Scouting the Free Agent Market: Joe Blanton

(Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
(Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Spring Training is underway, and the Yankees have what feels like several dozen pitchers jockeying for position on the Opening Day roster. That may not be terribly far off the mark, to be fair, considering that the team has thirty-plus pitchers in camp (thirty-three between the 40-man roster, non-roster invitees, and the recently signed Jon Niese) – but there is a very real sense that the back of the rotation and two middle relief roles are up for grabs.

The smart money is on one of the losers of the rotation battle to be shuffled into a relief role, alongside someone that stands out in the pre-season as a whole. And, ultimately, that second role won’t be set in stone, as that pitcher will probably ride the shuttle between the Bronx and Scranton for the better part of 2017. The Yankees tend to round out their bullpens with scraps, after all.

At this point in the off-season, however, there is a shockingly good reliever that is somehow still available for straight cash in Joe Blanton. It’s not terribly often that one can end one of the 25 best relievers in baseball via free agency in late February, but here we are. The only real question is … why?

Injury History

Blanton has been a portrait of good health over the last five years (with one obvious caveat that I’ll get to in the next section). He last spent time on the disabled list in 2011, when he was dealing with a right elbow impingement that kept him off the field from late April through the first week of September. Since that season, Blanton has spent exactly zero days on the disabled list.

Recent Performance

The Angels released Blanton at the end of Spring Training in 2014, when he posted a 7.08 ERA in 20.1 IP. This came on the heels of his atrocious 2013 season (132.2 IP, 6.04 ERA, 5.12 FIP, -2.0 bWAR, -0.5 fWAR), so it isn’t terribly surprising that they elected to eat the last year and $8.5 MM of his contract. The A’s signed him to a minor-league deal a week later, and he made two starts at Triple-A before retiring.

Blanton got the itch to play again during the 2014-15 off-season, and the Royals obliged, signing him to a minor-league deal. He found his way onto the roster in May, and spent the rest of the season in the Majors, making 36 appearances (four starts) split between Kansas City and Pittsburgh. All told, he pitched to the following line: 76 IP, 2.84 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 25.6 K%, 5.2 BB%.

It was more of the same in 2016, which Blanton spent with the Dodgers after signing a one-year, $4 MM deal. He ranked 6th in the Majors with 80 IP out of the bullpen, with a 2.48 ERA, 3.33 FIP, 25.4% strikeouts, and 8.3% walks. The greatest difference came in his groundball rate, which plummeted from 48.6% in 2015 to 32.5% last season.

His overall line the last two seasons is impressive, to be sure, but it becomes somewhat staggering if you remove his four starts with the Royals, and focus exclusively on his time in the bullpen. To wit: 137.1 IP, 2.29 ERA, 3.01 FIP, 3.7 K/BB, 26.1 K%, 7.0 BB%, 0.7 HR/9. Those numbers were not too heavily slanted by playing half of his games in pitcher-friendly parks these last two years, either, as he posted a 2.40 ERA, 3.0 K/BB, 24.0 K%, and 8.1 BB% away from his home ballparks.

Present Stuff

Blanton’s stuff has remained fairly steady as a full-time reliever. Take a look at his month-by-month velocity over the last two seasons (and keep in mind that his four starts were in late June and early July of 2015):

brooksbaseball-chart

And on a more granular level, his stuff actually ticked-up from 2015 to 2016, perhaps as he grew more acclimated to a regular role as a one-inning reliever:

brooksbaseball-chart-1

The biggest difference between 2015 and 2016 was pitch selection, as, by Brook Baseball’s reckoning, Blanton scrapped his sinker almost entirely in favor of more curves and sliders:

brooksbaseball-chart-2

This usage rate jibes with his batted ball profile, given the aforementioned drop-off in groundballs. It did not have any other noteworthy impact on his production, however, as he was borderline dominant in each of the last two seasons.

Contract Estimate

Way back in November, both FanGraphs and MLB Trade Rumors pegged Blanton’s deal to be at 2-years, $14 MM. That feels unlikely now, given that we’re more than a week into Spring Training and he remains unsigned.

There is the possibility that Blanton values himself highly, given his performance, and is playing the waiting game. After all, pitchers get hurt all the time, and there are still teams looking for a closer (the Nationals are still in talks with the White Sox for David Robertson, for example). It’s pure conjecture, of course, but Blanton has walked away before and, at 36-years-old, it’s entirely possible that he is only willing to pitch on his terms.

Or, alternatively, that he’ll sign yet another minor-league deal by the time you’re reading this.

Does He Fit The Yankees?

