Sherman: Yankees offered Juan Uribe a minor league deal

(Dustin Bradford/Getty)
(Dustin Bradford/Getty)

I missed this the other day: Joel Sherman reports the Yankees offered infielder Juan Uribe a minor league contract before he took a one-year deal worth $4M or so with the Indians. He’s expected to take over as Cleveland’s starting third baseman, pushing young Giovanny Urshela either to the bench or back to Triple-A.

The Yankees did not sign a Major League free agent all offseason — they did agree to a deal with Tommy Hunter before backing out over medical concerns — so I’m not surprised they didn’t want to guarantee a roster spot to a player who will turn 37 next month. It could have been an attempt at 40-man roster manipulation — the Yankees wanted Uribe but also wanted to wait until they could slide Greg Bird to the 60-day DL so they didn’t have to cut anyone — but that seems unlikely.

I thought Uribe would have been a very good bench addition for the Yankees. He would have been a legitimate backup to Chase Headley at third base, plus a potential fill-in at second base, and maybe even first base well. I don’t blame Uribe for taking a guaranteed deal and a starting third base job with the Indians over a minor league deal and a bench job with the Yankees. I’d have done the same. Not much of a surprise that he turned down New York.

The Yankees will try Rob Refsnyder and Starlin Castro at third base in camp, and if that doesn’t work, they have Donovan Solano and Pete Kozma as backup infielder options. David Freese remains unsigned and as with Uribe, I think it’s only a matter of time until some team offers a small contract to start. Maybe the Angels or Pirates. The Yankees could always comb the out of options market come the end of Spring Training.

Last season Uribe hit .253/.320/.407 (104 wRC+) with 14 homers in 119 games with the Dodgers, Braves, and Mets. He’s a very good hot corner defender and has a reputation for being a Grade-A clubhouse dude too. Uribe would have been a real nice bench pickup. Alas.

Cashman “doesn’t anticipate” making any moves prior to Opening Day

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

The Yankees have a recent history of making roster upgrades — minor upgrades, but upgrades nonetheless — in Spring Training, most notably landing Chris Stewart in 2012 and Shawn Kelley in 2013. There are still some decent free agents available and reportedly plenty of teams are still looking to swing trades. The opportunity to upgrade is there.

As Brian Cashman tells it, the Yankees are unlikely to make any moves prior to Opening Day. The GM told Brendan Kuty he “doesn’t anticipate anything in the short term,” though of course that could change in an instant. “I think I spent all winter trying to explore all options and every opportunity that was available. This is the result of those efforts,” he added. “That doesn’t stop. It never should stop.”

Before he signed with the White Sox today, I half expected Jimmy Rollins to stroll into camp when position players report Wednesday. Generally speaking though, I don’t think there are any available free agents who are worth guaranteeing a big league roster spot right now. Juan Uribe was the last one who made sense for the Yankees, and I don’t blame him for taking a starting job with the Indians over a bench job in New York. Tim Lincecum? Cliff Lee? Eh.

Trades? Who knows. Those things come out of nowhere. (Reminder: Brett Gardner to the Angels still makes sense.) I’m interested to see MLBTR’s annual list of out of options players next month. There could be a fit for the Yankees there, maybe a utility player for the last bench sport or even an arm worth a flier in middle relief. That’s how the Yankees ended up with Kelley.

The Yankees are committed to using their farm system now and they’re going young wherever possible. They seem more likely to plug any roster hole from within than go outside the organization. You can never rule anything out, these are the Yankees, but I would be surprised if they made any of kind of move that changed the Opening Day roster outlook this spring.

Spring Training has begun, but the Yankees still have time to upgrade their roster

Sign pls. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Sign pls. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

After four long months of offseason, the Yankees opened Spring Training yesterday as pitchers and catchers reported to Tampa. Position players will follow next Wednesday. Grapefruit League play begins the week after that. Soon real live baseball will be on our screens, and we’ll be overreacting to small sample sizes against low quality competition even though we all know we shouldn’t.

