Fowler after the rookie’s devastating knee injury. Refsnyder almost immediately misplayed a ball in right field during a game the Yankees lost by one run.

The dream was that Refsnyder could be a Zobrist-type, but he could neither hit nor field particularly well and it’s why he’s currently on his third organization in the last year (Yankees to Blue Jays to Indians). He played six games against the Yankees with the Blue Jays in the final two months of the year and went 2-for-12.

Tyler Austin

With 40 more at-bats in 2017, Austin is six at-bats shy of no longer being a rookie. And after a sub-par season due to injuries, it’s worth wondering where he fits in New York.

Two separate DL stints this season really set him back from a chance to prove himself as at least a bench bat, if not the righty side of a platoon. Now, he’ll likely start 2018 in Triple A if he makes it through the offseason on the 40-man roster.

Fun note: He is Pikachu in Didi’s postgame tweets. I don’t think any of these other players got an emoji.

Kyle Higashioka

Higashioka had an impressive 2016 in the minors, earning himself the opportunity as the No. 3 catcher out of spring. His calling card in 2016 was his power, although we didn’t get a chance to see it in the majors.

In his age-27 season, he walked twice and picked up no hits in 20 plate appearances while playing nine games in April. He got the chance after Gary Sanchez went down with a forearm injury, but Higgy couldn’t hack it in an extremely short sample size after debuting in the Yankees’ home opener.

As he did for much of his minor league career, Higashioka dealt with injuries for much of the season. The team had to have hoped he’d turned the corner health-wise in his breakout 2016, but alas, he was unable to do so.

The team had to seek out a new third catcher for September after he couldn’t make make it back from his back injury. Now he’ll have to prove himself again to make it through 2018 on the 40-man.

Mason Williams

The former top prospect spent his final games in pinstripes this season. Sad to see his time as a Yankee come to an end, but he became expendable this season with the team’s glut of young outfielders.

He made five starts in June and picked up four hits, stealing two bases. No extra-base hits though, which has been part of his issues. He just couldn’t hit for much pop, nor could he work many walks.

He was designated for assignment on June 29 to make room for Dustin Fowler. He spent the rest of the year in Scranton where he continued to show very little power but still produced with his legs (19 steals in 24 attempts).

Williams is now with the Cincinnati Reds, having signed with the club as a minor league free agent after the season.

Williams steals a base on Kozma! (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Williams steals a base on Kozma! (Rich Schultz/Getty)

Pete Kozma

Kozma may be the easiest 2017 Yankee to forget. He wouldn’t have made the roster at all if it wasn’t for Didi’s injury during the World Baseball Classic/Spring Training.

He played just 11 games in pinstripes and made just 10 plate appearances. He had just one hit and one walk. Didn’t do anything remarkable. He was DFA’d to make room for Didi on April 28 and spent the next 3.5 months with the Rangers. He was cut from their Triple A squad in mid-August.

Erik Kratz

The Yankees needed a third catcher down the stretch, so Kratz was acquired at the waiver deadline. He played in just four games and had just two at-bats. He delivered in both of them with a single and a double, finishing the season with a sterling 2.500 OPS. That’s good for a 600 wRC+. Oh snap!

He hung around the team during the postseason and stood up for Aaron Judge in a postgame interview after ALDS Game 5. That’s about it for his brief Yankees career.

Yankees trade Chase Headley and Bryan Mitchell to Padres in salary dump deal

(David Maxwell/Getty Images)
(David Maxwell/Getty Images)

1:31pm ET: The Yankees have announced the trade. They get Blash from the Padres for Headley, Mitchell, and cash considerations. Mark Feinsand says the Yankees are sending $500,000 to the Padres. Jon Heyman says the two teams are splitting the $1M assignment bonus in Headley’s contract.

11:17am ET: The Yankees have cleared up more payroll space under the luxury tax threshold. According to Joel Sherman and Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees have traded Chase Headley and Bryan Mitchell to the Padres for outfielder Jabari Blash. San Diego is taking on Headley’s entire $13M salary. It’s a straight salary dump trade. The Yankees also open a 40-man roster spot. Neither team has confirmed the deal.

For all intents and purposes, the Padres purchased Mitchell from the Yankees for $13M. That’s what it boils down to. Mitchell clearly has quality stuff, including a high spin curveball, though he’s been unable to find success in the big leagues the last few years — he has a 4.94 ERA (4.26 FIP) in 98.1 career innings — and had fallen way down the depth chart. The Yankees managed to attach Mitchell to Headley to dump Headley’s entire salary. That seems pretty good to me.

