Rangers agree to sign Joakim Soria

Via Ken Rosenthal: The Rangers have agreed to sign free agent reliever Joakim Soria to a two-year contract. Soria had expressed interest in setting up for the Yankees so he could be around idol Mariano Rivera, but the Yankees are very unlikely to offer anyone a two-year deal with offseason. Guaranteeing two years to a reliever coming off his second Tommy John surgery is pretty sketchy anyway. One year with a vesting option was my personal limit, but I’m not the one calling the shots.

Jeter healing as expected, will shed boot in 6-7 weeks

During an appearance on The Michael Kay Show, Derek Jeter confirmed his surgically repaired left ankle is healing as expected. He will remain in his walking boot for another 6-7 weeks and unsurprisingly, the Cap’n expects to be ready in time for Spring Training. Whether that actually happens is another matter entirely. There’s still a long way to go in the rehab process and older players aren’t exactly swift healers. Either way, so far so good.

Possible Trade Partner: Cincinnati Reds

The Reds finished this season with the second best record in baseball, but their World Series hopes came to a crashing halt when they blew a two games-to-none series lead over the eventual World Champion Giants in the NLDS. Their core remains very much intact though, so they’ll look to retool and improve what they already have rather than conduct some kind of rebuild. Should they decide to explore the trade market, they have some pieces who could be of interest to the Yankees.

(Donald Miralle/Getty)

Drew Stubbs
Stubbs, 28, is a true four-tool player and that’s a problem because the one tool he doesn’t have is the most important: the ability to make contact. He owns a career 29.3% strikeout rate and posted a career-worst 30.5% mark this year, leading to a .213/.277/.333 (64 wRC+) batting line in 544 plate appearances. Look at his various year-to-year graphs and you’ll see that he’s trending the wrong way in basically every significant offensive category. So, after all that, why would the Yankees want him? Because of those four other tools.

Stubbs has stolen 30+ bases in each of his three full seasons and is an above-average defender in center with a strong and accurate arm. Here, look. He’s hit at least 14 homers in his three full seasons with a solid 8.7% walk rate. Oh, and he’s a right-handed batter who mashes southpaws. Despite his miserable overall numbers this year, Stubbs still tagged lefties for a .283/.324/.464 (111 wRC+) line. He’s hit .275/.335/.448 (121 wRC+) against lefties since 2010, which is better than popular free target Scott Hairston (.263/.308/.464, 110 wRC+). Then you’ve got the stolen bases on top of it.

Stubbs has fallen so out of favor with the Reds that there was talk they would non-tender him prior to last week’s deadline, but they decided to hold onto him instead. MLBTR projects him to earn $2.9M next year (less than Hairston figures to get) and he’ll remain under team control through 2015. Stubbs is going to strike out a ton* and that’s just the way it’s going to be, but he can hit lefties while also contributing quite a bit both on the bases and in the field. This is a major buy-low candidate who can help a lot if he’s platooned properly going forward.

* It’s worth noting that while his strikeout rate is getting worse, his contact rate is actually getting better. He still swings and misses a lot, but a big part of his problem is that he’s taking more called strike threes than ever before.

Chris Heisey
Cincinnati’s other right-handed hitting outfielder, you might remember the 27-year-old Heisey from his three-homer game against the Yankees a few years ago (video). He’s a .259/.315/.438 (102 wRC+) career hitter with a reverse split, though that’s a small sample size issue rather than an accurate representation of his skills. Heisey owns a .214/.272/.376 (71 wRC+) line in 255 plate appearances against southpaws since breaking into the show three years ago. He’s rated as an average defender in the three outfield spots (though again, sample size) and doesn’t offer much speed either. Heisey is under team control through 2016 and should settle in as a right-handed platoon bat if used properly and given the opportunity.

(David Banks/Getty)

Ryan Hanigan & Devin Mesoraco
The Reds have two starting-caliber catchers, at least in theory. Manager Dusty Baker has been known to distrust young players, so the 24-year-old Mesoraco quickly fell out of favor this year when he didn’t hit (.212/.288/.352, 67 wRC+). Hanigan, 32, continued to serve as the team’s starter with a .274/.365/.338 (87 wRC+) batting line. He rated very well in 2012 catcher defense rankings and has more unintentional walks (92) than strikeouts (90) over the last three years.

Mesoraco is the big hotshot prospect (Baseball America ranked him 16th on their Top 100 List his year) while Hanigan is the reliable and generally underrated veteran. It’s worth noting that Hanigan is signed for just $2.05M next season and will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2014 as well. Mesoraco still has five years of team control left. If the Reds decide to commit to one as their starting guy going forward, the Yankees should have interest in acquiring the other regardless of who it is. Both Mesoraco and Hanigan make sense for New York.

* * *

The Yankees now have a need at third base given Alex Rodriguez‘s new hip injury and New Jersey native Todd Frasier sure would look nice in pinstripes, but he seems entrenched as Cincinnati’s third baseman of at least the present and most likely the future as well. I wouldn’t count on that happening despite the obvious fit.

The Reds are set in the rotation — their five main starters combined for 161 starts last year and now they’re now moving Aroldis Chapman into the rotation — and at most positions, but they are actively seeking a leadoff hitting outfielder. They were in on Denard Span before he was traded to the Nationals and they don’t really have the financial wherewithal to sign Michael Bourn. They’ve been linked to the more affordable Shane Victorino of late and were said to be considering Juan Pierre once upon a time.

The Yankees have a leadoff hitting outfielder to offer in Brett Gardner, but they are short on outfielders in general. They would be able to replace Gardner’s speed and defense by re-signing Ichiro Suzuki though, so he shouldn’t be completely off limits. My trade proposal sucks, but I think the Yankees would be better off in 2013 and 2014 if they could work out a Gardner plus prospect(s) for Stubbs plus one of the catchers trade while then re-signing Ichiro. Depends on the prospect(s) and which catcher of course, plus the team’s willingness to have zero starting outfielders under contract beyond 2013.

Blue Jays claim Eli Whiteside off waivers

Via Ken Rosenthal: The Blue Jays have claimed Eli Whiteside off waivers from the Yankees. New York claimed the backstop off waivers from the Giants a few weeks ago, then re-signed him to a new $625k split contract about a week ago. The Yankees designated him for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot for the recently-re-signed Andy Pettitte. Toronto assumes Whiteside’s entire contract with the move.

Scouting The Trade Market: Carlos Santana

(Jason Miller/Getty)

The Yankees were dealt a rather significant blow late last week when Russell Martin agreed to a two-year contract with the Pirates. The free agent market is short on starting-caliber catchers and it’s not often those guys get traded either, so replacing Russ will be very difficult. Unfortunately there isn’t much internal help either.

It’s no secret the Indians are in a full-rebuild mode (again), dangling pretty much every useful player on their roster. One of their best players is one of the game’s top young catchers, 26-year-old Carlos Santana. Cleveland originally acquired him from the Dodgers in the Casey Blake trade four years ago, and he made his big league debut a roughly two years later. He just completed his second full big league season. Santana is an excellent young player as I’m sure you know, but let’s break down the specifics of his game.

The Pros

  • Santana hit .252/.365/.420 (120 wRC+) this year and is a career .247/.363/.443 (124 wRC+) hitter in over 1,400 plate appearances. He’s a switch-hitter as well, with a career 118 wRC+ as a left-handed batter and 138 as a righty.
  • In true Yankee fashion, Santana is a power and patience machine. He hit 27 homers a year ago and 45 total in his two full seasons (.193 ISO), second most among all catchers behind Mike Napoli. Santana also owns a stellar 15.4% walk rate (14.9% this year), and over the last two years it’s 14.8%. Only Jose Bautista, Joey Votto, Adam Dunn, and Carlos Pena have drawn free passes at a higher rate since 2011.
  • Despite all those walks and deep counts, Santana’s career strikeout rate is a touch better than league average at 18.0% (16.6% in 2012). His career 78.2% contact rate is basically league average as well, which is pretty good for a guy who works a lot of counts and sees a lot of breaking balls.
  • In addition to catcher, Santana also has over 80 career big league starts at first base and can play the position adequately. The Indians even stuck him in left field for a few innings during a blowout this year, but I wouldn’t get excited over that.
  • The Indians signed Santana to a five-year contract extension worth $21M earlier this year (covering 2012-2016), so a $4.2M average annual value for luxury tax purposes. The deal also includes a club option ($12M or $1.2M buyout) for 2017, so he’s not going to be a free agent anytime soon.

The Cons

  • Santana is not a great hitter for average because he hits a ton of infield pop-ups. More than 5.5% of his career balls in play are infield pop-ups, and while that might not sound like much, it’s the 25th highest rate in baseball over the last three years (min. 1,000 PA). Infield pop-ups are essentially an automatic out, hence his career .271 BABIP and mid-.200s average.
  • He’s not a great defensive catcher at all. Santana led the league in passed balls this year (ten) and is only league-average in terms of throwing out base-stealers (27%). He’s rated in the bottom five of recent pitching framing rankings and in the bottom quarter of 2012 catcher defense rankings.
  • Santana has only started 100+ games behind the plate once: 106 split between High-A and Double-A in 2008. He’s started 88 and 95 games behind the plate the last two years, though it’s important to note that he often plays first base (or DH, point is they don’t take his bat out of the lineup) when he’s not catching, so the Indians have used him behind the plate less frequently than a typical starting backstop.
  • Santana has suffered two major injuries in the last four years, though the torn knee ligaments in 2010 was the result of the collision at the plate. He also broke the hamate bone in his right wrist in 2009 while playing winter ball. A foul ball off the mask sent him to the 7-day concussion DL last year. Two of those injuries are fluky, but injuries are injuries.

If the Yankees wanted to swing a massive multi-player blockbuster to address most (or all) of their needs all at once, the Indians match up well as a trade partner. In addition to a catcher in Santana they could offer a right fielder (Shin-Soo Choo), a starting pitcher (Justin Masterson), a late-inning reliever (Chris Perez), a high-end infielder (Asdrubal Cabrera), and a low-end utility infielder (Mike Aviles or Jason Donald). Obviously it’s extremely unlikely the Yankees would acquire (or even look to acquire) all seven of those players at once, but the point is there’s potential to expand a deal.

Santana would fill several long-term needs for the Yankees. He’d obviously give them a replacement for Martin, but more importantly he would add power from the right side and another legitimate middle of the order bat to the lineup. With Nick Swisher gone and both Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez in the middle of multi-year fades, finding another three- or four-hole type of hitter to complement Robinson Cano is more important than maybe the Yankees want to admit. There’s an awful lot to like about adding Santana to the Yankees, at least on the offensive side of the ball.

A player like thisĀ  — a proven above-average switch-hitter who can at least fake a premium position and is both signed dirt cheap long-term and is several years away from his 30th birthday — has substantial trade value. I’m not normally one to throw comps around, but Santana sure has a lot of Jorge Posada in him, no? Obviously he’s not nearly as accomplished as Posada, but a switch-hitting catcher with power and patience who kinda sucks behind the plate? Yep, that’s Jorge. I’m not sure if the Yankees have the pieces to land a player of Santana’s caliber via trade — the Indians are reportedly looking for young pitching and David Phelps & Ivan Nova duo ain’t gonna cut it — and there’s no indication that he’s even available, but with Cleveland shopping everyone it sure wouldn’t hurt to ask.

Winter Meetings Day One Open Thread

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Baseball’s annual Winter Meeting officially kick off today in Nashville, and the next three and a half days will be chock full of rumors, rumblings, trades, free agent signings, and all sorts of neat hot stove stuff. Whether the Yankees get involved and make some moves remains to be seen. They’ve already take care of their major pitching issues by re-signing Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera to one-year contracts.

New York’s needs are rather obvious. They need a right fielder to replace Nick Swisher, a catcher to replace the already departed Russell Martin, as well as most of a bench and miscellaneous depth players. We’ll keep trade of any Yankees-related news right here throughout the day with the latest updates up top. Just check the time stamps (all ET).

  • 6:23pm: The Yankees were not in on Joakim Soria before the agreed to a two-year deal with the Rangers. [Sherman]
  • 4:25pm: The Yankees have some interest in Cody Ross as a right-handed hitting outfielder. He seems like a lock to get multiple years and overpaid. [Jon Morosi]
  • 3:42pm: Brian Cashman confirmed A-Rod‘s injury will not impact the team’s budget. They’re sticking with whatever number this year and will still try to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold next year. They may received some insurance money, however. [Buster Olney]
  • 3:29pm: The Yankees had some trade interest in infielder Chris Nelson of the Rockies earlier this season. The 27-year-old hit .301/.358/.458 this summer, but that’s only a 105 wRC+ when adjusted for Coors Field. Nelson is a second and third baseman. [Troy Renck]
  • 3:21pm: The Yankees are one of several teams trying to sign Scott Hairston, but they don’t want to spend 2014 dollars and he’ll likely require a two-year commitment. [Sherman]
  • 1:55pm: The Yankees were “quietly inquiring” about third base help at the GM Meetings last month. [Sweeny Murti]
  • 12:38pm: Alex Rodriguez‘s new hip injury means the Yankees figure to be even more interested in finding infield help, though they don’t believe Kevin Youkilis, Placido Polanco, and Ty Wigginton can handle the position on an everyday basis. They view Marco Scutaro as a second baseman. [Sherman]
  • 11:00am: The Yankees are interested in Stephen Drew and are “working hard” to sign him. They would presumably use him as their 100-game backup shortstop and third baseman, but there is no indication Drew is okay with playing the hot corner. He has never played a professional game anywhere other than shortstop and figures to get offers to start for other teams at the position. [Jim Bowden & Joel Sherman]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

A-Rod will undergo surgery to repair labrum tear in left hip

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

It was the right hip in 2009, and now it’s the left. Alex Rodriguez will undergo surgery for a torn labrum, a bone impingement, and the correction of a cyst in his left hip the Yankees have confirmed. Dr. Bryan Kelly from the Hospital for Special Surgery will perform the repair procedure in January. Alex will undergo a 4-6 week “pre-hab” regiment before having the operation. The team announced the recovery time as 4-6 months, meaning he will miss the start of next season.

During a press conference with reporters, Brian Cashman confirmed A-Rod first complained about his right hip after being pinch-hit for in Game Three of the ALDS. He went for tests which confirmed the right hip was fine. It wasn’t until his annual check-up with Dr. Marc Phillippon in Colorado that the injury to his left hip was picked up. The club got three opinions (Phillippon, Kelly, and team doctor Chris Ahmad) and has been informed that Alex will have no restrictions following surgery and rehab.

A-Rod, 37, had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip in 2009. Dr. Phillippon performed a hybrid procedure that basically patched the tear with a second, more complete procedure scheduled for the 2009-2010 offseason. The second operation was never performed because the first took so well. Alex missed only two months and one day following that procedure. The surgery required for the new injury is not the same and will require a more extensive work due to the bone impingement.

“My sole interest is improving the club,” said Cashman when asked about finding a replacement or stopgap third baseman. “Right now, time is a problem. We’re going to be missing him for some time. It’s our job to find a way to withstand this. He will be back. We have to plan accordingly … If it’s not practical, we won’t do it.”

The Yankees were already seeking infield help this offseason, but their efforts figure to increase quite a bit now with A-Rod slated to miss a big chunk of the season — Cashman confirmed they’re planning for Alex to miss the full six months. The third base free agent market is very weak and outside of surrendering a top prospect-laden package for Chase Headley, the trade market doesn’t offer many high-end alternatives either. Cashman reiterated he does not view Eduardo Nunez as a third base solution.

Without A-Rod, the Yankees are extremely short on right-handed power. Derek Jeter, who is recovering from a surgery of his own, hits left-handers well enough but will never be confused for a power hitter. The only pop from the right side right now is switch-hitter Mark Teixeira. Given all the quality southpaws in the AL East, finding some right-handed platoon bats (a right-handed hitter who can hit both righties and lefties is obviously preferable) is a necessity for New York this summer.