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.

Kuty: Yanks have reached out to free agent Carlos Torres

(Hunter Martin/Getty)
(Hunter Martin/Getty)

According to Brendan Kuty, the Yankees have reached out to former Mets reliever and free agent right-hander Carlos Torres. Torres elected free agency last week after being designated for assignment when the Amazin’s needed a 40-man spot for Yoenis Cespedes. Roughly 20 teams have contacted him already, including clubs in Asia.

Torres, 33, has spent the last three seasons working mostly as a swingman with the Mets. He has a 3.59 ERA (3.94 FIP) with a 21.9% strikeout rate and a 7.3% walk rate in 241 innings during that time. Last year Torres had both the highest ERA (4.68) and lowest FIP (3.53) of his three seasons in Flushing, weirdly.

The Yankees traded swingman Adam Warren earlier this offseason and they’ll head into Spring Training with three open bullpen spots. (Maybe four depending on Aroldis Chapman‘s suspension.) They do have a ton of internal candidates though. I count 20 bullpen candidates between the 40-man roster and non-roster invitees.

Right now the Yankees have six starters and Brian Cashman confirmed whichever one doesn’t make the rotation will likely be the long man, assuming everyone stays healthy. Torres has a rubber arm — it seemed like the Mets were bringing him out of the bullpen for multiple innings every other day — and he would add swingman depth in case a starter gets hurt.

The Yankees have not yet signed a Major League free agent this offseason and I don’t think that will change now. If they wanted Torres on the 40-man roster, they could have simply claimed him off waivers. It’s not like he’s making a ton of money. (He agreed to a $1.05M salary to avoid arbitration before being designated.) Chances are the Yankees want him on a minor league deal.

Beyond the top six starters, the Yankees have Bryan Mitchell and journeymen Anthony Swarzak and Tyler Cloyd as rotation depth. Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Brady Lail are in that mix as well. If the Yankees can bring in Torres on a minor league deal, great. Never a bad idea to bring in more depth. He’s not a sexy name but he’s a capable last guy in the bullpen.

Sherman: Yankees fielded calls about Dustin Ackley this offseason

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees fielded calls from teams looking to acquire Dustin Ackley earlier this offseason. Interestingly, Sherman says teams wanted Ackley to play first base. That seems … weird. A lot of his value is tied to his ability to play several different positions.

The Yankees acquired Ackley from the Mariners for Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez at the trade deadline last year. Flores and Ramirez were essentially role players, not cornerstones, and both will be out of minor league options this coming season. Point is, they didn’t have much trade value. The Yankees got Ackley relatively cheap.

Ackley, 28 later this month, hit very well in his limited time with the Yankees (161 wRC+), though I have a hard time thinking his value increased substantially during his two months in pinstripes. (One month really, since he was hurt in August.) Ackley’s been around a while and he has a track record, and it’s mostly not good.

It makes sense to listen to offers for Ackley the same way it makes sense to listen to offers for any player. You never know when a team will really love a guy and make a shockingly big offer. Realistically, the Yankees weren’t going to get anything better than Flores and Ramirez types. They still have plenty of those too.

Ackley is more valuable to the Yankees on the roster than anything they could have probably gotten in a trade this offseason. Greg Bird‘s recent injury makes Ackley the only backup first baseman now, so he’s pretty important, especially since Mark Teixeira is known to visit the DL from time to time.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: David Freese

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

As the offseason winds down, teams are currently in bargain hunting mode trying to find that last piece or two to round out their roster. The Yankees have grabbed low-cost veterans like Eric Chavez, Brian Roberts, and Raul Ibanez at this point of the offseason in recent years. They weren’t counting on them for huge impact, just quality depth.

The Yankees have already announced their list of non-roster Spring Training invitees, but the roster building doesn’t end there. The team can still add players and may indeed make a minor pickup or two in the nine days between now and the open of camp. Veteran third baseman David Freese remains unsigned, and with Greg Bird now out for the season, the Yankees could use corner infield depth. Is Freese a potential fit for that role? Let’s look.