The offseason is over but the roster building is not. It never is. The Yankees have made some notable moves in the middle of Spring Training in recent years, including trades to acquire Shawn Kelley, Vernon Wells, Chris Stewart, and Chris Dickerson. They also traded way Eduardo Nunez and signed Lyle Overbay during the spring. There are always a final few tweaks made in the spring.

Right now several quality free agents remain unsigned — can the Yankees please sign Juan Uribe now? pretty please? — and apparently the trade market is still active. Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman told Marc Topkin the “transaction window is open longer” these days, and added more teams are willing to talk about significant trades in Spring Training.

The Yankees spent all offseason looking to add a young starter and were willing to discuss Andrew Miller and Brett Gardner in trades to make it happen, but nothing got done. There will always be a trade market for Miller as long as he’s healthy because he’s very good, very affordable, and teams always need bullpen help. The market for Gardner is limited right now because so many teams added outfielders through free agency.

The Angels, however, have not yet addressed their left field issues. Yesterday Mike Scioscia told Jeff Fletcher the team intends to bat Mike Trout third this year, which is no big deal in and of itself, but it prompted me to look at their depth chart to see who would be candidates to bat first and second ahead of Trout, and holy crap, look at this team:

Angels depth chart

Albert Pujols is questionable for Opening Day following foot surgery, so Anaheim’s offense right now is basically Trout, Yunel Escobar, and Kole Calhoun. And I guess C.J. Cron, who can mash taters but lacks on-base ability. I mean, I knew who they had on the roster, but it’s shocking to see how unimpressive that offense is when you look at all the names in one spot.

I’ve mentioned the possibility of a Gardner-Angels trade a few times this winter and it still looks like such a perfect fit. The Angels need a left fielder and leadoff hitter, and they have some pitching to spare. Gardner’s salary, while not exorbitant, may be an issue because the Halos have about $12M in wiggle room under the luxury tax threshold. The Yankees could always pay down some of his contract to facilitate a deal.

Anyway, I don’t want to turn this into another “trade Gardner to the Angels post,” I just wanted to use that situation as an example of how the Yankees could still upgrade their roster. There are free agents who fit the roster — did I mention Juan Uribe is still available? because Juan Uribe is still available — and there are still potential trade partners out there. With so many more teams in contention nowadays, you’d expect there to be desire to improve.

The Yankees don’t have a ton of open roster spots at the moment — the last bench spot and three bullpen spots, that’s about it — though there are always ways to upgrade, and the Yankees should be in the business of upgrading both short and long-term. A Gardner trade would be significant and I think it remains unlikely, but small trades (like Kelley and Stewart) and small signings (Juan Uribe!) are out there waiting to be made.

Spring Training has begun, but Opening Day is still more than six weeks away, so there’s lots of time for Brian Cashman & Co. to fine tune the roster. The AL East is so very competitive that every upgrade, no matter how big or small it appears, it’s worth making.

Update: The Indians just signed Uribe according to Ken Rosenthal. No word on the terms. Grumble grumble.

Sherman: Yankees agreed to sign Tommy Hunter, backed out over medicals

(Jon Durr/Getty)
(Jon Durr/Getty)

The Yankees are the only team in baseball that did not sign a Major League free agent this offseason, but they did agree to a deal with one. Joel Sherman reports the Yankees agreed to a two-year deal worth $11.5M or so with right-hander Tommy Hunter, but backed out after he failed his physical.

Hunter, 29, had not one, but two core muscle surgeries this offseason, the second of which happened in early-January. Sherman says it’s possible something scary popped up with his arm too. Hunter agreed to a one-year contract worth $2M with the Indians last week, so clearly his market was depressed due to medical concerns.

“Prior to signing Tommy, we did a complete physical and we were comfortable moving forward with the agreed-upon terms,” said Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti to Sherman. “We realize (Hunter) is going to be delayed because of the offseason core surgery, but we think he will be back in the first part of the season and impact our team when he returns.”

It’s unclear when the Yankees and Hunter agreed to their contract, but it sounds as though it was fairly recent. Within the last few weeks. He would have stepped into one of the open bullpen spots to provide support behind Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman. I’m not sure I would have been thrilled with giving Hunter that contract, but whatever. Doesn’t matter now.

Hunter had a 4.18 ERA (3.83 FIP) in 60.1 innings for the Orioles and Cubs last year. He’s one year removed from having a 2.97 ERA (3.15 FIP) in 60.2 innings with the O’s.

Heyman: Rangers sign Ike Davis to minor league deal

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

According to Jon Heyman, the Rangers have signed first baseman Ike Davis to a minor league contract. Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees talked to Davis’ camp in the wake of Greg Bird‘s shoulder injury, but obviously they couldn’t work out a deal, so Texas it is.

Davis, 28, hit .229/.301/.350 (83 wRC+) with three homers in 74 games for the Athletics last season. He is one year removed from a .233/.344/.378 (109 wRC+) line with eleven homers in 143 games, however. As a lefty pull hitter with power, Davis would have been a fine Bird replacement for Triple-A.

It is sorta weird Davis went with the Rangers over the Yankees. With New York, Mark Teixeira is his only obstacle to MLB playing time, and Teixeira hasn’t played a full season since 2011. With the Rangers, both Mitch Moreland and Prince Fielder are ahead of him on the first base depth chart. Eh, whatever.

The Yankees do still need to dig up a Triple-A first baseman at some point. Deibinson Romero is one candidate, and there’s always Tyler Austin, but Cashman said they don’t consider him as candidate for the job at this point. Chris Parmelee and Matt Clark are still unsigned. They could do the job.

Spring Notes: Tanaka, Sabathia, A-Rod, Castro, Nova, Davis

Those shirts! (The Asahi Shimbun/Getty)
Those shirts! (The Asahi Shimbun/Getty)

Pitchers and catchers are due to report to Spring Training in just six days. Many — or most, it seems — are already in Tampa though, so some early camp notes are starting to trickle in. This is good. I am ready for baseball. Here’s a roundup of recent news and notes from Tampa.

Tanaka begins throwing, may be behind other starters in camp

Masahiro Tanaka has gotten back on a mound after having surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow in October. According to Ronald Blum, Tanaka threw a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium last week in front of pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Bryan Hoch says Tanaka played catch in Tampa today. Afterwards he said he needs to “get innings in (to) see how I feel” before knowing whether he’ll be ready for Opening Day.

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild told Dan Martin Tanaka’s “throwing program was right on target,” though Brian Cashman was a bit more conservative. “He will enter Spring Training maybe a little behind for precautionary reasons. He may be behind going off the bullpen from the beginning, but he is healthy. There are no issues, there are no hiccups,” said the GM to George King.

CC Sabathia was behind the other starters in Spring Training 2013 after having surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow early during the 2012 offseason. He was ready to start the season on time; the club limited his bullpen work early in camp, and had him make his first few spring starts in controlled minor league games rather than regular Grapefruit League games. Tanaka could do the same this spring. We’ll see.

“When you pitch a good game, you’re the hero,” said Tanaka, who worked out with his former Rakuten Golden Eagles teammates in Japan this offseason, to Brad Lefton. “When you have a bad game, everyone says, ‘Something’s wrong with the elbow.’ There’s no way to handle it other than to just accept that’s the way it’s going to be. If you want to stop such talk, then you just have to go out and keep winning ballgames.”

Sabathia and his knee are feeling great

You can file this in the classic early Spring Training everything is awesome category: CC Sabathia’s knee feels great and he’s doing very well following his stint in an alcohol treatment center, he told Laura Albanese and Mark Feinsand. “I feel great and I’ve been working hard for the last three months and I’m ready to go,” said Sabathia. “I’m excited … This is the best I’ve felt in three years.”

