We are in a new month, and because that month is March, it means meaningful baseball is coming. The Yankees will open the 2019 regular season four weeks in three weeks and six days. Back in 2014, the regular season did not begin until April 1st. The 2014 Yankees made it through Spring Training healthy. (Brendan Ryan started the season on the 15-day DL with a back problem. That’s all.) Let’s hope the 2019 Yankees do the same.
Anyway, after going 85-77 and missing the postseason in 2013, the Yankees abandoned their luxury tax plan during the 2013-14 offseason, and committed big dollars to Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Masahiro Tanaka. They also made smaller additions like Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts. Oh, and they lost Robinson Cano to free agency. That was kind of a big deal. March usually isn’t a great month for trade and free agent rumors, but that’s not going to stop us from making our monthly trip through the MLB Trade Rumors archives. Let’s get to it.
March 1st, 2014: East Notes: Orioles, Yankees, Braves
Yankees hurler CC Sabathia wasn’t concerned after his fastball topped out at 88 MPH in his first Spring Training outing, Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News reports. “My fastball is what it is. If it gets better, it will. If it’s not, it won’t,” Sabathia commented. McCarron writes that the concerns are likely to persist if the lefty’s heater doesn’t tick up, noting that Sabathia lost a significant amount of weight this offseason.
The 2013 season was the first season in Sabathia’s terrible three-year stretch before he reinvented himself as a cutter guy. He threw 211 innings (good!) with a 4.78 ERA and 4.10 FIP (bad!) that year. Spring Training velocity hysteria was still at its peak in 2014 following the Michael Pineda fiasco, so it was impossible to tell what was meaningful and what was noise. In Sabathia’s case, those 88 mph spring heaters were meaningful. His average fastball velocities:
- 2012: 93.2 mph
- 2013: 92.3 mph
- 2014: 90.6 mph
- 2015: 91.2 mph
- 2016: 92.1 mph
Sabathia pitched terribly in 2014 (5.28 ERA and 4.78 FIP) and injury ended his season in mid-May. It wasn’t his arm though. It was that right knee. The knee absolutely could’ve played a role in the velocity loss — Sabathia could’ve been holding back a bit in an effort to reduce the force on his landing knee, even subconsciously — and while his peak velocity never returned, it did rebound after 2014.
Who would’ve guessed that, as this was happening back in 2014, Sabathia would still be out here slingin’ in 2019? He looked close to done that season and it’s not like he was any good when healthy in 2015 either (4.73 ERA and 4.68 FIP). It wasn’t until late in that 2015 season that he adopted the cutter and carved out a nice little second phase of his career.
March 2nd, 2014: AL East Notes: Rays, Lowe, Peralta, Napoli, Ortiz
Jhonny Peralta said the Yankees offered him a three-year contract and the opportunity to play third base, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports (Twitter links). The Yankees were Peralta’s preferred Big Apple team since the Mets only offered him a two-year deal that Peralta described as “not really good.”
The Yankees went with Kelly Johnson at third base in 2014, which opened the door for Yangervis Solarte, so in the grand scheme of things missing out on Peralta was a positive even though he was quite productive for the Cardinals. They gave him a four-year deal and he hit .263/.336/.443 (120 wRC+) with +4.6 WAR in 2014 and .275/.334/.411 (105 wRC+) with +2.1 WAR in 2015 before things went south. Missing out on Peralta wasn’t quite as fortunate as missing out on Omar Infante, but standing pat at three years was a good idea for the Yankees.
March 5th, 2014: Teams Scouting David Phelps, Yankee Catchers
The Mariners sent a scout to watch David Phelps‘ recent Spring Training outing, George A. King III of the New York Post reports, while the White Sox and Brewers also had scouts on hand to watch the Yankees’ catchers. King previously reported last week that the White Sox had their eyes on the Yankees’ catching surplus and that the Yankees were scouting Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks.
Phelps was a good but not great depth arm coming off a 4.98 ERA (3.81 FIP) in 2013. He was the kinda guy who was perpetually available in trades. The Yankees kept him that year and he wound up third on the team in starts in 2014. Good grief. As for the catchers, the Yankees had just signed Brian McCann, and they had three backup candidates in Austin Romine, John Ryan Murphy, and Frankie Cervelli. They kept all them too in 2014.
By 2014, Weeks was basically done as an everyday player. He hit .209/.306/.357 (84 wRC+) in 2013 and had lost a step in the field. New York’s infield was a mess though, and rolling the dice on Weeks wasn’t the worst idea when your starting infield is Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts, and 40-year-old Derek Jeter. Weeks did bounce back with a .274/.357/.452 (126 wRC+) line as a platoon bat in 2014. Anyway, there were lots of rumors about Phelps and the catchers during spring 2014 and it all amounted to nothing.