The Offense

Freese, 33 in April, has been rather consistent the last three years, putting up a wRC+ in the 105-110 range each season from 2013-15. Both his BABIP (.321) and strikeout rate (22.4%) have held fairly steady these last few years, but his walk rate is trending down (9.0% to 7.4% to 6.6%) while his ISO (.119 to .123 to .163) is trending up. Here are his platoon splits from 2013-15:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ BABIP BB% K% GB% FB% Soft% Hard%
vs. RHP 1,127 .257/.321/.375 100 .327 6.7% 24.0% 54.2% 24.8% 14.9% 36.2%
vs. LHP 375 .268/.349/.451 127 .303 10.7% 17.9% 48.7% 28.7% 14.7% 37.4%

Freese is a right-handed hitter, as you may have guessed from the splits. He’s also a ground ball hitter, which explains the higher than league average BABIP and generally underwhelming ISO. Ground balls sneak through for hits more often than fly balls, but they rarely go for extra bases.

Last season Freese put up a .257/.323/.420 (110 wRC+) line overall, and his splits had reversed from his career norms. He was basically average against lefties (104 wRC+) while having more success against righties (112 wRC+). That looks very much like a one-year blip based on the rest of his career — it was a 92 wRC+ against righties and a 153 wRC+ against lefties as recently as 2014 — and not the new normal, but stranger things have happened.

The lack of interest this offseason suggests teams do not see Freese as a player capable of producing at an average or better clip against both righties and lefties. Those guys usually find jobs, especially at an in-demand position like third base. Going forward, it’s best to project Freese as a platoon bat, and if he performs better than expected, great.

The Defense

For the vast majority of his career, the defensive stats have rated Freese as an average to slightly below-average third baseman. He had one disaster year in 2013 (-14 DRS and -16.5 UZR) but has otherwise hovered within a run or two of average. For what it’s worth, the UZR components say it’s all due to a lack of range. Freese turns double plays fine and avoids errors, but he’s a statue. Not much range at all.

Freese has played some first base in addition to third base, mostly earlier in his career, which is kind of a big deal as far as the Yankees are concerned. The Bird injury means they’re out a Grade-A piece of depth at first base. Freese played nine games at first with the Cardinals from 2009-11 plus a bunch more in the minors, and I’m guessing he would have seen some action at first with the Angels the last two years if not for Albert Pujols and C.J. Cron.

The defensive stats at first are meaningless given how little time Freese played there. As we’ve seen the last few years, first base is not as easy as it seems. The Yankees have thrown a lot of players at first for short periods of time (Chase Headley, Kelly Johnson, Brendan Ryan, Brian McCann, etc.) and all struggled with the transition to some degree. Freese at least has some familiarity with the position. He wouldn’t be going in blind.

Injury History

Only once in his six full MLB seasons has Freese managed to play 140+ games. That was the 144 games he played in 2013. Freese is good for at least one DL stint per season. Check out the list of injuries:

  • 2015: Non-displaced fracture of right index finger. Missed close to six weeks.
  • 2014: Fractured right middle finger. Missed three weeks.
  • 2013: Lower back strain. Missed three weeks.
  • 2012: Right and left ankle sprains. Missed ten games in September but didn’t go on the DL because of expanded rosters.
  • 2011: Broken left hand. Missed two months.
  • 2010: Right ankle tendon reconstruction surgery. Missed a little more than three months.
  • 2009: Left heel debridement surgery. Missed two months in minors.

Not great. He’s had surgery on both ankles/feet and breaks in both hands/fingers. Any team that signs Freese would have to have a decent Plan B at third base because he’s going to miss time. His history suggests staying healthy over a full season just isn’t happening. The best predictor of future injury is past injury, after all.

Contract Projections

It is late in the offseason, and at this point the remaining free agents are going to end up with contracts smaller than expected. Howie Kendrick just took two years and $20M. That’s ridiculous. It’s a fraction of what he’s worth. Bargains are out there. Here are some early offseason projections for Freese:

Freese would certainly jump on three years and $30M right now. That’s 150% of Kendrick’s deal! He’d probably take the two years and $18M as well. Martin Prado and Justin Turner will be the best available free agent third basemen next offseason. Would Freese take a one-year deal and try his luck again next winter? He might not have a choice at this point.

