Saturday Links: Otani, Draft Info, Mock Drafts, Old Timers’ Day

Otani. (Presswire)
Otani. (Presswire)

The Yankees and Orioles continue their weekend series later tonight, with a 7:15pm ET game. Boy, I sure do hate Saturday night games. Anyway, until then, check out Jorge Posada’s letter to his younger self at The Players’ Tribune, then check out these stray bits of news.

Latest on Shohei Otani

Earlier this week Jeff Passan posted a bit of an update on Nippon Ham Fighters ace/slugger Shohei Otani, the best player in the world not under contract with one of the 30 big league teams. Otani is only 22, which means he would be subject to the international bonus hard cap if he were to come over to MLB this offseason. Waiting until he’s 25 would allow him to sign a contract of any size. Anyway, the important details from Passan:

  • There is “significant skepticism” that Otani will come over to MLB this winter. Teams estimate his market value right now, at age 22, at at least $200M. Market value is not the same thing as earning potential, of course.
  • MLB is expected to be “vigilant to ensure the sanctity of the system is not made a mockery by extralegal payments,” meaning a team couldn’t give Otani a long-term contract shortly after signing him, thereby circumventing the hard cap.
  • AL teams believe they have an inside track to sign Otani because they can let him DH between starts. NL teams are wary of letting him play the outfield when he’s not on the mound.

Otani, by the way, has been hampered by a nagging ankle issue this season. He has yet to pitch and only recently did he return to the lineup as a designated hitter. He’s hitting .407/.469/.815 with five doubles and two homers in eight games so far.

My guess — and this is only a guess — is Otani will not come over to MLB this winter. I think he’ll instead announce his intention to come over next offseason, allowing teams to get their international bonus money situation in order. Right now, just about every team has agreements in place with Latin American players for July 2nd, leaving them no money for Otani over the winter. We’ll see.

Latest Mock Drafts

With the draft two days away, the consensus right now is the Twins will select Vanderbilt RHP Kyle Wright with the first overall pick. That allows California HS SS/RHP Hunter Greene, the unanimous No. 1 prospect in the draft class, to slip to the Reds with the second pick, or maybe even the Padres with the third pick. Anyway, here are the latest mock drafts and their Yankees’ picks:

In the FanGraphs write-up Eric Longenhagen notes the Yankees have had “special assistants” in to see Rogers, though I should note that isn’t unusual for any player under first round consideration. Baseball America says the Yankees have been “linked to college arms all spring, but (they) also could go for the right college bat.” MLB.com links them to California HS 1B Nick Pratto (RAB profile) in addition to Canning and Rogers.

(Self-Promotion: I posted a mock draft at CBS that is little more than educated guesswork, so check that out. I’m not going to tell you who I have the Yankees taking. No, I’m not above begging for clicks.)

(Matthew Ziegler/Getty)
(Matthew Ziegler/Getty)

Swisher, Boucher to represent Yankees at draft

Last week MLB announced the representatives for all 30 teams for Monday’s draft broadcast on MLB Network. Nick Swisher and Denis Boucher are representing the Yankees. Here are every team’s representatives. Swisher is Swisher. He played for the Yankees from 2009-12 and was very productive. He’ll go down as one of Brian Cashman‘s greatest trades. Also, when Swisher left as a free agent, the Yankees used the compensation draft pick to select Aaron Judge. That trade is the gift that keeps on giving.

Boucher has been with the Yankees since 2010 and he more or less runs their amateur scouting in Eastern Canada. His MLB playing career was brief (1991-94 with the Blue Jays, Indians, Expos) and since then he’s worked to grow the game in Canada. Boucher has coached Canadian Olympic teams, in the World Baseball Classic, and a bunch of other international tournaments. He’s also been involved in developing Canada’s youth baseball program. Certainly not a household name, but Boucher has done a lot to promote the game north of the border. Pretty cool the Yankees are rewarding him with a trip to the draft.

Also, I should note MLB has announced four prospects will attend the draft Monday: Greene, Rogers, Kentucky HS OF Jordon Adell (RAB profile), and Alabama HS OF Bubba Thompson (RAB profile). Would be kinda cool if the Yankees picked a kid actually at the draft, no? Judge and Ian Clarkin were there for the 2013 draft, remember.

Yankees announce Old Timers’ Day roster

Old Timers’ Day is Sunday, June 25th this year — two weeks from tomorrow — and a few days ago the Yankees announced the list of attendees. Here’s the press release. Most are the usual suspects. Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, Paul O’Neill, Ron Guidry, etc. The guys we see every Old Timers’ Day. The most notable first time Old Timer is Jorge Posada. He’s the first member of the Core Four (groan) to attend Old Timers’ Day. Neat.

Also, during the Old Timers’ Day festivities, the Yankees will hold a special ceremony to honor new Hall of Famer Tim Raines. Raines is going into the Hall of Fame as an Expo (duh), but he was an incredibly productive platoon outfielder with the Yankees from 1996-98. Rock hit .299/.395/.429 (120 wRC+) with 18 homers and 26 steals in 940 plate appearances those years, his age 36-38 seasons. Pretty awesome.

Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: June 2012

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

The trade deadline is inching closer and closer, and now that we’re in June, it’s time for another trip through the MLB Trade Rumors archives. June is typically when trade chatter starts to pick up, and usually we see a few deals as well. For the most part though, the month of June is about laying the groundwork. Scouting players, seeing who’s available, that sort of thing.

On the morning of June 1st, 2012, the Yankees were 27-23 and in third place in the AL East, only 1.5 games back of the Rays and Orioles, who had identical 29-22 records. The Yankees closed out May with six wins in eight games. At that point of the season, the Yankees had already suffered three major injuries: Michael Pineda (shoulder), Brett Gardner (elbow), and Mariano Rivera (knee). There was no real shortage of needs. Let’s jump into the MLBTR archives.

June 1st, 2012: Yankees Eyeing Matt Garza

Matt Garza interests the Yankees more than other potentially available starters, so GM Brian Cashman could pursue the right-hander this summer, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. The Red Sox could also pursue Garza, Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com notes (on Twitter).

I remember being all about Garza in the weeks leading up to the 2012 trade deadline. He was only 27 at the time, and he was coming off a 3.32 ERA (2.95 FIP) in 198 innings in 2011. Plus he was under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2013. It was a chance to get a high-end starter with AL East experience in the middle of his prime.

The Yankees and many other teams reportedly remained engaged with the Cubs about Garza — the Cubbies went 61-101 that season and were clear sellers — though all the trade talk was put on hold when he left his July 21st start with elbow stiffness. Shortly thereafter he was diagnosed with a stress reaction and shut down for the season. Good thing the Yankees didn’t make a deal in June, huh? I was very much on board with going after Garza before the injury.

June 2nd, 2012: Orioles Acquire Steve Pearce, DFA Bill Hall

The Orioles have acquired first baseman Steve Pearce from the Yankees and designated utility man Bill Hall for assignment, according to Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com (via Twitter).  The Yankees will receive cash considerations in return, tweets Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com.

A quick recap of Steve Pearce’s 2012 season:

  • March 27th: Released by the Twins.
  • March 29th: Signed minor league deal with the Yankees.
  • June 2nd: Traded to the Orioles for cash.
  • July 28: Claimed off waivers by the Astros.
  • August 27: Traded to the Yankees for cash.
  • September 29: Claimed off waivers by the Orioles.

That couldn’t have been fun for Pearce. Imagine if the recent Ruben Tejada trade plays out the same way. The Yankees trade a superfluous Triple-A depth player to the O’s in early June, then he inexplicably hits .258/.339/.482 (127 wRC+) the next three seasons.

June 7th, 2012: AL East Notes: Reyes, Rundles, Blue Jays

The Yankees have signed 22-year-old Dominican right-hander Manolo Reyes, reports Ben Badler of Baseball America.  The contract is worth $600K but is contingent on Reyes obtaining a visa and passing an MLB investigation into his identity and age, as Reyes has already served one year-long suspension due to problems with his paperwork.  Reyes was originally signed by the Braves in 2009.

Manolo! Reyes threw extremely hard. He was one of the hardest throwers in the farm system at the time, routinely hitting 99-100 mph. He also had no idea where the ball was going. Reyes was with the Yankees from 2013-16, and during that time he had a 4.14 ERA (3.78 FIP) in 87 total innings, none above High-A ball. He walked 65 (16.3% of batters faced) and struck out 90 (22.5%). The Yankees released Reyes last year and, as far as I can tell, he hasn’t hooked on anywhere since. They paid him a $600,000 bonus plus however much in annual salary for 87 Single-A innings. It’s good work if you can get it.

June 9th, 2012: Yankees Not Looking For Outfield Help

Left fielder Brett Gardner has played just nine games this season due to a right elbow strain, and today he suffered a setback that will likely keep him out through the All-Star break. Despite that, Yankees GM Brian Cashman told reporters (including Chad Jennings of The Journal News) that he hasn’t looked into trading for outfield help just yet.

“I haven’t been looking,” said Cashman. “That doesn’t mean that (it’s out of the question). Now you’ve passed the draft, people will be more interested in having conversations. I have not had any conversations with anybody about anything.”

Gardner hurt his elbow making a sliding catch in April and it just wasn’t getting any better. He eventually had surgery in July and was able to return very late in the season. The injury pushed Raul Ibanez into left field on a nearly full-time basis before the Yankees swung the trade for Ichiro Suzuki. Eight different players started a game in left field for New York that year:

  1. Raul Ibanez: 65 starts in left
  2. Andruw Jones: 41
  3. Ichiro Suzuki: 26
  4. Dewayne Wise: 9
  5. Jayson Nix: 9
  6. Brett Gardner: 8
  7. Eduardo Nunez: 3
  8. Chris Dickerson: 1

Don’t forget Darnell McDonald either! He played one game in left field during his four days as a Yankees, though he did not start. The Yankees got a .241/.312/.415 (92 OPS+) batting line from their left fielders that season, which was a) not that awful considering the personnel, and b) their least productive position. The 2012 Yankees could score some damn runs.

June 13th, 2012: Ben Sheets Throws For Team

Righty Ben Sheets threw for scouts today in Monroe, Louisiana, MLBTR has learned.  Scouts from the Phillies, Braves, Yankees, and Angels were in attendance.

Oh man, I loved Ben Sheets. His 2004 season is one of the best pitching seasons no one talks about. Injuries completely ruined his career — he threw 119.1 innings from 2009-11, all in 2010 — but when he was young and healthy, he was dominant. Dude was tough as nails and his curveball was as pretty as it gets:

The Yankees never did sign Sheets that year. He wound up hooking on with the Braves and throwing 49.1 innings in nine starts with a 3.47 ERA (4.11 FIP). I have absolutely zero recollection of Sheets in Atlanta. He never pitched again after that. Sheets is still only 38, you know. He’s basically the same age as John Lackey.

June 14th, 2012: Yankees Notes: Quentin, Swisher, Nunez

The Yankees don’t consider Carlos Quentin as a fit for their needs, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.  The Yankees would want to fill left field with someone “speedier” than Quentin, which probably also means someone more defensively capable (Quentin has a career UZR/150 of – 9.1). 

I didn’t love the idea of Quentin, but I understood it. The Yankees needed a left fielder in the wake of Gardner’s injury, and Quentin was hitting .421/.542/.921 (290 wRC+) on the day of this report. That was small sample size noise though. Quentin didn’t make his season debut until May 28th after having knee surgery in March. He finished the season with a .261/.374/.504 (146 wRC+) line and 16 homers in 340 plate appearances.

The two biggest reasons I wasn’t a fan of trading for Quentin were his defense and his injury history. He was a brutal outfielder, especially after knee surgery. One of the few players who was as bad or worse than Ibanez. And the guy got hurt all the time, partially because he was so prone to getting hit by pitches (127 HBP in 834 games). Only three times in nine MLB seasons did he play at least 100 games. The Padres never did trade Quentin. They signed him to a three-year extension in July instead. He played 132 games during the three-year deal.

June 15th, 2012: Yankees Like Dempster; Dodgers Eyeing Garza

Several contenders, including the Yankees and Dodgers, covet Dempster, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Unlike Garza, Ryan Dempster was an impending free agent in 2012, so the Cubs pretty much had to move him. He was having a good year too. A 2.11 ERA (3.28 FIP) through 12 starts and 81 innings following his start on the day of this report. The Yankees stuck to their guns and didn’t trade for any rotation help in 2012. They won 95 games and rode it out with what they had.

Dempster, meanwhile, was traded to the Rangers at the deadline for a package that included Kyle Hendricks. Dempster with the Cubs: 2.25 ERA (3.43 FIP) in 104 innings. Dempster with the Rangers: 5.09 ERA (4.08 FIP) in 69 innings. Reminder: don’t pay for outlier performance at the trade deadline. This was Dempster’s final start with Texas:

That game, Game 162 in 2012 to decide the AL West, was easily one of the most fun and exciting non-Yankees games of the last ten years. As long as you weren’t rooting for the Rangers, that is.

June 15th, 2012: East Notes: Blue Jays, Phillies, Braves, Soler

The Braves were right there with the Cubs and willing to spend $30MM on Jorge Soler, tweets Peter Gammons of MLB.com.  The White Sox and Yankees, meanwhile, had bids that fell between $25MM and $30MM.

The Yankees tried and failed to sign Soler, which has become a bit of a pattern with the top Cuban prospects over the years. Soler was billed as the ultra-talented superstar in waiting, as all young Cuban players are, and five years later, he’s basically the next Jose Guillen. Lots of power, too much swing and miss, awful defense. I remain absolutely stunned the Cubs were able to trade him straight up for one year of Wade Davis. How?

June 18th, 2012: Quick Hits: Padres, Phillies, Drabek, Vlad

GM Brian Cashman told Jim Bowden on MLB Network Radio that the Yankees haven’t pursued contract extensions for Robinson Cano or Curtis Granderson, but aim to keep both players long-term (Twitter link).

Welp.

June 20th, 2012: Astros Will Listen On Wandy Rodriguez

The Astros will listen to offers for left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, and teams are watching the left-hander in anticipation of the July 31st trade deadline, Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports writes. The Yankees, Giants and Blue Jays had representatives in attendance for Rodriguez’s start against the Royals last night, Morosi reports.

The Astros were still in the National League at the time, and there was a lot of concern Rodriguez, a finesse southpaw on the wrong side of 30, wouldn’t be able to cut it in the so-called Junior Circuit. He had been a solid pitcher for a while though:

  • 2009: 3.02 ERA  and 3.54 FIP in 205.2 innings
  • 2010: 3.60 ERA and 3.50 FIP in 195 innings
  • 2011: 3.49 ERA and 4.15 FIP in 191 innings

On the day of this report, he had a 3.29 ERA (4.20 FIP) in 95.2 innings. He finished the season with a Wandy-esque 3.76 ERA (3.93 FIP) in 205.2 total innings and was traded to the Pirates at the deadline. Wandy bounced around a bit at the end of his career, and his final big league appearance was a one-inning, seven-run disaster in this game:

That was a fun game. I didn’t realize it effectively ended Wandy Rodriguez’s career.

June 20th, 2012: Yankees To Sign Omar Luis

4:23pm: The left-hander will obtain a $4MM bonus, Ben Badler of Baseball America reports. He has five pitches, including a fastball that ranges from 86-92 mph, and a competitive approach.

Luis was the last Cuban player the Yankees signed before the new international bonus pools kicked in on July 2nd. He might have been the last player they signed before the bonus pools period. Anyway, Luis was a total dud. He had a 4.80 ERA (5.11 FIP) with nearly as many walks (75) as strikeouts (86) in 99.1 lower level innings before being released following the 2015 season. He’s been out of baseball since. Also, his $4M bonus was later reduced to $2.5M after the Yankees saw something they didn’t like in his physical. A swing and a miss, this was.

June 26th, 2012: Yankees Claim Danny Farquhar Off Waivers

The Yankees have claimed Danny Farquhar off waivers from the Athletics, the team announced. Oakland designated the right-hander for assignment over the weekend.

How often does a player go from waiver claim to trade bait within a month? That’s what happened with Farquhar. The Yankees grabbed him on waivers, he spent a few weeks with Double-A Trenton (11 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 14 K!), then he went to the Mariners in the Ichiro deal. Farquhar has carved out a nice little career for himself as a middle reliever/sometimes setup guy. Grabbing a dude on waivers then trading him for a future Hall of Famer the next month is some video game roster building stuff. I’m pretty sure I’ve done that in MLB: The Show a few times over the years.

June 28th, 2012: Zack Greinke Rumors: Thursday

“A couple of teams,” including the Yankees, feel that Greinke may not be suited for pitching in a large market, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.  Greinke did tell the Yankees he would pitch for them when he was in the process of being dealt from the Royals to the Brewers. 

Does anyone still believe this “Greinke can’t handle a big market” nonsense? I hope not. That ridiculous assertion was made by people who really have no idea what social anxiety disorder, something Greinke battled way back in the day with the Royals, actually is. He had a 2.30 ERA (2.97 FIP) in three years with the large market Dodgers, including a 2.38 ERA with a .186/.217/.310 batting line against in six postseason starts, all while pitching with a monster contract. Not sure he can handle the spotlight, you guys. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a truly great player — Greinke’s going to end up a borderline Hall of Famer when it’s all said and gone — be more unfairly characterized as Greinke.

June 29th, 2012: Yankees Claim Schwinden, Designate Farquhar

The Yankees claimed right-hander Chris Schwinden off of waivers from Cleveland, the Indians announced. The Yankees designated Danny Farquhar for assignment in a related move, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reports (on Twitter).

My favorite part of these MLBTR Archives posts is being reminded of players I had completely forgotten about, like Schwinden. This was a one-month stretch of his life in 2012:

  • June 2nd: Claimed off waivers by Blue Jays from Mets.
  • June 6th: Claimed off waivers by Indians from Blue Jays.
  • June 29th: Claimed off waivers by Yankees from Indians:
  • July 5th: Claimed off waivers by Mets from Yankees.

Hopefully he got some airline miles and hotel points out of that. Schwinden appeared in one game as a member of the Yankees organization, allowing four runs in four innings in a spot start for Triple-A Scranton. He’s been out of baseball since 2014, though at least he got to get a taste of the show with the Mets in 2011 and 2012.

June 29th, 2012: Quick Hits: Thome, Blue Jays, Oliver, Orioles

As the Phillies look for a place to move Jim Thome, the Rays and Yankees are not interested, sources tell Buster Olney of ESPN.com (via Twitter). 

JIM THOME. Man, that would have been fun. Because Ibanez was playing so much left field in the wake of the Gardner injury, the Yankees had an opening at DH, and they rotated players in and out at the position all season. Seventeen different players saw time at DH in 2012. 17! Among them were — and I’m not joking — Ramiro Pena and Melky Mesa. They could have used Thome at DH. Jimmer Jammer was with the Phillies as a bench bat at the time, and they later traded him to the Orioles, where he hit .257/.348/.396 (102 wRC+) with three homers in 115 plate appearances. That was the final chapter of his should-be Hall of Fame career. The Yankees ended it in the ALDS that October.

Friday Links: Top 100 Prospects, Mock Draft, Jeter, Luxury Tax

Montgomery. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Montgomery. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

The Yankees and Astros continue their four-game weekend series with the second game later tonight. Here are a couple of strays links to check out in the meantime.

Six Yankees on BA’s latest top 100 list

The Baseball America crew released an updated top 100 prospects list this week, which is designed to “reflect the graduations of players who are no longer prospect-eligible and to tweak the rankings based on feedback we have received from scouts and coaches who have seen the prospects this year.” White Sox IF Yoan Moncada is atop the list. Six Yankees farmhands made the top 100:

2. SS Gleyber Torres (Preseason: 5th)
33. OF Clint Frazier (Preseason: 39th)
37. OF Blake Rutherford  (Preseason: 45th)
85. LHP Justus Sheffield (Preseason: 91st)
99. LHP Jordan Montgomery (Preseason: Not ranked)
100. RHP Chance Adams (Preseason: Not ranked)

OF Aaron Judge ranked 90th before the season and has since graduated to the big leagues. SS Jorge Mateo (85th) and RHP James Kaprielian (87th) both made the preseason list but have since dropped off. In a supplemental piece (sub. req’d), the Baseball America crew says Mateo fell out of the top 100 because he simply isn’t performing. He’s hitting .220/.270/.315 (67 wRC+) while repeating High-A ball. Kaprielian fell off because he blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery. Duh.

I can’t say I ever expected to see Montgomery crack a top 100 prospects list, so it’s pretty cool he was able to sneak on. He’s walked a few too many in his brief big league time (11.7%), which is not uncommon for young pitchers. Otherwise Montgomery appears to have all the ingredients necessary to be a back-end starter long-term. Those guys are really valuable during their cheap pre-arbitration years. Montgomery has thrown 28.2 MLB innings so far, so he’s about four starts away from clearing the 50-inning rookie limit and graduating to MLB. This will probably be the only top 100 list he makes. I’m guessing he’s fine with that.

Keith Law’s mock draft v1.0

Keith Law (subs. req’d) released his first mock draft of the year earlier this week, and he has the Twins taking Louisville 1B/LHP Brendan McKay with the No. 1 pick. California HS SS/RHP Hunter Greene, the consensus top prospect in the 2017 draft class, is expected to slip to the Reds with the second overall pick. Lucky them. Law has the Yankees taking California HS 1B Nick Pratto with their first round pick, No. 16 overall. From Law:

Pratto seems to have separated himself as the best pure hitter among the high school crop this year, though high school first basemen taken high don’t have the greatest track record either.

Here’s my Pratto write-up. On paper, Pratto fits the Yankees. Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer has a known affinity for Southern California players, and the Yankees also have a thing for advanced high school bats. They pounced when Rutherford fell into their laps last year. Back in the day, before the bonus pools took the fun out of everything, they paid Greg Bird and Tyler Austin overslot bonuses when their polished bats slipped into the later rounds. The 2017 draft is a little more than five weeks away now.

Loria tried to trade for Jeter with Expos

Jeet & Vlad. (Nick Laham/Getty)
Jeet & Vlad. (Nick Laham/Getty)

Here’s a fun old trade rumor. According to Steven Marcus, Jeffrey Loria ordered general manager Jim Beattie to call the Yankees and make a trade offer for Derek Jeter back in 1999, when Loria owned the Expos. The offer: Vladimir Guerrero for Jeter. Fun! Here’s more from Marcus:

“Mr. Loria really wanted Jeter,’’ said Beattie, a former Yankees pitcher who now is a scout for the Blue Jays. “I kept telling him it wasn’t going to happen and he said, ‘Well, you have to make the call.’ I called (Brian Cashman) and at a point I said, ‘Jeffrey is really interested in Jeter.’ Cash said, ‘No, we’re not going to trade.’ I said, ‘I understand that. Just for conversation and I’m not even sure we would do this, would you trade him for Guerrero?’

“There was silence on the other end. He said, ‘Would you do that?’

“Cash said, ‘That’s a crazy offer, but I’m just not going to trade him. He is a franchise player for us and we’re not going to trade him.’ You could try to trade for him, but they weren’t going to trade him. Yeah, there was an effort.’’

This happened during the 1999-2000 offseason. Jeter, then 25, hit .349/.438/.552 (156 wRC+) with 24 home runs in 1999, in what very well might have been the best season of his career. Vlad was about to turn 25, and he’d hit .316/.378/.600 (139 wRC+) with 42 homers in 1999. This would have been the mother of all blockbusters. Young superstar for young superstar. Carlos Correa for Mookie Betts. Corey Seager for Kris Bryant. Something like that.

Jeter is a no-doubt Hall of Famer and chances are Vlad will get in at some point as well — he fell 15 votes short of induction this past winter — though you can understand why the Yankees said no. They’d just won their third World Series title in the past four years, and Jeter was the face of the franchise. Also, shortstops like Jeter are harder to find than corner outfielders like Guerrero. Still, fun! Loria is a native New Yorker who has made it no secret he admires the Yankees. It’s no surprise he tried to acquire their franchise player once upon a time.

Yankees projected to cut luxury tax bill

According to Ronald Blum, the Yankees are projected to cut their luxury tax bill by nearly $20M this season. Calculations from the commissioner’s office put the team’s luxury tax bill at roughly $9M right now, down from the $27.4M they paid last year. The Yankees are taxed at the maximum 50% rate, so that combined with the $195M threshold suggests their payroll for luxury tax purposes is $213M right now.

Keep in mind the luxury tax payroll is subject to change based on call-ups and send downs, as well as any midseason trades. The Yankees could very well end up buying at the deadline, which would increase payroll. And heck, they could also end up selling again should they fall out of the race. Masahiro Tanaka and Dellin Betances would be their top trade chips, and dealing them would save more luxury tax. The team’s goal is, of course, to get under $197M luxury tax threshold next year, once the monster Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia (and Tanaka?) contracts are off the books.

Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: May 2012

(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

We’re in a new month, which means it’s time to once again go back through the MLB Trade Rumors archives. Five years ago was May 2012. May is kind of a weird month for trade rumors. There are very few free agent rumors, and at this point of the season, teams are still evaluating their rosters and internal depth options. They’re not yet aggressively pursuing outside help.

The Yankees went into May 2012 with a 13-9 record and a +18 run differential, which had them right behind the 15-8 Rays in the AL East. Michael Pineda, their prized offseason pickup, had already been lost for the season with a shoulder injury. Hiroki Kuroda, the other prized offseason pickup, got off to a slow start in pinstripes — “He’s just another NL pitcher!” was a thing that was said at the time — before turning it around. Let’s dive into the May 2012 archives, shall we?

May 2nd, 2012: Yankees Sign Adonis Garcia

9:21pm: Garcia signed a one-year minor league contract worth $400K according to Marc Carig of The Star Ledger (on Sulia).

4:16pm: The Yankees have signed Cuban outfielder Adonis Garcia, Ben Badler of Baseball America reports. The 26-year-old became a free agent in February and drew interest from a number of teams.

Adonis! I didn’t realize he received such a large bonus. Well, large by normal people standards, not by baseball player standards. Garcia was in the farm system from 2012-14 and spent most of his time with Triple-A Scranton, hitting .286/.329/.429 (110 wRC+) in 844 plate appearances. The Yankees released him following that 2014 season.

The Braves have a thing for ex-Yankees, so they scooped up Garcia, and a few weeks later he was their starting third baseman. The Yankees signed him as an outfielder and he reached the show as a third baseman. Garcia hit .273/.311/.406 (90 wRC+) last year and was basically replacement level due to his defense: +0.9 fWAR and +0.2 bWAR. Atlanta is still running him out there at the hot corner while they wait for a long-term option to emerge.

May 3rd, 2012: New York Notes: Rivera, Chamberlain, Harvey, Bay

Joba Chamberlain has been transferred to the 60-day DL, the Yankees announced today.  In corresponding moves, Jayson Nix has been called up from Triple-A and Eric Chavez has been put on the seven-day DL due to a possible concussion.

And thus begins the Jayson Nix, Ballplayer™ era. It all started with a Chavez concussion. The Yankees had signed Nix to a minor league contract over the winter — it was one of their very first offseason moves, so they were in a hurry to sign him, apparently — and he wound up playing 161 games and getting 505 plate appearances with the Yankees from 2012-13. Basically a full season’s worth of playing time, at a variety of positions. Nix hit .239/.307/.340 (78 wRC+) with +1.2 bWAR and +1.2 fWAR during that time. He hasn’t played in MLB since 2014 or anywhere since 2015. With all due respect to Nixie, Ronald Torreyes is much more fun utility guy.

May 4th, 2012: Mariano Rivera Suffers Torn ACL

THURSDAY: Rivera told reporters that he plans to return to baseball, tweets Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News“I am coming back. Write it down in big letters. … I’m not going out like this,” said the closer.

WEDNESDAY, 11:40pm: Mariano Rivera appears to have suffered a torn ACL in his right knee, Yankees manager Joe Girardi told reporters after tonight’s 4-3 loss in Kansas City.  Rivera suffered the injury while chasing a fly ball during batting practice earlier today, a pre-game ritual that Rivera has undertaken throughout his entire career. The ace closer will consult with doctors tomorrow in New York and, if the initial diagnosis is confirmed, Rivera will miss the rest of the 2012 season. 

What an awful day that was. Rivera took a misstep chasing after a fly ball during batting practice and blew out his knee on the Kauffman Stadium warning track. Here’s the video:

I remember being in denial. “He’ll be fine, he just rolled his ankle or something,” I said to myself as Mo clutched his knee in pain. After the game we found out it was a torn ACL and that his season was over. It felt like the Yankees’ season was over! Rivera was so important to their success over the years that he seemed irreplaceable. The security blanket was gone. Those easy, stress-free ninth innings would turn into nail-biters. No one could do what Mo did!

There’s a lot of unnecessary panic in baseball, I’ve learned. The Rivera injury was a legitimate panic-inducing moment.

May 4th, 2012: Quick Hits: Rivera, Yankees, Contracts

Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com hears that the Yankees will not aggressively pursue a reliever in a trade in the wake of Rivera’s injury (Twitter link). They are confident in David Robertson and Rafael Soriano in the late innings.

No surprise here. I mentioned this last week in the Adam Eaton post. Any time a team suffers a major injury, they always come out and say they will replace the player from within. No need to go outside the organization! They don’t want to look desperate because that only creates more problems. Suddenly prices will go up.

Robertson had his insane breakout year in 2011 and Soriano was a Proven Closer™, meaning the Yankees would be in good shape. Robertson actually got the first chance to replace Rivera. Not Soriano. His first save chance was a typical Houdini act — one hit and two walks in a scoreless innings — but the second was a disaster. Robertson allowed four runs, including three on a Matt Joyce homer, to turn a 1-0 ninth inning lead into a 4-1 loss.

Robertson hit the disabled list with an oblique strain after that, pushing Soriano into the closer’s role. He kept it the rest of the season. Soriano went 42-for-46 in save chances the rest of the way and had a 2.26 ERA (3.36 FIP) in 55.2 innings. That’s when #untuck became a thing.

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)
(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

Robertson served as Soriano’s setup man and was excellent. Even without Mo, the Yankees had a dominant setup/closer tandem. That ninth inning success pushed Soriano to opt-out of his contract after the season. He hooked on with the Nationals and the Yankees used the compensation draft pick on Ian Clarkin.

The Rivera injury was bad. Don’t get me wrong. Losing an elite closer would be a devastating blow to just about every team. The Yankees were able to survive and thrive thanks to Soriano, who had a so-so first season in pinstripes in 2011. Some guys just need the adrenaline rush of the ninth inning to be at their best, I guess.

Soriano, by the way, announced his retirement this past winter. He last pitched in 2015, allowing four runs in 5.2 innings with the Cubs.

May 7th, 2012: Rosenthal On Ethier, Santana, Blue Jays, D’Backs

A scout tells Rosenthal that Andy Pettitte “does not look close to ready” and will need several more minor league starts before he’s ready to return to the Yankees.

May 7th: A scout says Pettitte “does not look close to ready.” May 13th: Pettitte allows four runs in 6.1 innings in his return to the big leagues. Eh. But! May 18th: Pettitte strikes out nine in eight shutout innings. I guess he needed that one last tune-up start to get ready.

In his return to baseball, Pettitte pitched to a 3.22 ERA (3.40 FIP) in nine starts and 58.2 innings before a comebacker broke his leg at the end of June. Blah. It was a great story before it got cut short. Andy did return in September to make three starts (three runs in 16.2 innings total) and he made two postseason starts too. Three runs in seven innings against the Orioles in the ALDS, then two runs in six innings against the Tigers in the ALCS.

That broken leg pushed Pettitte to come back in 2013 though. Andy said initially he thought he would get it all out of his system in 2012 and go back into retirement, but, after the injury, he wanted to give it another go. Pettitte made 30 starts with a 3.74 ERA (3.70 FIP) in 185.1 innings in 2013. He tossed a complete game in his final big league start.

That 2013 season was pretty crummy overall. But at least we got some very memorable farewells out of it between Pettitte and Mo.

May 12th, 2012: Yankees Claim Justin Thomas Off Waivers

The Yankees have claimed left-handed reliever Justin Thomas off of waivers from the Red Sox, Marc Carig of the Star-Ledger confirms (via Twitter).  The move was first reported by Maureen Mullen of CSNNE.com (via Twitter). 

The never-ending search for reliable lefty relief led the Yankees to Thomas, who wound up spending most of the season in Triple-A. He got a September call-up and allowed three runs in three innings. He hasn’t pitched in the big league since. Thomas ended up in Japan in 2013 and Korea in 2014. He’s been out of baseball since.

May 17th, 2012: Yankees Claim Matt Antonelli

The Yankees have claimed infielder Matt Antonelli off of waivers from the Orioles, Marc Carig of the Star-Ledger tweets. Antonelli, who was designated for assignment four days ago, will report to Triple-A.

The Yankees went a little waiver crazy in mid-May. Antonelli was a former first round pick and top prospect with Padres who, by this point in time, was on his fourth organization in the previous three years. Antonelli never did play for the Yankees. He appeared in 15 games with Triple-A Scranton, went 12-for-61 (.197), then was released in July. Antonelli played a handful of Triple-A games with the Indians in 2013 before retiring. At least he made it to the show, appearing in 21 games with the 2008 Padres. I remember being excited about this pickup, thinking he could be a late bloomer. So much for that.

May 18th, 2012: Oswalt Worked Out For Phillies, Red Sox

11:48am: Rosenthal reports (on Twitter) that neither the Yankees or Tigers are in the mix for Oswalt at this time. The righty intends to sign soon, possibly within the week, and pitch in MLB by mid or late June, Rosenthal tweets.

The Yankees were connected to Oswalt every year from roughly 2006-14. Either at the trade deadline or free agency. That sound about right? At this point Oswalt was 34 and coming off a solid season with the Phillies, throwing 139 innings with a 3.69 ERA (3.44 FIP) in 23 starts. And yet, no one signed him during the 2011-12 offseason.

Eventually Oswalt signed with the Rangers at midseason, people were mad the Yankees missed out, then he threw 59 innings with a 5.80 ERA (4.23 FIP) for Texas, and people were less mad the Yankees missed out. That was pretty much it for Oswalt. He allowed 31 runs in 32.1 innings for the Rockies in 2013 and has not pitched since. Oswalt went from finishing sixth in the 2010 NL Cy Young voting to dunzo in 2013.

The Yankees, meanwhile, never did bring in any rotation reinforcements in 2012. Not even after losing Pineda to season-ending shoulder surgery. They got Pettitte back and that was it. They stuck it out with what they had in-house, and hey, it helped get them to the ALCS.

May 25th, 2012: Minor Moves: Maine, Hernandez, Lindsay

The Yankees will sign right-hander John Maine to a minor league deal, Evan Drellich of MLB.com tweets. The Red Sox recently released the 31-year-old, who has missed considerable time with shoulder injuries. He posted a 7.43 ERA in 46 innings with the Rockies’ top affiliate in 2011 before signing with the Red Sox this January.

John Maine! Okay, so maybe I was wrong about the whole “they never brought in any rotation help” thing. They tried. Maine never did pitch for the Yankees though. He spent the season with Triple-A Scranton, throwing 79.2 innings with a 4.97 ERA (3.96 FIP). The Yankees cut Maine loose after the season, he hooked on with the Marlins, and actually got back to MLB in 2013, allowing ten runs in 7.1 innings in Miami. He did not pitch in the show at all in 2011 or 2012 before resurfacing in 2013. The Marlins released Maine at the end of April 2013 and that was it. He’s been out of baseball since. The Yankees haven’t had to go out and sign a veteran starter hanger-on like Maine this year because of their farm system depth. If anything, they have more starters than rotation spots at the upper levels.

May 29th, 2012: Yankees Claim Ryota Igarashi

The Yankees claimed right-hander Ryota Igarashi from the Blue Jays, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reports (Twitter links). The Yankees transferred right-hander Brad Meyers to the 60-day disabled list to create 40-man roster space for Igarashi, who will report to Triple-A.

Igarashi was a bit of a big deal back in the day. The success of Akinori Otsuka had teams scouring Japan for bullpen arms. The Mets gave Igarashi a two-year, $3M deal in December 2009, then he threw 69 innings with a 5.87 ERA (4.41 FIP) from 2010-11. So it goes. Igarashi spent most of the 2012 season in Triple-A with the Yankees, throwing 36.2 innings with a 2.45 ERA (2.07 FIP). They called him up twice in shuttle moves and he allowed four runs in three innings.

By the way, Igarashi is still active. He returned to Japan following that 2012 season and has been there since. So far this season Igarashi, now 37, has allowed two runs in 13 innings with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. The Yankees went through a lot of random relievers in 2012. We haven’t even gotten to Chad Qualls and David Aardsma and Derek Lowe yet.

Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: April 2012

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
Stew. (Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

We are now in April and a new season has begun. That is true today and it was true in 2012 as well. Now that we’re in a new month, it’s time to go through the MLB Trade Rumors archives again. April is usually a slow month for rumors and transactions though. The season has just started and most teams are evaluating their rosters and minor league depth before looking for help outside the organization.

The Yankees remade their rotation during the 2011-12 offseason by signing Hiroki Kuroda and trading for Michael Pineda. They also brought back Freddy Garcia and salary dumped A.J. Burnett. The Yankees didn’t just lose on Opening Day in 2012 — that was the first of these six straight Opening Day losses — they got swept in the first series by the Rays. The cries of panic were quickly erased by a 10-3 stretch. The Yankees went 13-9 in April overall. Let’s dive into the MLBTR archives, shall we?

April 1st, 2012: Minor Moves: Scales, Bulger

The Yankees have signed Jason Bulger to a minor league contract, tweets MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch. He’ll pitch at Triple-A. After signing a minor league deal with the Twins this winter, Bulger disappointed in Spring Training, allowing 10 earned runs on eight hits and five walks in four innings. He last enjoyed success in 2009 with the Angels.

Bulger had some nice years with the Angels back in the day, throwing 99 innings with a 3.64 ERA (4.40 FIP) from 2009-11. He was just trying to hang on by time he signed with the Yankees. Bulger, then 33, spent the 2012 season in Triple-A, where he had a 3.41 ERA (4.50 FIP) in 34.1 relief innings. He walked 21 and struck out 28 as the designated “veteran arm who makes sure the kids don’t get overworked” reliever. The Yankees have a few guys like that this year (Ernesto Frieri, Jason Gurka), though they’re much deeper in young arms than they were five years ago. The odds of seeing Frieri and Gurka in the Bronx aren’t as good as they would have been a few years back.

April 4th, 2012: Giants, Yanks Swap George Kontos For Chris Stewart

2:32pm: The Yankees have acquired Stewart in exchange for right-hander George Kontos, reports MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch (on Twitter).

The big-ish surprise trade. Opening Day was April 6th, 2012, and two days earlier the Yankees changed course behind the plate and acquired Chris Stewart to back up Russell Martin. Francisco Cervelli was optioned to Triple-A. It was right around that time we started to learn about the value of pitch-framing, and Stewart was a master at it. Here are the numbers, per StatCorner:

Stewart Cervelli
2011 +16.8 in 460.1 innings +8.4 in 316.1 innings
2012 +14.1 in 395.1 innings +0.2 in 5 innings
2013 +21.7 in 844.1 innings +3.2 in 138 innings

On a rate basis, Stewart was one of the very best pitch-framers in baseball at the time. Cervelli was good, but not as good as Stewart. Stewart backed up Martin in 2012 and hit .241/.292/.319 (65 wRC+) in 157 plate appearances. Cervelli hit .246/.341/.316 (89 wRC+) in 99 Triple-A games.

The Yankees let Martin walk as a free agent following the season and were planning to go with Stewart and Cervelli behind the plate in 2013, but a foul tip broke Cervelli’s hand in April and kept him out most of the season. That gave Austin Romine his first extended taste of big league action.

Kontos, meanwhile, has two World Series rings with the Giants, and has carved out a nice career as a middle reliever. He came into this season with a 2.64 ERA (3.66 FIP) in 264 career innings. I thought Kontos had a chance to be a setup guy and wasn’t too pleased with the trade, but whatever. What’s done is done.

April 4th, 2012: Yankees Sign Ramon Ortiz

The Yankees signed right-hander Ramon Ortiz, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets. It’s a minor league deal, Marc Carig of the Star-Ledger tweets. The Giants recently released the 39-year-old Praver/Shapiro client.

The Yankees have some nice pitching depth in the minors, which hasn’t always been the case over the years. It’s hardly been the case, really. They used to have to pick up guys like Ortiz to chew up innings in Triple-A. Ortiz, then 39 with over 1,400 big league innings to his credit, spent the entire season with Triple-A Scranton, where he had a 3.45 ERA (4.06 FIP) in 169.1 innings. That was the season Scranton had to play entirely on the road while PNC Field was being renovated, so Ortiz, a 12-year MLB veteran, stuck it out and road buses and lived in hotels all summer. Some guys stick around so long because they truly love the game.

By the way, those 169.1 innings Ortiz threw that season are still the most in the farm system since Steven White threw 175.1 innings back in 2006. Aside from Ortiz, only four Yankees farmhands have reached 160 innings in a single minor league season since White: Shaeffer Hall (164.1 in 2012), D.J. Mitchell (161.1 in 2011), Hector Noesi (160.1 in 2010), and Jason Jones (160 in 2008). Geez, those are some names. Shaeffer Hall was the Dietrich Enns of his time.

April 5th, 2012: Yankees Claim Cody Eppley

The Yankees claimed reliever Cody Eppley off of waivers from the Rangers, Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets. The Rangers had designated the right-hander for assignment yesterday.

You never see it coming with these fringe relievers. The Yankees claimed Eppley off waivers the day before Opening Day, and while he didn’t make the Opening Day roster, he was called up in the middle of April and spent the entire rest of the season in the big leagues. He threw 46 innings with a 3.33 ERA (3.66 FIP) and a 60.3% ground ball rate. Eppley appeared in two games with the Yankees in 2013 before being released at midseason. He’s been bouncing around independent leagues and the Mexican League since 2014. The Yankees got their 40-something good innings out of Eppley and that was it, time to move on.

April 6th, 2012: NL West Notes: Padres, Dodgers, Phelps

The Giants originally requested right-hander David Phelps from the Yankees for catcher Chris Stewart, George A. King III of the New York Post reports. The Yankees ultimately sent right-hander George Kontos to San Francisco.

I don’t remember this at all. Phelps had yet to pitch in the big leagues at the time of the Stewart-Kontos trade, though he made his debut in the middle of the 2012 season. It’s easy to understand why the Yankees said no to Phelps but yes to Kontos. Phelps could start. Kontos couldn’t. Also, Phelps had a much cleaner injury history. (Kontos had undergone Tommy John surgery a few years prior.) The Yankees have never really missed Kontos. They would have missed Phelps given the 299.1 league average-ish innings he threw for them from 2012-14 though.

April 18th, 2012: Quick Hits: Lannan, Martin, Nationals, Orioles

The Yankees have no plans to talk to Russell Martin about a contract extension soon, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (on Twitter). Martin will become a free agent after this season, and the two sides briefly discussed a multi-year deal this past offseason.

The two sides did talk about an extension at some point, but nothing came of it and Martin ended up signing with the Pirates after the season. That led to the Stewvelli era in 2013. Here are the catchers the Yankees have lost or traded away over the last few offseasons:

  • After 2016: Brian McCann traded to Astros.
  • After 2015: John Ryan Murphy traded to Twins.
  • After 2014: Francisco Cervelli traded to Pirates.
  • After 2013: Chris Stewart traded to Pirates.
  • After 2012: Russell Martin leaves as free agent.
  • After 2011: Jesus Montero traded to Mariners.

The Yankees did all of that and they still have a budding star behind the plate in Gary Sanchez. Pretty cool. The super early guess here is Romine is sent packing after the season so Kyle Higashioka can take over as the backup in 2018, continuing the annual tradition of jettisoning a catcher in the offseason.

April 19th, 2012: Yankees Sign Nelson Figueroa

The Yankees have signed right-hander Nelson Figueroa to a minor league deal, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets.

Nelson Figueroa too? Geez, the Yankees signed so many veteran guys to stash in Triple-A in 2012 that I had to go back to look at their rotation to start the season. Here are their Opening Day starting pitchers:

The Delcarmen start was basically a rehab thing. He moved to the bullpen after that one little start, at which point Ortiz took his rotation spot. Figueroa helped replace Banuelos, who got hurt early in the season. Others on the 2012 Triple-A Opening Day roster include Mike O’Connor, Craig Heyer, and Pat Venditte. I had a prospect crush on Heyer for a while.

April 20th, 2012: No More Personal Service Deals & Milestone Bonuses

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have agreed to put an end to personal service deals and milestone bonus clauses, ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark reports. Existing contracts with these deals or bonuses won’t be affected by the changes, which were agreed to this month.

I don’t remember this. Alex Rodriguez had those home run milestone bonuses in his contract, though he didn’t trigger the first bonus until 2015. MLB and MLBPA changed the rules three years before that was a thing. I know Albert Pujols has an option for a ten-year, $10M personal services contract in his deal with the Angels, which was signed a few weeks before this report. Ryan Zimmermann has a personal services clause in his contract too.

MLB and MLBPA determined milestone bonuses violated a clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that says performance statistics can not be used as a basis for incentives. The personal services stuff violated a clause about contracts extending beyond the player’s career as an active player. So, if you’re looking for a way the Yankees can sweeten the pot to lure a free agent in the future, milestone bonuses and personal services agreements are a no go.

April 25th, 2012: Michael Pineda To Undergo Labrum Operation

Michael Pineda has a tear in his right labrum and will undergo arthroscopic surgery next Tuesday, according to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News (Twitter link). The 23-year-old will likely miss a full year, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch tweets. The Yankees acquired Pineda in an offseason trade that sent their top hitting prospect to the Mariners, but the right-hander has yet to pitch his first inning in pinstripes.

Oh boy. That was a bad day. Pineda’s velocity was down all throughout Spring Training — he came to camp out of shape too — and the Yankees had him start the season on the disabled list with what they called shoulder tendinitis. He made a rehab start a few days prior to this report and left the game after only a handful of pitches with pain in his shoulder. Tests revealed the labrum tear. Brian Cashman called it a “tragic diagnosis” at the time.

Pineda missed close to two full seasons following the surgery — he did throw 40.2 minor league rehab innings in the second half of 2013 — and all things considered, his stuff has come back very well following surgery. He can still get his fastball into the mid-90s regularly and his slider can be devastating. Pineda still doesn’t have a reliable changeup though, and his command is pretty terrible, which may or may not be the result of the surgery. I remember being worried he’d come back throwing 88-89 mph with no bite on his slider. That didn’t happen.

Even with his stuff coming back, the shoulder injury definitely derailed Pineda’s career to some degree. He missed his age 23 season and most of his age 24 season. Those are crucial developmental years, years Pineda could have been working on his changeup and command. There’s no guarantee Pineda would be a better today had he not undergone surgery. The surgery didn’t do him any favors though. Sucks.

April 28th, 2012: Bobby Abreu Links: Angels, Wells, Trout, Yankees

Mike Axisa of the River Ave Blues blog thinks the Yankees might have an interest in Abreu as at least a short-term fix while Brett Gardner is on the DL.  New York tried to acquire Abreu for A.J. Burnett in the offseason, before Burnett blocked the deal to avoid playing on the west coast.

That idiot Mike Axisa has a good idea every once in a while, but this probably wasn’t one of them. Gardner suffered what was essentially a season-ending elbow injury making a sliding catch in the team’s 11th game of the season — he did return very late in September and for the postseason — which sent the Yankees scrambling for outfield help. Here are their games started leaders in left field in 2012:

  1. Raul Ibanez — 65 starts
  2. Andruw Jones — 41
  3. Ichiro Suzuki — 26
  4. Dewayne Wise and Jayson Nix — 9 each
  5. Brett Gardner — 8
  6. Eduardo Nunez — 3
  7. Chris Dickerson — 1

I remember Nunez have some adventures during those three starts in left field. The Yankees rolled with an Ibanez/Jones platoon for much of the season, but Andruw was awful that year, which led to guys like Nunez and Nix playing out there. Eventually the Yankees traded for Ichiro to replace Gardner.

Anyway, I’ve gotten sidetracked. The Yankees and Angels reportedly agreed to a Burnett-for-Abreu trade during the 2011-12 offseason, but Burnett invoked his no-trade clause to block the deal because he didn’t want to go to the West Coast. He was traded to the Pirates, who were not on his no-trade list, a few weeks later.

Abreu, then 38, hit .208/.259/.333 (62 wRC+) in eight games with the Angels before being released on April 27th. The player called up to take his roster spot? Mike Trout. A good decision, that was. Abreu then hooked on with the Dodgers and hit a serviceable .246/.361/.344 (100 wRC+) in 92 games. Ibanez hit some enormous home runs late in 2012 and Ichiro played well after the trade. Good thing the Yankees didn’t listen to me and sign Abreu, huh?

Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: March 2012

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Is it really March already? Geez. I feel like New Years was last week. Anyway, now that we’re in a new month, it’s again time to go back through the MLB Trade Rumors archives. We’re now in March 2012, and March is traditionally one of the slowest months for free agent and trade rumors. The offseason is over and teams usually wait a few weeks into the regular season before getting serious about acquiring upgrades.

The Yankees wrapped up their 2011-12 offseason business in February, when they traded A.J. Burnett following the Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda pickups. They also filled out their bench with low cost veterans like Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez. The rotation looked great and an offense that ranked second in baseball with 5.35 runs per game in 2011 was mostly intact. There were plenty of reasons to be excited in March 2012. Let’s dive into the rumors.

March 1st, 2012: Quick Hits: Burnett, Sizemore, Posey, Yankees

Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner confirmed to reporters, including Marc Carig of the Star-Ledger, that he is intent on lowering payroll below $189MM by 2014 for luxury tax purposes (Twitter link).

The first reports of the austerity plan arrived a few weeks before this nugget. It started out as a little thing, then it continued to gain steam over the next year or two. The Yankees still haven’t gotten under the luxury tax, as you know, mostly because they reacted to their yucky 2013 season by committing $438M total to Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran. (That doesn’t include the $20M release fee for Tanaka.)

Given what we know now, those four signings have worked out fairly well overall. The Ellsbury deal is pretty bad and will only look worse over time. Both McCann and Beltran were productive during their time in pinstripes though, and they were traded for some pretty good prospects. Tanaka has been pretty damn awesome when healthy, which has been most of the time. At the same time, the Yankees have played one postseason game since handing out those contracts, and you know the team’s ultimate goal is playing in October. Either way, the austerity play went bye bye in 2014. The Yankees are poised to try again in 2018.

March 7th, 2012: Mariano Rivera May Announce Decision Before All-Star Break

“I think maybe it will be before the All-Star break,” legendary Yankees closer Mariano Rivera told Kevin Kernan of the New York Post regarding an announcement of whether he will pitch in 2013.  Rivera wants to be certain of his decision, which he seems to have already made privately.  Rivera said that when he does retire, “It would be nice that you tell the fans, so every stadium you go to, the fans will be there to show their appreciation and you appreciate the fans.”

Mo never did get a chance to announce his decision that year. He blew out his knee on the Kauffman Stadium warning track on May 3rd, ending his season. Rivera later said he was planning to retire following the 2012 season, and the injury changed his mind. He didn’t want to go out like that. Thank goodness. Had Rivera not changed his mind, this never would have happened …

… and that would have sucked.

March 10th, 2012: Levine: Yankees Plan To Keep Cano And Granderson

With the Yankees planning to get under the $189MM luxury tax threshold by 2014, many have wondered if the club will be able to retain both Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson after their contracts expire following the 2013 season.  Today, team president Randy Levine flatly stated that the team has a plan in place to retain both stars, writes Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.

I literally lol’d when I saw this headline. I guess the plan was a) never make Granderson a competitive offer, and b) hope Cano is willing to take a discount. Swing and a miss, that was.

In all seriousness, this is a nice reminder plans can and do change. Levine made these comments 20 months before Granderson and Cano actually became free agents, and I’m sure the Yankees had every intention of retaining both at the time. Then Granderson missed a ton of time with hit-by-pitch related injuries in 2013 and Cano continued to raise his earning potential with his performance. Something something best laid plans.

March 11th, 2012: Cafardo On Phillies, Blanton, Lannan, Ramirez

With several teams in the market for a center fielder, Cafardo asked a National League scout if the Yankees would entertain a deal for Brett Gardner.  Gardner is currently slated to start in left field for the Yanks but a National League scout said that at some point the club might seek out a more traditional left field option.

Does the scout make those comments if the Yankees were playing Granderson (41 homers in 2011) in left and Gardner (49 steals in 2011) in center instead of vice versa? Granderson’s production certainly qualified him as a “traditional left field option,” and hey, Gardner in center and Granderson in left would have been a better defensive alignment too. Each position has a traditional offensive and defensive profile, but it’s okay to break from the norm once in a while.

March 15th, 2012: AL East Notes: Ibanez, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Orioles

Raul Ibanez doesn’t have emotional, historical or financial ties keeping him on the Yankees’ roster, so Joel Sherman of the New York Post wonders how long the club will stick with Ibanez if his struggles continue. But as Sherman point out, it’s still just March 15th.

Ibanez was so, so bad in Spring Training 2012. He hit .150/.190/.333 in 63 plate appearances, and it wasn’t until the final week of camp that he finally hit a ball out of the park. Ibanez wasn’t particularly great in the first half either, hitting .240/.298/.457 (98 wRC+) before the All-Star break. For a bat only dude, that ain’t good. Gardner hurt his elbow making a sliding catch in April though, leaving the Yankees short an outfielder the rest of the season. I wonder if they would have moved on from Ibanez at some point had Gardner been healthy. Fortunately for the Yankees, they kept Ibanez and he got molten hot at exactly the right time in September (and October).

March 16th, 2012: Yankees Notes: Pineda, Ibanez, Willis

The Yankees offered Dontrelle Willis a minor league deal this offseason, Sherman tweets. The Yankees might look into signing Willis, who was released by the Phillies this morning.

Dontrelle Willis! I don’t remember the Yankees being on him on at all. Willis was pretty far gone by this point too. His last good season was 2006, and from 2008-11, he had a 6.15 ERA (5.46 FIP) in 199 total innings. I assume the Yankees were looking at the then 30-year-old Willis as a reliever — he held left-handed batters to a .123/.169/.200 (.168 wOBA) batting line with 33.3% strikeouts, 3.3% walks, and 58.3% grounders in 2011, albeit in a limited sample. D-Train continued pitching in the minors and independent ball until 2014. He never pitched in the big leagues after 2011 though. It went so bad, so fast with him.

March 16th, 2012: Yankees Sign Andy Pettitte

A year after retiring, Andy Pettitte is back in pinstripes. The Yankees announced that they signed the 39-year-old left-hander to a minor league contract. Pettitte, a Hendricks Sports client, can potentially earn $2.5MM on the deal, which doesn’t include incentives. 

