Latest roster cuts leave four pitchers for final two bullpen spots

Cessa. (Presswire)
Cessa. (Presswire)

Earlier this morning the Yankees announced they have optioned left-hander Tyler Olson and right-handers Branden Pinder and Nick Goody to Triple-A Scranton. Pinder is the only moderate surprise. Olson started camp well but scuffled of late, and Goody served up three homers in the span of 24 hours earlier this week, so yeah.

Today’s cuts leave four candidates for the Yankees’ final two bullpen spots: righties Johnny Barbato, Luis Cessa, Anthony Swarzak, and Kirby Yates. Two of them will join Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, Chasen Shreve, Ivan Nova, and Bryan Mitchell in the Opening Day bullpen. (Mitchell was told he made the team yesterday.) Here’s a quick pros and cons list:

  • Barbato: Great camp (pro), out-pitch curveball (pro), zero MLB experience (con).
  • Cessa: Very good camp (pro), can go multiple innings (pro), zero MLB experience (con).
  • Swarzak: Mediocre camp (con), blah stuff (con), can go multiple innings (pro).
  • Yates: Very good camp (pro), big league experience (pro), historically homer prone (con).

That about covers it. Earlier this week I said I expected Barbato and Yates to get the final two bullpen spots and I’m sticking to that right now. I don’t think Swarzak has much of a chance to make the roster, though Cessa definitely does. The question is do the Yankees want him in their MLB bullpen, or stretched out in Triple-A ready to start?

Either way, these last two bullpen spots are shuttle spots, meaning fresh relievers will be cycled in and out as necessary all year. Barbato and Yates may start the season in the bullpen, but the odds of them sticking through the end of April are small, nevermind sticking through the end of the season. That’s the plan. That’s the way the roster has been built.

Yesterday afternoon Joe Girardi said he hopes all the final roster decisions are made by tomorrow, and at this point I have to think the Yankees know who they’re taking north in the bullpen. They have a game this afternoon and two split squad games tomorrow, but realistically, what could happen in those games to change their mind? Outside of injury, probably nothing. Not unless Swarzak shows up throwing 100 or something.

Following today’s moves, the Yankees are down to 34 players in big league camp. It’s really 31 players though because Mason Williams (shoulder), Greg Bird (shoulder), and Aroldis Chapman (suspension) aren’t Opening Day roster candidates. Earlier today Girardi announced Ronald Torreyes has won the final bench spot, so the backup catcher’s job — Austin Romine has that all but locked up — and the two bullpen spots are the only remaining unsettled roster spots.

Yankees option Rob Refsnyder to Triple-A, final bench spot remains unsettled

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have optioned infielder Rob Refsnyder to Triple-A Scranton, the team announced today. He seemed to have the inside track for the final bench spot for most of the spring, but some recent defensive problems — Refsnyder took ground balls to the face in back-to-back games this weekend — and a sneaky lack of production at the plate (.649 OPS) pushed him off the Opening Day roster.

With Refsnyder out, the competition for the final bench spot comes down to Pete Kozma and Ronald Torreyes. Kozma’s the known quantity. He’s been around for a few years and is firmly established as a no-hit/all-glove utility man. Kozma is the new version of Brendan Ryan, basically. Torreyes has some offensive skills, specifically his contact ability, and he can play all over the infield well enough. My money’s on Kozma getting the job.

I’ll be interested to see whether the Yankees continue to give Refsnyder time at third base in Triple-A. There’s no reason not to, right? He looked fine at the hot corner earlier this spring, though that was mostly because he was making routine plays. Refsnyder has looked worse and worse in the field as the spring has progressed. It’s become clear he’s not a big league caliber third baseman at this point.

For now, Refsnyder’s only real path to meaningful playing time with the Yankees is injury. If either Starlin Castro or Didi Gregorius get hurt, Refsnyder would be the obvious candidate to come up and play second base in the interim. We’ll see. I’m not sure where Refsnyder fits long-term and that has been the case since the Castro trade. A utility role is his best (only?) chance to stay with the Yankees going forward.

Yankees option Gary Sanchez to Triple-A, clearing the way for Austin Romine to be the backup catcher

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier tonight, the Yankees optioned catcher Gary Sanchez to Triple-A Scranton, the team announced. That clears the way for Austin Romine to open the regular season as the backup catcher. The team hasn’t confirmed the job is Romine’s — there’s still a week and a half in Spring Training and things can change — but right now it’s shaping up that way.

Sanchez, 23, is arguably the best catching prospect in baseball, and he’s coming off a season in which he hit .276/.336/.503 (137 wRC+) with 25 home runs in 119 total minor league games. He’s had a brutal showing in Grapefruit League play (1-for-21), and Joe Girardi recently said he thought Sanchez was pressing.

By sending Sanchez down, he’ll be able to play everyday with Triple-A Scranton and work on his defense. His bat is pretty close to MLB ready. As an added bonus, 35 days in the minors will delay Sanchez’s free agency another year. That’s not insignificant. Five weeks in 2016 equals control of Sanchez’s age 29 season in 2022. Could be huge.

Romine, 27, has been decent in camp, going 6-for-22 (.273) with four doubles. He’s a career .201/.244/.278 (41 wRC+) hitter in 183 big league plate appearances, most coming in 2013. Romine’s a defense first catcher who was designated for assignment last spring. Now he’s in line to make the Opening Day roster. What a world.

Keep in mind that just because Romine figures to be the backup catcher at the start of the season, it doesn’t mean he’ll hold the job all year. Sanchez could force the issue with his bat at some point. In fact, I would be surprised if Sanchez didn’t finish the season as the backup catcher. The Yankees are just holding off on giving him the job.

Romine is out of options, meaning he can’t go to the minors without first passing through waivers. And since he’s already been outrighted off the 40-man roster once before, he’ll be able to elect free agency if he clears waivers. Whenever the time comes to give Sanchez the job, Romine’s stint in the organization will likely come to an end.

Braves return Rule 5 Draft pick Evan Rutckyj to Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Braves have returned left-hander and Rule 5 Draft pick Evan Rutckyj to the Yankees, the team announced. Rutckyj (pronounced rut-ski) has cleared waivers and been assigned to Triple-A Scranton, so he is in minor league camp. He is no longer on the 40-man roster.

Rutckyj, 24, was New York’s 16th round pick in the 2010 draft. He moved to the bullpen full-time two years ago, and last season he had a 2.63 ERA (2.59 FIP) with a 31.5% strikeout rate and an 8.1% walk rate in 61.2 innings with High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton. Despite the numbers, he was definitely a surprise Rule 5 pick. This spring he walked five and struck out two in three Grapefruit League innings.

Interestingly enough, Rutckyj told Dave O’Brien he enjoyed being with the Braves more than the Yankees earlier this week. “I feel like we can talk to anybody here. It’s kind of different from the Yankees, where if one of the coordinators or somebody walks by you, like, put your head down and mind your own business. But here everybody wants you to talk to them,” he said. So that’ll be awkward.

The Yankees’ other Rule 5 Draft loss, outfielder Jake Cave, is a safe bet to make the Reds. They’re short on outfielders as it is and now Billy Hamilton’s nursing a shoulder issue. Cave has to remain on Cincinnati’s active 25-man big league roster all season, or be passed through waivers and offered back to the Yankees.

Update: Yankees sign Chris Denorfia to minor league deal

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

Thursday: Denorfia will earn a $1M base salary with another $1M in incentives if he makes the team, reports Jon Heyman.

Wednesday: The Yankees have signed veteran outfielder Chris Denorfia to a minor league contract, Brian Cashman confirmed to reporters this morning. Denorfia will be in Spring Training as a non-roster invitee and wear No. 38. The Yankees are now up to 70 players in big league camp.

Denorfia, 35, hit .269/.319/.373 (89 wRC+) with three homers in 231 plate appearances as a fourth outfielder with the Cubs last season. That includes a .211/.294/.303 (63 wRC+) line against lefties. Denorfia has spent most of his career as a platoon right-handed bat with the Padres.

Cashman confirmed Denorfia can opt-out of his contract at the end of March, so his time with the team may be short. Brett Gardner (wrist) is banged up and Mason Williams (shoulder) will start the season on the DL, plus the club is light on righty hitting outfielders, so the Yankees are adding depth while they can.

As for Denorfia, the non-roster invite gives him a chance to play in games and showcase himself for teams. If he doesn’t win a roster spot with the Yankees — it does seem unlikely barring a few injuries — he could still impress another club and land a job elsewhere.

Yankees sign Chris Parmelee, apparently

(Mitchell Leff/Getty)
(Mitchell Leff/Getty)

The Yankees have apparently signed first baseman Chris Parmelee, according to his Instagram. I’ve mentioned him a few times as a possible Triple-A first base candidate in the wake of Greg Bird‘s injury. I assume it’s a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training. We’ll find out soon enough.

Parmelee, 27, spent last season with the Orioles, hitting .216/.255/.433 (82 wRC+) in 32 big league games and .314/.386/.444 (142 wRC+) in 63 Triple-A games. He’s a career .245/.311/.396 (95 wRC+) hitter with 28 home runs, a 7.9% walk rate, and a 23.5% strikeout rate in just over 1,000 MLB plate appearances. Parmelee and Aaron Hicks were teammates with the Twins in 2013 and 2014.

Bird is going to miss the entire 2016 season due to shoulder surgery and the Yankees did not have an obvious first base fill-in at Triple-A. They had interest in Ike Davis before he signed with the Rangers. Parmelee figures to head to Triple-A Scranton once the season begins, and hopefully we don’t see him at the MLB level because Mark Teixeira stays healthy.

Fun Fact: Parmelee struck out for the final out of Mariano Rivera‘s 602nd career save, giving Mo the all-time record. Here’s the video.

Rosenthal: Yankees, Aroldis Chapman avoid arbitration with $11.325M deal

(Joe Robbins/Getty)
(Joe Robbins/Getty)

6:43pm ET: The Yankees have announced the one-year deal with Chapman, so it’s official.

6:39pm ET: The Yankees and Aroldis Chapman have avoided arbitration with a one-year contract worth $11.325M, reports Ken Rosenthal. The two sides were scheduled to go to a hearing next Friday. Chapman filed for $13.1M while the team countered with $9M, so they settled a bit above the midpoint.

I have to say, I’m pretty surprised Chapman’s camp settled. It appeared he had a very good chance to win an arbitration hearing since the Yankees were offering less than a $1M raise. (He made $8.05M in 2015.) Other closers with similar service time like Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon received raises north of $2.5M earlier this winter.

Chapman, 28 later this month, had a 1.63 ERA (1.94 FIP) and 116 strikeouts in 66.1 innings last season. He will become a free agent next offseason and this feels like it will be a one-year marriage. It seems likely the Yankees will make Chapman the qualifying offer and walk away after the season rather than sign another huge reliever deal.

With Chapman signed, the Yankees have now resolved all of their arbitration cases. They previously settled with Nathan Eovaldi ($5.6M), Michael Pineda ($4.3M), Ivan Nova ($4.1M), Dustin Ackley ($3.2M), and Didi Gregorius ($2.425M).