Cervelli trade doesn’t guarantee Murphy backup catcher job

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

At the GM Meetings last week, the Yankees swung a trade sending long-time backup catcher Frankie Cervelli to the Pirates for hard-throwing lefty reliever Justin Wilson. It’s the third straight offseason in which a Yankees catcher has gone to the Pittsburgh — Russell Martin signed with the Pirates as a free agent during the 2012-13 offseason and the two clubs got together for the Chris Stewart trade last winter. Maybe they like the same catchers because their internal metrics are similar.

Anyway, the Yankees made the trade because they almost had to move a catcher this winter. It had gotten to the point where they simply had too many catchers for too few spots at the upper levels. Brian McCann is locked into the starting MLB job and Cervelli had a leg up on the backup spot, leaving John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine, and Gary Sanchez for Triple-A Scranton. That’s not really feasible. Playing time is a zero sum game — the more at-bats Sanchez gets, the fewer there are for Murphy and Romine.

Something had to give and it turned out to be Cervelli, who is two years from free agency and projected to earn $1.1M through arbitration next year. Why pay seven figures for a backup catcher — an injury prone backup catcher at that — when you have several players who can do the job for close to the league minimum? The Yankees dealt from a position of depth and added an interesting arm to the bullpen mix while shedding some salary. It’s not the type of move that will win a team a title but it helps balance the roster.

As soon as Cervelli was traded, I and I think many others considered Murphy the favorite to take over as McCann’s backup. That makes sense — Murphy was the one who got the call when Cervelli got hurt last year and Romine didn’t even get a September call-up at first. (He was called up after Cervelli got hurt in mid-September). Romine has stalled out the last year or two and Murphy has played well, especially when he first came up last April and May. He’s ready for a big league job.

There are other factors to consider, however. First and foremost, the Yankees might not be done dealing. Murphy isn’t a top trade chip but he’s a desirable piece because, again, he’s basically MLB ready. Catching is hard to find and plenty of teams will try to pry six years of Murphy away from New York if given the chance. I both would and wouldn’t be surprised if he gets traded at some point, perhaps for a shortstop. I don’t think it will happen but it wouldn’t come out left field either. Trading Murphy seems completely plausible.

Trading Murphy would free up the backup catcher’s job for Romine, though I would expect the Yankees to sign a veteran backup catcher type to compete for the job in Spring Training. Someone on a minor league contract who can fight for the job in camp then go to Triple-A Scranton to back up and mentor Sanchez (and also serve as the third catcher). The same applies to trading Romine, though he isn’t as tradeable as Murphy. Romine is likely to be out of options though — Chad Jennings heard it “does not appear” Romine will qualify for a fourth option — which opens another can of worms.

If Romine is in fact out of minor league options, he won’t be able to go to Triple-A without first clearing waivers. It’s easy to say he will be claimed because he’s a young and cheap catcher who once had some nice prospect shine, but I looked through the MLBTR Transaction Tracker, and not many catchers get claimed off waivers. In fact, there have only been nine waiver claims involving a catcher since May 2008, and three of them featured the perpetually available George Kottaras. That guy always seems to be on waivers.

Maybe the means Romine will clear waivers, or maybe it means catchers like Romine rarely hit waivers and aren’t able to be claimed in the first place. The latter seems more likely to me. The Yankees have more upper level catching depth than most teams and could be the rare club who waives someone like Romine, but the easy solution would be sending Murphy to Triple-A and letting Romine back up McCann. They have that option as well, as unlikely as it seems. Options are good though and the Yankees don’t need to make a decision now.

“We’ll see how the winter continues to shake out,” said Cashman to Brendan Kuty following the Cervelli trade. “We have guys with Major League service in Romine and Murphy. So we’ll see how it all shakes out still. I’m still open to any possibilities to assist in improving our club.”

Backup catcher is very low on the offseason priority list because it is a position of depth, even after the Cervelli trade. The Yankees can roll into next season with what they have right now and be perfectly fine behind the plate. I do think Murphy has a leg up on the backup job with Romine likely to be exposed to waivers, but that’s just me. A lot can and will change in the coming months. The Cervelli trade helped clear up an organization logjam but it didn’t guarantee anyone a job either.

Fan Confidence Poll: November 17th, 2014

2014 Record: 84-78 (633 RS, 664 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), did not qualify for postseason

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 nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Weekend Open Thread

In honor of Giancarlo Stanton’s new record contract with the Marlins, I figure I’d liven up this weekend’s open thread with a video of every homer he hit from his rookie year through 2013, because why not? (Here are his 2014 homers.) The Yankees aren’t featured in the video — Stanton has homered against 21 of the 29 non-Marlins teams but not the Yankees! — though some of their current and former pitchers are. Anyway, enjoy. Here are some links for this weekend:

  • Jorge Arangure managed to sit down and interview free agent Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, who is expected to sign very soon. Tomas has been working out in the Dominican Republic and he’s already a legend there.
  • At the GM Meetings this week, David Laurila spoke to several GMs about baseball’s decline in offense. Specifically, he asked them it they believe this is the new norm or just part of a cycle, and how it impacts their roster-building strategy.
  • My pal Eno Sarris wrote about Giants swingman Yusmeiro Petit and what has made him so successful despite pedestrian stuff. The key is the deception in his delivery, which Eno breaks down with some GIFs and images. The piece is two weeks old now but it’s still interesting stuff.

Friday: Here is your open thread for the night. The Knicks, Devils, and Islanders are all playing tonight, plus the college basketball season is getting underway. Talk about those games or anything else on your mind right here.

Saturday: This is your open thread once again. All three local hockey teams plus the Nets are in action. There’s also a ton of college football and basketball on as well. You folks know how these things work by now, so have it.

Sunday: Once again, here is the nightly open thread. None of the local basketball or hockey teams are playing and the late NFL game is the Patriots and Colts. Talk about whatever here.

DotF: Greg Bird named Arizona Fall League MVP

1B Greg Bird was named the MVP of the Arizona Fall League earlier this week. He hit with .313/.391/.556 (156 wRC+) and led the league in homers (six, tied), finished second in RBI (21), total bases (55), and wRC+, third in SLG, sixth in AVG, seventh in OPS (.947), eighth in walks (13), and 12th in OBP. They’ve been handing out the AzFL MVP since 2002 and Bird is the second Yankees prospect to win it, joining Eric Duncan in 2005. Here are the rest of the week’s minor league notes:

  • OF Tyler Austin suffered a bone bruise in his left knee after an outfield collision last week, reports Josh Norris. “He has been diagnosed with a bone bruise. There is no damage to his meniscus or any ligament issues. He will rest for the next 2-3 weeks,” said assistant GM Billy Eppler to Chad Jennings.
  • Jonathan Mayo polled scouts and players about the best tools in the AzFL. OF Aaron Judge was voted as having the best outfield arm — “One scout said it’s a true 70 arm,” wrote Mayo — while Judge and Bird drew votes for best power and best hitter, respectively.
  • Ken Davidoff wrote profiles about both Judge and Bird. “I’m still on the fence with his bat,” said one scout about Judge. “Plus-plus power, but has some good at-bats here and then will chase off-speed. That worries me – at higher levels, that is what he will see.”
  • Baseball America compiled a list of all minor leaguers suspended in 2014. Yankees farmhands RHP Andy Beresford and 1B Bo Thompson were hit with 50-game suspensions after testing positive for a banned substance in August.
  • The Yankees have re-signed UTIL Ali Castillo after he became a minor league free agent, according to Matt Eddy. Also, OF Antoan Richardson elected free agency after being outrighted off the 40-man roster last week.
  • Both OF Zoilo Almonte and LHP Francisco Rondon have signed the Braves after becoming minor league free agents, says Eddy. Almonte managed to get a big league contract. Good for him.