Wrapping Up

Although he is four years older, I prefer Juan Uribe to Freese, but Freese could potentially fill a similar role as the backup third baseman and righty bat off the bench. He can’t play second like Uribe, but the Yankees have depth at that position in Dustin Ackley and Rob Refsnyder. They need first base depth in the wake of Bird’s injury and Freese may be able to provide that. (Uribe may be able to as well.)

(Harry How/Getty)
(Harry How/Getty)

Looking around the league, I count eight teams that have an opening for either a starting third baseman or a most of the time third baseman: Angels, Indians, Astros, Braves, Reds, Brewers, Pirates, and Padres. Some of those teams are more realistic fits for Freese than others. The rebuilding Braves, Reds, Brewers, and Padres aren’t going to spend money on a veteran third baseman, for example.

The Yankees have yet to sign a Major League free agent this offseason but I don’t think they’re opposed to the idea completely. They can’t be. You have to be willing to act if a favorable deal comes along. My guess is Freese would have to come on similar terms as Stephen Drew last year ($5M for one year) for the Yankees to have any interest. And even then Freese has to be willing to accept a bench role.

As with most position player free agents this offseason, Freese looks like an okay fit for the Yankees but the Yankees don’t seem to be a fit for Freese. The Angels, Indians, and Pirates all stand to offer more playing time and Freese may consider those clubs more likely to contend in 2016 than the Yankees. At some point someone will sign him, right? I would be surprised if he has to settle for a 13th position player on the roster job at this stage of his career.

Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: February 2011

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Retro Week is now in the rear-view mirror, and since it’s a new month, it’s time to look back through the MLB Trade Rumors archive. This seems like a good way to transition from Retro Week back to the real world. As a reminder, these posts are for fun and are not intended to make fun of the reporters or the crew at MLBTR. What good are rumors if you read them once and forget about them?

We’re now in February 2011, and at this point of the offseason the Yankees had already lost out on Cliff Lee and were scrambling to fill out the rotation. Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon were signed to minor league deals, and Scott Boras convinced the team to panic sign Rafael Soriano. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera also inked new contracts. Here’s a look back at everything Yankees-related that happened five years ago this month.

February 1st, 2011: New York Notes: Pettitte, Mets, Pitching

Yankees people continue to hear from friends of Andy Pettitte that they think the 38-year-old will pitch this year, tweets Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated.  Of course, there’s still no word from Pettitte himself on the matter.

Spring Training was inching closer and there was still no indication whether Pettitte would pitch again. He was 39 years old at the time and he was coming off a season with a 3.28 ERA (3.85 FIP) in 129 innings. A groin injury forced him to miss a bunch of time, and ultimately the rehab from that injury is what pushed Pettitte to retirement. His body didn’t recover as quickly as it once did and he didn’t want to go through the grind anymore. The Yankees desperately needed him though. The rotation at the time was CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, an unproven Ivan Nova, and no one in particular.

February 2nd, 2011: Yankees Acquire Justin Maxwell

The Yankees announced that they have acquired Justin Maxwell from the Nationals for minor league right-hander Adam Olbrychowski. When Washington had to clear roster space last week, they designated Maxwell for assignment.

Maxwell had a real nice year in Triple-A in 2011 — he hit .260/.358/.588 (157 wRC+) with 16 homers and eleven steals in 48 games — but he tore up his shoulder crashing into the wall while trying to rob a home run and needed season-ending surgery. The Yankees cut him loose in Spring Training the following year, the Astros claimed him, then Maxwell mashed lefties in 2012 (143 wRC+). Everyone complained because Maxwell was great and Andruw Jones stunk that year. The Yankees somehow survived and won the division anyway.

February 2nd, 2011: Yankees Remain In Contact With Kevin Millwood

The Yankees have added Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia in the last week, but the team is still in contact with Kevin Millwood, reports Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link).  It could be that the Yankees just want to give themselves as many veteran starting options as they can, or, as Heyman opines, “they’re growing more worried” that Andy Pettitte will retire. 

The Yankees eventually did sign Millwood to a minor league contract — he spent a month in Triple-A before exercising an opt-out clause — but I remember there being a lot of talk that Millwood was a must sign. A must sign. He had a 5.10 ERA (4.86 FIP) with the Orioles in 2010 but the back of the rotation was a mess, and Millwood was a familiar name. Those were desperate times indeed.

February 3rd, 2011: Andy Pettitte To Retire

It’s the end of a three-month wait for the Yankees and a 16-year career for Andy Pettitte. The left-hander is set to announce his retirement tomorrow, the team announced.

And there it is. Pettitte decided to retire and Brian Cashman admitted the Yankees basically begged him to come back after missing out on Lee. Andy wasn’t having any of it. He wanted to be home with his family and who could blame him? He’d won titles, built a strong Hall of Fame case, made an ungodly amount of money … why put yourself through it again if the physical grind was too much? I was very sad Pettitte retired. Little did we know he would be back a year later.

February 4th, 2011: Yankees Consider Left-Handed Pitchers

The Yankees, who heard this week that Andy Pettitte will retire, have considered exploring trades for other left-handers, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter). Joe Saunders, Scott Kazmir, Wade LeBlanc, Clayton Richard and Gio Gonzalez are among the possible targets some Yankees people have “kicked around.”

Yeesh. What a list of pitchers. Gio was pretty good and would have been a nice pickup. Saunders was with the Diamondbacks at the time and had a 4.47 ERA (4.57 FIP) in 203.1 innings in 2010. Kazmir had a 5.94 ERA (5.83 FIP) in 150 innings with the Angels and Richard had a 3.75 ERA (3.81 FIP) in 201.2 innings with the Padres. LeBlanc, who threw one inning with the 2014 Yankees, was an up-and-down arm with San Diego. Aside from Gonzalez, this was retread/back-end fodder city. Goodness.

February 4th, 2011: Robinson Cano Hires Scott Boras

Robinson Cano has hired Scott Boras as his agent, according to Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportes.com. The second baseman, who was previously a Bobby Barad client, met Boras in the Dominican Republic today.

I totally forgot about this. It was a huge deal at the time because it’s Boras and Boras always wants insane contracts. The Yankees controlled Cano through 2013 thanks to the extension he signed in 2008, so his free agency wasn’t imminent, but dealing with Boras is never fun. As it turned out, Boras never did negotiate a deal for Cano. Robbie dumped Boras for Jay-Z’s Roc Nation group in 2013. They negotiated his contract with the Mariners. I can’t imagine many elite players have hired Boras only to fire him before becoming a free agent.

February 4th, 2011: Yankees, Ronnie Belliard Agree To Minor League Deal

The Yankees and Ronnie Belliard have agreed to a minor league deal, according to Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportes.com (via Twitter).  The 35-year-old Praver Shapiro Sports Management client will earn $825K plus incentives if he makes the varsity squad.

Ronnie Belliard! The Yankees were looking to round out their bench at this point of the offseason and they brought Belliard in to compete for a job in camp. They wound up releasing him before the end of Spring Training. Belliard hooked on with the Phillies after that, spent two months in Triple-A, then retired. Remember when Matt Diaz was a Yankee for like two weeks a few years ago? Same deal. They signed him then released him before the end of Spring Training. Who’s going to be that guy this year, the recognizable name on a minor league pact who doesn’t get through camp?

February 6th, 2011: Cafardo’s Latest: Pettitte, Millwood, Blanton

The Yanks will “see what they have” with pitchers like Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, and Sergio Mitre before they consider trading for someone like Joe Blanton.

Oy vey. Blanton had a 4.82 ERA (4.84 FIP) in 175.2 innings for the Phillies in 2010. In the wake of losing out on Lee, the plan was to see what the Yankees had in the bad pitchers they signed before trading for a different bad pitcher. And hey, it worked! Colon and Garcia were pretty good in 2011.

February 8th, 2011: Michael Young Requests Trade

MONDAY, 10:34pm: MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan has the list of eight teams Young is willing to accept a trade to: Cardinals, Yankees, Twins, Astros, Rockies, Dodgers, Angels, and Padres. The team has said they are dealing with just those eight teams right now.

