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?

Yankees upgrade 40th roster spot, claim Joe Mantiply and designate Branden Pinder

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today the Yankees claimed left-hander Joe Mantiply off waivers from the Tigers, the team announced. Righty Branden Pinder was designated for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot.

Mantiply, 25, is a pure reliever who spent most of the season in the minors. He had a 2.73 ERA (2.15 FIP) in 59.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, during which he held left-handed hitters to a .168/.195/.224 batting line with a 36.7% strikeout rate and a 1.7% walk rate. So at least he has that going for him.

The Tigers called Mantiply up in September, and he allowed five runs on seven hits and two walks in 2.2 innings spread across five appearances in his first taste of the show. He’s a classic left-on-left matchup guy with a funky delivery, an upper-80s fastball, and an upper-70s slider. Here’s a tiny little bit of video:

The 27-year-old Pinder had Tommy John surgery in April and missed most of the season. He appeared in one game with the Yankees and two games with Triple-A Scranton before blowing out his elbow. Last year Pinder had a 2.93 ERA (4.72 FIP) in 27.2 innings with the Yankees as the primary shuttle reliever.

All this move does is upgrade the 40th spot on the 40-man roster. Mantiply is left-handed and healthy while Pinder is right-handed and hurt. Also, Mantiply has all three option years remaining — he was added to the 40-man roster for the first time in September — while Pinder has either one or two. That’s really all there is to it. Chances are Pinder is going to clear waivers and stay in the organization as a non-40-man roster player anyway. Injured fringe relievers aren’t exactly a hot commodity on waivers.

Yankees add Kyle Higashioka, Domingo German to 40-man roster

Higashioka. (Times Tribune)
Higashioka. (Times Tribune)

The Yankees made their first roster moves of the offseason earlier today. Both catcher Kyle Higashioka and right-hander Domingo German were added to the 40-man roster, the team announced. Dustin Ackley, Nathan Eovaldi, Chad Green, Branden Pinder, and Nick Rumbelow were all activated off the 60-day DL as well.

Brian Cashman confirmed Higashioka would be added the 40-man roster a few weeks back. The 26-year-old backstop broke out with a .272/.339/.496 (131 wRC+) batting line with 21 home runs in 110 games between Double-A and Triple-A this past season, plus he’s a strong defender. Higashioka would have become a minor league free agent had the Yankees not added him to the 40-man.

German, 24, came over in the Eovaldi-Martin Prado trade a few years ago. He missed all of last season and the start of this season following Tommy John surgery, and when he returned this year, he had a 3.29 ERA (3.82 FIP) with a 19.6% strikeout rate and a 5.9% walk rate in 54.2 Single-A innings. Like Higashioka, German was eligible for minor league free agency this offseason.

Ackley (shoulder), Eovaldi (elbow), Pinder (elbow), and Rumbelow (elbow) all missed big chunks of the season with their injuries. Green (elbow) got hurt in September. There is no DL in the offseason, so these guys had to be activated. The deadline to do so is Monday, though waiting the few extra days would have made no difference. The Yankees made the moves today and that’s that.

As best I can tell, the Yankees still have one open 40-man roster spot after losing Conor Mullee on waivers yesterday. I’ve kinda lost count after all the team’s recent moves. Mullee, Blake Parker, Anthony Swarzak, Kirby Yates, Donovan Solano, and Eric Young Jr. have all been dropped since the 40-man since the end of the regular season.

Cubs claim Conor Mullee off waivers from Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I missed this yesterday, but before they won the damn World Series, the Cubs claimed right-hander Conor Mullee off waivers from the Yankees, the team announced. Apparently the Yankees outrighted Mullee at some point earlier this week as part of their 40-man roster cleanup process.

Mullee, 28, made his big league debut this past season after spending parts of seven seasons in the minors. The Yankees selected him out of St. Peter’s in Jersey City in the 24th round of the 2010 draft, but Mullee was limited to only 27 total innings from 2010-13 due to a series of elbow injuries that required surgery, including Tommy John surgery and a pair of avulsion fractures.

The Yankees called Mullee up in mid-May when a fresh bullpen arm was needed, and in three games with the Yankees, he allowed one run on no hits and four walks in three innings. Can’t believe the Yankees cut the guy who literally allowed zero hits in the big leagues, you guys. Mullee’s season ended in August because he needed another elbow surgery, this one to treat a nerve issue.

With Mullee gone and both Mark Teixeira and Billy Butler becoming free agents this morning, the Yankees now have seven open 40-man roster spots. They also have five players who need to be activated off the 60-day DL by next Monday (Nathan Eovaldi, Chad Green, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, Dustin Ackley), plus Kyle Higashioka will be added to the 40-man as well. Here’s our offseason calendar.

Solano and Young elect free agency as Yankees continue 40-man roster purge

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Both outfielder Eric Young Jr. and infielder Donovan Solano have elected free agency after being outrighted off the 40-man roster, the Yankees announced in recent days. I didn’t realize Young was still under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2017. No surprise they cut him loose though. He was never a long-term piece.

Young, 31, was acquired from the Brewers in a cash deal on August 31st to serve as the designated September pinch-runner. He appeared in six games with the Yankees, pinch-ran four times, and stole one base. On two occasions Young pinch-ran and the next hitter immediately hit a homer. He also played some outfield late in two blowouts.

The 28-year-old Solano went 5-for-22 (.227) with a home run in nine late-season games with the Yankees. He was only called up after Starlin Castro went down with a hamstring injury. Solano hit .319/.349/.436 with seven homers and an International League leading 163 hits with Triple-A Scranton this past season. Nice little minor league pickup, I’d say.

The Yankees have now dropped five players from the 40-man roster since the end of the regular season: Young, Solano, Anthony Swarzak, Blake Parker, and Kirby Yates. Parker and Yates were both claimed off waivers by the Angels. Swarzak elected free agency. J.R. Graham was also outrighted in late-September, so the Yankees have six open 40-man spots.

One of those spots went to Greg Bird; he was activated off the 60-day DL yesterday, the Yankees announced. That had to happen so he could play in the Arizona Fall League, which opens its season today. So the Yankees now have five open 40-man spots with six players on the 60-day DL: Dustin Ackley, Nathan Eovaldi, Chad Green, Conor Mullee, Branden Pinder, and Nick Rumbelow. They have to be activated the day after the end of the World Series.

Mark Teixeira and Billy Butler will become free agents after the postseason, giving the Yankees seven open spots. They’ll go to the six 60-day DL guys and Kyle Higashioka, who Brian Cashman confirmed will be added to the 40-man roster to prevent him from becoming a minor league free agent. The Yankees will then have to open 40-man spots for Rule 5 Draft eligible prospects in November, most notably Jorge Mateo, Miguel Andujar, and Domingo Acevedo. Dietrich Enns and Tyler Webb will be Rule 5 Draft eligible as well.

Looking over the roster, other potential 40-man roster casualties include Mullee, James Pazos, Johnny Barbato, and Richard Bleier. Not getting a September call-up was probably bad news for Barbato. I also expect the Yankees to release Eovaldi and Ackley sooner rather than later given their injuries. No sense in waiting until the December 2nd non-tender deadline given the 40-man situation.

Quick Notes: Sabathia, Higashioka, Kaprielian, Waivers

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Brian Cashman held his annual end-of-season press conference this afternoon, and while it brought no major news, he did mention some important stuff. Here’s a quick recap:

  • Sabathia having knee surgery. CC Sabathia is having a “routine cleanup” on his troublesome right knee at some point soon. This has been planned for weeks and it’s not a serious concern.
  • Higashioka going on 40-man. Kyle Higashioka will be added to the 40-man roster, Cashman confirmed. Higashioka had a big year in Double-A and Triple-A and forced the issue. He was due to become a minor league free agent after the season.
  • Kaprielian healthy, still trying for AzFL. James Kaprielian is healthy and pitching at max effort, and if all goes well in Instructional League, he’ll report to the Arizona Fall League. He’s officially not on the AzFL roster right now. The league’s website is not correct.
  • Several players on waivers. Without saying who, Cashman acknowledged the Yankees have started their 40-man roster cleanup and placed several players on waivers. We’ll find out the results soon.

I’ll have a full recap of Cashman’s press conference tomorrow. This is only the important stuff.

Update: Both Kirby Yates and Blake Parker were claimed off waivers by the Angels, the Yankees announced. Also, Anthony Swarzak elected free agency rather than accept an outright assignment to Triple-A. So those are the waiver moves Cashman talked about.

Heyman: Yankees agree to sign Billy Butler

(Don Feria/Getty)
(Don Feria/Getty)

Looks like the Yankees have a new DH option. The team has agreed to sign the recently released Billy Butler, reports Jon Heyman. The Athletics cut Butler loose earlier this week and are responsible for his $10M salary. New York will only owe him the pro-rated portion of the league minimum. I’m guessing Butler will be with the team tomorrow.

The Yankees signed Butler for one reason: to DH against left-handed pitchers. The Aaron Judge injury took away a righty bat, and Austin Romine had to DH against Clayton Kershaw this afternoon, so yeah. There’s room on the roster for Butler. Being able to slide Judge or Nathan Eovaldi to the 60-day DL means no one has to lose their roster spot either. It’s an easy add.

Not coincidentally, the Yankees are scheduled to face three left-handed pitchers against the Red Sox this weekend (Eduardo Rodriguez, David Price, Drew Pomeranz), so Butler’s going to be in the lineup an awful lot right away. The Yankees are tentatively scheduled to face seven southpaws on this upcoming seven-game road trip as well: Rodriguez, Price, Pomeranz, Drew Smyly, Blake Snell, Francisco Liriano, and J.A. Happ.

Butler, 30, hit .276/.331/.403 (100 wRC+) with four homers in 242 plate appearances with the A’s before being released, including .262/.316/.369 (84 wRC+) against lefties. He’s a career .299/.381/.491 (133 wRC+) hitter against southpaws and surely that’s the Butler the Yankees are hoping they get these next few weeks. Hopefully Butler can be a chunkier version of 2014 Chris Young and unexpectedly rake.

Because he’s signing after August 31st, Butler is not eligible for the postseason roster should the Yankees actually qualify for the postseason. There are no loopholes, no 60-day DL tricks, nothing. He’s not eligible, period. That’s fine though. The Yankees are just trying to get to the playoffs right now. They’ll be happy if they have to figure out the postseason roster without Butler.