[Read more…]

Sherman: Yankees not interested in Japanese free agent shortstop Takashi Toritani

Toritani at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
Toritani at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

The Yankees do not have interest in free agent Japanese shortstop Takashi Toritani, according to Joel Sherman. Toritani is a true free agent who does not have to be posted, and he’s made it clear he wants to come over to MLB. He is a Scott Boras client.

Toritani, 33, is a table-setter at the plate and he’s most notable for his durability, having played every inning of every game at shortstop for the Hanshin Tigers since the start of the 2005 season. Here are his career stats:

Year Age AgeDif Tm G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2004 23 -6.9 Hanshin 101 261 28 59 13 0 3 17 2 2 21 66 .251 .320 .345 .665
2005 24 -6.1 Hanshin 146 645 82 159 27 1 9 52 5 5 53 115 .278 .343 .376 .719
2006 25 -4.6 Hanshin 146 609 65 157 28 2 15 58 5 3 60 111 .289 .362 .431 .793
2007 26 -4.2 Hanshin 144 642 67 154 19 4 10 43 7 4 63 106 .273 .350 .373 .724
2008 27 -3.0 Hanshin 144 605 66 147 17 6 13 80 4 7 68 85 .281 .365 .411 .776
2009 28 -1.6 Hanshin 144 617 84 155 31 2 20 75 7 7 65 83 .288 .368 .465 .832
2010 29 -0.5 Hanshin 144 651 98 173 31 6 19 104 13 3 66 93 .301 .373 .475 .848
2011 30 0.3 Hanshin 144 590 71 150 28 7 5 51 16 3 78 72 .300 .395 .414 .809
2012 31 1.1 Hanshin 144 624 62 135 22 6 8 59 15 4 94 91 .262 .373 .375 .748
2013 32 2.4 Hanshin 144 643 74 150 30 4 10 65 15 7 104 65 .282 .402 .410 .812
2014 33 Hanshin 155 644 96 172 28 2 8 73 10 6 87 80 .313 .406 .415 .820
11 Seasons 1556 6531 793 1611 274 40 120 677 99 51 759 967 .285 .372 .412 .783
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/15/2014.

Daniel Brim recently put together a great in-depth look at Toritani that I recommend checking out. He is billed as a strong defensive shortstop who draws a lot of walks and plays the small ball game well. Brim ran some numbers and came away with Marco Scutaro as a comparison for what he did in Japan, for what it’s worth.

The history of Asian infielders in MLB is pretty terrible — some feel the game is simply too quick here and it’s too big of an adjustment — though that doesn’t guarantee Toritani will be a flop. He’s not particularly young and shouldn’t cost much to acquire. Hiroyuki Nakajima and Tsuyoshi Nishioka were star infielders in Japan who recently signed two and three-year contracts worth approximately $3M annually with the Athletics and Twins, respectively. Both flopped and spent the majority of their contracts in Triple-A.

The Yankees need to replace Derek Jeter at shortstop this offseason — Brian Cashman called it the team’s top priority at the GM Meetings last week — but they don’t have interest in Toritani and appear to be focused on known quantities. That’s more than fine with me. Cashman called the shortstop market “limited” the other day though there is still a lot of offseason left. I’m hopeful some surprise trade candidates hit the market in a few weeks and the Yankees are able to snag a young shortstop who can anchor the position for several years.

Update: Yoan Moncada declared free agent by MLB

(Jesse Sanchez)
(Jesse Sanchez)

Update (12:23pm): Moncada has been declared a free agent by MLB, according to Jesse Sanchez. He must still be unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control before he can sign, however. No word on when that may happen. The important thing is that it appears Moncada will be cleared to sign well before June 15th and count towards the 2014-15 international signing period, putting the Yankees in great position to sign him, as explained below.

10:00am: Highly touted Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada held a showcase event for scouts in Guatemala on Wednesday, and the Yankees had a “significant” presence of at least four scouts in attendance, according to Ben Badler and Jonathan Mayo. Every club was there but apparently some were are serious than others. Badler says Moncada took several rounds of batting practice and fielded balls at different positions. “After a long day and a lot of swings so scouts could see him from both sides of the plate, he did seem to wear down,” added Badler.

Moncada still has to be unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control and declared a free agent by MLB before he is eligible to sign, which could still be months away. Because he is only 19 and has limited experience in the Cuban leagues, Moncada will be subject to the international spending restrictions. The Yankees exceeded their 2014-15 spending pool and will not be able to sign a player for more than $300k during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods, but if Moncada is declared a free agent by June 15th, he would count towards the 2014-15 signing period and the Yankees would be able to sign him for any amount. Here are some more notes:

  • “Moncada had a great workout, showing his five-tool potential. He is in great shape. Unfortunately, he was not able to hit off live game pitching. We will need to see him off of live pitching to command the top dollars they are looking for,” said one scout to Mayo. On the 20-80 scouting scale, Moncada received 60s for his hit, power, and arm tools, a 70 for speed, and 50 for fielding. That’s five average or better tools.
  • Moncada is expected to receive a bonus in the $30M to $40M range, according to Jeff Passan. Badler notes Moncada can only sign a minor league contract. Every team would exceed their spending pool with a bonus that size, so when you add in the 100% tax, it’s really a $60M to $80M total investment.
  • In another piece, Badler says the Yankees have an advantage over other clubs because they’ve already exceeded their pool and are subject to bonus restrictions in the future. Other clubs have verbal agreements in place for the 2015-16 signing period worth seven figures, but if they sign Moncada, they would have to renege on those deals because they wouldn’t be allowed to hand out bonuses of more than $300k. Make sense?
  • And finally, Kiley McDaniel has some more information on the showcase and Moncada’s background. Apparently the Cuban government gave him a visa and a passport and allowed him to leave the island, so there’s no crazy defection story. Also, Moncada’s agent is just some random public accountant from Florida, not one of the usual suspects. Make sure you check it out.

Moncada will hold more showcase events in the coming weeks and months — teams want to see him face live pitching — and I’m sure the Yankees will continue to have a “significant” presence at these events. The 100% tax is tough to swallow, but every team is facing that. The playing field in level in that regard. The Yankees are at an advantage because this is a simply bidding war — whoever is willing to spend the most will win, and the Bombers have more money than everyone.

Obviously Moncada presents a very special case, both in terms of his talent and signing situation. This isn’t someone like, say, Rusney Castillo or Yasmany Tomas, a toolsy player who is expected to be more of a solid regular than anything. Moncada is incredibly young and everyone agrees he has star potential. If you’re going to step out of your comfort zone and spend huge money on a Cuban player — something the Yankees have been very hesitant to do since Jose Contreras flopped — this is the type of player you do it for. Everything is lined up for the Yankees to spend big for Moncada and land a potential star. If they’re not going to do it now, then when?

Heyman: Marlins, Stanton close to record 13-year, $325M deal

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

This isn’t Yankees-related — not directly, anyway — but holy crap, Jon Heyman says the Marlins and Giancarlo Stanton are close to finalizing a 13-year contract worth $325M. The record contract would include a no-trade clause and an opt-out clause. It would be the first no-trade clause in franchise history. Stanton had been scheduled to become a free agent after the 2016 season.

Depending on the date of the opt-out, this contract may actually increase the chances of Stanton becoming a Yankee down the line. Very few franchises can afford to absorb that kind of money in a trade. Either way, hell yeah Giancarlo. Dude is worth every penny in my opinion. He just turned 25 last week and he’s the top power hitter in baseball at a time when power is rare. Plus he has marquee value that transcends on-field performance. What a world.