I’ll never forget the moment we learned Pettitte was coming out of retirement. Joe and I were in the middle of recording the RAB Podcast (RIP) when Jack Curry broke the news on Twitter. We were both just kinda speechless, so we scrapped that podcast and started writing about the signing instead. It was a pretty crazy afternoon. Pettitte’s un-retirement came out of nowhere. There were no rumbling at all. If anything, there was the opposite. Pettitte was in camp as a guest instructor that year and he told everyone he had no interest in playing again. Funny how that works.

Andy’s return — he threw another 260.2 innings with a 3.49 ERA (3.64 FIP) after coming back — was pretty awesome. I was kinda worried he’d come back and get knocked around, and it would all look like one giant mistake, but nope. He was great.

March 17th, 2012: Yankees Links: Pettitte, Garcia, Posada, Wise, A-Rod

Alex Rodriguez told Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com that he’d like to own a baseball team one day (Twitter link). According to the game’s bylaws, A-Rod will have to wait until he’s no longer under contract with one of the 30 clubs to do so.

I too would like to own a baseball team one day. My chances aren’t as good as A-Rod’s though. Being an owner is pretty good work if you can get it. The national television contracts and revenue sharing system make it basically impossible to lose money. I feel like it’s only a matter of time until A-Rod gets involved with an ownership group and purchases a team. Same with Derek Jeter. A-Rod stays in Miami and buys the Marlins while Jeter stays in Tampa and buys the Rays. Sounds good to me.

March 20th, 2012: Yankees Notes: Pettitte, Hughes, Nova, Damon

There was a split between upper management and the field staff over whether to sign Johnny Damon or Raul Ibanez, Tom Verducci of SI.com writes. Damon told the Yankees he would play for whatever they were offering Ibanez, but it wasn’t enough.

Interesting! I don’t remember hearing this. I assume the front office wanted Ibanez since, you know, he’s the guy they actually signed. Plus it makes sense that Joe Girardi and the other members of his staff would prefer Damon since they had him for a few years, and won a title with him. Ibanez went on to hit .240/.308/.453 (102 wRC+) with 19 homers in 2012, plus he had all the postseason heroics. Damon hit .222/.281/.329 (70 wRC+) with four homers for the Indians that year and was released in August. Score one for the front office nerds.

March 21st, 2012: Spanish Links: Vazquez, Wandy, Jorge Vazquez

Slugging Yankee prospect Jorge Vazquez is growing impatient with the minor leagues and would like to try Japan or Korea if there’s not a place for him in the major leagues, according to the president of the Mexican League’s Tigres de Quintana Roo, where Vazquez played in 2007 and 2008. “If they don’t give him an opportunity this year, he wants them to trade him, or to go to [play] baseball in the east,” Cuauhtémoc “Chito” Rodríguez told Fernando Ballesteros at Puro Béisbol. “He doesn’t want to continue on in Triple A anymore, not just with the Yankees, but with any other organization as well.” Vazquez made a case for being MLB-ready in 2011, putting up a .262/.314/.516 line with 32 homers at Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

That .262/.314/.516 (121 wRC+) line in 2011 also came with a 33.2% strikeout rate and a 6.0% walk rate. He was repeating the level too. Remember how much everyone freaked out about Aaron Judge‘s strikeouts in Triple-A in the second half of the 2015 season? He had a 28.5% strikeout rate and an 11.2% walk rate. Vazquez was an extreme free swinger. The Yankees ended up releasing him at the end of Spring Training in 2012 and he’s been playing in Mexico ever since. He hit .319/.403/.513 (146 wRC+) with six homers in 33 games last year, and, as far as I can tell, he’s under contract to play again this year too.

March 22nd 2012: DePaula Obtains Visa; Yankees Deal Still In Place

Rafael DePaula is finally on the verge of beginning his professional baseball career. The pitching prospect agreed to sign with the Yankees for $500K in November, 2010, but hasn’t had a visa until now, so the deal hasn’t been completed. Agent Charisse Espinosa-Dash told MLBTR today that DePaula has his visa and that the original deal is expected to go through once the Dominican right-hander passes a physical.

The DePaula signing came with a lot of headache and very little reward. It took about 18 months for the contract to be finalized due to visa issues — DePaula had been previously suspended for lying about his age, which tends to gum up the works — and once he was able to play, his top prospect status didn’t last long. The Yankees traded DePaula as the second piece in the Chase Headley trade a few years back. DePaula, 26 next month, had a 2.66 ERA (2.17 FIP) with 32.8% strikeouts and 8.3% walks in 64.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last year. It was his first season as a full-time reliever. DePaula was not selected in December’s Rule 5 Draft for the second straight year. Lot of hype, little payoff. Such is life.

March 23rd, 2012: Quick Hits: Nationals, Blue Jays, Soria, Carpenter

Joba Chamberlain dislocated his right ankle and lost a life-threatening amount of blood yesterday, Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News reports. The injury will end Chamberlain’s season and could threaten his career.

Ugh, the Joba ankle injury. That was brutal. Joba was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery at the time of the trampoline accident, so the ankle injury didn’t delay his return all that much. He returned on August 1st and had a 4.35 ERA (4.01 FIP) in 20.2 innings the rest of the season. Chamberlain had a 3.70 ERA (3.62 FIP) in 382 innings before the Tommy John surgery and ankle injury, and he has a 4.05 ERA (4.29 FIP) in 173.1 innings since. He’s in camp as a non-roster players with the Brewers this spring. Prospects will break your heart, yo.

March 24th, 2012: Quick Hits: Phillies, Garcia, Abreu, Beras, Mets

Word is that the Yankees offered Freddy Garcia to the Marlins but Miami wasn’t interested, tweets Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com.  Garcia, who is a trade candidate following the club’s signing of Andy Pettitte, is signed to a one-year deal worth $4MM plus incentives.

In 2011, the Yankees had so little pitching they were signing guys like Garcia and Bartolo Colon out of near retirement. In 2012, they had so many arms they were able to trade Burnett and shop Garcia. Sweaty Freddy never did go anywhere though. He had a 5.20 ERA (4.68 FIP) in 107.1 innings spread across 17 starts and 13 relief appearances for the Yankees year. Yuck. In hindsight, letting Colon go and keeping Garcia was a huge mistake. You’re lying if you said you knew Colon would still be pitching in 2017 (!) though.

March 25th, 2012: Phillies Have Interest In Yankees’ Ramiro Pena

With second baseman Chase Utley sidelined with no timetable to return, the Phillies plan to start Freddy Galvis and are hoping to bolster their infield depth behind him.  With that in mind, General Manager Ruben Amaro & Co. have some interest in Yankees utilityman Ramiro Pena, according to George A. King III of the New York Post.

That’s 2009 World Series Champion Ramiro Pena to you. He had his moments as an up-and-down utility man from 2009-11. Pena spent just about the entire 2012 season in Triple-A, where he hit .258/.325/.328 (85 wRC+) in 101 games. The Yankees dropped him from the 40-man roster after the season and Pena went on his way. Rakin’ Ramiro did play in the big leagues last year, you know. With the Giants. He hit .299/.330/.425 (103 wRC+) with a homer in 30 games while they were dealing with some infield injuries. Pena signed with the Hiroshima Carp, Kuroda’s former team, over the winter.

March 28th, 2012: Yankees Sign Jack Cust

The Yankees have signed Jack Cust to a minor league contract, reports Sweeny Murti of WFAN (on Twitter). Last night we heard that the TWC Sports client was likely to sign with an NL team, but the Yankees apparently swooped in.

I completely forgot the Yankees had Cust for a while. He never did play for them in the big leagues, but he did hit .249/.400/.475 (147 wRC+) with 20 homers in 98 games with Triple-A Scranton before being released. My lasting memory of Cust will be his baserunning gaffes against the Yankees back in 2003:

The Yankees led the game 5-4 in the 12th inning at the time. Had Cust not fallen down (twice!), he would have scored the game tying run. I miss the days when the O’s were a punching bag. Don’t you?

March 28th, 2012: Yankees Claim Craig Tatum Off Waivers

The Yankees have claimed catcher Craig Tatum off waivers from the Diamondbacks, the team announced. The 29-year-old backstop has been claimed off waivers three times in the last few months, first by the Astros, then by the D’Backs, and now by the Yankees. Their 40-man roster is now full.

I am an embarrassingly huge baseball nerd, so it’s not often a transaction involves a player I’ve never heard of, especially if said player once played for the Yankees. I have zero recollection of Tatum though. None at all. Apparently the Yankees claimed him from the Diamondbacks, outrighted him off the 40-man roster a few days later, and he played eight games with Triple-A Scranton that summer. Been out of baseball since. I remember most things and I have no memory of this happening. Now I wonder what else I’ve forgotten.

March 28th, 2012: AL East Notes: Maxwell, Moore, Red Sox

The Astros and Orioles have some interest in Yankees outfielder Justin Maxwell, but haven’t discussed a possible deal with GM Brian Cashman, George A. King III of the New York Post reports. Maxwell is out of options and could be available in trades before Opening Day.

“The stupid Yankees shoulda kept Maxwell and dumped Andruw Jones” was a thing for a while in 2012. Andruw was terrible that year, hitting .197/.294/.408 (89 wRC+) overall and .202/.294/.411 (88 wRC+) against lefties. The Yankees had no room on the roster for Maxwell, who was claimed by the Astros after New York put him on waivers at the end of camp. He went on to hit .229/.304/.460 (106 wRC+) overall that year, and .272/.387/.505 (143 wRC+) against lefties. Maxwell has bounced around since then, and he currently plays for the Lotte Giants in the Korea Baseball Organization.