The short answer is yes. Blanton has been, by most any measure, one of the twenty-five best relievers in baseball over the last two years. The Yankees have at least two openings in their bullpen, and adding a reliever of his quality would undoubtedly improve its depth and performance considerably. There’s also the added wrinkle that a successful Blanton could be dealt at the trade deadline if and when the Yankees become sellers, and more contenders are hit with the natural attrition that strikes most bullpens. And, depending on Scranton’s roster composition, his presence would allow Luis Severino or Bryan Mitchell (or whoever else isn’t in the rotation) to stay stretched out as a starter in Triple-A.

A longer answer may be no, however. The Yankees have a great deal of pitching depth in the upper minors, and it would likely behoove them to figure out what sort of quality that quantity represents. They currently have Severino, Chad Green, Luis Cessa, and Mitchell as the leading candidates for two rotation spots. Two of those four will likely be considered for the bullpen, along with J.P. Feyereisen, Giovanny Gallegos, Ben Heller, and Jonathan Holder. And this ignores Jordan Montgomery (who will almost certainly pitch in the Majors this year), Jon Niese, and a few other pitchers that are an injury or poor performance away from consideration.

Does the upgrade that Blanton offers this year – performance and potential trade value included – negate the potential value of the Yankees sorting through the stockpile of arms currently in Spring Training? I’m not sure. And would the Yankees even be interested? It doesn’t seem likely. But it’s an intriguing consideration nonetheless.

Reports: Rays sign Nathan Eovaldi to one-year deal plus option

(Tasos Katopodis/Getty)
(Tasos Katopodis/Getty)

According to multiple reports, the Rays and Nathan Eovaldi have agreed to a one-year contract worth $2M. It’s a big league deal, so he’s going on their 40-man roster. The contract includes a club option for 2018, and since Eovaldi won’t pitch at all in 2017, the option is key. Tampa Bay will rehab him and hope it pays off one year from now.

Eovaldi, who turns 27 tomorrow, underwent his second Tommy John surgery last August. He also had surgery to repair his flexor muscle, which he said was torn completely off the bone. Yikes. Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees discussed a reunion with Eovaldi earlier this winter. Apparently he had other ideas.

The Yankees released Eovaldi back in November to clear a 40-man roster spot. He was projected to earn roughly $7M through arbitration in 2017 before becoming a free agent next winter, so keeping him made no sense. Why pay the guy $7M to not pitch next year when he could leave as a free agent after the season? Exactly.

Eovaldi spent two seasons with the Yankees, throwing 279 innings with a 4.45 ERA (4.11 FIP). He had his moments, specifically in the second half of the 2015 season, otherwise Eovaldi remained an enigma. So long, Nasty Nate. Good luck when you’re not facing the Yankees.

Reports: Yankees made a “strong push” for Sergio Romo

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

According to Jesse Sanchez, the Yankees made a “strong push” for free agent right-handed reliever Sergio Romo before he agreed to a one-year deal with the Dodgers over the weekend. Jon Heyman and Joel Sherman report the Yankees never did make a formal offer to Romo, who wanted to stay close to home on the West Coast anyway.

Romo, 34 in March, had a 2.60 ERA (3.80 FIP) with 28.2% strikeouts and 6.0% walks in 30.2 innings last year. He missed two months with a flexor strain, the same injury that sidelined James Kaprielian most of the season. Romo pitched in winter ball in Mexico this offseason to show teams he’s healthy and effective. I’ve got some thoughts on this.

1. Romo is exactly the kind of pitcher the Yankees target. The Yankees are firm believers in DIPS Theory, which says pitchers should be evaluated based on things they control (strikeouts, walks, homers) and not so much on things out of their control (did the defense make the play?). That’s good, though these days we know pitchers do have some control over the type of contact they allow (see: Michael Pineda giving up rockets despite a sexy FIP). The Yankees know that too.

Anyway, Romo has long been a guy with phenomenal strikeout and walk rates. From 2010-16, a span of seven seasons and 371.2 innings, he had a 2.70 FIP with a 29.0% strikeout rate and a 4.8% walk rate. That’s the kind of pitcher the Yankees (and every team, really) loves. Lots of strikeouts and few walks. Furthermore, Romo has been throwing high-leverage innings for the Giants for the better part of a decade. He closed out a World Series (2012) and helped win two others (2010, 2014). The whole “how will this guy perform under pressure?” question has been answered.

2. Romo has his limitations at this point, however. Romo is not your typical reliever in that he never threw all that hard. His sinker sat in the upper-80s during his prime, and last year it was down to 85.9 mph on average. Romo succeeds by throwing his no-dot slider (GIF via Reddit)…

sergio-romo-slider

… a ton. I’m talking roughly 60% of the time in recent years. He pitches backwards. His slider sets up his sinker, not the other way around. The continued loss of velocity and the fact he’s never been much of a ground ball guy (career 38.8%) gives Romo less margin for error nowadays. His 1.47 HR/9 and 13.9 HR/FB% last year were both career highs — that was in pitcher friendly AT&T Park too, remember — and over the last three seasons lefties (.362 wOBA) have had much more success against him than righties (.232 wOBA).

At this point of his career, with his best years almost certainly in the past, it’s fair to consider Romo a middle innings right-on-right matchup guy, not a late-innings high-leverage option who faces batters on both sides of the plate. The presence of Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances ensured Joe Girardi wouldn’t have had to use Romo as a high-leverage reliever. The Yankees didn’t sign him though, so it doesn’t matter anyway. Whatever.

3. The Yankees are still looking for help. This became clear when they signed Chris Carter. The Yankees hadn’t done anything of note since (re-)signing Chapman during the Winter Meetings, but that didn’t mean they weren’t trying to improve the roster. I mean, I don’t think anyone seriously believed they stopped trying to get better. Their interest in Romo is a reminder that they remain engaged in the market though.

The free agent market has little to offer at this point, so even though the Yankees were willing to spend X on Romo, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will turn around and spend it on someone else now. (Heck, that money may have gone to Carter.) I’m not even sure who they could go after. Joe Blanton? Travis Wood?? Those fellows represent the best available free agent arms right now, at least among guys who finished the season healthy. The Yankees want to get better and they did with Carter. There just aren’t many other ways to do it right now.

Sherman: The Yankees have “let some clubs know” Starlin Castro is available

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees have “let some clubs know” second baseman Starlin Castro is available in trade talks. This was apparently part of their efforts to trade Brett Gardner and Chase Headley earlier this winter. Seems they made any veteran making decent money available.

Castro, who will turn 27 next month, managed a .270/.300/.433 (94 wRC+) batting line with a career high 21 home runs last year, his first as a Yankee and his first as a full-time second baseman. Starlin is owed $30M from 2017-19 with a $16M club option ($1M buyout) for 2020, so he’s making decent money. I have some thoughts on this.

1. Of course the Yankees made Castro available. At this point, there is absolutely no one on the roster the Yankees should make off-limits in trade talks. Gary Sanchez is the closest thing to an untouchable, and even then it makes sense to listen. It never hurts to listen. What if the Angels come calling and say Mike Trout is up for grabs, but only if Sanchez is in the package? Exactly.

Anyway, the best way to describe Castro is … adequate. He offers promise because he’s still young and his raw talent is obvious, though his lack of plate discipline holds him back, and we haven’t seen any improvement in that department. His 3.9% walk rate last year was the second lowest of his career. His career low is 3.6% in 2015, so he’s more of a free-swinger than ever before right now.

We’re getting to the point where Starlin is what he is. This is a guy with nearly 4,400 big league plate appearances to his credit already. If he was going to improve his plate discipline, we’d probably be seeing it by now, right? At the same time, you’d hate to give up on Castro and have him blossom elsewhere. That’s not enough of a reason not to trade him though. By all means, make him available.

2. Which teams need a second baseman? Sherman’s report says the Yankees made “some clubs” aware Castro was available, which seems to indicate they phoned around and let teams with a middle infield opening know they were willing to part with Starlin. This wasn’t a mass “hey Castro is available make me an offer” text situation. It was a “hey, I noticed you need a second baseman, we’re willing to talk Castro” thing. Maybe I’m reading too much into it.

The Dodgers had, by far, the biggest need at second base this offseason. They were connected to Brian Dozier for weeks and weeks before completing the Logan Forsythe trade. Looking around the league, only the Braves, Royals, Padres, and Diamondbacks appear to have middle infield openings. The Braves have top prospect Ozzie Albies coming soon and the Padres are in tank mode, so forget them.

Point is, the market for a middle infielder is fairly limited at this point, which is unusual. So many clubs are rebuilding right now that they prefer to stick with their young internal options at second (or short) rather than scoop up a guy like Castro. I don’t think Starlin has much trade value — remember, the Yankees got him for Adam Warren, not some top prospect — but still, not many teams are desperate for middle infield help.

3. Who would play second for the Yankees? Okay, so let’s say the Yankees find a taker for Castro. Who would they then play at second base? I’ll tell you the answer right now: Chase Utley. Sorry, Rob Refsnyder fans. The Yankees very clearly do not believe in his defense at second. Ronald Torreyes, Ruben Tejada, and Donovan Solano are also internal candidates, but c’mon, a cheap one-year deal for Utley would be inevitable. Maybe he and Refsnyder would platoon.

The real question is who would play second base long-term? I’m not even sure Castro is the answer himself. The Yankees have a ton of shortstop prospects on the way. Tyler Wade is going to open the season at Triple-A and many believe he’s best suited for second because of his arm. Gleyber Torres isn’t far away either. Stopgap free agents like Neil Walker and (ew) Brett Lawrie, both of whom will hit the market next winter, are always options in the interim.

The best case scenario is Starlin figures out some semblance of plate discipline and become a reliably above-average hitter going forward, as he enters what should be the best seasons of his career. That would force the Yankees to make tough decisions with Wade and Torres, among others. That’s a good thing. Too many options is a luxury. For now, Starlin simply isn’t good enough to be considered a long-term core player, and that’s exactly the kind of player you put on the trade market.

Report: Yankees have checked in on Travis Wood

(Jamie Squire/Getty)
(Jamie Squire/Getty)

According to FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, the Yankees have checked in on former Cubs LHP Travis Wood, who is currently a free agent. Heyman tweeted that the Yankees “don’t necessarily seem at forefront of talks at moment.”

Wood, who turned 30 yesterday, has spent the last five seasons pitching for the Cubs and was the team’s lone All-Star representative as a starter in 2013. However, after a sub-par 2014 in the rotation, Wood was moved to the bullpen for most of 2015 and exclusively in 2016. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal recently reported that “multiple teams” are offering Wood the opportunity to start.

The Yankees have been connected to lefty relievers this offseason, but they also could use help in the rotation. Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia appear locked into three spots while the last two spots are up for grabs among younger unproven starters. Brian Cashman has asserted that the spots will come down to Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell and others currently on the 40-man roster, but Wood could provide competition and an intriguing option.

At first glance, Wood’s 2016 season appears to be a major success with a career-best 2.95 ERA in 61 innings over 77 appearances. However, his strikeout rate declined from 28.2 to 18.7 percent while his walk (9.3 to 9.5 percent) and home run (0.98 to 1.18 per nine innings) rates increased. Wood posted a 4.54 FIP, his worst since 2012. Based on his five seasons in Chicago as a whole, it looks like his high strikeout rate in 2015 was an outlier and his ERA in 2016 may have been boosted by a career-low .215 BABIP.

As a reliever, Wood cut his repertoire down to mostly three pitches: a low-90s four-seam fastball, a high-80s cutter and a mid-80s slider. He sparingly used a changeup and curveball. In his last full season as a starter in 2014, he used his sinker almost as much as his cutter, his top secondary pitch. He threw either his fastball or cutter nearly 80 percent of the time in 2016. Even when he used his sinker more often as a starter, he still had low groundball rates (his career-best was a 37.4 percent mark in 2016), a bad sign for a potential starter at Yankee Stadium.

After Wood’s strong performance in relief, it begs the question: Would he be willing to stay in relief? Aroldis Chapman is the closer, so Joe Girardi won’t use him as a matchup reliever, leaving Tommy Layne as the lefty specialist. If the Yankees wanted a second lefty on Opening Day, the choice on the current roster is between Chasen Shreve and Richard Bleier (Dietrich Enns an unlikely possibility). Wood could work for the Yankees as more than just a LOOGY and as a full-fledged middle reliever. He also has postseason experience from the last two seasons and one solid appearance with the Reds during Roy Halladay’s no-hitter in 2010.

With “multiple teams” showing interest in Wood, he is very likely in line for a Major League deal. MLB Trade Rumors ranked Wood as their No. 24 free agent and Heyman had Wood at No. 31 on his list. MLBTR projected Wood at three years, $21 million while Heyman had him pegged at three years, $15 million. Maybe Wood could be down to 1-2 years with how late it is in the offseason. Offering that third year could be the key to grabbing Wood.

The Yankees appear as if they are not Wood’s main suitor and that isn’t all that surprising. The team appears committed to the young movement in the back of the rotation and Wood probably wants the chance to start. That’s where the money tends to be and the Yankees aren’t likely to spend too much more this offseason. My take is that Wood could provide value on a shorter term deal in the bullpen (or swing role as Mike suggested), particularly with how Girardi likes to deploy relievers. However, looking at his peripherals, I’d stay away from guaranteeing him a rotation spot and pass on anything close to his projected deals from earlier in the offseason.

Scouting the Free Agent Market: C.J. Wilson

(Ben Margot / Associated Press)
(Ben Margot / Associated Press)

With Spring Training a week and change away, the Yankees seem to be comfortable with the status quo. That is, a rotation featuring Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and two of Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Jordan Montgomery, Adam Warren, Dietrich Enns, and Chance Adams. Despite the team’s commitment to the rebuild/reload, many remain skeptical that the team will head into a new season with forty-percent of the rotation in the hands of relatively inexperienced pitchers; and yet their commitment to maintaining a (comparatively) low payroll and the lack of options available may not give them much of a choice. If only there was some way to scrape the bottom of the bargain bin and find some experience…

…enter C.J. Wilson. The 36-year-old wrapped-up his 5-year, $77.5 MM deal with the Angels last season, after producing roughly league-average marks across the board (96 ERA+, 2.0 bWAR/2.9 fWAR per-162). Of course, that’s a bit misleading, as he hasn’t pitched since 2015. Which leads to:

Injury History

Despite some misgivings about Wilson transitioning from reliever to starter back in 2010, he was the portrait of durability for five seasons. He made at least 31 starts and tossed at least 175.2 IP every season from 2010 through 2014. It looked to be more of the same in 2015, as he made his first 21 starts without incident. Unfortunately, his season ended after his July 28 start, as he underwent surgery to remove bone spurs from his left (pitching) elbow.

Wilson was slated to be ready in time for Spring Training in 2016, as the surgery was said to be a complete success. It’s never quite that easy with pitchers, though, and his rehab started and stopped several times, as he experienced pain in his left shoulder. An MRI dismissed it as tendinitis, and a return engagement was set for May or June. That proved to be too ambitious, as Wilson’s season ended before it started, and he had surgery to repair fraying in his labrum and rotator cuff.

Wilson began a throwing program in December, and there is talk that he’ll have a showcase for teams within the coming weeks. A timetable for his return to a big league mound remains up in the air, however.

Recent Performance

Prior to going down with his elbow injury in 2015, Wilson was bouncing back nicely from his subpar 2014. Prior to his last start (from which he was removed with elbow pain), he had pitched to a 3.59 ERA (3.77 FIP) in 128.0 IP, with a 20.1 K%, 8.1 BB%, and 43.1 GB%. Those numbers are right in-line with his career norms, with the exception of his ground ball percentage. To wit:

wilson-gb

Wilson was good to great at burning worms for the majority of his career, but his ground ball rates have dipped to merely mortal levels of late. He has never been better than average at racking up whiffs or avoiding walks, so keeping the ball on the ground was the key to his success. The fact that he was mostly effective despite the lack of grounders in 2015 is an encouraging sign, though.

All told, in his six-ish seasons as a starting pitcher, Wilson threw 1171.1 IP of 3.76 ERA (3.78 FIP) ball, with close to league-average strikeout (20.3%) and walk (9.7%) rates.

Current Stuff

It’s difficult to know what Wilson’s current stuff is, because we haven’t seen him throw a pitch in nearly 17 months. Prior to the injuries, however, his velocity remained fairly steady.

brooksbaseball-chart

Wilson’s four-seamer, change-up, curveball, and slider all remained fairly steady during his time as a starting pitcher, which is a good (if surprising) sign. His sinker velocity has dipped about two MPH since 2010, including nearly a full MPH between 2014 and 2015. His cutter has fluctuated in usage and velocity, as well. That may explain his decreased ground ball tendencies; whether or not it was a product of bone spurs and a frayed rotator cuff and labrum remains to be seen.

If we assume that Wilson would return with his stuff mostly intact, we would be discussing a true six-pitch pitcher, as he has thrown all six of his offerings at least 5% of the time as a starter. His ability to mix and match has allowed him to keep batters off-balance in the past, inducing weak contact even when the sinker wasn’t sinking.

Contract Estimate

You couldn’t see it, but I assure you that I just shrugged.

Neither FanGraphs, nor MLB Trade Rumors, nor ESPN hazarded a guess at Wilson’s potential contract for 2017, and his market has been mostly quiet. The Marlins have been linked to him a few times, but nothing more substantial than tepid interest has been discussed. With a handful of healthy arms remaining on the market, it’s difficult to imagine teams breaking down the door to offer Wilson something more than an incentive-laden deal – and perhaps a minor league deal with an opt-out, at that. Barring desperation from some team or a ridiculously brilliant showcase from Wilson, I don’t see him getting more than that.

Does He Fit The Yankees?

I was interested in Wilson back when he signed with the Angels, and that intrigue still exists. It has been significantly tempered, of course, yet there are reasons to believe that he could fit in well with the Yankees.

Wilson was a solid starting pitcher the last time he took the mound, and his velocity indicators were mostly good. He’s 36 and hasn’t pitched in nearly a year and a half, which is disconcerting, but he also has less mileage on his arm than most starters of his age. A left-handed starting pitcher in Yankee Stadium will always be in demand, and Wilson’s track record suggests that he could be a match (particularly if his ground ball rates recover). Small sample sizes and selective endpoints be damned, it’s fun to note that Wilson sports a 2.73 ERA in 62.2 IP in Yankee Stadium,

There is no easy or legitimate way to explain away the risk, and I wouldn’t suggest that we should even try to. The opportunity cost is likely to be quite low, though, and depth is never a bad thing. And even if the best-case scenario is a return engagement in the bullpen, Wilson has held lefties to a .201/.284/.286 slash line in his career, and has experience closing.

Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: February 2012

Burnett. (Leon Halip/Getty)
Burnett. (Leon Halip/Getty)

Now that the calendar has flipped to February and Spring Training is creeping closer and closer, it’s time for another trip through the MLB Trade Rumors archive. February can be a sneaky busy month for rumors and transactions. Teams are looking for last minute roster fillers and free agents rush to take whatever jobs they can find. Lots of small moves happen in February.

The Yankees addressed their rotation in one fell swoop in January 2012, when they acquired Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda on the same day. They then spent much of February shopping A.J. Burnett, who they no longer needed, and making minor signings for the bench and Triple-A depth. Time to look back at the surprisingly busy month that was February 2012.

February 2nd, 2012: AL West Notes: Rangers, Trumbo, Morales, Mariners

The Mariners inquired about Yankees prospect Mason Williams during the Michael Pineda trade talks, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter).

At the time, Williams was 20 years old and coming off a .349/.395/.468 (148 wRC+) batting line with three homers and 28 steals in 68 games with Short Season Staten Island. Baseball America ranked him the 85th best prospect in the game right around the time this rumor came out, four spots ahead of Chris Archer. That wasn’t Mason’s peak as a prospect — that came the following year — but he was someone on the rise.

I would have traded Williams for Pineda instead of Montero a hundred times out of a hundred back then. Williams was a super tooled up and interesting young player. Montero was an elite prospect who raked during his September cameo in 2011. I was ready for Montero to go all Miggy Cabrera on the AL East when they traded him for Pineda. Alas. By the way, Williams has Montero beat in career fWAR (+0.5 to -0.8) and bWAR (0.0 to -0.1).

February 7th, 2012: Yankees Sign Bill Hall

The Yankees have signed utility infielder Bill Hall, based on his tweet, “IT’S OFFICIAL IM A YANKEE!!!!!!!! #IwannaRing!!!!”  He signed a minor league deal, tweets Erik Boland of Newsday.  Hall is a client of Gaylord Sports Management.

I have nothing to add to this. I just thought the “IT’S OFFICIAL IM A YANKEE!!!!!!!! #IwannaRing!!!!” stuff was pretty funny. Hall was very excited to be a Yankee … then he got released at the end of Spring Training and spent the season in Triple-A with the Orioles. Life comes at you fast.

February 8th, 2012: Yankees Sign Russell Branyan

The Yankees signed first baseman Russell Branyan to a minor league deal with a spring training invite, reports Dan Martin of the New York Post.

Oh man, I completely forgot the Yankees had Branyan. They were looking for a cheap left-handed designated hitter at the time and Branyan was as good a candidate as anyone. He split 2011 between the Diamondbacks and Angels, hitting .197/.295/.370 (84 wRC+) with five homers in 146 plate appearances. Still, Big Russ could do this:

Branyan, who was 36 at the time, never did play for the big league Yankees. He was hurt and played only 33 games with Triple-A Scranton in 2012, during which he hit .309/.438/.655 (199 wRC+) with eleven homers. Branyan didn’t play at all in 2013, resurfaced in the Mexican League in 2014, and has been out of baseball since.

February 9th, 2012: East Links: Yankees, Jones, Cespedes, Rays, O’s

The Yankees want Garrett Jones from the Pirates in any trade involving A.J. Burnett reports ESPN’s Buster Olney, but Pittsburgh isn’t interested in moving him and talks haven’t progressed (Twitter links). Yesterday we learned that the Pirates are not on Burnett’s no-trade list.

The Yankees were after Jones a long time before finally getting him as part of the Martin PradoNathan Eovaldi trade. They tried to get him from Pittsburgh a few times and tried to sign him as a free agent during the 2014-15 offseason. You’ll notice a trend in this post. The Yankees tried to trade Burnett for a bunch players who ended up wearing pinstripes at one point anyway.

February 13th, 2012: AL East Links: Vlad, Theo, Red Sox

Vladimir Guerrero has made it known to the Yankees that he wants their DH spot,” tweets ESPN’s Buster Olney, but Raul Ibanez remains the frontrunner.

The Yankees never did sign Vlad — he hooked on with the Blue Jays, played a handful of minor league games in 2012, then retired — but this rumor reminded me just how badly I wanted them to sign Guerrero back during the 2003-04 offseason. He had just turned 29 and had hit a) .330/.426/.586 (152 wRC+) with 25 homers in 2003, and b) .324/.405/.581 (145 wRC+) with 98 homers from 2001-03. George Steinbrenner wanted Gary Sheffield though, so the Yankees signed Sheffield and Vlad went to the Angels. Bah. I mean, Sheffield was pretty great, but he was no Vlad.

February 14th, 2012: A.J. Burnett Rumors: Tuesday

The Hafner for Burnett deal is no longer on the table, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch tweets.

Like I said, the Yankees tried to trade Burnett for a bunch of guys who ended up being Yankees at some point anyway. Travis Hafner was entering the final year of his contract and had just hit .228/.346/.438 (118 wRC+) with 12 homers in 66 games around injuries in 2011. He would have slotted in as the team’s left-handed hitting designated hitter in 2012. Instead, Hafner had to wait until 2013 to get that job.

February 15th, 2012: Latest on Jorge Soler

TUESDAY, 2:18pm: The Yankees have serious interest in Soler, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney tweets.

12:33pm: Many teams remain involved in the bidding for 19-year-old Cuban prospect Jorge Soler, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (on Twitter). The Cubs have been extensively linked to the outfielder, but they’re not the only club involved. 

Has it really only been five years since Soler was a free agent? Seems like it was much longer ago. Anyway, the Yankees did what they usually do with a big name Cuban free agent, which is bring him in for a workout and feign interest, but ultimately don’t come particularly close to signing him. The Cubs gave Soler a nine-year deal worth $30M, and while he would go on to develop into a top prospect, he’s yet to put it together at the MLB level. Chicago traded him straight up for Wade Davis this winter, which still blows my mind. Somehow the Yankees got much more for a half-season of Aroldis Chapman than the Royals did for a full season of Davis.

February 15th, 2012: A.J. Burnett Rumors: Wednesday

The Yankees tried to convince the Angels that Burnett could be their fifth starter, according to Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com.  The Yankees would have obtained Bobby Abreu in the proposed trade, but Burnett rejected the deal because he’d prefer to play on the East Coast.

Abreu played for the Yankees before the Burnett trade, but I’m still counting this. The Yankees tried to trade Burnett for a bunch of dudes who played for them at one point or another. Abreu, who was about to turn 38 at the time, had lost all his power by this point — he hit .242/.350/.342 (96 wRC+) with eight homers in 2011 — and he was so bad in 2012 that the Halos released him before the end of April. The Yankees and Angels had a deal though. Burnett for Abreu. Burnett said no because he and his wife preferred the East Coast though. That was his right.

February 18th, 2012: Yankees Sign Clay Rapada

The Yankees have signed lefty reliever Clay Rapada to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training, reports David Waldstein of The New York Times (Twitter links). MLB.com’s Zack Meisel first reported that the two sides were nearing a deal. The Meister Sports Management client was released by the Orioles a few days ago.

The Yankees are said to be looking for a cheap lefty reliever these days, and five years ago, they were in the exact same position when Rapada fell into their laps. He was nails in 2012, throwing 38.1 innings in 70 appearances (lol) with a 2.82 ERA (3.20 FIP). Lefties hit .183/.263/.255 (.238 wOBA) with 28.7% strikeouts and 44.9% ground balls against him. Pretty awesome for a scrap heap pickup. Rapada hurt his shoulder in Spring Training 2013 and spent the next few seasons bouncing around the minors. He retired following the 2015 season.

February 19th, 2012: Pirates Acquire Burnett From Yankees

After more than a week of back-and-forth discussion, the Yankees and Pirates formally announced the deal that will send A.J. Burnett to Pittsburgh.  The trade allows the Bombers to unload $13MM of the $33MM still owed to the veteran pitcher over the next two years.  Aside from shedding payroll, the Yanks also receive outfielder Exicardo Cayones and right-hander Diego Moreno in the trade.

And there it is. Most trades involving the Yankees these days come together quickly. We’ll hear a rumor or two, then bam, the deal is done. Some come out of nowhere, like the John Ryan MurphyAaron Hicks swap. A press release just showed up in everyone’s inbox when that trade was made. The deal was done. No rumors at all.

The Burnett trade was not like that. This one dragged on for a little while. Burnett went on to have two good years with the Pirates, throwing 393.1 innings of 3.41 ERA (3.17 FIP) ball from 2012-13, while the Yankees received little more than salary relief from this trade. Moreno hung around the system for a few years and did reach the big leagues in 2015. You may remember his 5.1 innings of no-hit relief against the Rangers:

The Yankees release Moreno last summer and he’s since hooked on with the Rays. Cayones was one of the two players the Yankees sent to the Angels for Vernon Wells in 2013. The Halos released Cayones after the 2015 season and as far as I can tell he hasn’t played anywhere since. (The other player the Yankees traded for Wells, lefty Kramer Sneed, spent last year in indy ball and the Mexican League.)

February 20th, 2012: Yankees Notes: Chavez, Martin, Rivera

Catcher Russell Martin told Daniel Barbarisi of the Wall Street Journal he talked this winter about a three-year deal with the Yankees, but the discussion never progressed beyond the initial stages.  Martin avoided arbitration with a $7.5MM contract for 2012.

