Pirates return Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Webb to Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Another Rule 5 Draft pick player is back. The Pirates have returned left-hander Tyler Webb to the Yankees, both teams announced today. That means he cleared waivers. Webb is back with the Yankees as a non-40-man roster player, and the team has assigned him to Triple-A Scranton.

Webb, 26, was New York’s tenth round pick back in 2013. He’s pitched to a 3.61 ERA (2.91 FIP) with 26.3% strikeouts and 7.2% walks in 127 Triple-A innings the last two years. Although he’s spent most of his career as a reliever, the Yankees tried Webb as a starter last season, and he made a few spot starts and extended relief outings. I wonder whether they’ll have him try that again this year.

I thought Webb had a pretty good chance to stick as a Rule 5 Draft player because he’s left-handed, has a little something on his fastball, and has had success in Triple-A. Alas. He allowed four runs in 13 innings this spring while striking out eleven and walking one. The Pirates went with former Yankee Wade LeBlanc for their final bullpen spot over Webb. He would have had to remain on their 25-man big league roster all season.

Three of the four players the Yankees lost in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft have now been returned: Webb, Tyler Jones (Diamondbacks), and Caleb Smith (Cubs). The only one left is catcher Luis Torrens, who is in camp with the Padres and is reportedly the front-runner for their backup catcher’s job. He’s 20 years old and making the jump from Low-A to MLB, plus the history of Rule 5 Draft pick catchers is terrible, so I think he’s coming back at some point, sooner rather than later.

Cubs return Rule 5 Draft pick Caleb Smith to Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have welcomed back another one of their lost Rule 5 Draft players. Left-hander Caleb Smith has been returned by the Cubs, both teams announced. Smith was reassigned to minor league camp as a non-40-man roster player. He had to remain on Chicago’s big league roster all season, or be passed through waivers and offered back to the Yankees, which is exactly what happened.

Smith, 24, was New York’s 14th round pick in the 2013 draft. He had a 3.96 ERA (3.15 FIP) with 25.1% strikeouts in 63.2 innings with Double-A Trenton last season, his second straight year at the level. Smith is a lefty and he has good velocity on his fastball, so it’s no surprise a team took a chance on him in the Rule 5 Draft. He figures to be part of the Triple-A Scranton bullpen mix.

The Cubs acquired Smith from the Brewers following the Rule 5 Draft. Milwaukee selected him then traded him to Chicago for cash. The Rule 5 Draft rules still apply following the trade though. There seemed to be very little chance Smith, who struck out seven and allowed three runs (including three homers) in 6.1 innings this spring, would stick with the Cubs given their bullpen depth.

Last week the Yankees received Tyler Jones, another Rule 5 Draft pick, back from the Diamondbacks. Lefty Tyler Webb (Pirates) and catcher Luis Torrens (Padres) are still out there. Webb has a pretty good chance to stick. I still expect Torrens to be offered back sooner rather than later. A 20-year-old catcher jumping from Low-A to MLB is so very unlikely to stick, even with a bad rebuilding team.

Diamondbacks return Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Jones to Yankees

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Diamondbacks have returned Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Jones to the Yankees, both teams announced earlier today. That means Jones, a right-handed reliever, cleared waivers and was removed from the 40-man roster. The Yankees have assigned him to minor league camp.

Jones, 27, signed with the Yankees as a minor league free agent last offseason. He had a 2.17 ERA (1.50 FIP) with 34.2% strikeouts and 5.6% walks in 45.2 Double-A innings last summer. This spring he allowed five runs (three earned) in 6.2 innings with Arizona. Jones fanned eight and walked none.

The D’Backs aren’t particularly deep in the bullpen and I thought Jones had a chance to stick as a middle reliever. Arizona would have had to carry him on their 25-man big league roster all season as a Rule 5 Draft pick, otherwise put him on waivers and offer him back to the Yankees, which is what happened.

The Yankees still have three other Rule 5 Draft picks out there: catcher Luis Torrens (Padres) and lefties Caleb Smith (Cubs) and Tyler Webb (Pirates). Webb has the best chance to stick with his new team, I believe. Torrens and Smith are almost certainly coming back at some point before Opening Day.

Yankees sign Ernesto Frieri to minor league contract

Frieri circa 2014. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
Frieri circa 2014. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

6:14pm ET: Jon Heyman says Frieri will make $800,000 at the big league level. The contract also includes incentives based on appearances and games finished in case, you know, he becomes the closer or something.

6:00pm ET: As expected, the Yankees announced today they have signed veteran right-hander Ernesto Frieri to a minor league contract. He’ll be in big league camp as a non-roster player. Frieri worked out for the team recently and was in the clubhouse yesterday, at which point it was pretty obvious a deal was in the works.

Frieri, 31, did not pitch in 2016. He was in camp with the Phillies, got released, remained unemployed all summer, then threw in winter ball in Venezuela. Frieri struck out one in two scoreless innings with Colombia during the World Baseball Classic, and PitchFX says his fastball averaged 95.0 mph.

Once upon a time Frieri was a quality late-inning reliever with the Padres and Angels, throwing 229.1 innings with a 2.79 ERA (3.45 FIP) and 32.4% strikeouts from 2010-13. He wasn’t very good with the Angels, Pirates, and Rays from 2014-15 though (6.37 ERA and 5.76 FIP). Even at his best, Frieri walked a lot of batters (career 10.9% walk rate).

Joe Girardi told Dan Martin that Frieri is “going to get an opportunity here,” and as a non-roster invitee, he carries no risk. He’ll throw a few innings in Grapefruit League games, and if he looks good, the Yankees will keep him. If not, they’ll move on. I’m not too optimistic Frieri will help the Yankees, but there’s no such thing as too much pitching.

Heyman: Yankees agree to 2017 contracts with Aaron Judge and Greg Bird

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees have agreed to one-year contracts for the 2017 season with Aaron Judge and Greg Bird. The team did not renew them as pre-arbitration-eligible players, a la Dellin Betances last year. Judge will earn $544,500 this coming season. Bird will make $545,500. The league minimum is $530,000.

Interestingly enough, Heyman says New York’s pay scale for pre-arbitration-eligible players is generally $100 per plate appearance over the league minimum. The math doesn’t work for Judge and Bird, however. Based on that formula, Judge would be making $539,500 this year, not $544,500. Bird would be at $547,800, not $545,500.

Chances are there are other escalators involved, perhaps based on service time or something. Or maybe Judge has a really good agent and Bird has a really bad one. Or! Or maybe the Yankees decided to change their pre-arbitration salary scale after the Betances fiasco last year and this year. Whatever.

Pre-arbitration players like Judge and Bird typically sign split contracts that pay them one salary in the big leagues and another salary in the minors. It’s entirely possible both guys will spent time in Triple-A this year too. Judge if he strikes out a bunch and Bird if he needs more time to get back to normal following shoulder surgery. At this point, the former seems more likely than the latter.

Judge made his big league debut late last season and will remain under team control through 2022. Bird, however, spent the entire 2016 season on the MLB disabled list, so he accrued a full year of service time even while injured. The Yankees lost a year of team control, essentially. Bird will qualify for free agency following the 2021 season.

The Yankees had previously agreed to a 2017 contract with Gary Sanchez, though financial terms are still unknown. Pre-arbitration contracts usually aren’t widely reported. The Yankees currently have 23 pre-arbitration players on the 40-man roster. Rotation candidates Luis Severino, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, and Luis Cessa are among them.

Heyman: Yankees, Gary Sanchez agree to contract for 2017, avoid renewal

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees and Gary Sanchez have agreed to a contract for the 2017 season. Financial terms are unknown, though Heyman says the two sides agreed to a deal and the Yankees didn’t renew their budding star. As a pre-arbitration-eligible player, Sanchez’s salary will be something close to the $535,000 minimum salary.

As you may remember, the Yankees were unable to come to a contract agreement with Dellin Betances prior to the 2016 season, his final season as a pre-arbitration-eligible player, so they renewed him at the league minimum. Betances felt the team’s offer was too low, so they renewed him, which is their right. Dellin knew what would happen.

Who knows whether the contract renewal created bad blood between Betances and the Yankees, but the fact the two sides went to an arbitration hearing a few weeks ago sure makes it seem like that’s the case. (Randy Levine didn’t help matters either.) Thankfully, the Yankees were able to avoid similar animosity with Sanchez this year.

Sanchez, 24, hit .299/.376/.657 (171 wRC+) with 20 homers in 53 games last season (lol), his first extended taste of the big leagues. Many teams, including the Yankees, have a sliding salary scale for pre-arbitration-eligible players based on service time, with escalators for All-Star Games and major awards, things like that.

Because he will enter 2017 with only 86 days of service time, the Yankees still have all six years of contractual control over Sanchez. He won’t even qualify as a Super Two player. Sanchez will make something close to the league minimum from 2017-19 before making decent bucks through arbitration from 2020-22.

It’s unclear whether the Yankees have reached contract agreements with their other pre-arbitration-eligible players. That stuff usually isn’t widely reported. The Yankees have 22 pre-arbitration-eligible players on the 40-man roster, including Luis Severino, Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, and Ronald Torreyes.

Yankees trade Richard Bleier to the Orioles

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today the Yankees announced they have traded lefty Richard Bleier to the Orioles for cash or a player to be named later. There are now 66 players in big league camp. Bleier was designated for assignment last week to make room on the 40-man roster for Chris Carter.

Bleier, 29, joined the Yankees as a minor league free agent last winter and he made his MLB debut last summer. He threw 23 relief innings with a 1.96 ERA (2.76 FIP) for New York while spending most of the season in Triple-A. I’m surprised he stayed on the 40-man as long as he did. Soon-to-be 30-year-old rookies usually don’t stick around long.

I wouldn’t spend much time thinking about the player to be named later. It won’t be an actual prospect. It never is in these situations. Chances are the Yankees will end up taking the cash anyway. That’s usually how it goes. At least they were able to get something in return for Bleier rather than lose him on waivers for nothing.

Now that he’s with the Orioles, expect Bleier to get a big out against the Yankees at some point this season. Folks will then complain they let him go. “Why can’t the Yankees get pitchers like that?” they’ll say. Thank you for your time.