Eddy: Yankees sign infielder Jonathan Diaz to minor league contract

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

We’ve reached the point of the offseason where teams begin to load up on non-roster invitees, and the Yankees are doing just that. Matt Eddy reports the team has signed infielder Jonathan Diaz to a minor league contract. I assume he received an invitation to big league Spring Training as well.

Diaz, 30, is the quintessential all-glove/no-hit infielder. He’s gone 8-for-55 (.145) in 35 career big league games with the Blue Jays and Red Sox the last few seasons. Diaz hit .223/.328/.284 (84 wRC+) with two homers, seven steals, and a bunch of walks (11.9%) in 118 Triple-A games for Toronto last season.

In the field, Diaz has a reputation for being a defensive wizard, which is why he has managed to stick around despite a total lack of offense. He’s spent the majority of his career at shortstop but has also played a ton of second base and plenty of third as well. Diaz has even seen time in left field too.

The Yankees needed Triple-A infielders after trading away Jose Pirela, Eric Jagielo, and Tony Renda earlier this offseason. They inked Pete Kozma to a minor league contract early in the offseason and Donovan Solano last week. Those two plus Diaz help replenish the lost Triple-A infield depth.

There is an open bench spot at the MLB level, and I’m sure Diaz and the other non-roster infielders will be given a chance to complete for the job in camp. I think (hope) the Yankees will look for a better option, however. In all likelihood, Diaz will join Kozma, Solano, Rob Refsnyder, and Greg Bird in the RailRiders’ infield come Opening Day.

Chasen Shreve can give the Yanks four dominant relievers with a return to early 2015 form

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

For most of last season, Chasen Shreve was one of the Yankees’ best and most reliable relievers. He stepped into the seventh inning role when Andrew Miller visited the DL, then slid back into a more traditional middle reliever’s role when Miller returned. Regardless of role, he was excellent for the first four months. It looked like the Yankees had landed themselves a low-profile bullpen gem.

Shreve had a 1.77 ERA (3.16 FIP) on the day of the trade deadline but struggled in August and totally collapsed down the stretch in September. He finished the season with a 3.09 ERA (4.92 FIP) in 58.1 innings after allowing four homers and six walks in his final five innings. His walk rate in August and September was a way too high 18.8%. Yuck.

Joe Girardi always seemed to be one reliever short down the stretch, which contributed to the Yankees falling out of first place. Miller, Dellin Betances, and Justin Wilson were pitching every day it seemed. Shreve was no longer trustworthy in big spots. Unsurprisingly, Girardi said figuring out what happened to Shreve is a priority this offseason after the Yankees lost the wildcard game.

“I think Shreve has a chance to be better because of the struggles he went through and (he) learned a lot about himself,” said Girardi at his end-of-season press conference. “For the first couple of months he was really good and a huge part of his bullpen. We have to figure out what happened, mechanically. There were probably some things that were a little bit off … I think it has a chance to really help him.”

Girardi indicated Shreve had a mechanical problem, which is always possible. Fatigue could have been an issue too. Yes, Shreve only threw 58.1 innings after averaging 65 innings per season in the minors from 2011-14, but high-leverage MLB innings are a different animal. They can be much more mentally and physically taxing. It would be silly to dismiss fatigue as a possible explanation for Shreve’s fade.

Whatever the reason(s), Shreve’s fade has caused him to be overlooked for most of the offseason. The Yankees essentially replaced Wilson with Aroldis Chapmanan enormous upgrade despite what many want you to believe — and much of the talk about the remaining bullpen spots has focused on the shuttle relievers. Nick Rumbelow, Jacob Lindgren, James Pazos, Bryan Mitchell, Branden Pinder, guys like that.

Shreve has rarely been mentioned despite having more MLB success than all of those other guys combined. Relievers come and go, that’s what they do, but Shreve’s dominance early last year — and that’s not hyperbole, he was dominant for the first four months — has earned him another chance this coming season. The Yankees have to see if his mechanical issues have been corrected, if fatigue is no longer an issue.