At this point the “no extensions” policy was in full effect, though the Yankees were willing to make an exception for Martin. Quality catchers are hard to find. The two sides never did reach a deal and Martin left as a free agent following the 2012 season. We were then subjected to a year of Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli before Brian McCann arrived.

I wonder how the long-term catching situation would have shaken out had the Yankees and Martin agreed to a three-year deal. It would have meant no Stewvelli in 2013, first and foremost, but also no McCann. It could have played out like this:

  • 2012: Martin and Stewart
  • 2013: Martin and Cervelli
  • 2014: Martin and Cervelli
  • 2015: Murphy and Austin Romine
  • 2016: Murphy and Romine
  • 2017: Gary Sanchez and Murphy

Eh, who knows. Fun to think about it. I’m glad the Yankees have Sanchez now and we didn’t have to sit through any more Stewvelli than we had to.

February 21st, 2012: Yankees Sign Raul Ibanez

The Yankees have found their new designated hitter, officially announcing an agreement with Raul Ibanez that was first tweeted by ESPN’s Buster Olney yesterday.  The framework for a deal was done weeks ago with the ACES client, tweets Joel Sherman of the New York Post, who pegs the value at $1.1MM.  Plate appearance incentives can bring the total to $4MM, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.

After being unable to trade Burnett for a lefty hitting designated hitter, the Yankees signed Ibanez. And you know what? He kinda stunk for most of the season. Ibanez was hitting .235/.303/.437 (95 wRC+) on August 31st, which, when combined with his terrible defense (Brett Gardner missed most of 2012 with an elbow injury, forcing Ibanez to play the outfield fairly regularly), meant he was sub-replacement level. Then Raul started smacking clutch dingers left and right in September and October. That was pretty cool. He made everyone forget about those rough few months in a hurry.

February 22nd, 2012: Yankees Notes: Rivera, Betances, Rodriguez

Joel Sherman of the New York Post doubts the Yankees will spend on the best free agent closer available, though it’s a strategy they might have chosen in the recent past. Brian Cashman believes it’s unwise to sign relievers other than Rivera to significant contracts, and the GM aims to keep payroll under $189MM by 2014.

How times have changed, eh? Then again, you could argue Chapman is the closest thing we’ve seen to Rivera in terms of year in, year out dominance. Also, the game has changed a lot these last five years. Teams lean on their bullpens much more heavily now than they did in 2012. For example, relievers threw 34.0% of all innings back in 2012. Last season it was 36.7%. It doesn’t sound like a huge difference, but that number is only trending up.

February 22nd 2012: Yankees Sign David Aardsma

11:21am: The Yankees have signed 30-year-old right-hander David Aardsma, the team announced. It’s a Major League deal worth $500K that includes a club option for 2013. The deal includes $500K in incentives and the 2012 option is worth $500K, Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times tweets. Aardsma underwent Tommy John surgery last July and won’t be ready to contribute until midway through the 2012 campaign.

I, like many others, was irrationally excited about the Aardsma signing. He had a few nice years with the Mariners, then blew out his elbow. The Yankees picked him up and rehabbed him, and were rewarded with one whole inning in 2012. And he gave up a homer to J.P. Arencibia in that one inning too. It was worth a shot, but it didn’t work out. Aardsma has bounced around the last few years and is currently unsigned.

February 27th, 2012: Yankees Sign Eric Chavez

Eric Chavez is returning to the Yankees for 2012, officially signing a one-year, $900K deal with incentives.  Chavez, 35, will reprise his role as a backup corner infielder and DH for the Yanks. The left-handed hitter posted a .263/.320/.356 line with two homers in 175 plate appearances in the Bronx in 2011, his first season in New York after spending 13 in Oakland.

Chavez’s second season with the Yankees was far better than the first. He hit .263/.320/.356 (80 wRC+) with two homers in 2011, which obviously isn’t great. Chavez then managed a .281/.348/.496 (126 wRC+) line with 16 homers in 313 plate appearances in 2012. Hell yeah. He played a fair amount of third base too while Alex Rodriguez nursed various injuries. Chavez played two years with the Diamondbacks after that before joining the Yankees as a scout. Billy Eppler poached him and now Chavez is an assistant general manager with the Angels.

February 27th, 2012: AL East Notes: Johnson, Pettitte, Blue Jays

Andy Pettitte visited Yankees camp and told reporters, including MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, that he doesn’t plan on making a comeback. Pettitte said he’s “loving life” away from the ballpark and enjoying time with his family.

Good times. Good times. Pettitte un-retired 18 days after this report. He said he got the itch to continue playing after coming to Spring Training as an instructor, and the rest is history. That was pretty cool. I remember Joe and I were recording an episode of the RAB podcast (RIP) when news of the Pettitte signing broke, and we were both just kinda speechless. I’m pretty sure we scrapped that podcast all together so we could write about Andy’s return. That was fun.