Sabathia, now 35, usually throws year round, but he took a month off from throwing a baseball while in rehab. He’s been throwing off a mound for three weeks now. “I’m definitely in a good place. You’ve never got this thing beat; it’s always there and I’m always going to be a recovering alcoholic, but I’m in a good place,” he said. “This is my 16th year in the big leagues and you can take it for granted. This whole experience has put a new lease on my career and the way I’m viewing it.”

I’d be lying if I said I have even medium high hopes for Sabathia this coming season — I’ve done the “overly optimistic about CC” thing a few times these last three years — but I’m glad he feels great and his alcoholism recovery is going well. That goes beyond baseball and he’ll be fighting it the rest of his life. On the field, if the new knee brace allows Sabathia to give the Yankees, say, 180 league average innings in 2016, that would be an enormous upgrade over what he gave them from 2013-15.

Cashman reiterates A-Rod will be a DH only

As if it was not already clear, Cashman reiterated the Yankees see Alex Rodriguez as a DH and a DH only going forward. “You’ve got to stop asking Alex questions,” said Cashman to Billy Witz. “He’s not playing any position anymore. He’s a DH. He’s a very productive DH. For us to get maximum value out of Alex Rodriguez, he’s going to only DH. If we have to put him in the field somewhere, we’re in trouble.”

I wish the Yankees would at least entertain the idea of giving Alex some time at first base in Spring Training, but obviously that’s not going to happen. Greg Bird is done for the season, leaving Dustin Ackley as the backup first baseman. It would be nice if A-Rod were at least capable of being an emergency fill-in at first base for a few innings. Alas. The DH spot is his and his alone.

Castro will play some third base in Spring Training

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

As expected, the Yankees will have Starlin Castro play some third base in Spring Training this year, Cashman told Ryan Hatch. Castro has not played third since rookie ball years and years ago, and that was only a handful of games. He’s played shortstop most of his career, so he is familiar with being on the left side of the infield. Castro moved to second base last August, and I’m not sure giving him another new position to learn right now is the best idea, but we’ll see.

“It’s too early to tell (if he can handle third), so we’ll take the time in Spring Training,” said Cashman. “If (he) can swing over and play some third for us and spell Chase (Headley), that’s a huge benefit for roster flexibility, but if he can’t, we’re not going to force it … If it’s something he’s not comfortable with we’re certainly not going to force that either. But we’ll certainly find out when we get to know him a little better and see how he looks.”

Nova wants to start, because duh

Ivan Nova, who is currently sixth on the rotation depth chart, told Martin he wants to start this year but will pitch out of the bullpen if necessary. “I’m a starting pitcher. I’m not a reliever, but if that’s what they tell me to do, that’s what I’ve got to do,” he said. “If I feel bad going to the bullpen, what’s that going to change?”

The Yankees sent Nova to the bullpen briefly last September, but he never did make a relief appearance and instead moved back into the rotation when Tanaka pulled his hamstring. I firmly believe Nova is going to end up making something like 20-25 starts this year. One or three of the other starters will get hurt and he’ll be the guy to step in. The sixth starter always works more than expected, it seems.

Nova, now 29, had a 5.07 ERA (4.87 FIP) in 94 innings after coming back from Tommy John surgery last year. He didn’t blame his struggles on the elbow — “Whatever happened last year wasn’t because of the Tommy John. I just didn’t pitch good. If I didn’t feel good, I would have said it,” he said — but I do think it’s fair to expect him to improve as he gets further away from the procedure. That’s common. This is also Ivan’s contract year too. I’m sure he’s extra motivated to pitch well, and the Yankees will happily take it if he does.

Beltran, McCann do not want to play first base

Although both Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann have briefly played first base for the Yankees, neither wants to do it going forward, they told Anthony McCarron and Brendan Kuty. “No, no, no. I would do anything. Except (play first). It’s a different animal,” said Beltran. McCann added “I don’t think they want me over there. I don’t move too good. I don’t think they want that.”