Furthermore, Mitchell is out of minor league options, meaning he can’t go to the minors without passing through waivers. He was on the 40-man roster chopping block as it is — I thought he might get the axe when the Yankees needed to clear 40-man space for their Rule 5 Draft protections last month — and there was little chance he’d break camp with the team next year. The Yankees might’ve lost Mitchell for nothing had they held on to him. Going to the Padres will be a good opportunity for him. Mitchell is a classic change of scenery candidate.

Headley, who is entering the final year of his four-year contract worth $52M, hit .273/.352/.406 (104 wRC+) with 12 home runs in 2017. He moved from third base over to first, and was tentatively scheduled to start at third base again next year. Headley could be very streaky, his highs were very high and his lows were very low, but overall he was an okay player for New York. Nice guy, did whatever the team asked, etc.

The 28-year-old Blash is a former Rule 5 Draft who went from the Athletics to the Padres in the Drew Pomeranz-Yonder Alonso trade two winters ago. He’s a career .200/.323/.336 (84 wRC+) hitter with eight homers in 99 big league games, and his one standout tool is his huge raw power. Blash can do this to a baseball:

There’s not much Blash can do other than hit the ball a mile when he connects, and hey, that’s a good skill to have. He put up a .285/.419/.617 (165 wRC+) line with 20 homers in 72 Triple-A games this past season, though that happened in the very hitter friendly Pacific Coast League and in a very hitter friendly home ballpark in El Paso. El Paso as a team hit .283/.349/.473 this season, so yeah.

Blash has a minor league option remaining, though I get the sense he is not long for the 40-man roster. He was included in the trade because the rules say the Padres had to send the Yankees something, and Blash was it. If anything, maybe he’s another layer of outfield depth should the Yankees trade Clint Frazier for a pitcher? Even then, they still have Jake Cave and Billy McKinney on the 40-man. Jabari’s time in pinstripes may be short.

This trade definitely feels like a precursor to another move (or moves). The Yankees now have approximately $35M in payroll space under the $197M luxury tax threshold, though keep in mind they need to set some money aside for midseason call-ups and additions. Starting pitching has been most talked about, though I have to think the Yankees will dip their toe into the infield market now that Headley and Starlin Castro are gone. Would they really go with kids at second and third bases? Maybe! We’ll find out soon enough.

Tampa Yankees rebranded as the Tampa Tarpons

Let's call them the Tarps for short. (MiLB.com)
Let’s call them the Tarps for short. (MiLB.com)

As part of MLB’s directive to rename all minor league teams sharing a name with their parent club, the High Class-A Tampa Yankees have been renamed the Tampa Tarpons, the team announced today. The Yankees retain ownership of the Tampa franchise, which plays its games at George M. Steinbrenner Field. It’s a rebranding only.

“We wanted to establish our own identity that connected us with the Tampa community and its baseball history,” said Tampa GM Vance Smith. The original Tampa Tarpons were a Class-D and later High-A minor league affiliate for several teams from 1957-87 before the franchise was relocated to Sarasota, so the name is being recycled.

MLB does not want minor league teams sharing a name with their parent club to avoid confusion. When someone says “Yankees,” they want people thinking New York Yankees and not Tampa Yankees. I know, it’s silly, but that’s the thought process here. MLB wants the New York Yankees to be the only Yankees, and the same for every other team.

As part of MLB’s directive, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees changed their name to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders back in 2013. Fans voted for the new name. The Staten Island Yankees are currently in the process of rebranding, though the fan vote was put on hold. It’s only a matter of time until the Pulaski Yankees rebrand as well.

Monday Night Open Thread

What a day. What a day what a day what a day. The Yankees introduced Giancarlo Stanton with a press conference this afternoon and gosh, he did not hold back. He roasted the Marlins. It was refreshingly candid. Stanton was also so obviously thrilled to be a Yankee though. He said can’t wait to get into the clubhouse, he’ll hit wherever in the lineup, play wherever in the outfield, all that stuff. Stanton said everything you wanted to hear.

Video of the Stanton press conference is embedded above. He also sat down with the YES Network afterward. So did Aaron Boone and Hal Steinbrenner. You can see those videos here. Everyone sure sounds excited and understandably so. What a fun day.

* * *

Here is the nightly open thread. The Patriots and Dolphins are the Monday Night Football game, the (hockey) Rangers and Islanders are playing, and there’s some college basketball on as well. Talk about those games, Stanton’s press conference, or anything else right here, as long as it is not religion or politics. Have at it.