It was kinda weird Young had a reputation for being a team first guy because he moved to different positions even though he complained and requested a trade each time. The Rangers had just signed Adrian Beltre and were planning to make Young their full-time DH. The Yankees had a full infield (Mark Teixeira, Cano, Jeter, Alex Rodriguez) and Jorge Posada was moving to DH full-time, so there was no room for Young. He was going to have to be a bench player, and since he had three years and $48M left on his contract at the time, it just wasn’t going to happen. Young did end up staying with Texas, but plenty of folks wanted him for the mythical supersub role that doesn’t seem to actually exist.

February 8th, 2011: MLB Teams Sign Six Dominican League Prospects

The Yankees signed 20-year-old center fielder Freiter Marte for $100K. Marte had been selected to play in the DPL All-Star Game.

Marte hit .270/.342/.377 with three homers and 19 steals in 85 Dominican Summer League games from 2011-12 before being released. A hundred grand doesn’t buy what it used to.

February 8th, 2011: Yankees Notes: Delgado, Washburn, Pavano

  • The Yankees have zero interest in Carlos Delgado. The longtime Blue Jays slugger wants to play in 2011, but hasn’t been getting much interest so far.
  • The Yankees checked in on Jarrod Washburn earlier in the winter, but talks did not progress much. However, the Yankees would consider Washburn if he’s willing to accept a minor league deal like Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon did.

Delgado did not play in 2010 but he wasn’t retired. No one signed him. Sucks. The Yankees had a full infield and Posada at DH. There was no room for Delgado even if he did have something left in the tank. Remember when Delgado hit .344/.470/.664 (179 wRC+) with 41 homers in 2000? He was a damn monster back in the day.

Washburn was in the same boat as Delgado. He did not play in 2010 but wasn’t actually retired. No one wanted him. The Yankees did check in on him — Washburn had a 3.78 ERA (4.58 FIP) in 176 innings in 2009 — though they couldn’t work out a deal. Desperate times, man. The Yankees were trying to get dudes to come out of semi-retirement after losing out on Lee.

February 9th, 2011: Yankees To Sign Luis Ayala

The Yankees agreed to sign reliever Luis Ayala to a minor league deal, according to Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports (Twitter links). The right-hander a career ERA of 3.67 with 5.9 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in parts of six major league seasons.

Ayala had the worst 2.09 ERA in history in 2011. It’s not just that he had a 4.19 FIP, it’s that he allowed 33% of inherited runners to score, including 43% in the second half. Ayala had a nice and shiny ERA but he was ruining everyone else’s. He was a nice find for the Yankees and a serviceable middle reliever, but man, I see that 2.09 ERA and it does not compute.

February 9th, 2011: Yankees Sign Eric Chavez To Minor League Deal

The Yankees have signed Eric Chavez to a minor league deal, according to WFAN’s Sweeny Murti. ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the deal is done and that Chavez will earn $1.5MM if he makes the big league team (Twitter links). The third baseman, who is represented by Lapa/Leventhal, can earn up to $4MM more in bonuses.

Chavez played 154 total games from 2007-10 (81 wRC+) due to a variety of injuries and the Yankees were mocked for signing him. “They’re a lock for the 2003 World Series!” was a common refrain after the Chavez, Colon, Garcia, and Andruw signings. Chavez wasn’t great in 2011 (80 wRC+) but he did have a few big hits, so the Yankees brought him back in 2012, and he raked that year (126 wRC+). People went from laughing at the Yankees when they signed Chavez to wondering why they let him walk as a free agent two years later. Reminder: the Yankees are smarter than you.

February 9th, 2011: Yankees Void Deal With Vizcaino

The Yankees have voided their contract with reliever Luis Vizcaino, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.  The right-hander tore his Achilles tendon late in the Winter Ball season and is not likely to pitch this season.

It’s amazing the Yankees got a draft pick for Vizcaino after the 2007 season. (They used it to take Jeremy Bleich.) The old Type-A/B system led to a lot of weirdness. Anyway, the Yankees signed The Viz to a minor league deal earlier in the offseason before the Achilles injury. He was active in 2015, you know. Vizcaino, now 41, had a 7.65 ERA in 20 innings with two teams in Mexico last summer.

