Three notable 2016 Spring Training invitees and three notable omissions

Kaprielian. (Staten Island Advance)
Kaprielian. (Staten Island Advance)

Spring Training is now a little more than one week away, and late last week the Yankees announced their list of non-roster invitees. A total of 25 non-roster players will be in camp this year. Some are top prospects (Aaron Judge, Jorge Mateo), some are depth players (Pete Kozma, Donovan Solano), and some are simply there to catch bullpens (Kyle Higashioka, Francisco Diaz).

As always, some non-roster invitees are more notable than others. There are also some notable omissions are well; players who were not invited to camp even though it appears they may be in position to help the big league team in the near future. Non-roster invites can give us a glimpse into how the Yankees value certain players in the organization. Here are three notable invitees and three notable omissions.

Three Notable Invitees

RHP James Kaprielian: Last year’s first round pick comes billed as a quick-moving college starter, and the invitation to Spring Training indicates the Yankees plan to put Kaprielian on the fast track. It’s not often the Yankees bring their top pick to camp in his first pro season. They did it last year with Jacob Lindgren, though that was a special case because he’s a pure reliever.

Aside from Lindgren, I can’t find the last time the Yankees did bring their top pick to big league camp in his first full pro season. Not even Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain were Spring Training invitees in 2007. The Yankees have committed to getting younger and building from within over the last year or so, and inviting Kaprielian to big league camp in his first season after the draft shows he’s a big part of that plan. They want to get him to MLB in a hurry.

RHP Brady Lail: The argument can be made Lail is as high as seventh on the Yankees’ rotation depth chart. He reached Triple-A last season, and with Adam Warren now in Chicago, Lail could soon be in position to soak up long man innings. It’s not a sexy job but that’s how many pitchers get their foot in the big league door. The Yankees are inevitably going to need to dip into their system for spot starts at some point in 2016. Lail’s more of a command guy than a stuff guy, and this spring he’ll have a chance to show the MLB coaching staff what he can do. It’s an opportunity for Lail to put himself on the map for an early season call-up.

LHP Tyler Webb: Webb was actually in big league camp last year, and there’s a chance he may have been called up as part of the bullpen shuttle last summer had he not suffered a season-ending finger injury in late-June. He’s healthy now though, and last season the Yankees showed everyone is a candidate for the shuttle. They added players like Diego Moreno, Kyle Davies, Matt Tracy, Joel De La Cruz, Caleb Cotham, and Nick Goody to the 40-man roster at midseason so they could serve as a fresh arm. Webb figures to be in that mix in 2016. The Yankees have no shortage of bullpen candidates. Leaving Webb in minor league camp after the injury and giving his spring innings to someone else would have been easily justifiable. The Yankees are bringing him to Spring Training because they want to see if he can help in 2016. They didn’t forget about him following the injury.

Three Notable Omissions

Austin. (Presswire)
Austin. (Presswire)

OF Tyler Austin: Yeesh. What a fall for Austin. He was in big league camp every year from 2013-15 — 2013-14 as a non-roster player and 2015 as a member of the 40-man roster — but he was dropped from the 40-man last September, slipped through waivers unclaimed, and was not selected in December’s Rule 5 Draft. And last week, when Greg Bird went down with his shoulder injury, Brian Cashman said Austin was not a candidate to play first base in Triple-A.

Injuries and a lack of production — the two are surely related to some extent — have caused Austin’s stock to plummet the last few seasons. It wasn’t too long ago that he was a top 100 prospect (No. 77 in 2013 per Baseball America) and any team could have had him and his two option years last September for nothing more than the $50,000 waiver fee, yet they all passed. Now Austin wasn’t even invited to big league camp.

RHP Cale Coshow: I guess Coshow not getting an invite makes sense. The Yankees have a ton of relievers in camp already — I count 20 bullpen candidates, including 15 righties — and there are only so many innings to go around. Coshow had a fantastic 2015 season though (2.45 ERA and 2.80 FIP in 114 innings) and is one of the hardest throwers in the organization, so I thought it was likely he would get an invite to camp so the big league coaches could get a look at him. Even with those 20 bullpen candidates in camp, there’s a non-zero chance Coshow makes his MLB debut at some point this summer as part of the bullpen shuttle.

LHP Chaz Hebert: Last year was a breakout season for Hebert, who had a 2.55 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 133 innings and reached Triple-A. Then again, the Yankees sent him to the Arizona Fall League for extra innings and a longer look, didn’t add him to the 40-man roster in November, and he slipped through the Rule 5 Draft unclaimed. Still, a young lefty who can start is a nice piece to have in the organization, and given his proximity to MLB, there’s always a chance Hebert could get the call in an emergency at some point in 2016. The Yankees felt they didn’t need to get a look at him in big league Spring Training first, however.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: David Freese

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

As the offseason winds down, teams are currently in bargain hunting mode trying to find that last piece or two to round out their roster. The Yankees have grabbed low-cost veterans like Eric Chavez, Brian Roberts, and Raul Ibanez at this point of the offseason in recent years. They weren’t counting on them for huge impact, just quality depth.

The Yankees have already announced their list of non-roster Spring Training invitees, but the roster building doesn’t end there. The team can still add players and may indeed make a minor pickup or two in the nine days between now and the open of camp. Veteran third baseman David Freese remains unsigned, and with Greg Bird now out for the season, the Yankees could use corner infield depth. Is Freese a potential fit for that role? Let’s look.

The Offense

Freese, 33 in April, has been rather consistent the last three years, putting up a wRC+ in the 105-110 range each season from 2013-15. Both his BABIP (.321) and strikeout rate (22.4%) have held fairly steady these last few years, but his walk rate is trending down (9.0% to 7.4% to 6.6%) while his ISO (.119 to .123 to .163) is trending up. Here are his platoon splits from 2013-15:

vs. RHP 1,127 .257/.321/.375 100 .327 6.7% 24.0% 54.2% 24.8% 14.9% 36.2%
vs. LHP 375 .268/.349/.451 127 .303 10.7% 17.9% 48.7% 28.7% 14.7% 37.4%

Freese is a right-handed hitter, as you may have guessed from the splits. He’s also a ground ball hitter, which explains the higher than league average BABIP and generally underwhelming ISO. Ground balls sneak through for hits more often than fly balls, but they rarely go for extra bases.

Last season Freese put up a .257/.323/.420 (110 wRC+) line overall, and his splits had reversed from his career norms. He was basically average against lefties (104 wRC+) while having more success against righties (112 wRC+). That looks very much like a one-year blip based on the rest of his career — it was a 92 wRC+ against righties and a 153 wRC+ against lefties as recently as 2014 — and not the new normal, but stranger things have happened.

The lack of interest this offseason suggests teams do not see Freese as a player capable of producing at an average or better clip against both righties and lefties. Those guys usually find jobs, especially at an in-demand position like third base. Going forward, it’s best to project Freese as a platoon bat, and if he performs better than expected, great.

The Defense

For the vast majority of his career, the defensive stats have rated Freese as an average to slightly below-average third baseman. He had one disaster year in 2013 (-14 DRS and -16.5 UZR) but has otherwise hovered within a run or two of average. For what it’s worth, the UZR components say it’s all due to a lack of range. Freese turns double plays fine and avoids errors, but he’s a statue. Not much range at all.

Freese has played some first base in addition to third base, mostly earlier in his career, which is kind of a big deal as far as the Yankees are concerned. The Bird injury means they’re out a Grade-A piece of depth at first base. Freese played nine games at first with the Cardinals from 2009-11 plus a bunch more in the minors, and I’m guessing he would have seen some action at first with the Angels the last two years if not for Albert Pujols and C.J. Cron.

The defensive stats at first are meaningless given how little time Freese played there. As we’ve seen the last few years, first base is not as easy as it seems. The Yankees have thrown a lot of players at first for short periods of time (Chase Headley, Kelly Johnson, Brendan Ryan, Brian McCann, etc.) and all struggled with the transition to some degree. Freese at least has some familiarity with the position. He wouldn’t be going in blind.

Injury History

Only once in his six full MLB seasons has Freese managed to play 140+ games. That was the 144 games he played in 2013. Freese is good for at least one DL stint per season. Check out the list of injuries:

  • 2015: Non-displaced fracture of right index finger. Missed close to six weeks.
  • 2014: Fractured right middle finger. Missed three weeks.
  • 2013: Lower back strain. Missed three weeks.
  • 2012: Right and left ankle sprains. Missed ten games in September but didn’t go on the DL because of expanded rosters.
  • 2011: Broken left hand. Missed two months.
  • 2010: Right ankle tendon reconstruction surgery. Missed a little more than three months.
  • 2009: Left heel debridement surgery. Missed two months in minors.

Not great. He’s had surgery on both ankles/feet and breaks in both hands/fingers. Any team that signs Freese would have to have a decent Plan B at third base because he’s going to miss time. His history suggests staying healthy over a full season just isn’t happening. The best predictor of future injury is past injury, after all.

Contract Projections

It is late in the offseason, and at this point the remaining free agents are going to end up with contracts smaller than expected. Howie Kendrick just took two years and $20M. That’s ridiculous. It’s a fraction of what he’s worth. Bargains are out there. Here are some early offseason projections for Freese:

Freese would certainly jump on three years and $30M right now. That’s 150% of Kendrick’s deal! He’d probably take the two years and $18M as well. Martin Prado and Justin Turner will be the best available free agent third basemen next offseason. Would Freese take a one-year deal and try his luck again next winter? He might not have a choice at this point.

Wrapping Up

Although he is four years older, I prefer Juan Uribe to Freese, but Freese could potentially fill a similar role as the backup third baseman and righty bat off the bench. He can’t play second like Uribe, but the Yankees have depth at that position in Dustin Ackley and Rob Refsnyder. They need first base depth in the wake of Bird’s injury and Freese may be able to provide that. (Uribe may be able to as well.)

(Harry How/Getty)
(Harry How/Getty)

Looking around the league, I count eight teams that have an opening for either a starting third baseman or a most of the time third baseman: Angels, Indians, Astros, Braves, Reds, Brewers, Pirates, and Padres. Some of those teams are more realistic fits for Freese than others. The rebuilding Braves, Reds, Brewers, and Padres aren’t going to spend money on a veteran third baseman, for example.

The Yankees have yet to sign a Major League free agent this offseason but I don’t think they’re opposed to the idea completely. They can’t be. You have to be willing to act if a favorable deal comes along. My guess is Freese would have to come on similar terms as Stephen Drew last year ($5M for one year) for the Yankees to have any interest. And even then Freese has to be willing to accept a bench role.

As with most position player free agents this offseason, Freese looks like an okay fit for the Yankees but the Yankees don’t seem to be a fit for Freese. The Angels, Indians, and Pirates all stand to offer more playing time and Freese may consider those clubs more likely to contend in 2016 than the Yankees. At some point someone will sign him, right? I would be surprised if he has to settle for a 13th position player on the roster job at this stage of his career.

Monday Night Open Thread

In his weekly Sunday Notes column, David Laurila passed along a quote from Andrew Miller praising Alex Rodriguez. “You hear our hitters talk about his insights, whether it’s pitch sequencing or lineup matters. Whatever it may be, Alex has a really advanced grasp,” said Miller, among other things. Make sure you check it out. A-Rod has always stood out as an incredibly smart and instinctual player. Now that Barry Bonds has a big league coaching job, I can’t help but wonder if Alex has a real chance to remain in baseball as a coach or manager after he’s done playing.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Rangers and Devils are playing (each other), plus the Nets are in action and there’s some college basketball on the schedule too. Talk about those games, A-Rod’s awesomeness, or anything else right here.

Flashing Back to Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS

We have one last Retro Week article left over after it was delayed late last week. Enjoy our final flash back to the 1996 Yankees.


You guys know what game this is: The Jeffrey Maier game. It’s probably the most well-known 1996 Yankees game given its aura of controversy, the division rivalry, and the game’s classic nature.

The 1996 Baltimore Orioles were a powerhouse – their 257 home runs were, at the time, an all-time ML single season team record. It helped that Brady Anderson had a freakish 50 HR year but then again, they also had prototypical power suppliers like Rafael Palmeiro (39 HR), Bobby Bonilla (28), Roberto Alomar (22), and Cal Ripken Jr. (26) in their lineup. Along with the Mariners and Indians, the O’s offense was one of the most fearsome in the ML.

The same couldn’t be said about their pitching staff though. Baltimore had a 5.15 team ERA, which ranked 21st out of 30 ML teams – also making them the first team in ML history to advance to playoffs with staff ERA over 5.00. Simply said, they had below league average results for an above-average team. Staff ace Mike Mussina was the only starter with an above-average ERA+ (103) and guys like David Wells, Scott Erickson, Rocky Coppinger and Kent Merker all had ERAs over 5.00.

The 1996 Yankees, on the other hand, didn’t really have offensive superstars but they were a very solid bunch. Mike’s article from Wednesday summarized it well: “The Yankees were not an offense reliant on one or two players. Superstars are good, but depth is important, and one through eight the 1996 club put together quality at-bats and produced.” The team produced a slash line of .288/.360/.436 – not the most powerful but they hit for a good average and got on base.

The pitching staff had an ERA of 4.65, which seems high (17th in ML) but that didn’t mean that the group was without talent. For the postseason, Yankees were ready to send out David Cone, Jimmy Key and Andy Pettitte – three pretty reliable names. Kenny Rogers, who had an average year, could scratch out a nice one or two as a no. 4 guy. The bullpen had one of the best tandems of the team history – Mariano Rivera and John Wetteland – to secure victories for New York. The overall staff had flaws but they had potential to come up big throughout the postseason.

NBC broadcasted Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS with Bob Costas, Joe Morgan and Bob Uecker in the booth. The internet was not as big back then as it is now (also I was only five years old that year) so I have no idea how that troika of broadcasters were received among listeners, but based on this Baltimore Sun article, it sounds like they were crowd-pleasers.

Costas is within an elite group of sportscasters whose presence enriches a telecast. Some Baltimoreans supposedly have detected a Yankee bias in his call, but that’s a complaint from people in need of a clue.

As for Morgan, the Hall of Fame second baseman has no peer among baseball analysts. In every telecast, Morgan provides a clinic of inside information and insight for those knowledgeable about baseball as well as the casual fan.

Uecker, the voice of the Milwaukee Brewers, commercial pitchman and erstwhile actor, is the comic foil, trading on his sad-sack playing days.

The former catcher has a keen sense of humor, which is needed when Costas and Morgan take baseball so seriously. However, the network would do well to let Uecker tone down that act and do some serious analysis.

Pitching matchup: Scott Erickson (13-12, 5.02 ERA, 222.1 IP) vs. Andy Pettitte (21-8, 3.87 ERA, 221.0 IP)

Erickson was a guy who had seen his share of ups and downs leading up to his age-28 season. In 1991, his second ML season, he pitched to a stellar 20-8 record with a 3.18 ERA, earning an All-Star nod and finishing 2nd in the AL Cy Young vote. In the next five seasons, he would have three with ERA+ below league average (including 1993, when he led the league in losses with a 8-19, 5.19 ERA record).

During the middle of 1995 season, Twins traded “unhappy” Erickson to the Orioles for hard-throwing Frankie Rodriguez (no, not K-Rod). Erickson, who was 4-6 with 5.95 ERA before the trade, threw to a 9-4, 3.89 ERA with the O’s. The talent was there – he just needed a change of scenery. And what scenery it was to be with the Orioles. Even though the 1995 Orioles only finished 3rd in AL East, they were poised for a big 1996. Not only did the O’s hire a very experienced manager in Davey Johnson, but they also went out and signed free agents Randy Myers, B.J. Surhoff and Roberto Alomar, and traded for David Wells to bolster the team.

In 1996, Erickson, like the rest of the Baltimore pitching staff, had an inconsistent season. Up to August 31, the righty had a 9-11 record with an unspectacular 5.45 ERA while allowing a .305/.363/.456 slash line to hitters. For the month of September, however, he showed signs of life by finishing off the season with a record of 4-1, 3.19 ERA in 6 starts.

Andy Pettitte was riding the upswing of his then-very young career. The 24-year old had just finished his second ML regular season after winning a league-leading 21 games and being named to All-Star team for the first time. Along with David Cone, who was the veteran ace of the rotation, Pettitte was starting to be considered as the possible second one in Bronx. George Vecsey of New York Times had a pretty lofty words for the lefty.

But isn’t there room for two aces on a staff? Pettitte’s natural and sincere deference to his elders wisely keeps the pressure off himself. He is no Keyshawn Johnson screaming for the football after one professional catch, no pro basketball rookie demanding a starting job.

Twenty victories. Stop and think about it. Pettitte was the first pitcher to win 20 games in the major league with a designated hitter in every lineup and a smaller strike zone than the National League…

Expectations for Pettitte for the 1996 playoffs were high and eager, understandably so. The game against the O’s would be his second career postseason start (he started a game versus Mariners in the 1995 ALDS, allowing 4 ER in 7 innings in a loss). The Yankee team itself, coming off winning the AL East division and the ALDS against Texas, was confident yet feeling challenged to face the divisional foe Baltimore in ALCS. Not only the Orioles were a good team but also New York wanted to shake off the bad juju of losing the 1995 ALDS in the worst possible way.

“You don’t want to get to the playoffs and lose every year,” Paul O’Neill said. “I knew we were going to make the playoffs, but we’re not where we ant to be yet. We have some steps left.”

The Game

The game was scheduled to start at 4:08 p.m. on October 9, 1996. A sellout crowd of 56,495 people showed up at the Yankee Stadium II. In the top of the first, Pettitte struck out Anderson and grounded out Zeile to start things off. As Roberto Alomar started to approach his at-bat, the entire Yankee Stadium echoed with thunderous amount of boos. The reason? His infamous spit incident with the umpire John Hirschbeck only few weeks earlier. Then-NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani, who threw the first pitch of the game, urged the crowd to give Alomar a silent treatment.

”If you want to register your protest, be silent when he gets up,” he said. ”Have the stadium be very, very quiet, and each time he comes up, make it clear that we don’t acknowledge the fact that he is even in the game.” Well, that didn’t really work out. Pettitte struck Alomar out on a curveball outside and that drew a big cheer (or happy yell) from the Bronx faithful.

“Pettitte works a perfect first, fanning two,” Costas said. “No argument from Alomar, and we’ll be back.”

Tim Raines, leading off for the Yanks, hit a bloop double to left to start the threat. It was a very odd hit: seemed like a routine fly for LF B.J. Surhoff but apparently he never saw it until it was about to fall right in front of him. Boggs grounded out to first to advance Raines to third and Bernie Williams drove him in with an RBI groundout. 1-0 New York.

Baltimore tied the game immediately. Palmeiro worked a 3-1 count walk and Ripken Jr. drove a double to the gap to make it runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out. Up next was Eddie Murray, who was at the tail end of his career. The future HOF’er hit into an RBI ground out to make it a 1-1 tie in the second.

New York struck right back. Big Daddy Cecil Fielder walked to lead off and O’Neill reached on a fielding error by Roberto Alomar (much to the Bronx crowd’s delight) to make it no out with runners on first and second. It was initially called as an infield single but was modified as an error. Up next was Mariano Duncan, one of the least disciplined and most contact-oriented in the lineup. The second baseman grounded to second on the first pitch and it seemed like the Orioles were going to turn an easy 4-6-3 double play. But Cal Ripken’s throw from second base was a bit wide, pulling Palmeiro off the bag and Duncan was safe. Yankees took a lead on Leyritz’s RBI ground out, (which was also bobbled momentarily by 3B Todd Zeile, jeez) 2-1 New York. Jeter hit an infield single to potentially make things more interesting but Raines flew out to LF (this time, Surhoff didn’t have a hard time recognizing it) to end the inning.

Did I mention that Orioles are high-powered? Well, Brady Anderson was the catalyst. With one out in the top of the third, he took Pettitte deep on the first pitch. It was a hanging curveball up in the zone, almost identical to the pitch he struck out on in the first inning. 2-2. Rafael Palmeiro, another slugger, took the lefty deep the next inning to give Baltimore a 3-2 lead. This time, it was a fastball inside that Palmeiro just straight turned on it. Pettitte didn’t really miss his spot – but Palmeiro, back in his heyday, was a very dangerous power hitter. Pettitte had only allowed one home run to lefties all season – by the fourth inning of this game, he had allowed two.

The Orioles could have scored more in the fifth. Tino Martinez flashed his leather to rob B.J. Surhoff of an extra base hit leading off. Had Martinez missed it, the course of the history might have been different. After that, Mike Parent singled and Brady Anderson walked to add more pressure. Pettitte struck out Zeile and induced an Alomar ground out to get out of it but man, Tino’s fielding really changed the outcome.

Baltimore struck again in the sixth. After a seven-pitch battle, Pettitte walked Palmeiro to begin the inning. He got Bonilla to fly out but promptly allowed a single to Ripken through the SS-3B hole. The Orioles had the bases loaded after Murray walked on five pitches, then scored another run with a B.J. Surhoff sac fly. 4-2.

Meanwhile, the Yankee bats were laboring against Erickson. The righty settled in after allowing a run each of first two innings. By the time the bottom of sixth started, he had induced sixteen ground outs, a clear sign that his bread-and-butter sinker was working. Yankees also ran into some ratty luck as well. Beginning that frame, Cecil Fielder was robbed of a base hit by Alomar’s gem (much to Yankee fans’ dismay) and O’Neill flied out about a half step away from the LF wall. Duncan and Leyritz each singled to give New York a scoring chance but Jeter grounded out to waste the opportunity.

Pettitte would get into his last bit of trouble of the night in the seventh. After retiring Anderson and Zeile, the lefty allowed a single to Alomar. Rafael Palmeiro, who had already homered, hit another big one towards the right field wall, but instead of going over, the ball bounced off the short porch wall and held Palmeiro to a very loud single. Palmeiro definitely hit it hard enough for it to be a homer but the ball dove down instead of sailing out, which is a break that Pettitte and the Yanks needed. With two outs and runners on corners, Pettitte faced Bobby Bonilla and induced a fly out to get out of the inning. He would be done for the game with a 7 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 2HR performance: bent but didn’t break.

The Yankee offense started to rally in the bottom of seventh. With one out, Boggs worked a walk. Bernie Williams, behind the count at 0-2, drilled a liner to RF Bobby Bonilla which appeared to be caught … but he dropped it at the last moment. It was almost a great catch but the ball jarred out as his body hit the wall. It was another play in which lady luck smiled in New York’s direction, but definitely not the biggest one of the night. Johnson put in the lefty Jesse Orosco to get out of the frame. Tino Martinez struck out in seven pitches and the O’s opted to intentionally walk Fielder (“I don’t think they’re gonna walk him, personally” said Joe Morgan right before C Mike Parent raised his arm for intentional walk) with O’Neill on deck. The bases were loaded.

“It tells you how much confidence Davey Johnson has in (Orosco), really,” said Uecker. It was also probably that O’Neill was hobbled by a nagging hamstring injury that would usually put him in 15-day DL. “Do you let Paul O’Neill hit against Orosco? If it’s me, I say no, but I’m not the manager,” quipped Joe Morgan.

Torre apparently agreed with Morgan and put righty Charlie Hayes into the deck. O’s manager Davey Johnson responded to that by putting RHP Armando Benitez into the game. Not to be outdone, Torre quickly switched in lefty Darryl Strawberry to pinch hit for Hayes.

“The guy,” Costas said, referring to Strawberry, “even if he’s past the prime, he’s the guy who has the most presence in this team … say anything you want about him; his presence is a dramatic one and in this situation, what more could you ask for?”

Strawberry definitely made his presence known. He battled Benitez to a full-count walk to drive in Boggs. The lead was cut to 4-3. It was a very impressive at-bat by Strawberry – he didn’t chase anything out of the strike zone. The next hitter, Mariano Duncan, had the exact opposite at-bat. He swung and missed three times to leave the bases loaded.

Torre put in the tall righty reliever Jeff Nelson to take care of the eighth. Nelson had an interesting 1996: if you look at his strikeout number (91 in 74.1 IP), you’d think he’s one of the harder relievers to hit. But he allowed 75 base hits and also walked 4.4 batters per 9 IP, which made for a bit of a polarizing season for him. However, that night, Nelson was efficient. He got Ripken to ground out weakly, Murray to fly out deep in the center and Surhoff to strike out swinging.

The Jeffrey Maier Moment

Johnson left Benitez in to start the bottom of eighth. The hard-throwing righty struck out Leyritz to start the inning rather swimmingly. Up next, the rookie shortstop Derek Jeter.

Benitez fired a fastball down the middle for a strike one. He threw another one a little higher and Jeter didn’t miss it – he drove it towards the right field wall, but it seemed like RF Tony Tarasco (coming in for Bonny Bonilla) had room in front of the short porch to make the catch. The ball was falling towards his glove, and all of a sudden, it was gone – or rather, intercepted by another glove above Tarasco’s head.

“And what happens here?” Costas reacted, “(Tarasco) contends that a fan reaches up and touches it! But Richie Garcia says no, it’s a home run!”

Tarasco started to protest the call to Garcia. Benitez ran all the way from the mound to join and then manager Davey Johnson came out from the dugout to separate the players from the umps and do the talking himself. The NBC broadcast replay, covering different angles, showed that the Orioles had every right to be upset. But this is way before the era of instant replay – the ship had sailed for Baltimore and the game was declared tied, 4-4. The replay also showed that the child, later revealed to be a 12-year old named Jeffrey Maier, didn’t quite catch the ball – the glove momentarily cradled it and brought it into the stands. Nonetheless, the damage was done.

Davey Johnson, rightfully so, was not in a state to stay in the game. He was thrown out and the beat seemed to go on against the O’s. Bench coach Andy Etchebarren stepped in as an acting manager. After the delay, Tim Raines lined the first pitch deep into right but was held to a single after Tarasco hustled the ball in. Boggs followed it up with a ground out and the O’s had Benitez intentionally walk Bernie Williams. With the lefty Tino Martinez up, the Orioles brought in Arthur Rhodes – a move that paid off to stop the bleeding. Martinez lined the ball towards shallow right-center and it was caught by none other than Tony Tarasco. The future Yankee Tarasco had an inning that he will never forget.

Wetteland came into the ninth and pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts. He overcame a Jeter-Raines defensive gaffe that turned into a Brady Anderson double.  With one out, Anderson popped one up into shallow left field that looked very catchable by either fielder, yet neither of them made the final move to do so. I’m glad I wasn’t watching this game live back then. I would have gone into cardiac arrest. However, Wetteland retired Zeile (fly out) and Alomar (strikeout) to bail them out.

The Yankee offense came back out to try to win the game in the ninth. The O’s had Terry Mathews in to pitch. Mathews, then 32-yr old righty reliever, spent first half of the 1996 season with the Marlins and was getting by pretty mediocrely (4.91 ERA in 55.0 IP). However, he did better down the stretch after being traded to Baltimore (3.38 ERA in 18.2 IP). Mathews walked Fielder in four pitches. Torre sub’d pinch runner Andy Fox in for Fielder as the fan favorite Strawberry came up to bat. Strawberry lifted a mighty fly ball to center but he got under it a tad – Anderson caught it just in front of the warning track. After hitting Duncan with a fastball way inside, Etchebarren lifted Mathews for their closer Randy Myers.

Myers had a very good career as a reliever. Debuting with the Mets in 1985, the lefty’s career bloomed as their closer in 1988 when he notched 26 saves with a sparkling 1.72 ERA. He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds after the 1989 season, which turned out to help his #brand a lot. Along with Norm Charlton and Rob Dibble, Myers became part of the hard-throwing relief corp that was dubbed as “Nasty Boys.” Myers won a ring with the Nasty Boys and Cincinnati in 1990 and had stops with the Padres and Cubs before signing with the Orioles after the 1995 season. With 243 career saves and 119 ERA+ in 11 ML seasons up to 1996, Myers was one of the most reliable relievers pre-Rivera era. He also had postseason experience. Up to that ALCS, Myers had not allowed any runs in 16.1 career postseason IP.

As a corresponding move, Yankees brought out Joe Girardi to pinch hit for Mike Aldrete. On the second pitch, Girardi squared up for a liner towards shortstop. Ripken reached out to catch the ball and doubled off Fox for a line drive double play. Had Ripken not caught the ball, the game would have been over. On to extras.

Extra Innings

Yankees brought in a 26-year old righty named Mariano Rivera. As many know, he made name for himself as one of the most reliable relievers in ML that season. His record – 8-3, 2.09 ERA, 107.2 IP and 130 K’s – speaks for itself. As dominant he was in 1996, it just so happened that Baltimore was one team that gave him the most trouble. He took a loss against the O’s on June 28 after allowing 3 runs (including a homer to Rafael Palmeiro) in 2.1 IP. Baltimore put up another 3-spot on Mo on September 19 (in 0.1 IP with 4 hits allowed). Those two stinkers resulted in two out of three total losses Rivera had that season.

But that night, Rivera came into the game and pitched as brilliantly as he had all season. In two innings, he allowed three hits but stranded all baserunners while striking out three. The highlight of his outing came as he faced his last batter of the night – the much reviled Roberto Alomar. With two outs and runner on first, Rivera and Alomar got to the full count. On the pitch no. 40 for the night, Rivera unleashed an inside high fastball – which was probably out of the strike zone – and the perennial All Star second baseman couldn’t check his swing quick enough.

In the bottom of 11th, the Yankees had Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez and Andy Fox due up but would only need one of them. Myers delivered an outside ball one to Bernie but caught the edge on the next pitch. At that moment, Bob Costas informed watchers with prophetic information.

“This is Williams’ power side,” Costas said as Bernie was hitting right-handed against Myers, “two of his three home runs came right-handed in the Division Series and 16 of his 29 in regular season were hit right-handed.” It was not just a power side but rather an overall better hitting side for Bernie. Williams, as a LHH hit for an .828 OPS in 1996 as opposed to 1.141 as a RHH. Pretty big difference.

On the next pitch, Myers aimed to throw a same pitch on the outside edge again – but this time, it caught too much of the plate and hung well enough for Williams to clobber it all the way to the upper deck. 5-4, Yankees win.

Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: February 2011

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

Retro Week is now in the rear-view mirror, and since it’s a new month, it’s time to look back through the MLB Trade Rumors archive. This seems like a good way to transition from Retro Week back to the real world. As a reminder, these posts are for fun and are not intended to make fun of the reporters or the crew at MLBTR. What good are rumors if you read them once and forget about them?

We’re now in February 2011, and at this point of the offseason the Yankees had already lost out on Cliff Lee and were scrambling to fill out the rotation. Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon were signed to minor league deals, and Scott Boras convinced the team to panic sign Rafael Soriano. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera also inked new contracts. Here’s a look back at everything Yankees-related that happened five years ago this month.

February 1st, 2011: New York Notes: Pettitte, Mets, Pitching

Yankees people continue to hear from friends of Andy Pettitte that they think the 38-year-old will pitch this year, tweets Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated.  Of course, there’s still no word from Pettitte himself on the matter.

Spring Training was inching closer and there was still no indication whether Pettitte would pitch again. He was 39 years old at the time and he was coming off a season with a 3.28 ERA (3.85 FIP) in 129 innings. A groin injury forced him to miss a bunch of time, and ultimately the rehab from that injury is what pushed Pettitte to retirement. His body didn’t recover as quickly as it once did and he didn’t want to go through the grind anymore. The Yankees desperately needed him though. The rotation at the time was CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, an unproven Ivan Nova, and no one in particular.

February 2nd, 2011: Yankees Acquire Justin Maxwell

The Yankees announced that they have acquired Justin Maxwell from the Nationals for minor league right-hander Adam Olbrychowski. When Washington had to clear roster space last week, they designated Maxwell for assignment.

Maxwell had a real nice year in Triple-A in 2011 — he hit .260/.358/.588 (157 wRC+) with 16 homers and eleven steals in 48 games — but he tore up his shoulder crashing into the wall while trying to rob a home run and needed season-ending surgery. The Yankees cut him loose in Spring Training the following year, the Astros claimed him, then Maxwell mashed lefties in 2012 (143 wRC+). Everyone complained because Maxwell was great and Andruw Jones stunk that year. The Yankees somehow survived and won the division anyway.

February 2nd, 2011: Yankees Remain In Contact With Kevin Millwood

The Yankees have added Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia in the last week, but the team is still in contact with Kevin Millwood, reports Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link).  It could be that the Yankees just want to give themselves as many veteran starting options as they can, or, as Heyman opines, “they’re growing more worried” that Andy Pettitte will retire. 

The Yankees eventually did sign Millwood to a minor league contract — he spent a month in Triple-A before exercising an opt-out clause — but I remember there being a lot of talk that Millwood was a must sign. A must sign. He had a 5.10 ERA (4.86 FIP) with the Orioles in 2010 but the back of the rotation was a mess, and Millwood was a familiar name. Those were desperate times indeed.

February 3rd, 2011: Andy Pettitte To Retire

It’s the end of a three-month wait for the Yankees and a 16-year career for Andy Pettitte. The left-hander is set to announce his retirement tomorrow, the team announced.

And there it is. Pettitte decided to retire and Brian Cashman admitted the Yankees basically begged him to come back after missing out on Lee. Andy wasn’t having any of it. He wanted to be home with his family and who could blame him? He’d won titles, built a strong Hall of Fame case, made an ungodly amount of money … why put yourself through it again if the physical grind was too much? I was very sad Pettitte retired. Little did we know he would be back a year later.

February 4th, 2011: Yankees Consider Left-Handed Pitchers

The Yankees, who heard this week that Andy Pettitte will retire, have considered exploring trades for other left-handers, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter). Joe Saunders, Scott Kazmir, Wade LeBlanc, Clayton Richard and Gio Gonzalez are among the possible targets some Yankees people have “kicked around.”

Yeesh. What a list of pitchers. Gio was pretty good and would have been a nice pickup. Saunders was with the Diamondbacks at the time and had a 4.47 ERA (4.57 FIP) in 203.1 innings in 2010. Kazmir had a 5.94 ERA (5.83 FIP) in 150 innings with the Angels and Richard had a 3.75 ERA (3.81 FIP) in 201.2 innings with the Padres. LeBlanc, who threw one inning with the 2014 Yankees, was an up-and-down arm with San Diego. Aside from Gonzalez, this was retread/back-end fodder city. Goodness.

February 4th, 2011: Robinson Cano Hires Scott Boras

Robinson Cano has hired Scott Boras as his agent, according to Enrique Rojas of The second baseman, who was previously a Bobby Barad client, met Boras in the Dominican Republic today.

I totally forgot about this. It was a huge deal at the time because it’s Boras and Boras always wants insane contracts. The Yankees controlled Cano through 2013 thanks to the extension he signed in 2008, so his free agency wasn’t imminent, but dealing with Boras is never fun. As it turned out, Boras never did negotiate a deal for Cano. Robbie dumped Boras for Jay-Z’s Roc Nation group in 2013. They negotiated his contract with the Mariners. I can’t imagine many elite players have hired Boras only to fire him before becoming a free agent.

February 4th, 2011: Yankees, Ronnie Belliard Agree To Minor League Deal

The Yankees and Ronnie Belliard have agreed to a minor league deal, according to Enrique Rojas of (via Twitter).  The 35-year-old Praver Shapiro Sports Management client will earn $825K plus incentives if he makes the varsity squad.

Ronnie Belliard! The Yankees were looking to round out their bench at this point of the offseason and they brought Belliard in to compete for a job in camp. They wound up releasing him before the end of Spring Training. Belliard hooked on with the Phillies after that, spent two months in Triple-A, then retired. Remember when Matt Diaz was a Yankee for like two weeks a few years ago? Same deal. They signed him then released him before the end of Spring Training. Who’s going to be that guy this year, the recognizable name on a minor league pact who doesn’t get through camp?

February 6th, 2011: Cafardo’s Latest: Pettitte, Millwood, Blanton

The Yanks will “see what they have” with pitchers like Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, and Sergio Mitre before they consider trading for someone like Joe Blanton.

Oy vey. Blanton had a 4.82 ERA (4.84 FIP) in 175.2 innings for the Phillies in 2010. In the wake of losing out on Lee, the plan was to see what the Yankees had in the bad pitchers they signed before trading for a different bad pitcher. And hey, it worked! Colon and Garcia were pretty good in 2011.

February 8th, 2011: Michael Young Requests Trade

MONDAY, 10:34pm:’s T.R. Sullivan has the list of eight teams Young is willing to accept a trade to: Cardinals, Yankees, Twins, Astros, Rockies, Dodgers, Angels, and Padres. The team has said they are dealing with just those eight teams right now.

It was kinda weird Young had a reputation for being a team first guy because he moved to different positions even though he complained and requested a trade each time. The Rangers had just signed Adrian Beltre and were planning to make Young their full-time DH. The Yankees had a full infield (Mark Teixeira, Cano, Jeter, Alex Rodriguez) and Jorge Posada was moving to DH full-time, so there was no room for Young. He was going to have to be a bench player, and since he had three years and $48M left on his contract at the time, it just wasn’t going to happen. Young did end up staying with Texas, but plenty of folks wanted him for the mythical supersub role that doesn’t seem to actually exist.

February 8th, 2011: MLB Teams Sign Six Dominican League Prospects

The Yankees signed 20-year-old center fielder Freiter Marte for $100K. Marte had been selected to play in the DPL All-Star Game.

Marte hit .270/.342/.377 with three homers and 19 steals in 85 Dominican Summer League games from 2011-12 before being released. A hundred grand doesn’t buy what it used to.

February 8th, 2011: Yankees Notes: Delgado, Washburn, Pavano

  • The Yankees have zero interest in Carlos Delgado. The longtime Blue Jays slugger wants to play in 2011, but hasn’t been getting much interest so far.
  • The Yankees checked in on Jarrod Washburn earlier in the winter, but talks did not progress much. However, the Yankees would consider Washburn if he’s willing to accept a minor league deal like Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon did.

Delgado did not play in 2010 but he wasn’t retired. No one signed him. Sucks. The Yankees had a full infield and Posada at DH. There was no room for Delgado even if he did have something left in the tank. Remember when Delgado hit .344/.470/.664 (179 wRC+) with 41 homers in 2000? He was a damn monster back in the day.

Washburn was in the same boat as Delgado. He did not play in 2010 but wasn’t actually retired. No one wanted him. The Yankees did check in on him — Washburn had a 3.78 ERA (4.58 FIP) in 176 innings in 2009 — though they couldn’t work out a deal. Desperate times, man. The Yankees were trying to get dudes to come out of semi-retirement after losing out on Lee.

February 9th, 2011: Yankees To Sign Luis Ayala

The Yankees agreed to sign reliever Luis Ayala to a minor league deal, according to Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports (Twitter links). The right-hander a career ERA of 3.67 with 5.9 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in parts of six major league seasons.

Ayala had the worst 2.09 ERA in history in 2011. It’s not just that he had a 4.19 FIP, it’s that he allowed 33% of inherited runners to score, including 43% in the second half. Ayala had a nice and shiny ERA but he was ruining everyone else’s. He was a nice find for the Yankees and a serviceable middle reliever, but man, I see that 2.09 ERA and it does not compute.

February 9th, 2011: Yankees Sign Eric Chavez To Minor League Deal

The Yankees have signed Eric Chavez to a minor league deal, according to WFAN’s Sweeny Murti.’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the deal is done and that Chavez will earn $1.5MM if he makes the big league team (Twitter links). The third baseman, who is represented by Lapa/Leventhal, can earn up to $4MM more in bonuses.

Chavez played 154 total games from 2007-10 (81 wRC+) due to a variety of injuries and the Yankees were mocked for signing him. “They’re a lock for the 2003 World Series!” was a common refrain after the Chavez, Colon, Garcia, and Andruw signings. Chavez wasn’t great in 2011 (80 wRC+) but he did have a few big hits, so the Yankees brought him back in 2012, and he raked that year (126 wRC+). People went from laughing at the Yankees when they signed Chavez to wondering why they let him walk as a free agent two years later. Reminder: the Yankees are smarter than you.

February 9th, 2011: Yankees Void Deal With Vizcaino

The Yankees have voided their contract with reliever Luis Vizcaino, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.  The right-hander tore his Achilles tendon late in the Winter Ball season and is not likely to pitch this season.

It’s amazing the Yankees got a draft pick for Vizcaino after the 2007 season. (They used it to take Jeremy Bleich.) The old Type-A/B system led to a lot of weirdness. Anyway, the Yankees signed The Viz to a minor league deal earlier in the offseason before the Achilles injury. He was active in 2015, you know. Vizcaino, now 41, had a 7.65 ERA in 20 innings with two teams in Mexico last summer.

February 11th, 2011: AL East Links: Guthrie, Bard, Balfour, Rays

Joel Sherman of the New York Post has the latest on some creative discussions between Kevin Towers and the man he worked for last year, Brian Cashman.The Yankees, who considered completing a sign-and-trade with Arizona to acquire Carl Pavano without surrendering a draft pick, discussed a similar deal with the D’Backs about Grant Balfour. The Yankees were moving toward Balfour before they signed his former teammate, Rafael Soriano.

The sign-and-trade idea was a good one. The Diamondbacks had two top ten picks in the 2011 draft — their normal pick (third overall, Trevor Bauer) and a compensation pick for failing to sign 2010 first rounder Barrett Loux (seventh overall, Archie Bradley) — so the idea was Arizona signs Pavano or Balfour, gives up their second rounder, then trades Pavano/Balfour to the Yankees for a prospect.

Had it gone down, the Yankees would have gotten the free agent and kept their first round pick, and for their trouble the D’Backs would get a prospect presumably closer to MLB than whoever they’d take with that second round pick. Pavano or Balfour would have had to agree to this because free agents can’t be traded until June 1st without their consent. Nice idea. Never worked out. Cashman and then D’Backs GM Kevin Towers are very close, which is why this was discussed. I can’t imagine many GMs would hook up for a deal like this.

February 14th, 2011: Latest On Sabathia Opt-Out Decision

10:38pm: Barring something unforseen, Sabathia is expected to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract, a source with knowledge of the situation told Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News.

9:35am: Not many players would ever think about walking away from $92MM, but C.C. Sabathia is one of the few who could consider it. Sabathia can opt out of his contract with the Yankees after the season, but repeated today that he does not intend to do so. The left-hander told reporters, including Marc Carig of the Star-Ledger, that he will not opt out and that he doesn’t intend to address the issue again this season (Twitter link).

This was the start of Sabathia Opt-Out Watch. Sabathia said he wasn’t going to opt-out all summer and that was adorable. Of course he was going to use the opt-out in some way to make more money, which he did by leveraging it into an extension. Sabathia didn’t actually opt-out, but he used it to make the Yankees pay. They tacked another year and $30M onto his contract, plus the vesting option. Last season was the final season on the original seven-year contract Sabathia signed during the 2008-09 offseason. Time flies, doesn’t it?

February 16th, 2011: Minor Moves: Geary, Perkins, Cotts, Petit

The Yankees signed righty reliever Fernando Hernandez, tweets Eddy. The 26-year-old pitched in three games with the 2008 A’s as a Rule 5 Pick, though he spent last year with their Triple-A affiliate (4.77 ERA in 77 1/3 innings).

Hernandez reached the show with the Athletics in 2008, throwing three innings. He spent the 2011 season with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton, didn’t pitch well (6.17 ERA), and wound up in an independent league at midseason. Hernandez has bounced around indy ball since. He had a 4.15 ERA in 65 innings for the Kansas City T-Bones last year.

February 20th, 2011: Millwood Rejected Yankees’ Minor League Offer

One of the few notable names left on the starting pitching market, Kevin Millwood still appears to be seeking a Major League contract. The veteran right-hander recently turned down a minor league offer from the Yankees, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post. According to Sherman, the deal was structured similarly to the one Freddy Garcia signed with the club.

Millwood caved and signed a minor league deal with the Yankees on March 25th. As I said earlier, he spent a month with Triple-A Scranton before exercising an opt-out clause. Millwood landed with the Rockies the rest of the season and had a 3.98 ERA (4.29 FIP). Not too bad.

February 20th, 2011: Cafardo’s Latest: Molina, Aceves, Nathan, Cameron

Alfredo Aceves, who recently signed with the Red Sox, “wasn’t pleased” that the Yankees didn’t show a stronger interest in re-signing him. Brian Cashman said the Yanks only offered Aceves a minor league deal due to injury concerns.

The Yankees non-tendered Aceves earlier in the offseason and made no sense from the outside, especially since they were short on rotation depth with or without Lee. The team had concerns about his back and also his attitude, but it sure didn’t look good when Aceves had a 2.61 ERA (4.03 FIP) in 114 innings for the Red Sox in 2011. Aceves was never effective after that season and he seemed to get a little crazier each year. He spent last season in Mexico and had a 4.76 ERA in 87 innings. We’ll always have 2009, Ace.

February 21st, 2011: Steinbrenner On Jeter, Luxury Tax, Burnett, Soriano

Steinbrenner seems worried about the team’s drive to win, saying “I think maybe they celebrated a little bit too much last year,” the co-chairman said. “Some of the players are too busy building mansions and other things and not concentrating on winning.”  Shortstop Derek Jeter built a mansion in Florida during the offseason after negotiating a new three-year, $51MM deal.  When asked if the comment was directed at the team captain, Steinbrenner insisted that he wasn’t singling anybody out.

Oh man, I forgot about the “some guys are too busy building mansions” line. That was from Hank Steinbrenner, by the way. Not Hal. But still. The owner basically called out Jeter following their contentious contract talks. Derek was in the middle of building St. Jetersburg …

Derek Jeter mansion

… at the time and everyone knew it. It was no secret. Hank said he wasn’t calling out Jeter specifically, but come on, we’re not stupid. I don’t think we’ve heard from Hank since. The Yankees seem to keep him under wraps these days. Either way, that comment added some excitement to the first few days of Spring Training. It blew over pretty quickly.

February 23rd, 2011: Minor Moves: Sisco, Mujica, Russell, Armstrong

The Yankees and Braves each inked a veteran international free agent, with New York signing Cuban shortstop Yadil Mujica and Atlanta signing Australian outfielder-turned-pitcher Andrew Russell, a righty, tweets Eddy.

Mujica hit .229/.291/.278 in 137 games as a utility player at three levels from 2011-12. The Yankees released him and he hasn’t played professional baseball since, as far as I can tell. Not every player who leaves Cuba makes it to the big time here.

February 24th, 2011: Pitching Notes: Hudson, Buehrle, Carpenter

In today’s blog post at ESPN (Insider req’d), Buster Olney reports that the Yankees did not inquire about Tim Hudson. Yesterday we heard that the Braves aren’t looking to move one of their starters anyway.

This rumor never quite made sense. The Braves were good in 2010 (91-71) and they projected to be good in 2011 (89-73), and Hudson was one of their best pitchers. He had a 2.83 ERA (4.09 FIP) in 215 innings in 2010 and finished fourth in the Cy Young voting, plus he had two cheap years left on his contract ($9M each) with a cheap club option ($9M) for another year. And he had ten-and-five rights and could have vetoed any trade. I don’t remember what we were all talking about back then, but I have to think most were on board with acquiring Hudson if he were available. The Braves were good though. Why would they move their best starter?

February 25th, 2011: AL East Notes: Yankees, Werth, Pavano, Jays, Rays

Joel Sherman of The New York Post reports that the Yankees “have told their scouts to bear down on several teams they think could have starters available” in a trade this summer. The teams they are targeting include the Braves, Angels, A’s, White Sox, and Cardinals according to Sherman.

The Cardinals ended up needing to trade for a starter at the deadline that season — they got Edwin Jackson from the ChiSox — so they didn’t have starters to spare. The Braves and Angels were in contention in 2011 and needed all their starters, and while the A’s did have some extra arms, Billy Beane is known for seeking huge returns. Point is, finding help at midseason is tough. It’s best to do all your shopping during the offseason.

February 26th, 2011: Yankees Keeping Eye On Liriano

The Yankees are keeping a close eye on Twins starter Francisco Liriano, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today.  Meanwhile, the Twins are keeping tabs on Yankees prospects.

Liriano was very good in 2010 (3.62 ERA and 2.66 FIP) and I remember wanting him real bad that offseason, with or without Lee. Then he had a 5.09 ERA (4.54 FIP) in 2011. Liriano was so unpredictable earlier in this career. Giving up actual prospects to get him and then having him pitch like that would have only compounded the problem after missing out on Lee. Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.

Sanchez: Yulieski and Lourdes Gurriel defect from Cuba

Lourdes Jr. (Getty)
Lourdes Jr. (Getty)

Brothers Yulieski Gurriel and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. have defected from Cuba and are looking to sign with MLB teams, reports Jesse Sanchez. They’ve gone by Gourriel in the past but dropped the “o” a few years back. Along with Japanese right-hander Shohei Otani, the Gurriel brothers are arguably two of the three best players in the world not under contract with an MLB team.

The Gurriels defected Sunday while in the Dominican Republic for the Caribbean Series. Both have expressed interest in coming to MLB over the years but did not want to betray the Cuban government. So either the Gurriels changed their minds and left, or the government let them leave a la Yoan Moncada. Either way, both have to go through the process of establishing residency in another country, being cleared by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, and then being declared a free agent by MLB before they can sign. The whole process could take months.

Lourdes, 22, is the more significant player of the two because of his age, and the timing of the unblocking process and declaration of free agency could be crucial for him. He is subject to MLB’s spending restrictions, so if he is cleared soon, he can be signed as part of the 2015-16 international period. That means big spenders like the Dodgers, Giants, Blue Jays, and Cubs can still bid since they are already over their bonus pools for the current signing period.

But, if Gurriel is not cleared until after July 1st, those clubs as well as the Yankees, Angels, and Red Sox would be out on him because they’re limited to bonuses of no more than $300,000 as a result of the penalties for exceeding their signing pools in recent years. Lourdes could wait until his birthday in October to sign and probably will, now that I think about it. Once he turns 23 he will no longer be subject to the spending pools. Any team could pay him whatever they want at that point.

Lourdes is considered capable of playing shortstop, though he has played mostly first and second base in Cuba in deference to veteran players. He was hitting .321/.387/.537 with eight homers in 43 games during the Cuban season prior to defecting. Here are his career stats via Baseball Reference:

2010 16 -9.8 Sancti Spiritus 16 16 3 0 0 1 1 0 1 1 4 .200 .250 .400 .650
2011 17 -9.2 Sancti Spiritus 55 151 30 6 0 3 16 2 2 13 23 .227 .304 .341 .645
2012 18 -8.4 Sancti Spiritus 67 244 55 12 3 4 32 1 0 18 35 .253 .318 .392 .710
2013 19 -8.5 Industriales 45 184 31 6 1 1 17 5 5 36 23 .218 .379 .296 .675
2014 20 -6.9 Industriales 63 258 68 11 0 8 42 7 4 28 28 .308 .388 .466 .854
2015 21 Industriales 43 183 52 11 0 8 32 5 1 16 21 .321 .387 .537 .924
All Levels (6 Seasons) 289 1036 239 46 4 25 140 20 13 112 134 .269 .355 .414 .769

Back in April, Ben Badler (subs. req’d) ranked Lourdes as the fourth best player in Cuba, saying his “game is comparable to a young Ryan Zimmerman.” Here’s a snippet of Badler’s scouting report:

Gourriel has plenty of bat speed to catch up to good fastballs and the plate coverage to make frequent contact. He can have trouble at times against slow breaking balls, but he has good strike-zone discipline and a patient approach, giving him a chance to be a plus hitter with a high OBP. Gourriel flashes above-average raw power with the swing path to generate backspin and leverage the ball for loft in games, making him a 20-homer threat.

Yulieski, 31, is a second and third baseman and has been the best player in Cuba for several years now. He was hitting .535/.604/1.012 with ten homers, 15 walks, and one strikeout in 23 games for Industriales before defecting. He spent the 2014 season with the Yokohama Bay Stars in Japan — the Cuban government allows players to play overseas in Asia — and hit .305/.349/.536 with eleven homers in 63 games. Here’s some video:

You can see Yulieski’s career stats at Baseball Reference. Badler ranked him as the top player in Cuba last April, saying he “would have similar value to Hanley Ramirez and David Wright in terms of age and offensive performance if he were to leave Cuba to pursue a major league contract.” Being comped to Hanley and Wright sounded better last April than it does right now. Here’s a little more from Badler:

He has plus bat speed and squares up all types of pitches with good hand-eye coordination and barrel control. He wraps his barrel behind his head, angling the bat toward the pitcher, but he gets the barrel into the hitting zone quickly and has good plate coverage. He stays within the strike zone and uses the whole field, and with plus raw power on the 20-80 scale, he offers a balance of being able to hit for average, get on base and hit for power.

Last year Yulieski said he wants to play for the Yankees because his favorite player is Alex Rodriguez, which is neat. The elder Gurriel will be a true free agent free to sign with any team for any amount once he’s given the thumbs up. Hector Olivera, who signed with the Dodgers at age 30 last year, received a six-year contract worth $62.5M. Yulieski figures to receive more because he’s a better player and doesn’t have Olivera’s injury history.

Yulieski. (Koji Watanabe/Getty)
Yulieski. (Koji Watanabe/Getty)

Lourdes is the big one though. If he decides to sign before his 23rd birthday, he’s looking at Moncada’s bonus ($31.5M) plus more due to inflation and the fact he’s closer to MLB ready. If he waits until his 23rd birthday, Lourdes could receive a contract in line with the six-year, $68.5M deal Yasmany Tomas took with the D’Backs. Tomas signed that deal at 24 but was also an inferior player, so adjust up some amount. He’s going to wait until his birthday in October so he’s not subject to the spending pools, right? Makes too much sense.

The Yankees would have use for both Gurriel brothers, especially Lourdes because he’s so young. They’d have to hope he waits until October to sign, in which case he’d get a big league contract that would screw up their luxury tax plan, but that should be a minor consideration. If you can get a potential star caliber up-the-middle player in his early-20s for nothing but money, you do it. Surely they have some level of Moncada regret, which could be a factor in their pursuit of the younger Gurriel brother.

Yulieski would be interesting too. He could potentially fill a Ben Zobrist-esque supersub role — he has experience in the outfield as well as second and third bases — or even take over as a starter at second or third. Who knows what the roster will look like in a few months? The Yankees are not going to want to pay huge money for a player who will be 32 in June, especially since he’s unproven at the MLB level. Does he want to play with A-Rod bad enough to take a discount? Developing!

Fan Confidence Poll: February 8th, 2016

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

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