The job Shreve held for much of last season is currently open on the 2016 roster. That is the No. 4 reliever behind the top three guys at the end of the game. Someone to pitch the sixth inning or fill-in when one of the other guys aren’t available. Those three guys for the late-innings are outstanding, that group has a chance to be historically great, but the middle innings are important too.

Given the current options on the roster, the best candidate to fill Chasen Shreve’s old role is, well, Chasen Shreve. He’s had sustained success at the MLB level — at least moreso than the other guys — and at his best, he’s a left-hander who can retire both righties and lefties, and rack up strikeouts. Getting Shreve back on track would take what looks to be a very good bullpen and make it even better.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Juan Uribe

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

It is entirely possible the Yankees are done making moves this offseason. They have a full lineup, a full rotation, more than enough bodies for the bullpen, and three-fourths of a bench. The team has some internal candidates for that final bench spot, and really, how they fill that spot will depend on Starlin Castro‘s ability to play third. He hasn’t manned the hot corner aside from a handful of games back in rookie ball.

Castro is still relatively new to second base — he only played 258 innings at second last season — and asking him to learn third base as well might be too much, too soon. Using that final bench spot for a proper backup third baseman sure seems like a good idea, no? Veteran infielder Juan Uribe remains available as a free agent and is a candidate to provide depth at third as well as another right-handed bat. Let’s see if he makes sense for the Yankees.

The Offense

A few years ago it looked like Uribe was done. Like done done. The now 36-year-old hit .204/.264/.293 (56 wRC+) with the Dodgers in 2011, then followed it up by hitting .191/.258/.284 (52 wRC+) in 2012. Yikes. The Dodgers were on the verge of releasing Uribe early in 2013, though he rebounded that season to hit .278/.331/.438 (116 wRC+), reviving his career. Here are his three most recent seasons.

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR K% BB% wRC+ vs. RHP wRC+ vs. LHP
2013 426 .278/.331/.438 116 12 19.0% 7.0% 115 118
2014 404 .311/.337/.440 121 9 19.1% 3.7% 125 106
2015 397 .253/.320/.417 104 14 20.2% 8.6% 90 146
Total 1,227 .281/.329/.432 114 35 19.4% 6.4% 110 124

After spending the 2013-14 seasons with the Dodgers, Uribe split the 2015 season with the Dodgers, Braves, and Mets. The Dodgers sent him to Atlanta in a very weird trade — the primary piece they got back was up-and-down lefty Ian Thomas — then the Braves shipped him to the Mets at the trade deadline for actual prospects. The Mets grabbed Uribe to beef up their bench down the stretch.

Uribe faced left-handers primarily after landing with the Mets last season, hence the massive platoon split. He simply didn’t play a whole lot against righties. Given his age, I’m not sure you could realistically expect Uribe to be a regular against same-side pitchers at this point of his career. Sure, he might be able to do it once in a while, but it’s not the best idea. I’m guessing most view Uribe as a righty platoon bat going forward.

Generally speaking, Uribe has some pop against southpaws (.209 ISO from 2013-15) and he tends to draw more walks (8.4%) against them as well. He doesn’t provide much value on the bases — Uribe has attempted eight steals over the last three years and he’s taken the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) only 37% of the time, below the 41% league average — so his offensive value comes exclusively from his bat. That’s fine. That makes him like most other players.

Uribe has a reputation for being a clutch hitter, though the stats don’t really bear that out. He does have two World Series rings (2005 White Sox, 2010 Giants) but is a career .209/.246/.342 (57 wRC+) hitter in 170 postseason at-bats. Uribe has also hit .282/.348/.392 (105 wRC+) with men in scoring position the last three seasons and .274/.338/.395 (103 wRC+) in high-leverage spots, which is right in line with his overall numbers.

