Yankees sign Ruben Tejada to minor league contract

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

8:57pm: Jon Heyman says Tejada will make $1.35M at the big league level.

5:00pm: The first non-roster invitee has arrived. The Yankees have signing infielder Ruben Tejada to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training, his agent told Jerry Crasnick. They’ve had interest in him in the past and were connected to him at the Winter Meetings last week.

Tejada, who is still only 27, spent the 2016 season with the Cardinals and Giants, hitting .167/.247/.242 (34 wRC+) in a mere 78 plate appearances across 36 big league games. He also put up a .301/.338/.413 (99 wRC+) batting line in 40 games with San Francisco’s Triple-A affiliate. Quad problems hampered him early in the season.

As recently as one year ago, Tejada was a regular with the Mets and hit .261/.338/.350 (94 wRC+) with three homers in 407 plate appearances. He has experience at the three non-first base infield positions and is a good defender, which makes him a good utility infielder candidate. Tejada will catch the ball and he’s not a total zero with the bat.

The Yankees have a pretty nifty utility infielder in Ronald Torreyes, though I imagine Tejada will get every opportunity to win a bench job in camp, especially since Torreyes has options remaining. Also, the Yankees are short on Triple-A infielders right now, so Tejada helps fill that organizational need.

Yankees lose Torrens, six others in 2016 Rule 5 Draft

Torrens. (MLBpipeline.com)
Torrens. (MLBpipeline.com)

Thursday morning, the 2016 Winter Meetings unofficially wrapped up with the Rule 5 Draft. Traditionally everyone heads home after that. The Yankees were not able to make a Rule 5 Draft pick this year because their 40-man roster is full, though their incredibly deep farm system was raided pretty good, as expected. So it goes. Here’s a recap of the damage:

Major League Phase

2. Reds: C Luis Torrens (traded to Padres, according to Jonathan Mayo)
7. Diamondbacks: RHP Tyler Jones
9. Brewers: LHP Caleb Smith (traded to Cubs, the team announced)
13. Pirates: LHP Tyler Webb

Triple-A Phase

4. Rays: RHP Ty Hensley
15. Royals: RHP Kelvin Magallanes
30. Cubs: IF Kevin Cornelius

As a reminder, players selected in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft have to stick on their new team’s 25-man active big league roster all next season, or be put on waivers and offered back to the Yankees. The Triple-A phase works differently. That’s just a straight draft. The players are gone. They don’t have to be offered back.

Torrens is the big name here. He was New York’s top catching prospect now that Gary Sanchez has graduated to the big leagues, though he’s been beset by shoulder injuries the last two years. He missed the entire 2015 season with labrum surgery and was slowed by a setback earlier this year. When healthy this past season, Torrens hit .236/.336/.318 (97 wRC+) with two homers and nearly as many walks (11.9%) as strikeouts (15.0%) in 55 total games for Short Season Staten Island and Low-A Charleston.

The chances of a 20-year-old catcher who has played 49 career games in a full season league, all at Low-A, sticking in the Major Leagues next season are so incredibly small. It’s hard to hide a catcher all season, especially in the National League, plus sitting on the bench most of the year and getting maybe 200 at-bats isn’t good for Torrens’ development at this point either. (The Padres are also going to be developing Austin Hedges, their own top catching prospect.) The $1.2M bonus baby from 2012 will almost certainly be offered back in Spring Training. If not, then, well, good luck to him. Torrens will have missed a lot of development time from 2015-17.

Webb, 26, was a lock to be picked in the Rule 5 Draft as a southpaw with some velocity and a history of missing bats at Triple-A. This season he had a 3.59 ERA (2.76 FIP) with 27.1% strikeouts and 7.6% walks in 72.2 innings at Triple-A Scranton, his third year at the level. The Yankees didn’t have the 40-man space to protect him. Webb, a tenth round pick in 2013, has a pretty good chance to stick with the Pirates all season, and even if he doesn’t, he’ll probably be claimed on waivers before being returning to the Yankees. Lefties get plenty of chances.

Webb. (Presswire)
Webb. (Presswire)

Smith, like Webb, is a lefty with a good fastball. He had a 3.96 ERA (3.15 FIP) with 25.1% strikeouts and 7.2% walks in 63.2 Double-A innings this year, his second season at the level. It’s going to be really tough for the 25-year-old to stick all season with a championship team, but apparently the Cubs are going to try. Smith was New York’s 14th rounder in 2013. Jones, 27, had 2.17 ERA (1.50 FIP) with 34.2% strikeouts and 5.6% walks in 45.2 Double-A innings in 2016. The Yankees signed him as a minor league free agent last offseason.

In the Triple-A phase, the most notable name by far is Hensley, the Yankees’ first round pick in 2012. He’s thrown only 42.1 professional innings total due to all sorts of injuries, including hip and hernia surgery, and a pair of Tommy John surgeries. Hensley is currently rehabbing from his second elbow reconstruction. He was still rehabbing from the first procedure when his new ligament gave out. Rough. The Rays have nothing to lose but a low level roster spot, so they’re going to roll the dice and see what happens.

Magallanes and Cornelius are a pair of organizational depth players. The Royals and Cubs are just plugging some minor league roster openings. Magallanes, 22, has yet to make it out of rookie ball. He has a 6.89 ERA (4.78 FIP) in 160.2 career innings. The 24-year-old Cornelius smacked 15 dingers in only 63 games with Rookie Pulaski and High-A Tampa this year. He hit .292/.383/.584 (172 wRC+) overall and was way old for both levels. New York selected him in the 31st round of the 2013 draft.

The Yankees did made two picks of their own in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft: C Jorge Saez from the Blue Jays and RHP Colten Brewer from the Pirates. Does Webb-for-Brewer qualify as the annual Yankees-Pirates trade? Eh, whatever. Anyway, the 26-year-old Saez hit .260/.314/.495 (126 wRC+) with 12 home runs in only 58 games between High-A and Double-A this past season. He’s a defense first catcher who is probably going to be the backup at Double-A Trenton this year. Saez fills a roster need, that’s all. He was Toronto’s 32nd round pick in 2012.

Brewer, 24, pitched to a 4.09 ERA (3.67 FIP) in 70.1 innings across 13 starts and five relief appearances at High-A in 2016. The Pirates selected him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, so he was kind of a big deal at one point. Brewer is a low-90s sinker guy who is still trying to figure out secondary stuff. The Yankees found gold in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft last year with Yefrey Ramirez. I wouldn’t get my hopes up with Brewer. Minor league Rule 5 Draft success stories are extremely rare.

So, after all of that, the Yankees lost seven players and gained two in this year’s Rule 5 Draft. Torrens is, by far, the most important one to follow in Spring Training. The history of catchers sticking as Rule 5 Draft picks is pretty terrible, but Torrens is really talented, and the Padres might be determined to keep him around long-term. The Yankees simply didn’t have enough 40-man roster space to protect him (or Webb). We’ll see how it shakes out.

Rosenthal: Yankees agree to five-year deal with Aroldis Chapman

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees came into the offseason seemingly determined to spend huge on a closer, and as a result, they’ve handed out by far the largest reliever contract in baseball history. Ken Rosenthal says the Yankees are bringing back Aroldis Chapman on a five-year contract worth $86M. There’s an opt-out after the third year. Marly Rivera says the deal includes a no-trade clause for three years, and the Yankees can’t trade him to a team in California. That’s oddly specific, but whatever.

Prior to Chapman’s deal, the largest reliever contract was Mark Melancon‘s recent deal with the Giants. They gave him four years and $62M. Jonathan Papelbon’s original four-year, $50M contract with the Phillies back in the day was the largest reliever contract ever coming into this offseason. The history of long-term reliever contracts is just awful, but the Yankees had to have their man. What’s done is done.

Chapman, 29 in February, spent the first half of the 2016 season with the Yankees after coming over from the Reds last offseason. The Yankees were able to acquire him at an extreme discount because he was under police (and MLB) investigation for an alleged domestic violence incident. Chapman dominated for a few weeks following his 30-game suspension, then was traded to the Cubs at the deadline and helped them win the World Series.

Between the Yankees and Cubs, Chapman pitched to a 1.55 ERA (1.42 FIP) with 40.5% strikeouts and 8.1% walks in 58 total innings. He’d walked 11.7% of batters faced from 2013-15, and the five-year deal suggests the Yankees think the sudden drop in walk rate is here to stay. I’m not sold, but whatever. Chapman was pretty excellent even when he was walking a top of batters.

The signing means Dellin Betances will slide back into a setup role and resume duties as Joe Girardi‘s eighth inning guy. I think he’s more valuable to the team in that role because he can put fires out in the seventh inning at times, rather than be married to the ninth. I had zero concerns about Betances as closer. The Yankees are just better off with him being available earlier in games.

Now that the all-important closer is on board, the Yankees can focus on reinforcing the rotation and perhaps adding some more middle reliever depth. Brett Gardner and Chase Headley have been on the trade block all winter, and I expect the team to continue pursuing deals. It seems getting a closer was the Yankees’ most important piece of offseason business, and that has now been addressed.

Update: Jacob Lindgren signs with Braves after non-tender

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Sunday: Well, so much for that. Lindgren has signed a one-year Major League contract with the Braves, the team announced. They’ve had a thing for hoarding ex-Yankees the last few years. I’m guessing the Yankees wanted to retain Lindgren on a minor league deal, but once Atlanta offered a big league contract, that was that.

Friday: Prior to tonight’s deadline, the Yankees non-tendered left-hander Jacob Lindgren, the team announced. He’s now a free agent. All other pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players received contract offers. The Yankees now have one open spot on the 40-man roster.

Lindgren will miss the entire 2017 season following Tommy John surgery, and his non-tender is not entirely unexpected. Chances are the Yankees will look to re-sign him to a minor league contract now, which allows them to keep him in the organization as a non-40-man player.

The Yankees have made the non-tender/re-sign move several times in the past, most notably with Slade Heathcott, Vicente Campos, and Domingo German. They were all hurt at the time too. The non-tender allows the Yankees to remove Lindgren from the 40-man without exposing him to waivers.

Lindgren, 23, threw only seven innings this past season, during which he walked nine and uncorked six wild pitches with High-A Tampa. He landed on the disabled list shortly thereafter and had Tommy John surgery later in the summer. Sucks, but what can you do?

The open 40-man roster spot means the Yankees will be able to make a selection in the Rule 5 Draft next Thursday. They haven’t made a Rule 5 Draft pick since 2011. Odds are against it, but who knows. Maybe they take a flier on a bullpen arm or a Josh Phelps type for first base depth.

Yankees release Eovaldi, Mantiply, and Rumbelow

Eovaldi. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
Eovaldi. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Earlier today the Yankees unconditionally released righties Nathan Eovaldi and Nick Rumbelow, as well as lefty Joe Mantiply, the team announced. All three were designated for assignment ten days ago, on the deadline for teams to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft. They were cut to clear 40-man roster space for others.

Today was the deadline for the Yankees to do something with these three. When a player is designated for assignment, the team has ten days to trade, release, or waive him. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Yankees end up re-signing all three to minor league contracts, especially Mantiply and Rumbelow. They might already have an agreement in place.

Eovaldi’s situation is a little different because of his injury. He’s going to miss the entire 2017 season following his second Tommy John surgery, so there’s no rush to get him locked up right now. Eovaldi could look for a two-year deal a la Kris Medlen and Mike Minor in recent years, though Greg Holland remained unsigned all season under similar circumstances.

Mantiply, who was claimed off waivers from the Tigers earlier this offseason, figured to be a shuttle reliever going forward. Ditto Rumbelow, who is rehabbing from his own Tommy John surgery and is due back at midseason.

Yankees add six to 40-man roster, trade Pazos to Mariners among bevy of roster moves

Mateo. (Presswire)
Mateo. (Presswire)

Friday was the deadline for teams to add eligible players to the 40-man roster, and given their deep farm system, the Yankees had to make a bevy of roster moves prior to the 8pm ET deadline. Here’s a recap of all the moves, which involve 13 players:

Phew. Got all that? Andujar, Enns, Gallegos, Herrera, Mateo, and Ramirez were all Rule 5 Draft eligible this offseason. Now they’re not. Welcome to the 40-man roster, fellas. Andujar and Mateo were the only absolute locks to be added to the 40-man. The other four guys — as well as many others — were borderline.

The Yankees had one open 40-man spot thanks to yesterday’s Brian McCann trade. They cleared the other five spots by releasing Ackley, trading Pazos, and designating Eovaldi, Mantiply, and Rumbelow for assignment. Rumbelow, like Pinder, is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He’ll probably clear waivers, also like Pinder.