February 11th, 2011: AL East Links: Guthrie, Bard, Balfour, Rays

Joel Sherman of the New York Post has the latest on some creative discussions between Kevin Towers and the man he worked for last year, Brian Cashman.The Yankees, who considered completing a sign-and-trade with Arizona to acquire Carl Pavano without surrendering a draft pick, discussed a similar deal with the D’Backs about Grant Balfour. The Yankees were moving toward Balfour before they signed his former teammate, Rafael Soriano.

The sign-and-trade idea was a good one. The Diamondbacks had two top ten picks in the 2011 draft — their normal pick (third overall, Trevor Bauer) and a compensation pick for failing to sign 2010 first rounder Barrett Loux (seventh overall, Archie Bradley) — so the idea was Arizona signs Pavano or Balfour, gives up their second rounder, then trades Pavano/Balfour to the Yankees for a prospect.

Had it gone down, the Yankees would have gotten the free agent and kept their first round pick, and for their trouble the D’Backs would get a prospect presumably closer to MLB than whoever they’d take with that second round pick. Pavano or Balfour would have had to agree to this because free agents can’t be traded until June 1st without their consent. Nice idea. Never worked out. Cashman and then D’Backs GM Kevin Towers are very close, which is why this was discussed. I can’t imagine many GMs would hook up for a deal like this.

February 14th, 2011: Latest On Sabathia Opt-Out Decision

10:38pm: Barring something unforseen, Sabathia is expected to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract, a source with knowledge of the situation told Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News.

9:35am: Not many players would ever think about walking away from $92MM, but C.C. Sabathia is one of the few who could consider it. Sabathia can opt out of his contract with the Yankees after the season, but repeated today that he does not intend to do so. The left-hander told reporters, including Marc Carig of the Star-Ledger, that he will not opt out and that he doesn’t intend to address the issue again this season (Twitter link).

This was the start of Sabathia Opt-Out Watch. Sabathia said he wasn’t going to opt-out all summer and that was adorable. Of course he was going to use the opt-out in some way to make more money, which he did by leveraging it into an extension. Sabathia didn’t actually opt-out, but he used it to make the Yankees pay. They tacked another year and $30M onto his contract, plus the vesting option. Last season was the final season on the original seven-year contract Sabathia signed during the 2008-09 offseason. Time flies, doesn’t it?

February 16th, 2011: Minor Moves: Geary, Perkins, Cotts, Petit

The Yankees signed righty reliever Fernando Hernandez, tweets Eddy. The 26-year-old pitched in three games with the 2008 A’s as a Rule 5 Pick, though he spent last year with their Triple-A affiliate (4.77 ERA in 77 1/3 innings).

Hernandez reached the show with the Athletics in 2008, throwing three innings. He spent the 2011 season with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton, didn’t pitch well (6.17 ERA), and wound up in an independent league at midseason. Hernandez has bounced around indy ball since. He had a 4.15 ERA in 65 innings for the Kansas City T-Bones last year.

February 20th, 2011: Millwood Rejected Yankees’ Minor League Offer

One of the few notable names left on the starting pitching market, Kevin Millwood still appears to be seeking a Major League contract. The veteran right-hander recently turned down a minor league offer from the Yankees, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post. According to Sherman, the deal was structured similarly to the one Freddy Garcia signed with the club.

Millwood caved and signed a minor league deal with the Yankees on March 25th. As I said earlier, he spent a month with Triple-A Scranton before exercising an opt-out clause. Millwood landed with the Rockies the rest of the season and had a 3.98 ERA (4.29 FIP). Not too bad.

February 20th, 2011: Cafardo’s Latest: Molina, Aceves, Nathan, Cameron

Alfredo Aceves, who recently signed with the Red Sox, “wasn’t pleased” that the Yankees didn’t show a stronger interest in re-signing him. Brian Cashman said the Yanks only offered Aceves a minor league deal due to injury concerns.