Both Beltran and McCann have played some first base in pinstripes, so they’re clearly not opposed to the idea, but they don’t want to do it regularly. I understand that. The Yankees shouldn’t want Beltran or McCann to do it at all. Ideally Mark Teixeira stays healthy at first base and mashes taters all season with Ackley backing him up. If it gets to the point where Beltran has to play first, something very bad has happened. By the way, Beltran told Hatch he dropped ten pounds this offseason and joked he “might try and steal some bases this year.”

Cashman confirms Yankees have spoken to Davis

In the wake of Bird’s injury, the Yankees have indeed spoken to free agent Ike Davis, Cashman confirmed to Anthony Rieber. “We’ve talked to Ike Davis. That’s all I can tell you, really. We’ve talked to a lot of people,” said the GM. “Again, in terms of the Greg Bird scenario, we clearly have a need for an everyday first baseman at Scranton. So anybody that we feel is of quality and can fit that bill and is interested and willing to play in Scranton, then we’re going to have those conversations with a number of different people. But we have talked to Ike as well.”

Ken Davidoff says Davis is expected to sign a minor league contract — not necessarily with the Yankees — at some point soon. Davis, 28, hit .229/.301/.350 (83 wRC+) with three homers in 74 games for the A’s last season. He is a year removed from a 109 wRC+ season, however. Davis is a dead pull lefty hitter with power, making him a very good third string first base candidate for the Yankees. At this point of the offseason, he’s the best option to replace Bird in Scranton. Steve Simineri explained why the Yankees should side Davis in a guest post recently.

The Bryce Harper Endgame

Right ballpark, wrong uniform. (Presswire)
Right ballpark, wrong uniform. (Presswire)

As you know, the Yankees are the only team in baseball that has not yet signed a Major League free agent this offseason. They have taken on some money in the Starlin Castro and Aroldis Chapman trades — about $23.5M for luxury tax purposes in 2016 — but otherwise they’ve limited their spending. Once again the team focused on trades.

Next offseason the Yankees are going to start to shed some of their expensive long-term contracts. Mark Teixeira ($22.5M per year) and Carlos Beltran ($15M) will come off the books next offseason, then CC Sabathia ($23.4M) and Alex Rodriguez ($27.5M) will join them the following year. Possibly Masahiro Tanaka ($22.1M) as well if he stays healthy and opts out of his contract.

We know Hal Steinbrenner & Co. want to get under the luxury tax in the near future, and those expiring deals will help the Yankees accomplish that goal. Doing so would reset the team’s tax rate and entitle the Yankees to some revenue sharing rebates. Getting under the tax threshold potentially equals tens of millions of dollars saved. It’s a substantial sum. Last week Jeff Passan had some details on New York’s financial situation:

Now, we’ll get to that, though first it’s imperative to understand how and why the Yankees are looking years down the road when deciding to sit out this offseason. And it’s best to start with two numbers: $508 million and $8.1 million. The Yankees’ yearly revenues in the most recent franchise valuations by Forbes were $508 million, and their operation income – money in the black – was $8.1 million. That is not a lot, not when New York’s revenues exceed the second-place Dodgers’ by more than $100 million.

If reason No. 1 (to pass on free agents) was minimal profit, No. 2 is every bit as important: the fear of the unknown. And with baseball ready to begin negotiating a new collective-bargaining agreement soon, the unknown is palpable. New York has no idea what percentage of its revenue it will be sharing with lower-revenue teams. Currently, the tax rate assessed to every team is 34 percent of local revenue, and that pool is split evenly among the 30 teams. High-earning teams pay what amounts to another 14 percent on top of that. The Yankees give more in revenue-sharing dollars than every other team, and it’s not particularly close. With the gap between the richest and poorest teams as significant as ever, they could give even more, something they’ll surely resist.

The expectation is the Yankees will go back to spending big on free agents in a few years, once some of the big contracts are off the books, the luxury tax rate has been reset, and the terms of the next CBA are known. I don’t know when the Yankees will spend big or exactly how much they’re planning to spend, but I’m sure it’ll happen. They’re not going let all that money come off the books and save all that cash on luxury tax and not put at least a big chunk of it back into the team.

That brings us to Bryce Harper, the just-turned-23-year-old wunderkind of the Washington Nationals. Harper silenced all of his critics last season with a historic .330/.460/.649 (195 OPS+) batting line and 42 homers. Here is the full list of players who had a 180 OPS+ or better season at age 22 or younger: Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, and Bryce Harper. That’s it. Harper’s 42 dingers are the most of the trio. People ripped Harper when he hit “only” .272/.351/.465 (121 OPS+) from 2012-14, but that’s not possible anymore. He’s a megastar.

Harper is now three years from free agency and he is a Scott Boras client, so it’s a damn near certainty he will hit the open market. If the Nationals want to approach him about a long-term extension, they’d have to start their offer at Giancarlo Stanton’s massive 13-year, $325M contract. That’s the starting point. Stanton is awesome, but Harper is younger and better than Giancarlo was at the time of his deal. More than likely it’ll take something closer to $400M to get Harper and Boras to the negotiating table.

There are still three years between now and then, but Harper is the odds on favorite to become the first $40M a year player in baseball history. Whatever we think it’ll take to sign him is probably too low. In all seriousness, I expect Boras to ask for something like 15 years and $600M in three years. He’s going to want to smash records with Harper, not beat them by $1M or $2M. Remember when A-Rod was a free agent way back when? His ten-year, $252M deal was exactly double the richest sports contract at the time (Kevin Garnett’s $126M deal). Boras brokered that deal for Alex and he’ll want to do something similar with Harper.

It’s impossible to ignore the timing of all this. The Yankees have all these contracts coming off the books and are very likely to get under the luxury tax at some point in the next two or three years, right as Harper hits the open market. The club will have this huge financial windfall at the same time a generational talent becomes available for nothing but cash (and presumably a draft pick). Not just a generational talent, a generational talent in the prime of his career; Harper will turn 26 the October of the offseason of his free agency.

Personally, I do not believe the decision to get under the luxury tax and have enormous future payroll flexibility is tied to Harper’s free agency. It’s a coincidence. Hal has been talking about getting under the luxury tax for years now (the original plan was to do it in 2014, remember), long before it was clear Harper was a superstar of the first order. I do, however, believe the Yankees are very aware Harper is likely to become a free agent in three years, and that they’re going to be in a better place financially at the time, putting them in position to sign a marquee free to what will surely be a record contract.

That said, planning for a free agent three years into the future is foolish. Yes, teams do need to plan ahead, but you can’t plan that far ahead with any sort of certainty. Way too much can and will change between now and then. The Yankees can have their eye on Harper down the line and also understand it’s unlikely to happen. Realistically, what are the chances Harper will be a Yankee come the 2019 season? 25%? Even that seems high. Maybe 50% is the absolute best case scenario right now?

“You can’t predict free agency multiple years out,” said Brian Cashman to Chad Jennings earlier this offseason. “I can’t project availability. Obviously if you turn the clock back and look at projecting (David) Price’s availability, (it was impossible to know), would he be healthy? He’s been with three teams since. It’s such a guessing game when you go through that process that far out to forecast.”

Assuming the Yankees do achieve this goal of financial flexibility and Harper remains a star, going after Harper in three years is a total no-brainer. The Yankees brand is built on stars and winning, and a player as good and as young as Harper is someone you absolutely go all-out to acquire. They don’t come along very often at all. He’s the guy you make a $400M+ offer on day one of free agency to let other teams know you aren’t screwing around. Just drop the hammer the first day and let two-thirds of the league know they shouldn’t even bother making a phone call to Boras.

Those are two pretty big assumptions though, right? The financial flexibility and Harper hitting free agency as a megastar stuff. It’s have financial flexibility AND Harper becomes a free agent AND Harper is still a star. All of that has to happen, and it very well might. But it goes to show how much can change between now and then. It wouldn’t take much to derail this plan. I hope the Yankees get Harper in three years, but the Yankees can’t plan on him being the endgame for this financial flexibility. He’s not the driving force behind the team’s austerity, but man, the timing sure does work out well.