March 29th, 2012: Minor Moves: Bard, Sullivan, Pearce, Michaels

The Yankees have signed Steve Pearce to a minor league contract, reports Josh Norris of the Trentonian (Twitter link).  Pearce, a former well-regarded prospect with the Pirates, signed a minor league deal with the Twins in December but was released on Tuesday.

At the time Pearce was a busted former top-ish prospect. He’d hit .232/.302/.366 (78 wRC+) in 521 total plate appearances with the Pirates as an up-and-down guy from 2007-11. Pittsburgh then cut him loose after the 2011 season. Here is how Pearce’s 2012 season played out:

  • March 27th: Released by Twins (signed a minor league deal over the winter).
  • March 29th: Signs minor league deal with Yankees.
  • June 2nd: Traded to the Orioles for cash.
  • July 28th: Claimed on waivers by the Astros from the O’s.
  • August 27th: Claimed on waivers by the Yankees from the Astros.
  • September 29th: Claimed on waivers by the Orioles from the Yankees.

Pearce didn’t play for the big league Yankees the first time. He hit .318/.419/.568 (173 wRC+) with eleven homers in 73 games with Triple-A Scranton before exercising an opt-out clause in his contract. The Yankees could either trade him to the O’s for some cash, or let him complete the opt-out and go there as a free agent. They took the cash.

After coming back to New York in August, Pearce went 4-for-25 (.160) with a homer in 30 plate appearances for the Yankees. He was essentially an extra bench bat once rosters expanded in September. It wasn’t until 2013 that Pearce really established himself as a big league caliber hitter. I was hoping the Yankees would sign him this winter — for the Chris Carter role, essentially, except Pearce can also play the outfield — but alas. He’s with the Blue Jays now.

Hideki Irabu, Twenty Years Later

(Bill Kostroun/Associated Press)
(Bill Kostroun/Associated Press)

A bit over twenty years ago, the San Diego Padres purchased the contract of Hideki Irabu from the Chiba Lotte Marines. There was no bidding process, nor was any other team able to offer Irabu a contract – the Padres were the early bird to the worm, and they stood to reap the rewards. This is noteworthy in and of itself, as it played a tremendous role in the creation and implementation of the posting system that we all know and loathe (though, to be fair, the system that brought Masahiro Tanaka over was an improvement, even if subsequent tweaks will prevent us from seeing Shohei Otani for a couple more years). But I digress.

The demand for Irabu was understandable. In addition to throwing the hardest recorded fastball in the history of the NPB (98 or 99 MPH, depending on the account), he was probably the league’s best pitcher from 1994 through 1996. Some called him the Japanese Nolan Ryan, while Bobby Valentine – a former manager – compared him to Roger Clemens (the 6’4″, 240 pound frame helped), and several scouts believed he would be better than Hideo Nomo. That last bit may not mean much nowadays, but it came on the heels of Nomo’s first two MLB seasons, which included a Rookie of the Year award, two Top-4 Cy Young finishes, over 10 K/9, a 133 ERA+, and 9-plus WAR (per both B-R and FanGraphs).

Unfortunately for the Padres (or fortunately, depending on how you want to weigh hindsight), Irabu refused to pitch in San Diego. He was a lifelong Yankees fan, after all, and that was the only organization that he would play for. And George Steinbrenner was more than happy to oblige, and a deal was struck. The Yankees sent top prospect Ruben Rivera (rated 9th overall by Baseball America a couple of months prior), Rafael Medina (64th on the same list), and $3 MM to the Padres, in exchange for Irabu, Homer Bush, and Gordie Amerson. They subsequently signed him to a four-year, $12.8 MM deal, with a team option for a fifth.

Fans, players, and talking heads the world over had strong opinions about the manner in which Irabu forced his way to the Yankees. A Tokyo-based newspaper was headlined “ARE YOU BLINDED BY MONEY?” on the heels of the deal, which is seemingly a timeless question for athletes. And both Andy Pettitte and Kenny Rogers questioned the signing, with the former griping about their comparative wages (Pettitte made around $600,000 in 1997). There was excitement, to be sure, but the skepticism and anger was palpable.

Irabu made his stateside debut shortly thereafter, making six warm-up starts in the minors. He dominated the competition, allowing a 2.32 ERA in 31 IP, and posting a ridiculous 34 strikeouts against just 1 walk. His fastball sat in the 94-96 MPH range, and his forkball had vicious bite in the upper-80s, low-90s. More than satisfied with his stuff and performance, the Yankees called him up to face the Tigers at home on July 10, 1997.

(Chuck Solomon/SI)
(Chuck Solomon/SI)

I was there that evening, as a part of a sell-out crowd (as compared to the average weekday audience of around 28,000), and I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen the stadium more excited for the first pitch of a relatively inconsequential game. That level of excitement was steady throughout the evening, with cheers at every strike and veritable roars with every punch out. When Joe Torre pulled Irabu in the top of the 7th the crowd reacted as though he had thrown a perfect game, demanding a curtain call. All told, he finished that night with 6.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 4 BB, and 9 K. It was a fine debut, and it seemed as though a legend was being born.

The brakes were pumped in short order, though, as Irabu was awful over his next seven starts, earning a demotion to the minors and a return engagement in the bullpen. In the eleven appearances between his first and last starts of the season, batters hit .343/.395/.663 against Irabu, which led to an 8.42 ERA in 41.2 IP. The first uses of ‘I-Rob-U’ were born during this stretch, as fans turned on him rather quickly. Some faint glimmer hope was found in his final start of the season, against those same Tigers, when he went 5 IP, allowing just 2 hits, 1 run, and no walks, while striking out 6. The final line was ugly – a 7.09 ERA and -0.9 bWAR in 53.1 IP – but there were flashes of brilliance sprinkled in.

That glimmer of hope expanded tenfold in the first few months of the 1998 season. Irabu allowed 1 run or less in six of his first seven starts, and boasted a 1.13 ERA in 47.2 IP when Memorial Day rolled around. When the first half came to a close, he was sitting on the following line: 86.2 IP, 67 H, 40 BB, 65 K, 2.91 ERA. The strikeouts and walks weren’t terribly strong, but we were at the tail end of the dark days of baseball analytics, and that ERA was quite good in the run environment of 1998. The wheels fell off in the second half, to the tune of a 5.21 ERA in 86.1 IP, and Irabu didn’t factor into the 1998 playoffs.

Overall, 1998 wasn’t a terrible year for Irabu. Disappointing? Sure. But 173 IP of 109 ERA+ ball isn’t too shabby, and he actually bested Pettitte in H/9, K/9, ERA+, and bWAR. The sequencing of it all kept him off of the playoff roster (as it should have, as he was all but unpitchable down the stretch) – but there were still some signs that he could be a competent back of the rotation starter. And, given his contract, he’d get the chance to be just that.

Instead, Irabu was viewed as a dead man walking in 1999, his season tarnished by Steinbrenner referring to him as a “fat pussy toad”  after he failed to cover first in a Spring Training game. (Pussy as in full of pus.) He was sent to the bullpen to open the season, spending the entirety of April as a mop-up reliever, before rejoining the rotation in May. The writing was on the wall at that point, it seemed, and Irabu did little to help his cause. His strikeout and walk rates improved markedly over his 1998 season, and he looked quite good in June (3.33 ERA in 24.1 IP) and July (2.64 ERA and 4.1 K/BB in 44.1 IP) – but that represented the high point to an otherwise dreadful season, including two-plus awful months to close the season (6.63 ERA between August and October).

The Yankees officially gave up on Irabu thereafter, and he was dealt to the Expos for Jake Westbrook, Ted Lilly, and Christian Parker in the 1999-2000 off-season. He spent three more years in the majors (two in Montreal, one in Texas), battling injuries, ineffectiveness, and demotions to the minors, throwing his last big league pitch on July 12, 2002 … he allowed a walk-off single to Jacque Jones in  a 4-3 loss to the Twins.

Irabu finished his career with 514 IP across 126 appearances (80 starts), posting a 5.15 ERA (4.97 FIP) along the way. His 18.1% strikeout rate and 7.8% walk rate were both better than average for their time, but his propensity for the long ball (1.59 HR/9 for his career) and gradually increasing hittability felled him. Luckily for the Yankees, their return for Irabu was much better than what they gave up back in 1997 – and he didn’t stop them from winning back-to-back World Series championships.

He returned to the NPB in 2003 at 34-years-old, pitching for the Hanshin Tigers of the Central League (in a rotation with Kei Igawa, because of course). He finished fourth in the Central League with 164 strikeouts, with a league-average-ish 3.85 ERA. He attempted a return engagement in 2004, but injuries essentially ended his career.

Irabu’s post playing days were discussed quite a bit when he committed suicide in 2011, and they don’t bear repeating here. Despite his struggles with the Yankees, I remember him somewhat fondly. He started one of the most exciting games that I’ve ever attended (I was eleven at the time), and his forkball stands out as one of the first filthy breaking balls in my memory. His career was a disappointment, and much of it was a circus – but the talent was there, and he was fun to watch when he was right.

If you’d like to take a few moments to see what could have been, I recommend these two videos. The first is from 1994, when he was still pitching in the NPB:

And the other is from his MLB debut: