Diamondbacks return Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Jones to Yankees

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Diamondbacks have returned Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Jones to the Yankees, both teams announced earlier today. That means Jones, a right-handed reliever, cleared waivers and was removed from the 40-man roster. The Yankees have assigned him to minor league camp.

Jones, 27, signed with the Yankees as a minor league free agent last offseason. He had a 2.17 ERA (1.50 FIP) with 34.2% strikeouts and 5.6% walks in 45.2 Double-A innings last summer. This spring he allowed five runs (three earned) in 6.2 innings with Arizona. Jones fanned eight and walked none.

The D’Backs aren’t particularly deep in the bullpen and I thought Jones had a chance to stick as a middle reliever. Arizona would have had to carry him on their 25-man big league roster all season as a Rule 5 Draft pick, otherwise put him on waivers and offer him back to the Yankees, which is what happened.

The Yankees still have three other Rule 5 Draft picks out there: catcher Luis Torrens (Padres) and lefties Caleb Smith (Cubs) and Tyler Webb (Pirates). Webb has the best chance to stick with his new team, I believe. Torrens and Smith are almost certainly coming back at some point before Opening Day.

Yankees sign Ernesto Frieri to minor league contract

Frieri circa 2014. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
Frieri circa 2014. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

6:14pm ET: Jon Heyman says Frieri will make $800,000 at the big league level. The contract also includes incentives based on appearances and games finished in case, you know, he becomes the closer or something.

6:00pm ET: As expected, the Yankees announced today they have signed veteran right-hander Ernesto Frieri to a minor league contract. He’ll be in big league camp as a non-roster player. Frieri worked out for the team recently and was in the clubhouse yesterday, at which point it was pretty obvious a deal was in the works.

Frieri, 31, did not pitch in 2016. He was in camp with the Phillies, got released, remained unemployed all summer, then threw in winter ball in Venezuela. Frieri struck out one in two scoreless innings with Colombia during the World Baseball Classic, and PitchFX says his fastball averaged 95.0 mph.

Once upon a time Frieri was a quality late-inning reliever with the Padres and Angels, throwing 229.1 innings with a 2.79 ERA (3.45 FIP) and 32.4% strikeouts from 2010-13. He wasn’t very good with the Angels, Pirates, and Rays from 2014-15 though (6.37 ERA and 5.76 FIP). Even at his best, Frieri walked a lot of batters (career 10.9% walk rate).

Joe Girardi told Dan Martin that Frieri is “going to get an opportunity here,” and as a non-roster invitee, he carries no risk. He’ll throw a few innings in Grapefruit League games, and if he looks good, the Yankees will keep him. If not, they’ll move on. I’m not too optimistic Frieri will help the Yankees, but there’s no such thing as too much pitching.

Heyman: Yankees agree to 2017 contracts with Aaron Judge and Greg Bird

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees have agreed to one-year contracts for the 2017 season with Aaron Judge and Greg Bird. The team did not renew them as pre-arbitration-eligible players, a la Dellin Betances last year. Judge will earn $544,500 this coming season. Bird will make $545,500. The league minimum is $530,000.

Interestingly enough, Heyman says New York’s pay scale for pre-arbitration-eligible players is generally $100 per plate appearance over the league minimum. The math doesn’t work for Judge and Bird, however. Based on that formula, Judge would be making $539,500 this year, not $544,500. Bird would be at $547,800, not $545,500.

Chances are there are other escalators involved, perhaps based on service time or something. Or maybe Judge has a really good agent and Bird has a really bad one. Or! Or maybe the Yankees decided to change their pre-arbitration salary scale after the Betances fiasco last year and this year. Whatever.

Pre-arbitration players like Judge and Bird typically sign split contracts that pay them one salary in the big leagues and another salary in the minors. It’s entirely possible both guys will spent time in Triple-A this year too. Judge if he strikes out a bunch and Bird if he needs more time to get back to normal following shoulder surgery. At this point, the former seems more likely than the latter.

Judge made his big league debut late last season and will remain under team control through 2022. Bird, however, spent the entire 2016 season on the MLB disabled list, so he accrued a full year of service time even while injured. The Yankees lost a year of team control, essentially. Bird will qualify for free agency following the 2021 season.

The Yankees had previously agreed to a 2017 contract with Gary Sanchez, though financial terms are still unknown. Pre-arbitration contracts usually aren’t widely reported. The Yankees currently have 23 pre-arbitration players on the 40-man roster. Rotation candidates Luis Severino, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, and Luis Cessa are among them.

Heyman: Yankees, Gary Sanchez agree to contract for 2017, avoid renewal

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees and Gary Sanchez have agreed to a contract for the 2017 season. Financial terms are unknown, though Heyman says the two sides agreed to a deal and the Yankees didn’t renew their budding star. As a pre-arbitration-eligible player, Sanchez’s salary will be something close to the $535,000 minimum salary.

As you may remember, the Yankees were unable to come to a contract agreement with Dellin Betances prior to the 2016 season, his final season as a pre-arbitration-eligible player, so they renewed him at the league minimum. Betances felt the team’s offer was too low, so they renewed him, which is their right. Dellin knew what would happen.

Who knows whether the contract renewal created bad blood between Betances and the Yankees, but the fact the two sides went to an arbitration hearing a few weeks ago sure makes it seem like that’s the case. (Randy Levine didn’t help matters either.) Thankfully, the Yankees were able to avoid similar animosity with Sanchez this year.

Sanchez, 24, hit .299/.376/.657 (171 wRC+) with 20 homers in 53 games last season (lol), his first extended taste of the big leagues. Many teams, including the Yankees, have a sliding salary scale for pre-arbitration-eligible players based on service time, with escalators for All-Star Games and major awards, things like that.

Because he will enter 2017 with only 86 days of service time, the Yankees still have all six years of contractual control over Sanchez. He won’t even qualify as a Super Two player. Sanchez will make something close to the league minimum from 2017-19 before making decent bucks through arbitration from 2020-22.

It’s unclear whether the Yankees have reached contract agreements with their other pre-arbitration-eligible players. That stuff usually isn’t widely reported. The Yankees have 22 pre-arbitration-eligible players on the 40-man roster, including Luis Severino, Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, and Ronald Torreyes.

Yankees trade Richard Bleier to the Orioles

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today the Yankees announced they have traded lefty Richard Bleier to the Orioles for cash or a player to be named later. There are now 66 players in big league camp. Bleier was designated for assignment last week to make room on the 40-man roster for Chris Carter.

Bleier, 29, joined the Yankees as a minor league free agent last winter and he made his MLB debut last summer. He threw 23 relief innings with a 1.96 ERA (2.76 FIP) for New York while spending most of the season in Triple-A. I’m surprised he stayed on the 40-man as long as he did. Soon-to-be 30-year-old rookies usually don’t stick around long.

I wouldn’t spend much time thinking about the player to be named later. It won’t be an actual prospect. It never is in these situations. Chances are the Yankees will end up taking the cash anyway. That’s usually how it goes. At least they were able to get something in return for Bleier rather than lose him on waivers for nothing.

Now that he’s with the Orioles, expect Bleier to get a big out against the Yankees at some point this season. Folks will then complain they let him go. “Why can’t the Yankees get pitchers like that?” they’ll say. Thank you for your time.

Update: Yankees agree to minor league deal with Jon Niese

(Getty)
(Getty)

Monday: Ken Davidoff has the financial details. The deal will pay Niese a $1.25M base salary at the big league level, with another $750,000 available in incentives. He has separate incentives based on whether he is a starter or reliever, though the max value of the contract remains $2M either way.

Sunday: The Yankees have added some veteran rotation depth. According to multiple reports, the club has agreed to a minor league contract with left-hander Jon Niese. He is reportedly in Tampa and either has taken his physical already, or will do so soon. Niese’s season ended in late-August due to knee surgery, so the physical isn’t necessarily routine.

Niese, who turned only 30 in October, had a 5.50 ERA (5.62 FIP) in 121 innings spread across 20 starts and nine relief appearances for the Pirates and Mets last year. As I wrote in our Scouting the Market post a few weeks back, Niese pitched through knee pain for much of the season. He said it started bothering him in June, and, well:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9
First 12 starts 71 3.93 5.10 15.8% 7.7% 55.0% 1.52
Last 17 games
50 7.74 6.35 16.5% 9.8% 45.8% 2.34

It’s impossible to know how the injury — Niese had a torn meniscus and had the knee scoped, so he should be good to go by now — affected Niese on the mound, though the timeline matches up. Niese said it started bothering him in June and that’s when his performance went in the tank. The minor league deal means it’ll cost the Yankees nothing to see if he can return to his 2012-15 form (3.79 ERA and 3.78 FIP) with a healthy knee.

The Yankees will reportedly look at Niese as both a starter and reliever, which makes sense. They have two openings in the rotation and a few more in the bullpen. The club has been looking for another lefty reliever pretty much all winter, and while Niese has spent most of his career as a starter, he has relieved in the past. He was in the bullpen for the Mets 2015 postseason run, for example.

I’m a fan of the move. I don’t expect Niese to come in and throw 180 innings far-above-average innings, but he’s been a ground ball lefty throughout his career, and those guys are always welcome at Yankee Stadium. The minor league deal is no risk. Healthy Niese could prove to be a nice little pickup.

Yankees officially sign Chris Carter, designate Richard Bleier for assignment

Bleier. (Presswire)
Bleier. (Presswire)

Earlier today the Yankees officially announced they have signed Chris Carter to a one-year contract. The deal will reportedly pay him $3.5M with another $500,000 available in bonuses based on plate appearances. To clear a spot on the 40-man roster, Richard Bleier was designated for assignment.

Bleier, 29, signed with the Yankees as a minor league free agent during the 2015-16 offseason. He made his MLB debut last year and threw 23 relief innings with a 1.96 ERA (2.67 FIP). Bleier also had a 3.72 ERA (3.38 FIP) in 58 innings with Triple-A Scranton. He threw almost 1,000 minor league innings before reaching the big leagues.

I’m kinda surprised Bleier lasted as long as he did given the team’s 40-man roster crunch. Soon-to-be 30-year-old rookies are usually among the first guys to get cut once roster space is needed. Instead, the Yankees dumped younger pitchers like Jacob Lindgren, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, and Nick Goody before Bleier this winter. Weird.

The Yankees now have seven days to trade, release, or waive Bleier. It used to be ten days, but now it’s seven under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. There’s always a chance Bleier will be claimed because he’s left-handed and breathing. My guess is he clears waivers and remains with the Yankees as a non-40-roster player, and stays in Spring Training as a non-roster invitee.