The Yankees non-tendered Aceves earlier in the offseason and made no sense from the outside, especially since they were short on rotation depth with or without Lee. The team had concerns about his back and also his attitude, but it sure didn’t look good when Aceves had a 2.61 ERA (4.03 FIP) in 114 innings for the Red Sox in 2011. Aceves was never effective after that season and he seemed to get a little crazier each year. He spent last season in Mexico and had a 4.76 ERA in 87 innings. We’ll always have 2009, Ace.

February 21st, 2011: Steinbrenner On Jeter, Luxury Tax, Burnett, Soriano

Steinbrenner seems worried about the team’s drive to win, saying “I think maybe they celebrated a little bit too much last year,” the co-chairman said. “Some of the players are too busy building mansions and other things and not concentrating on winning.”  Shortstop Derek Jeter built a mansion in Florida during the offseason after negotiating a new three-year, $51MM deal.  When asked if the comment was directed at the team captain, Steinbrenner insisted that he wasn’t singling anybody out.

Oh man, I forgot about the “some guys are too busy building mansions” line. That was from Hank Steinbrenner, by the way. Not Hal. But still. The owner basically called out Jeter following their contentious contract talks. Derek was in the middle of building St. Jetersburg …

Derek Jeter mansion

… at the time and everyone knew it. It was no secret. Hank said he wasn’t calling out Jeter specifically, but come on, we’re not stupid. I don’t think we’ve heard from Hank since. The Yankees seem to keep him under wraps these days. Either way, that comment added some excitement to the first few days of Spring Training. It blew over pretty quickly.

February 23rd, 2011: Minor Moves: Sisco, Mujica, Russell, Armstrong

The Yankees and Braves each inked a veteran international free agent, with New York signing Cuban shortstop Yadil Mujica and Atlanta signing Australian outfielder-turned-pitcher Andrew Russell, a righty, tweets Eddy.

Mujica hit .229/.291/.278 in 137 games as a utility player at three levels from 2011-12. The Yankees released him and he hasn’t played professional baseball since, as far as I can tell. Not every player who leaves Cuba makes it to the big time here.

February 24th, 2011: Pitching Notes: Hudson, Buehrle, Carpenter

In today’s blog post at ESPN (Insider req’d), Buster Olney reports that the Yankees did not inquire about Tim Hudson. Yesterday we heard that the Braves aren’t looking to move one of their starters anyway.

This rumor never quite made sense. The Braves were good in 2010 (91-71) and they projected to be good in 2011 (89-73), and Hudson was one of their best pitchers. He had a 2.83 ERA (4.09 FIP) in 215 innings in 2010 and finished fourth in the Cy Young voting, plus he had two cheap years left on his contract ($9M each) with a cheap club option ($9M) for another year. And he had ten-and-five rights and could have vetoed any trade. I don’t remember what we were all talking about back then, but I have to think most were on board with acquiring Hudson if he were available. The Braves were good though. Why would they move their best starter?

February 25th, 2011: AL East Notes: Yankees, Werth, Pavano, Jays, Rays

Joel Sherman of The New York Post reports that the Yankees “have told their scouts to bear down on several teams they think could have starters available” in a trade this summer. The teams they are targeting include the Braves, Angels, A’s, White Sox, and Cardinals according to Sherman.

The Cardinals ended up needing to trade for a starter at the deadline that season — they got Edwin Jackson from the ChiSox — so they didn’t have starters to spare. The Braves and Angels were in contention in 2011 and needed all their starters, and while the A’s did have some extra arms, Billy Beane is known for seeking huge returns. Point is, finding help at midseason is tough. It’s best to do all your shopping during the offseason.

February 26th, 2011: Yankees Keeping Eye On Liriano

The Yankees are keeping a close eye on Twins starter Francisco Liriano, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today.  Meanwhile, the Twins are keeping tabs on Yankees prospects.

Liriano was very good in 2010 (3.62 ERA and 2.66 FIP) and I remember wanting him real bad that offseason, with or without Lee. Then he had a 5.09 ERA (4.54 FIP) in 2011. Liriano was so unpredictable earlier in this career. Giving up actual prospects to get him and then having him pitch like that would have only compounded the problem after missing out on Lee. Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.