Ackley and Eovaldi both ended the season hurt and were expected to be non-tendered. There’s no sense in waiting until the December 2nd deadline though. They need the 40-man space. The Yankees get the roster spots and Ackley and Eovaldi get a little extra time to find new teams. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees try to re-sign Eovaldi to a two-year deal. We’ll see.

The 21-year-old Littell is the new addition to the organization. He was an 11th round pick in the 2013 draft out of a North Carolina high school, and this past season he had a 2.60 ERA (3.07 FIP) with 24.0% strikeouts and 5.0% walks in 173 innings split between Low-A and High-A. That’s a ton of innings for Single-A. Geez. That’s some 1980s pitcher development stuff right there.

Chris Crawford says Littell has “shown two plus pitches and throws three pitches for strikes,” which is a pretty nice starting point. MLB.com ranked Littell as the 14th best prospect in Seattle’s system before the trade. Here’s a piece of their scouting report:

Littell’s heater is his best offering, registering in the low 90s and topping out at 94 with late life. He fearlessly attacks hitters with the pitch, commanding it to both sides of the plate while working down in the zone so as to generate ground-ball outs. His curveball is his primary secondary offering and makes him particularly tough on same-side hitters, but he’ll need to refine his changeup in order to neutralize lefties at higher levels … he receives rave reviews for his makeup, both on and off the mound.

I gotta say, Littell seems like a really excellent return for Pazos, who is a hard-throwing but erratic left-handed reliever. Littell’s not a future ace, but he has starter stuff and there’s a pretty good chance he’ll pitch in Double-A at some point next season. And he’s not Rule 5 Draft eligible yet. Nice little pickup by the Yankees.

Mateo, 21, is one of New York’s top prospects, though he had a disappointing season in 2016. He hit .254/.306/.379 (99 wRC+) with eight homers in 113 games with High-A Tampa, and was suspended two weeks for violating team rules. Still, given his ability, Mateo would have been the very first player taken in the Rule 5 Draft.

The 21-year-old Andujar had a breakout season this year, hitting .270/.327/.407 (108 wRC+) with 12 homers in 137 total games with High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton. He then played in the Arizona Fall League after the season. Neither Andujar nor Mateo is big league ready, but the Yankees couldn’t risk losing either in the Rule 5 Draft.

Herrera, 21, came over from the Padres in last winter’s Jose Pirela trade. He pitched to a 4.12 ERA (3.27 FIP) in 146.1 innings with mostly Double-A Trenton in 2016. Herrera’s not a top prospect by any means, but apparently the Yankees think he can help them at some point, so on the 40-man roster he goes.

Gallegos, 25, broke out as a full-time reliever this season, putting up a 1.17 ERA (1.97 FIP) with 36.5% strikeouts and 5.7% walks in 84.2 innings at Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. Relievers with those numbers are prime Rule 5 Draft fodder. Gallegos was a goner had the Yankees left him exposed. No doubt about it.

The 25-year-old Enns has been off the charts since returning from Tommy John surgery last year. The finesse southpaw has a 1.37 ERA (2.99 FIP) in 197 innings with his new elbow, and he spent much of 2016 in Triple-A. Enns has three pitches and can start. That’s a guy you don’t leave available in the Rule 5 Draft. More than a few teams would be willing to take a look at him in camp.

Ramirez, 22, was a minor league Rule 5 Draft pick from the Diamondbacks last year. The ex-infielder had a 2.82 ERA (3.13 FIP) with 26.8% strikeouts and 6.5% walks in 124.1 innings at Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa this year. Heck of a scouting job by the Yankees. They managed to fine a nice arm in the minor league Rule 5 Draft.

Among the notable players the Yankees are leaving exposed to the Rule 5 Draft are OF Jake Cave, RHP Cale Coshow, RHP Brady Lail, OF Tito Polo, LHP Stephen Tarpley, C Luis Torrens, and LHP Tyler Webb. RHP Domingo Acevedo is not Rule 5 Draft eligible this offseason. I know I said he was earlier, but I was mistaken. My bad, yo.

Cave was a Rule 5 Draft pick last year, so if he gets popped again and doesn’t stick, he can elect free agency rather than return to the Yankees. Chances are his time with the organization is over, one way or the other. As a lefty who’s had success at Triple-A, Webb is definitely getting picked in the Rule 5 Draft. Torrens is talented, but he’s too young and too far away to stick in MLB in 2017. He’s barely played above rookie ball.

As a reminder, players taken in the Rule 5 Draft must remain on their new team’s active 25-man roster all season in 2017, or go through waivers and be offered back to their former team. The Rule 5 Draft success rate is pretty low, unsurprisingly. The draft itself is Thursday, December 8th.

Yankees trade Brian McCann to Astros for two pitching prospects

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

For the fourth straight offseason and fifth time in the last six offseasons, the Yankees have traded a catcher. Brian McCann has been traded to the Astros for right-handed pitching prospects Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman, both teams announced. The Yankees are paying $5.5M of McCann’s $17M salary in both 2017 and 2018, according to Buster Olney. That’s $11.5M in savings each of the next two years.

McCann has been on the trade market since the deadline, even before Gary Sanchez arrived in August and smashed 20 homers in 52 games. Sanchez is the clear cut starter going forward, so McCann’s role in New York would have been backup catcher and part-time DH. It’s no surprise then that he waived his no-trade clause to go to the Astros, who figure to be in contention and can offer him more playing time.

“It was a tough, tough decision,” said B.B. Abbott, McCann’s agent, to Brendan Kuty. “This is a bittersweet day for him. It was a very tough decision for him. He’s very excited to be part of what Houston has going on and it was tough and will be tough to say goodbye to a really good organization and some teammates he’s come really close to.”

In three seasons with the Yankees, the soon-to-be 33-year-old McCann hit .235/.313/.418 (101 wRC+) with 69 home runs in 405 games. There’s nothing sexy at all about a 101 wRC+, but the average catcher hit .242/.310/.391 (87 wRC+) in 2016, and McCann is still comfortably above that. He was rock solid behind the plate for the Yankees the last three years. Well, two years and four months before Sanchez arrived.

In the past six offseasons, the Yankees have traded Jesus Montero (2011-12), let Russell Martin walk as a free agent (2012-13), traded Chris Stewart (2013-14), traded Francisco Cervelli (2014-15), traded John Ryan Murphy (2015-16), and now traded McCann (2016-17). That’s an awful lot of catching going out the door. It would be more of a problem if, you know, they still didn’t have Gary freaking Sanchez. No team can match New York’s recent catching capital.

Abreu is the better prospect of the two coming to the Yankees. Prior to the trade, MLB.com ranked him as the seventh best prospect in Houston’s system, and J.J. Cooper says Baseball America had him as the fifth best pitching prospect in that organization. The 21-year-old Abreu had a 3.71 ERA (4.07 FIP) with 26.3% strikeouts and 12.9% walks in 104.1 innings at mostly Low Class-A this past season, but also some High-A.

Guzman, 20, did not rank among MLB.com’s top 30 Astros prospects before the trade, though Cooper says he was eighth among pitchers in Houston’s farm system. The right-hander had a 4.05 ERA (2.64 FIP) with 32.1% strikeouts and 10.1% walks in 40 rookie ball innings in 2016. Needless to say, neither Abreu nor Guzman is knocking on the door of the big leagues at the moment. The Yankees took a long-term approach with this trade. Here are some scouting reports:

  • J.J. Cooper: “Albert Abreu has 4 pitches, touches 99. Jorge Guzman is better when he gears down to 97-99, touches 102-103. Good pickups for Yanks.”
  • Eric Longenhagen: “New Yankees prospect Albert Abreu: 91-95, can touch 97-98. Very explosive arm action, change has significant projection, curve already plus.”
  • Ben Badler: “I like Albert Abreu. Needs to improve command, but it’s a starter mix on a power arm up to 99 mph with two swing-and-miss breaking pitches.”

Baseball America has lengthier scouting reports right here. Neither Abreu nor Guzman is on the 40-man roster. As best I can tell, Abreu will be Rule 5 Draft eligible next offseason, Guzman the offseason after that. I reserve the right to be completely wrong though. This stuff is tricky. The Yankees do free up a 40-man roster spot right now though. I’m certain of that.

The Yankees began the process of shedding veterans at the trade deadline, when they traded Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Carlos Beltran for prospects (and Adam Warren). Ivan Nova was traded too. McCann was a prime candidate to go this offseason, assuming they could work through his no-trade clause. Brett Gardner can’t be feeling too comfortable right now, huh?