Yankees sign Ji-Man Choi to minor league contract

(Scott Halleran/Getty)
(Scott Halleran/Getty)

According to Yonhap News Agency, the Yankees have signed first baseman Ji-Man Choi to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. He’ll make $700,000 at the big league level with another $400,000 in incentives. The Yonhap report says Choi turned down a “substantial amount of money” to remain with the Angels.

Choi, 25, elected free agency last week after Billy Eppler’s squad dropped him from the 40-man roster. Anaheim selected him from the Orioles in the Rule 5 Draft last offseason. Choi hit .170/.271/.339 (67 wRC+) with five homers in 54 games and 129 plate appearances with the Angels in 2016. It was his MLB debut. He began his career with the Mariners back in the day.

At one point last summer the Angels placed Choi on waivers and offered him back to the O’s, but Baltimore declined to take him back, so the Halos sent him to Triple-A. Choi hit .346/.434/.527 (157 wRC+) with five homers in 53 Triple-A games last year. He’s a left-handed hitter who has outfield experience in addition to first base, though he’s no defensive wiz.

The Yankees appear set to go with a Greg BirdTyler Austin platoon at first base next season, meaning Choi figures to play first base for Triple-A Scranton. As best I can tell, Choi has a minor league option remaining, so the Yankees will be able to send him up and down as an injury replacement, if necessary.

Heyman: Yankees sign Wilkin Castillo to minor league deal

The various phases of Wilkin. (Getty)
The various states of Wilkin. (Getty)

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees have signed utility man Wilkin Castillo to a minor league contract. I assume he received an invitation to Spring Training as well. Castillo has some big league time with the 2008-09 Reds, and he’s spent the last few years bouncing around the minors and the Mexican League.

Castillo, 32, hit .229/.271/.312 (61 wRC+) with eleven doubles and one homer in 51 games and 185 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A for the Blue Jays last season. He’s a contact machine, striking out in only 9.5% of his plate appearances over the last two years. Pretty much the standard minor league journeyman stat package.

Last season Castillo played catcher exclusively in Toronto’s farm system. He’s played all over the field during his career though. Literally every position on the diamond other than center field and pitcher. Teams always need utility players in the minors and Castillo will fill that role for the Yankees this coming season, likely at Triple-A but possibly Double-A. Depends how the rosters shake out.

The Yankees are slowly but surely building their list of non-roster invitees this winter. Along with Castillo, they’ve also signed Donovan Solano, Jason Gurka, Kellin Deglan, and Ruben Tejada to minor league deals. Nick Rumbelow and Cito Culver too. Remember, every time the Yankees sign someone to a minor league deal, they miss out on an impact big league free agent. Stupid Yankees!

Yankees re-sign Nick Rumbelow and Cito Culver to minor league contracts

Rumblin' Rumbelow. (Rob Foldy/Getty)
Rumblin’ Rumbelow. (Rob Foldy/Getty)

According to Matt Eddy, the Yankees have re-signed right-hander Nick Rumbelow and infielder Cito Culver to minor league contracts. Rumbelow was designated for assignment and released earlier this offseason in a 40-man roster space saving move. Culver became a six-year minor league free agent following the season.

Rumbelow, 25, missed just about the entire 2016 season with Tommy John surgery. He blew out his elbow during his very first outing with Triple-A Scranton. Rough. By all accounts his rehab is going well and Rumbelow will be able to return to game action at some point in the first half next year.

During the 2015 season Rumbelow had a 4.02 ERA (3.84 FIP) with 22.1% strikeouts and 7.4% walks in 15.2 shuttle innings with the Yankees. He also had a 4.27 ERA (2.72 FIP) in 52.2 Triple-A innings that year. Once healthy, Rumbelow figures to jump right back on to the bullpen shuttle. He has a minor league option remaining.

Cito. (Presswire)
Cito. (Presswire)

The 24-year-old Culver was New York’s first round pick (32nd overall) back in 2010 and it would be an understatement to say he hasn’t developed as hoped. He’s a career .231/.307/.319 (81 wRC+) hitter in over 3,000 minor league plate appearances, though he is a fantastic defender. Culver’s a very good gloveman.

Last season was probably the best of Culver’s career. He managed a .248/.312/.348 (86 wRC+) batting line with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton while playing all over the infield. Culver’s a non-prospect these days and figures to again fill a utility role at Double-A and Triple-A in 2017.

I’m curious to see whether Rumbelow or Culver received an invite to Spring Training. It might seen pointless in Rumbelow’s case given his injury, but a non-roster invite means big league lodging and meal money and all that. It’s a heck of a lot better than rehabbing over in minor league camp. That’s for sure.

In addition to Rumbelow and Culver, the Yankees have also signed infielders Ruben Tejada and Donovan Solano, lefty Jason Gurka, and catcher Kellin Deglan to minor league deals this winter.

Update: Yankees trade Nick Goody to Indians for cash

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Tuesday: The Yankees have traded Goody to the Indians for cash or a player to be named later, the team announced earlier today. That almost certainly means cash. I can’t remember the last time “cash or a player to be named later” was actually a player to be named later. Anyway, at least the Yankees got something for Goody rather than losing him for nothing on waivers.

Monday: Late last week, the Yankees finalized and officially announced the Aroldis Chapman signing. Jon Heyman says Chapman will receive an $11M signing bonus and a $15M salary each year of the five-year deal. That means he’ll make $56M during the first three years of the contract, before the opt-out. It’s still a $17.2M luxury tax hit.

“The Marlins were close to signing me,” said Chapman in a conference call Friday. “But in the end my wish was to come back to the Yankees. I wanted to be part of a young team like the Yankees have now, and not go to the Marlins because we all know sometimes from time to time they change their team a lot.”

To clear a 40-man roster spot for Chapman, the Yankees designated right-hander Nick Goody for assignment. The 25-year-old Goody pitched to a 4.67 ERA (5.11 FIP) with 24.0% strikeouts and 9.7% walks in 34.2 big league innings spread across multiple stints the last two seasons. New York selected him in the sixth round of the 2012 draft.

I’ve always liked Goody. His Triple-A numbers are ridiculous — he has a 1.64 ERA (2.37 FIP) with 35.5% strikeouts and 6.5% walks in 44 career Triple-A innings — and, more importantly, his slider is a bonafide big league out pitch with a 20.8% swing-and-miss rate. (The MLB average on sliders is 15.2%.)

At the same time, Goody doesn’t get ground balls (career 27.3%) and is homer prone (1.82 HR/9), and he didn’t get grounders in Triple-A either (30.8%). That might just be who he is given his low-90s fastball — Goody’s fastest pitch in MLB is 95.0 mph — and if that’s the case, it’s hard to think Goody could ever be a high-leverage option.

So anyway, the Yankees now have seven days to trade, release, or waive Goody. It used to be ten days, but now it’s seven thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. A healthy reliever with a good slider and a minor league option remaining might not slip through waivers, especially with bullpens such a focal point these days.

Yankees re-sign Donovan Solano, add two others on minor league contracts

Solano. (Presswire)
Solano. (Presswire)

According to Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed three players to minor league contracts within the last few days. The players: infielder Donovan Solano, left-hander Jason Gurka, and catcher Kellin Deglan. The team signed Ruben Tejada to a minor league deal a few days ago as well.

Solano, 29 this weekend, spent almost the entire 2016 season with Triple-A Scranton. He hit .319/.349/.436 (124 wRC+) with seven homers in 131 games with the RailRiders, and led the International League with 163 hits. The Yankees called Solano up at the very end of the regular season, when Starlin Castro‘s hamstring was barking. He went 5-for-22 (.227) with the big league team and did hit a home run.

I’m a bit surprised Solano returned to the Yankees considering their big league infield is basically full. A Chase Headley trade is possible, sure, though it seems unlikely at this point. Solano figures to compete for a bench job in Spring Training again, like last year. This time he’ll be up against Tejada, Ronald Torreyes, and possibly Rob Refsnyder as well.

Gurka, 29 in January, has a little big league time with the Rockies over the last two seasons. He’s managed to allow 18 runs on 32 hits and four walks in 17.1 innings with Colorado in his various MLB stints. That works out to a 9.35 ERA (3.72 FIP). This past season Gurka had a 1.69 ERA (3.63 FIP) with 32.6% strikeouts and 6.3% walks in 21.1 Triple-A innings before being released in August.

Gurka. (Presswire)
Gurka. (Presswire)

The Yankees likely see Gurka as Triple-A depth, not a legitimate Opening Day roster candidate. Jacob Lindgren (non-tendered), James Pazos (traded), Tyler Webb (Rule 5 Draft), and Caleb Smith (Rule 5 Draft) are all gone, so the team needs a southpaw to stash in Triple-A. Gurka is a classic left-on-left guy with a fastball right around 90 mph and a big loopy breaking ball.

Deglan, 24, was the 22nd overall pick in the 2010 draft by the Rangers. His bat hasn’t developed as hoped — he hit .194/.256/.332 (68 wRC+) with nine homers in 294 Double-A plate appearances this past season — but he has a reputation for being a good defender. Deglan figures to be in the Triple-A/Double-A catching picture this year. Basically, wherever the Yankees need a catcher, he’ll go.

The Yankees have not yet confirmed the signings, but that’s not a surprise. They usually don’t announce their minor league deals until late in the offseason. Not until right before Spring Training, basically. It’s safe to assume Solano and Gurka will be in Spring Training as non-roster players. Deglan might be as well, only because teams need a ton of extra catchers around to catch all those bullpen sessions.

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.