The clutch stuff is just noise. The most important thing is Uribe’s ability to hit left-handed pitchers and do so while playing part-time. Being a bench player is hard. Players aren’t used to sitting around for a few days between at-bats. Uribe did it for the Mets late last season (especially after David Wright returned from the DL) and that’s not nothing. He’s a quality bench hitter against left-handed pitchers.

The Defense

Although he’s on the portly side — listed at 6-foot-0 and 235 lbs. — Uribe is a shocking great defender at the hot corner. Both DRS and UZR have rated him as well-above-average at third base in recent years, and the eye test agrees as well. Uribe has good range, vacuum cleaner hands, and a very strong arm. There are some defensive plays in this highlight reel:

Uribe originally came up as a shortstop but he hasn’t played the position regularly since 2010 or at all since 2012. The Mets did use him at second base some last season — he hadn’t played the position at all since 2011 — and he held his own. He wasn’t great but he wasn’t a disaster there. Uribe is primarily a third baseman who can play second base in a pinch, so he doesn’t offer a ton of defensive versatility.

Injury History

A chest injury kept Uribe out for the final few weeks of the regular season as well as the NLDS and NLCS last year. (The Mets didn’t add him to their postseason roster until the World Series.) It was a fluke injury — Uribe dove for a ball (against the Yankees) and landed hard. He had some bruising that didn’t allow him to swing or throw properly, and it took time to heal.

Aside from that, Uribe has had some on and off hamstring issues the last few years, including pulls that required two separate DL stints in 2014. That’s really it. Uribe had some wrist issues back in 2012 and a sports hernia in 2011, neither of which has given him trouble since. The nagging hamstring trouble is a bit of a red flag but not a deal breaker. He’s not a pitcher with a history of arm problems or anything like that.

Contract Projections

Uribe was not eligible for the qualifying offer because he was traded (twice) at midseason, though he wasn’t a candidate to receive one anyway. There’s no draft pick to consider. FanGraphs was the only publication to consider Uribe a top 50 free agent and their crowdsourcing results spit out a two-year contract at $8M per year. That’s cheap starting infielder money.

Obviously there’s no reason for the Yankees to seriously consider Uribe at that price. That’s way too expensive for a bench player, even a potentially very good one. It’s starting to get a little late in the offseason, and off the top of my head, the only teams potentially in need of a starter at third base are the Indians, Angels, Braves, Reds, Brewers, and Pirates. The Braves, Reds, and Brewers are rebuilding teams with younger and cheaper options, so they’re long shots.

Uribe’s market appears to be pretty limited — teams in need of third base help may prefer the still unsigned David Freese because he’s several years younger — so that two-year, $16M projection seems pretty far-fetched. He’ll probably have to settle for a smaller one-year contract, similar to Mike Aviles ($2M), Gordon Beckham ($1.25M), Stephen Drew ($3M), Kelly Johnson ($2M), and Sean Rodriguez ($2.5M). Playing time and being with a contender may be bigger priorities at this point of Uribe’s career than cash.

Wrapping Up

One thing I have to mention that doesn’t fit in any of the previous categories is Uribe’s reputation for being a Grade A teammate and fan favorite. He’s ultra-popular. Many players have called Uribe their favorite teammate over the years and he has a knack for colorful quotes — “I have to get another contract to buy more cars,” he said to David O’Brien last summer when asked about his upcoming free agency. And then there’s the jazz hands:

Juan Uribe jazz hands

Outstanding. He does that after almost every swing too. Uribe reacts like he hit a home run every time he puts a ball in play. It’s pretty fun. None of this affects his on-field value, though being a great teammate and a fan favorite is not nothing either.

Anyway, even with his limited defensive versatility, Uribe seems like he would be a really great fit for that final bench spot. He’d give the Yankees a true backup third baseman and another right-handed hitter to help combat southpaws, who chewed the the team up down the stretch last season. That Uribe has experience being a bench player and going long stretches of time without playing is a plus in by book as well. No adjustment period.

Price and playing time may be an issue, however. Uribe has been pretty productive in recent years and he could be holding out for a starting spot — and a starter’s salary — which I understand. It might not be realistic at this point, but I get it. If Uribe is willing to take a low base salary one-year contract and serve as a backup/platoon bat, the Yankees would be wise to scoop him up for that final bench spot.

Fan Confidence Poll: January 11th, 2016

2015 Season Record: 87-75 (764 RS, 698 RA, 88-74 pythag. record), lost wildcard game

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

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Update: Yankees acquire Kirby Yates from Indians in cash deal

(Alex Goodlett/Getty)
(Alex Goodlett/Getty)

Sunday: The Yankees sent $78,000 to the Indians for Yates, according to the Associated Press. It’s not often we hear how much money exchanges hands in these cash deals. Neat.

Friday: The Yankees have acquired right-hander Kirby Yates from the Indians in a cash trade, the team has announced.

Yates, 28, was designated for assignment earlier this week when the Indians signed Mike Napoli. Cleveland picked him up in a cash trade with the Rays back in November. Yates has a 5.27 ERA (5.51 FIP) in 56.1 big league innings, all with Tampa Bay. Here’s some video:

Yates had a 5.33 ERA (4.70 FIP) in 25.1 Triple-A innings this past season. He’s got a low-90s fastball and throws a mid-80s slider, a low-80s changeup, and an upper-70s curveball, so he’s one of those rare four-pitch relievers.

As best I can tell, Yates has a minor league option remaining, so he’s another candidate to ride the bullpen shuttle next season. This is basically Chris Martin 2.0. The Yankees picked up Yates for practically nothing and will see if they can get some decent innings out of him.

The club still has two open spots on the 40-man roster.

Weekend Open Thread

Another week in the books means we’re another week closer to Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers report in one month and ten days according to the countdown in the sidebar. It can’t come soon enough. People are starting to get offseason cabin fever, it seems. Here are the weekend links:

  • Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza are baseball’s two newest Hall of Famers, and, as Tyler Kepner explains, the two were almost teammates with the Mets. Griffey blocked a deal to the Mets before the he was traded to the Reds. So, instead, the Mets used the players they were going to send to the Mariners for Griffey to get Mike Hampton. Hampton helped them win the 2000 pennant, and when he left as a free agent, the compensation draft pick turned into David Wright. Neat story.
  • I really enjoyed Corinne Landrey’s post on the best long plate appearances of 2015. At seven minutes and 47 seconds, the Andrew Miller-Troy Tulowitzki battle was the longest plate appearance of the season in terms of elapsed time. It was the highest leverage plate appearance of both their careers at 8.23 LI (!). It’s also kinda fun Clayton Kershaw (batter) had a 13-pitch at-bat against Madison Bumgarner, which ended with a ground out.
  • Rather than link you off to some individual articles, I’m going to point you towards Longform.org’s favorite pieces of 2015. That way you can pick and choose what you want to read. There’s an overall top ten and then top fives within different categories. Lots of great stuff in there. Make sure you check it out.

Friday: Here is your open thread for the night. The Knicks, Nets, and Devils are all playing. There’s no college hoops though. Talk about those games, the links, or anything else right here.

Saturday: This is the open thread again. The NFL playoffs start today, so you’ve got the Chiefs vs. Texas (4pm ET on ABC and ESPN) and then the Steelers vs. Bengals (8pm ET on CBS). The Rangers and Islanders both played earlier today, though there is a bunch of college hoops on the schedule tonight. Have at it.

Sunday: Here’s the open thread one last time. I’m bumping this to the top of the site a little earlier than usual because of the NFL playoffs. The Seahawks and Vikings play first (1pm ET on NBC) and then there’s the Packers and Redskins later this afternoon (4:30pm ET on FOX). The Devils and Nets are playing, and there’s some college basketball action too. Go nuts.

Hip, Hip: Previewing the Hall of Fame Case for Jorge Posada

It's a Jorge Posada kind of day. (Chris Trotman/Getty)
It’s a Jorge Posada kind of day. (Chris Trotman/Getty)

I would not have realized this without Mike mentioning it in a post last week, but Jorge Posada will be up for induction into the Hall of Fame during the next round of elections. He last played in 2011, a season that was humbling for him to say the least. His career ended on a positive note, though, as he was one of the few Yankees to show up during the ALDS against Detroit; in that disaster series, Jorge hit .429/.579/.571, notching six hits in the five game set. Amazingly enough, he didn’t drive a single run home in the series. Regardless of the ugly times in 2011, it wrapped up a fantastic career that deserves its share of inspection.

Posada’s Major League career started in earnest in 1997, when he played in 60 games and racked up 224 PAs for the Yanks; it got fully rolling in 1998, when his playing time jumped up and he played in 111 games and went to the plate 409 times. 1999 was rather similar; he played in 112 games and had 437 PA. 2000 was Jorge’s real breakout. Amassing 624 PA across 151 games, Posada raked, hitting .287/.417/.527 with 28 homers and an OPS+ of 139 (.405 wOBA; 140 wRC+). It started a string of four straight All Star Game appearances and four straight Silver Slugger awards. All told, Posada made it to five All Star Games and won five Silver Slugger awards (2000-3, 2007) and had a career line of .274/.374/.474/.848, good for a 121 OPS+ and a .367/123 wOBA/wRC+.

(Photo via NY Daily News)
(Photo via NY Daily News)

If we judge a player by the company he kept, then Posada was nothing short of an offensive leader at his position. His only offensive “sin” during his career was that he was not, in fact, Mike Piazza. Among catchers with at least 5000 PA from 1995-2011, Posada ranks second to Piazza in wOBA; wRC+; and home runs. He’s third in fWAR (44.3) behind Ivan Rodriguez (60.3–whom Posada outhit by 19 points in wOBA and 16 in wRC+) and Piazza (51.2).

Doubtlessly, Jorge Posada was the AL’s best offensive catcher for the years of his career; hitters like Mike Napoli and Joe Mauer definitely caught up to him in the later years of his career, but Posada’s offensive longevity and consistency were marvelous. Only twice–1999 and 2011–did Posada fail to hit at a league average rate, and that’s not adjusting for his position. Eight times, he notched marks at least 20% better than league average.

(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)
(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

But in the end, it probably wasn’t enough. Jorge wasn’t as good a hitter as Mike Piazza and he wasn’t as good a catcher as Ivan Rodriguez. He falls somewhere in the middle there, which definitely hurts him. This isn’t to say that his numbers are necessarily Hall-Worthy, but to say Posada was anything short of the second best offensive catcher of his time is unfair. The other big slight against him is another over which he had no control. Posada appeared in games for the Yankees staring in 1995, but wasn’t the full time catcher until 2000. Those years of being a part time player robbed him of the counting stats that a lot of voters take into consideration. Regardless, Posada managed to club 275 homers and drive in over 1,000 runs in his career, good marks for anyone, let alone a catcher. had he received more consistent playing time before 1998-2000, his candidacy might be more than something to dream on.

Considering the fate we just saw Jim Edmonds suffer–falling off the ballot ungraciously and undeservingly after just one appearance–it’s not likely that Posada sticks around very long. That wouldn’t be a big injustice or a travesty or anything, but as a player we feel a lot of emotional connection with, it’ll be a touch sad to see Jorge–like his teammate Bernie Williams–disappear from the ballot easily. In the end, though, it doesn’t change anything about the man and the player Jorge Posada was for the Yankees for so many years. It’s years too late, but thanks for the great career, Jorge. A retired number in Monument Park isn’t Cooperstown, but it’s a damn fine consolation prize.