Reports: Yanks sign Pete Kozma to minor league contract

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have signed infielder Pete Kozma to a minor league contract, report Anthony McCarron and Chad Jennings. The deal includes an invitation to Spring Training. The Yankees haven’t confirmed anything, but they usually don’t announce their non-roster invitees until right before camp anyway.

Kozma, 27, was the 18th overall pick in the 2007 draft. He’s spent the last few years either in Triple-A or in a utility role with the Cardinals. Kozma was the starting shortstop during their 2013 pennant-winning season. He’s a terrible hitter, owner of a career .222/.288/.293 (58 wRC+) batting line in nearly 700 plate appearances.

The Cardinals designated Kozma for assignment back in June and he became a minor league free agent after the season. The Yankees don’t have a shortstop for Triple-A and Kozma is now the clear front-runner for the job. Plus middle infield depth is never a bad thing. Kozma can’t hit but he can field.

Yankees non-tender right-hander Domingo German

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Prior to yesterday’s midnight deadline the Yankees non-tendered right-hander Domingo German, the team announced. German is now a free agent. Every other pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible player on the 40-man roster received a contract tender.

German, 23, came over from the Marlins last offseason in the Martin PradoNathan Eovaldi trade. I ranked him as the team’s 11th best prospect before the season, but German blew out his elbow in Spring Training and underwent Tommy John surgery. He missed the entire season.

The 2014 season was German’s breakout year. He had a 2.48 ERA (3.26 FIP) with a 22.4% strikeout rate and a 5.0% walk rate in 123.1 innings, all with Miami’s Low-A affiliate. German represented the Marlins in the 2014 Futures Game …

… and is a sinker/slider pitcher with an okay changeup. He would have opened the 2015 season with High-A Tampa and, given how aggressive the Yankees were with their promotions this summer, German could have finished the year with Double-A Trenton. Instead he had to rehab from elbow reconstruction.

German seems like a prime candidate for the “non-tender then re-sign” move the Yankees pulled with Slade Heathcott and Vicente Campos last year. The non-tender allowed them to remove German from the 40-man roster without exposing him to waivers, and now they can re-sign him to a minor league deal.

“I think it’s on the table. We’re in discussions. There have been a lot of teams who called for him but he likes New York and we’re definitely open to coming back,” said agent Storm Kirschenbaum to Brendan Kuty. “Coming off an injury, obviously financials are important. Also, knowing that he has an opportunity to get back on the 40 and get back to the big leagues — that’s every player’s dream.”

It’s risky, another team could swoop in and give German a 40-man spot, but I’m sure the Yankees and German had some dialogue before the non-tender. If he does come back on a minor league contract, German will be eligible for minor league free agency next offseason. The Yankees currently have 39 players on the 40-man roster.

Yankees add Rookie Davis, Ben Gamel, Johnny Barbato to 40-man roster

(Fred Adams/Times Leader)
(Fred Adams/Times Leader)

The Yankees have added outfielder Ben Gamel and right-handers Rookie Davis and Johnny Barbato to the 40-man roster, the team announced. All three players were eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this offseason. The team also confirmed righty Chase Whitley has been claimed off waivers by the Rays.

Gamel, 23, had a breakout year with Triple-A Scranton this summer, hitting .300/.358/.472 (138 wRC+) with a farm system leading 52 extra-base hits. He joins Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams as left-handed hitting outfielders on the 40-man roster. Gamel’s not the center field defender Slade and Williams are, but he’s a better hitter.

The 22-year-old Davis is one of the team’s best pitching prospects and was the only no-brainer addition this offseason. He had a 3.86 ERA (2.47 FIP) in 130.2 innings at mostly High-A Tampa this past season. Davis is a mid-90s fastball/curveball/changeup pitcher who made big strides with his command and efficiency in 2015.

Barbato, 23, was acquired from the Padres last winter in the Shawn Kelley trade. He had a 3.19 ERA (3.45 FIP) in 67.2 innings split between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton this year. He’s a fastball curveball guy. Gamel and Barbato could definitely help in 2016. Davis figures to be more of a 2017 option though it’s not out of the question we see him next year.

Among the notable players left unprotected for the Rule 5 Draft are outfielder Tyler Austin, third baseman Miguel Andujar, lefties Dietrich Enns and Chaz Hebert, outfielder Jake Cave, and infielder Tony Renda. Cave and the lefties seem like prime Rule 5 Draft fodder though I’m not sure any of them could stick on a big league 25-man roster in 2016.

Gamel and Davis were the only players 50% of RAB readers said the Yankees should protect in our poll earlier this week. The 40-man roster is now full.

Rosenthal: Rays claim Chase Whitley off waivers

So long, Ace Whitley. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
So long, Ace Whitley. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

The Rays have claimed right-hander Chase Whitley off waivers from the Yankees, according to Ken Rosenthal. Today is the deadline for teams to set their 40-man roster for the Rule 5 Draft, so it seems the Yankees dropped Whitley to create roster space for someone else.

Whitley, 26, made four spot starts this summer before blowing out his elbow and needing Tommy John surgery. He actually suffered the injury at Tropicana Field. Whitley, the team’s 15th round pick in the 2010 draft, has a 5.02 ERA (4.23 FIP) in 95 big league innings spread across 16 starts and 12 relief appearances the last two years.

The Yankees had two open roster spots on the 40-man, so dropping Whitley indicates they are adding at least three Rule 5 Draft eligible players prior to the deadline today. Earlier this week, Rookie Davis and Ben Gamel were the only players 50% of RAB readers said they’d protect from the Rule 5 Draft.

Yankees trade John Ryan Murphy to Twins for Aaron Hicks

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Let the roster makeover begin. The Yankees have traded catcher John Ryan Murphy to the Twins for outfielder Aaron Hicks, both teams announced. It’s a straight one-for-one trade. Brian Cashman told reporters at the GM Meetings he first proposed the swap to Minnesota a few weeks ago.

In a nutshell, both teams traded from a position of depth to fill a need. The Twins had a ton of outfielders but no viable catcher, and Murphy figures to get an opportunity to start in Minnesota. That wasn’t happening in New York because of Brian McCann. Hicks replaces Chris Young as a lefty mashing fourth outfielder at the very least, but he has the potential to grow into much more.

Hicks, 26, is a former top prospect — peaked at No. 19 on Baseball America’s top 100 list in 2010 — who has struggled to find his way at the MLB level. He is a career .225/.306/.349 (82 wRC+) hitter in 928 big league plate appearances, but he did start to figure it out in 2015, hitting .256/.323/.398 (97 wRC+) overall and .307/.375/.495 (139 wRC+) against lefties. Interestingly, Hicks is a switch-hitter who two years ago stopped hitting left-handed due to a lack of confidence. He then went back to switch-hitting this year.

In the field, Hicks is a borderline elite defender — he’s almost certainly the best defensive outfielder in the organization now — capable of playing all three outfield spots. He also has a rocket arm. Hicks did this at Yankee Stadium two years ago:

Statcast says Hicks was one of five outfielders to make at least three 100 mph throws this past season, and he didn’t even play everyday. What a novel idea, an outfielder who can throw. Hicks is also a stolen base threat. The tools are high-end but the production has yet to match. It’s easy to understand why the Yankees grabbed him. Hicks has a lot of ability and major upside.

Murphy, 24, is a career .267/.311/.374 (88 wRC+) hitter in 284 MLB plate appearances over the last three years. He put up a .277/.327/.406 (99 wRC+) line as McCann’s backup this past season, including .266/.314/.456 (108 wRC+) against lefties. Murphy’s a good defender and a pretty likable dude, though it was difficult to see how he could be anything more than a backup for the Yankees with McCann signed through 2018.

Hicks is under team control through 2019 and will be arbitration-eligible for the first time next offseason. Murphy is under control through 2020 and it looks like he’ll be right on the Super Two bubble, so he might be arbitration-eligible for the first of four times next year. The Yankees are getting four years of team control while the Twinkies are getting five.

The move could mean Gary Sanchez steps in as the backup catcher, but I don’t think that’s a given. It could mean Austin Romine sticks around a little longer, or the Yankees go outside the organization for a veteran backup. Sanchez mashed this season — he’s still mashing in the Arizona Fall League — but his defense is rough around the edges. Some more time in Triple-A wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Anyway, the Yankees continue to target young players with tools and upside. Over the last year they’ve brought in Didi Gregorius, Nathan Eovaldi, and Dustin Ackley, three young guys who seemed to fall out of favor with their former teams, and Hicks was in a similar situation with the Twins. I’m the world’s biggest Murphy fan and I’ll miss him, but I get it. The Yankees are adding upside while dealing from a position of depth.

Yankees trade utility man Jose Pirela to Padres for righty Ronald Herrera

Ronald Herrera1
(San Diego Union Tribune)

The Yankees have traded utility man Jose Pirela to the Padres for right-hander Ronald Herrera, the team announced. Herrera is not on the 40-man roster, so the Yankees clear a spot with the trade. They now have 38 players on the 40-man roster.

Herrera, 20, had a 4.08 ERA (4.13 FIP) with a 16.8% strikeout rate and a 6.8% walk rate in 145.2 innings between High-A and Double-A last season. Pretty impressive he reached Double-A and held up under such a big workload at such a young age. San Diego originally acquired Herrera from the Athletics in the Kyle Blanks deal a few years ago.

Baseball America did not rank Herrera among the Padres’ top 30 prospects in their 2015 Prospect Handbook. MLB.com didn’t have him in the team’s top 30 either. Here’s a snippet of Baseball America’s scouting report from their free trade write-up:

Herrera’s not particularly physical, standing only 5-foot-10, and does not have much projection left, but he’s very athletic with an easy-to-repeat delivery. With the fastball, he shows above-average command to both sides of the plate and touched 94 mph while sitting 90-93. Herrera also throws a cutter and a big, soft curveball. But the change this season came when Herrera began to trust the fastball more, setting up the cutter and curve, instead of trying to trick hitters, as one evaluator said … Herrera doesn’t miss many bats but doesn’t walk many and limits damage.

Pirela, 25, has hit .255/.275/.367 (72 wRC+) in 44 games and 103 plate appearances with the Yankees over the last two seasons. He’s mashed at the Triple-A level — .311/.362/.435 in 195 games — and offers versatility, but he’s not a good fielder and probably isn’t anything better than a right-handed bench bat. If nothing else, this shows the Yankees feel comfortable with Rob Refsnyder as a second base option.

Players have to be added to the 40-man roster by next Friday to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft, and Pirela seemed like a possible roster casualty to clear space. Rather than drop him from the roster and lose him for nothing, the Yankees turned him into a slightly interesting non-40-man arm. Not much more to say than that.

Yankees do not make any qualifying offers before Friday’s deadline

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As expected, the Yankees did not tender any qualifying offers to free agents prior to today’s 5pm ET deadline. They haven’t officially announced anything yet, but yeah. Their only free agents this offseason are Chris Young, Stephen Drew, and Chris Capuano. None of worth even half a qualifying offer.

Long story short, the QO is a one-year contract worth $15.8M that entitles the player’s former team to draft pick compensation if he signs elsewhere. The deadline to accept or reject the QO is next Friday. No player has ever accepted the QO and I don’t think anyone will accept this year either.

Here’s the list of QO for this offseason. (Warning: Auto-play video.) There are several surprises so far (Marco Estrada! Ian Kennedy! Colby Rasmus!), so we might actually see a player accept this year. Except we’ve been saying that four years in a row now. Either way, no extra 2016 draft picks for the Yankees.