March 7th, 2014: Quick Hits: Perez, Pineda, Mariners, Ramirez, A’s
Yankees starter Michael Pineda took an important step tonight on the road back from shoulder surgery, writes Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News. Throwing a slider that catcher Brian McCann called “pretty much unhittable,” Pineda tossed two scoreless innings and struck out four Tigers — including Austin Jackson, Rajai Davis, and reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera.
The Yankees acquired Pineda in January 2012 and he didn’t throw a single pitch for them in 2012 or 2013 following shoulder surgery. In Spring Training 2014, there was some optimism Big Mike would be in the Opening Day rotation. He was still only 25 at the time and his fastball and slider looked good in the early days of camp. Shoulder trouble and the pine tar suspension limited Pineda to 13 starts that season, during which he had a 1.89 ERA (2.71 FIP) in 76.1 innings. Those 76.1 innings were all the Yankees got from him from 2012-14. There were no winners in this trade. The Yankees just lost it less.
March 13th, 2014: AL East Notes: Sox, Romero, Gausman, Soriano
MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch reports that the Yankees are planning to give Alfonso Soriano a look at first base to improve his versatility, but there’s been no talk of him seeing any time at second base.
Oy vey. I can’t imagine 38-year-old Soriano at second base. He wasn’t good there when he was 28. The Yankees were very much in their “we’ll play anyone at first!” phase at this point and letting Soriano try it made sense. They had five outfielders for the three outfield spots plus DH (Soriano, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Ichiro Suzuki) and little first base depth. It never happened though. Soriano never played first base, he completely stopped hitting, and was released in July. Remember how great he was after the trade in 2013? Man did it fall apart quick.
March 23rd, 2014: AL Notes: Pierzynski, Harang, Ichiro, Orioles, Rangers
The Yankees are willing to eat part of Ichiro Suzuki‘s $6.5MM 2014 salary in the right trade, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman writes. No deal appears to be imminent, however. Ichiro, who hit .262/.297/.342 with the Yankees in 2013, does not have a starting role this season.
You will be surprised to learn no team wanted to give up something to acquire a 40-year-old outfielder who stopped hitting four years earlier, even with the Yankees eating money. I get it, Ichiro is an all-time great and a first ballot Hall of Famer, and I fully acknowledge his greatness and place in history as a global baseball icon, but the two-year contract covering 2013-14 was ill-advised and he never should’ve been anything more than a fourth outfielder for the Yankees. Naturally, Ichiro played 143 games in 2014, fourth most on the team. Figures.
March 26th, 2014: AL East Links: Murphy, Romine, Rays, McGowan
Yankees GM Brian Cashman told reporters (including ESPN New York’s Wallace Matthews) that he’s “hearing from a lot of people about” catchers John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine. The Yankees have been shopping their catching depth for weeks, and now that Francisco Cervelli has won the backup job, Murphy and Romine could be more expendable. Cashman, however, doesn’t feel pressure to move either players. “They’re assets. We’re not in any position where we have to do anything, but if something made sense, we’d consider it. But right now, we’re happy with what we’ve got,” Cashman said.
If you would have asked me, in March 2014, to rank those three catchers based on how likely they were to have a long-term future with the Yankees, I would’ve ranked them:
- John Ryan Murphy
- Francisco Cervelli
- Austin Romine
Murphy was the hotshot prospect and Cervelli had been the incumbent backup for several years running. Romine spent a good chunk of the 2013 season backing up Chris Stewart when Cervelli was on the disabled list. He hit .207/.255/.296 (49 wRC+) in 148 plate appearances, then went to Triple-A in 2014 and hit .242/.300/.365 (82 wRC+) in 313 plate appearances. The Yankees designated Romine for assignment at the end of Spring Training 2015 and he went through waivers unclaimed.
Now, five years later, Romine is heading into his fourth straight season as the undisputed backup catcher. Murphy was traded for Aaron Hicks and the Yankees turned Cervelli into one year of Justin Wilson and then Chad Green (and Luis Cessa). The Yankees had three backup catchers in March 2014 and, over the next 18 months, they turned them into one backup catcher, a comfortably above-average center fielder, and multiple excellent reliever seasons. Is that good? That seems good.
March 28th, 2014: Yankees To Sign Alfredo Aceves
The Yankees have reached agreement on a minor league deal with pitcher Alfredo Aceves, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post reports (Twitter links). Aceves will work out of the Triple-A rotation, and has a July 1 opt-out clause.
The return of Al Aceves. The second go ’round didn’t go nearly as well as the first. He was hurt and ineffective with the Red Sox from 2012-13 (5.21 ERA and 4.95 FIP), the Yankees rolled the dice on a minor league deal, and Aceves wound up in the bullpen in early-May. I remember Aceves giving up some garbage time dingers in this game, throwing two pitches inside at the next hitter, and Larry Rothschild chewing him out on the mound. The video: