Yankees re-sign Erik Kratz to a minor league deal, probably

Kratz isn't here to play, he's here to party. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)
Kratz isn’t here to play, he’s here to party. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

The Kratzken is back. The Yankees have re-signed journeyman catcher Erik Kratz to what I assume is a minor league contract, his representatives at JMG Baseball announced. He was on the roster as the third catcher in September after coming over in a cash trade with the Indians. The Yankees outrighted him and he elected free agency after the season.

Kratz, 37, went 2-for-2 with a double in September and is the all-time franchise leader with a 2.500 OPS (min. two plate appearances). True story. Kratz hit .270/.359/.472 (132 wRC+) with 13 homers in 86 Triple-A games before the trade. He is a career .203/.250/.366 (63 wRC+) hitter in the big leagues, though 24 homers in 649 plate appearances is pretty cool.

My guess is the Yankees are penciling Kratz in as Kyle Higashioka‘s backup with Triple-A Scranton next year, though I suppose it is possible he will get a chance to wrestle the big league backup job away from Austin Romine. Kratz traveled with the Yankees throughout the postseason even though he wasn’t on the roster. He must’ve made a nice impression.

The back of the bench [2017 Season Review]

Higgy looking for hits (Al Bello/Getty Images)
Higgy looking for hits (Al Bello/Getty Images)

We’ve gone through just about every player who made an appearance for the Yankees this year. The good ones. The bad ones. Now let’s get to some of the players in between, the players who are easy to forget. These are the players that you miss on the 2017 New York Yankees Sporcle quiz.

First, let’s go a little more in-depth on a few players I went over in the miscellaneous first basemen review and then touch on the true bottom of the roster.

Rob Refsnyder

While Refsnyder had a five-game stint at first base, the Yankees didn’t use him primarily at first this year. He was called up on May 2 to replace an injured Greg Bird on the roster. Six days later, he was sent down for Chad Green.

In all, Refsnyder was up-and-down three times in May, once for the single-admission Derek Jeter/Mother’s Day doubleheader and another time to take the spot of Jacoby Ellsbury post-concussion.

I’ve already gone into his inability to hit this year. It was painful. But his fielding also reared its ugly head. The moment that sticks out was when he replaced Dustin Fowler after the rookie’s devastating knee injury. Refsnyder almost immediately misplayed a ball in right field during a game the Yankees lost by one run.

The dream was that Refsnyder could be a Zobrist-type, but he could neither hit nor field particularly well and it’s why he’s currently on his third organization in the last year (Yankees to Blue Jays to Indians). He played six games against the Yankees with the Blue Jays in the final two months of the year and went 2-for-12.

Tyler Austin

With 40 more at-bats in 2017, Austin is six at-bats shy of no longer being a rookie. And after a sub-par season due to injuries, it’s worth wondering where he fits in New York.

Two separate DL stints this season really set him back from a chance to prove himself as at least a bench bat, if not the righty side of a platoon. Now, he’ll likely start 2018 in Triple A if he makes it through the offseason on the 40-man roster.

Fun note: He is Pikachu in Didi’s postgame tweets. I don’t think any of these other players got an emoji.

Kyle Higashioka

Higashioka had an impressive 2016 in the minors, earning himself the opportunity as the No. 3 catcher out of spring. His calling card in 2016 was his power, although we didn’t get a chance to see it in the majors.

In his age-27 season, he walked twice and picked up no hits in 20 plate appearances while playing nine games in April. He got the chance after Gary Sanchez went down with a forearm injury, but Higgy couldn’t hack it in an extremely short sample size after debuting in the Yankees’ home opener.

As he did for much of his minor league career, Higashioka dealt with injuries for much of the season. The team had to have hoped he’d turned the corner health-wise in his breakout 2016, but alas, he was unable to do so.

The team had to seek out a new third catcher for September after he couldn’t make make it back from his back injury. Now he’ll have to prove himself again to make it through 2018 on the 40-man.

Mason Williams

The former top prospect spent his final games in pinstripes this season. Sad to see his time as a Yankee come to an end, but he became expendable this season with the team’s glut of young outfielders.

He made five starts in June and picked up four hits, stealing two bases. No extra-base hits though, which has been part of his issues. He just couldn’t hit for much pop, nor could he work many walks.

He was designated for assignment on June 29 to make room for Dustin Fowler. He spent the rest of the year in Scranton where he continued to show very little power but still produced with his legs (19 steals in 24 attempts).

Williams is now with the Cincinnati Reds, having signed with the club as a minor league free agent after the season.

Williams steals a base on Kozma! (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Williams steals a base on Kozma! (Rich Schultz/Getty)

Pete Kozma

Kozma may be the easiest 2017 Yankee to forget. He wouldn’t have made the roster at all if it wasn’t for Didi’s injury during the World Baseball Classic/Spring Training.

He played just 11 games in pinstripes and made just 10 plate appearances. He had just one hit and one walk. Didn’t do anything remarkable. He was DFA’d to make room for Didi on April 28 and spent the next 3.5 months with the Rangers. He was cut from their Triple A squad in mid-August.

Erik Kratz

The Yankees needed a third catcher down the stretch, so Kratz was acquired at the waiver deadline. He played in just four games and had just two at-bats. He delivered in both of them with a single and a double, finishing the season with a sterling 2.500 OPS. That’s good for a 600 wRC+. Oh snap!

He hung around the team during the postseason and stood up for Aaron Judge in a postgame interview after ALDS Game 5. That’s about it for his brief Yankees career.

Erik Kratz, Yankees all-time leader in OPS, elects free agency

Kratz isn't here to play, he's here to party. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)
Kratz isn’t here to play. He’s here to party. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

So long, Erik Kratz. Earlier today the Yankees announced Kratz has elected free agency rather than accept an outright assignment to the minors, which was completely expected. The move opens a 40-man roster spot.

The Yankees acquired Kratz from the Indians in a cash trade to serve as their third catcher in September, while Kyle Higashioka was out injured. The 37-year-old journeyman went 2-for-2 with a double and two runs driven in during his time in pinstripes. He is the franchise’s all-time leader in OPS (minimum two plate appearances):

  1. Erik Kratz: 2.500 OPS
  2. Chris Latham: 2.000 OPS
  3. Chris Parmelee: 1.875 OPS

Drop the minimum to one plate appearance and the Yankees all-time leader in OPS is Branden Pinder at 3.000. How about that? Anyway, Kratz did travel with the Yankees throughout the postseason, mostly because the team wanted him close by in case there was an injury and they needed to add a catcher to the roster.

The Kratz move begins the annual early offseason 40-man roster purge, in which clubs clean up their rosters and prepare for the winter ahead. Aside from Kratz, the Yankees don’t have any obvious outright candidates right now. Guys like Bryan Mitchell and Chasen Shreve may be at risk of losing their 40-man spots this winter, though they’re probably minor trade bait rather than outright candidates.

MLBTR’s arbitration projections and a potential Didi Gregorius extension

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Over the next few weeks and months, the Yankees and every other team will tweak their roster in an effort to contend in 2018. Some teams are more serious about contention than others. The Yankees are ready to win, they showed it this year, and they’ll try to do it next season while getting under the $197M luxury tax threshold.

A few weeks ago Matt Swartz at MLB Trade Rumors posted his annual arbitration salary projections, and because the Yankees have a large arbitration class — nine players total, including several key contributors — their salaries will be a big factor in getting under the luxury tax threshold. These players are a bargain relative to what they’d get on the open market, though their salaries add up. Here are the arbitration projections:

Swartz’s model is pretty darn accurate overall. It has trouble with outlier players — Tim Lincecum damn near broke the thing when he went into his first arbitration year with two Cy Youngs — though it gets us in the ballpark and often much closer. Let’s dive into the projections a bit.

1. It’s time to consider a Gregorius extension. Didi has emerged as a true core player for the Yankees. He’s an above-average hitter and an above-average defender, and he’s a big part of the clubhouse culture. Gregorius can become a free agent following the 2019 season, and I think it’s time the Yankees start thinking about signing him long-term. He’s only 27 and quality in-their-prime shortstops are awfully hard to find.

The Jean Segura extension is a perfect benchmark for Gregorius. Segura signed his five-year, $70M deal earlier this year, two years prior to free agency at age 27, the exact same point of his career as Gregorius is right now. Look at the numbers:

Segura in year prior to extension: .319/.368/.499 (126 wRC+) and +5.0 WAR
Gregorius in year prior to extension: .287/.318/.478 (107 wRC+) and +3.9 WAR

Segura career: .280/.319/.396 (91 wRC+) and +8.6 WAR
Gregorius career:
.266/.313/.413 (94 wRC+) and +11.5 WAR

Segura had the better platform year prior to signing his extension, though Gregorius has the better body of work overall. That five-year extension worth $70M is the benchmark for Didi. The market has been set.

The problem with an extension is the luxury tax. If Gregorius gets the $9M arbitration projection, he counts as $9M against the luxury tax threshold. Give him the Segura extension, and he counts as $14M (the average annual value of the contract) against the luxury tax threshold, and saving $5M is a big deal. Then again, signing Didi now could equal tens of millions in savings later. An extension has to be a serious consideration.

2. Betances and the Yankees might be in for a messy hearing again. Had Betances won his arbitration hearing last year, he could’ve been looking at a $6.5M to $7M projection this offseason, and we might have been talking about him as a non-tender candidate right now. Instead, the Yankees won, and you can see how arbitration savings add up.

  • Dellin wins last year: $5M in 2017 + $6.5M guesstimate in 2018 = $11.5M total
  • Yankees win last year: $3M in 2017 + $4.4M projected in 2018 = $7.4M total

That $2M in savings last year turns into $4.1M in savings from 2017-18. Arbitration uses the prior year’s salary as a baseline for a raise, so any savings compound over the years. Last year’s arbitration hearing win over Betances may end up saving the Yankees close to $10M from 2017-19. That’s a big chunk of change.

Last year’s arbitration hearing was reportedly ugly, uglier than these things usually are, and team president Randy Levine only made things worse when he ripped Dellin in a conference call afterward. I have no idea whether there is still any bad blood between the two sides, but I suppose another hearing is possible this year.

And here’s the thing: Betances still has a really good case. All the walks this year won’t hurt him much in arbitration because the system isn’t built that way. Saves and strikeouts count. Dellin doesn’t have many saves, but he struck out 100 batters yet again this season, he finished with a sub-3.00 ERA (2.87 to be exact), and he went to his fourth straight All-Star Game. Those are all points in his favor. I’m not sure how this will play out. Whatever happens, hopefully it’s not as ugly as last year.

3. Shreve might stick around until Spring Training. The Yankees spent last offseason and pretty much the entire pre-deadline regular season looking for a reliable left-handed reliever, and they came up empty. I get the sense they’re going to spend the winter looking for a lefty again. For now, Shreve is the in-house option, and his $900,000 projected salary is nothing.

Keep in mind arbitration-eligible players are on non-guaranteed contracts. They can be released in Spring Training and only be paid 30 days or 45 days termination pay, depending when they get cut. The Yankees could sign Shreve, keep him around, see if they come up with a better lefty, and if they do, they could drop him for a fraction of his salary in camp. Harsh, but it happens every year around the league. It’s easy to think Shreve, who is out of minor league options, will be a 40-man roster casualty this winter. Don’t be surprised if he sticks around though.

4. Kratz is a goner. Obvious statement is obvious. The Yankees acquired Kratz to be the third catcher in September only because Kyle Higashioka was injured at the time. He’ll be the very first player dropped from the 40-man roster once space is needed, which will be later this month when the roster has to be set for the Rule 5 Draft. Kratz won’t even make it to the non-tender deadline. Such is the life of a journeyman. Hey, at least he got to hang around with the team during the postseason. He traveled with the club all through the ALDS and ALCS.

5. My estimates were pretty good, actually. A few weeks back I looked at the 2018 payroll situation with regards to the luxury tax. I estimated $25M to $30M for the arbitration eligible players, not including Kratz or Shreve, and Swartz’s model projects this group at $28.5M. Hey, I’m getting kinda good at this.

Add that $28.5M projection to the other contract commitments as per my post a few weeks ago, and we get $163.5M already on the books for next season. It’ll drop to $141.4M should Masahiro Tanaka opt out, which most RAB readers expect to happen. Point is, the Yankees will have about $35M under the $197M luxury tax threshold to play with this winter, assuming Tanaka sticks around. If he doesn’t, it’s closer to $60M. Having that much wiggle, to me, means the Yankees should get serious about signing Didi long-term.

Building the 2017 Wild Card Game roster

Think he makes the roster? (Adam Hunger/Getty)
Think he makes the roster? (Adam Hunger/Getty)

Although the Yankees are still mathematically alive in the AL East race, odds are they will go to the postseason as a wildcard team, and odds are they will host the Twins at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have already punched their postseason ticket. Once the Red Sox clinch the AL East and the Twins clinch the second wildcard spot, everything will be set.

The Wild Card Game is, technically, its own postseason round. Teams set their 25-man Wild Card Game roster, then can make adjustments prior to the LDS. That leads to some unique roster construction. Why carry four or five starting pitchers for one game, for example? I’m a bit surprised MLB didn’t try eliminate that Wild Card Game roster rule. Or maybe they did try and were unsuccessful. Whatever.

Anyway, the Yankees carried 16 position players and nine pitchers on the 2015 Wild Card Game roster. For real. Like I said, there are better ways to use those last few roster spots than carrying extra starting pitchers. The Yankees are not guaranteed to follow the 16 position players and nine pitchers blueprint again, but it does give us an idea what to expect in advance of the Wild Card Game next Tuesday.

So, with that Wild Card Game now six days away, I figured this would be a good time to try to piece together the 25-man roster the Yankees could use for that winner-take-all affair. Really stinks the Yankees are going to win 90-ish games then have to play in that Wild Card Game, huh? Oh well. Can’t do anything about it. Let’s take a look at the potential Wild Card Game roster.

The Locks

This is the easiest group, so we might as well start here. These are the 18 players we all know will be on the Wild Card Game roster as long as they’re healthy.

Pretty straightforward, right? Right. I’m as annoyed by Dellin’s walks as much as anyone, but they’re not leaving him off the Wild Card Game roster in favor of … Chasen Shreve? Jonathan Holder? Ben Heller? Gio Gallegos? Another starter? Yeah, no. These 18 dudes will be on the Wild Card Game roster.

Locks, If Healthy

Aaron Hicks (oblique) returned last night and Adam Warren (back) is expected back soon. At one point earlier this season it seemed Hicks would start the Wild Card Game, maybe even hit first or second, but not anymore. The injury and Jacoby Ellsbury’s late season resurgence put an end to that. He’ll be on the Wild Card Game roster as the fourth outfielder though, as long as he’s healthy. Warren will of course be on the roster as well. Again, as long as he’s healthy. Health is the only reason these two wouldn’t be on the Wild Card Game roster. They’re on, so add them to the locks and that’s already 20 players.

The Extra Starters

Like I said, the Yankees carried only nine pitchers on the 2015 Wild Card Game roster. That’s typical. It’s one game, not a series, so there’s no need to carry all five starters. The Yankees figure to carry the scheduled starter (duh), a backup starter in case the scheduled starter is unable to go for whatever reason (hurt during warmups, sick before the game, etc.), and an extra starter should things go crazy in extra innings. Three starters seems like the right amount to me.

Severino is on track to start the Wild Card Game with one extra day of rest. That’s the easy part. Who backs him up? That will depend as much on the pitching schedule as anything. Whoever starts the final regular season game Sunday won’t be on the Wild Card Game roster Tuesday, for example. Right now, Sonny Gray lines up to pitch the day of the Wild Card Game on normal rest and Jordan Montgomery is on track to pitch that day with two extra days of rest. Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, meanwhile, would be on short rest that day.

Sonny. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Sonny. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Because of the schedule, Gray and Montgomery seem like the obvious candidates to be the backup starters behind Severino. I suppose Jaime Garcia could be in the mix given how he dominated the Twins last week, though I think that’s unlikely. The Yankees could always call an audible and change the rotation this week, but that would surprise me. They’ll have their best ready to go in Severino. Assuming Warren is healthy, Severino plus Gray and Montgomery gets the Yankees to nine pitchers and 22 players on the roster overall.

The Final Bench Spots

The 12 locks plus a hopefully healthy Hicks gets the Yankees to 13 position players, leaving three open spots should the Yankees again go the 16 position players plus nine pitchers route. Realistically, there are five candidates for those three roster spots: Miguel Andujar, Tyler Austin, Clint Frazier, Erik Kratz, and Tyler Wade. Garrett Cooper didn’t even get a September call-up, so I he’s not a postseason roster candidate. Ditto Kyle Higashioka.

I think Austin is on the postseason roster for sure. He’d give Joe Girardi a right-handed power bat on bench and, just as importantly, a backup first baseman should Bird (or Headley) get lifted for a pinch-runner. You don’t want to give up the DH or have to play Holliday at first base in the Wild Card Game. Austin’s righty power and ability to play first base (and right field in a pinch) seems pretty clearly worth a Wild Card Game roster spot in my opinion. Easy call.

Wade, even though he basically never plays, strikes me as someone who has a leg up on a Wild Card Game roster spot as well. He’d give the Yankees coverage all around the infield and can play left field in a pinch as well. Also, he can run. Crazy fast. Maybe the Yankees don’t consider him a designated pinch-runner option — they didn’t acquire that player this September — but still, the situation could present itself, and Wade is the closest thing the Yankees have to a true burner available. I think he’s on the roster as the 24th or 25th player.

Frazier’s roster fate could be tied to Hicks. If Hicks re-injures the oblique or simply can’t get going these next few days, Frazier would be the obvious candidate to serve as the fourth outfielder in the Wild Card Game. I love Frazier, but I’m really hoping Hicksie is on that Wild Card Game roster. He’s such a weapon when right. The Yankees could always carry Hicks and Frazier, in which case Frazier’s role would be extra righty bat, fifth outfielder, and potential pinch-runner. Frazier is low key fast as hell. That could come in handy at some point during a close game.

The Yankees don’t trust Andujar’s defense at third base right now — they’ve made that clear given how little he’s played there so far — and he can’t play any other positions, so he doesn’t have much to offer in the Wild Card Game. He’d be an extra righty bat and emergency third baseman. That’s it. Kratz? Don’t be surprised if he’s on the roster. The Yankees carried three catchers in the 2015 Wild Card Game — Sanchez, who had two September at-bats in 2015, was on the Wild Card Game roster that year — and they could do so again, just for an emergency. You know we’re in for at least one Wild Card Game roster surprise, right? Right.

If Hicks and Warren are healthy enough to make the Wild Card Game roster, and it sure looks like that’ll be the case, I think those final three position player spots wind up going to Austin, Kratz, and Wade. Austin hits, Wade fields and can run, and Kratz is there for peace of mind. Here’s a recap of the 25-man roster we’ve talked out in this post:

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Starters Relievers
Sanchez Bird Austin Severino (SP) Betances
Romine Castro Ellsbury Gray Chapman
Kratz Frazier Gardner Montgomery Green
Gregorius Hicks Kahnle
DH Headley Judge Robertson
Holliday Torreyes  Wade Warren

Austin and Wade are more utility players than true outfielders, but I stuck them in the outfield section for easy table building purposes. The Twins are going to start a right-hander no matter what in the Wild Card Game — the only lefty in their rotation is up-and-down depth guy Adalberto Mejia, and he sure as heck isn’t starting that game — so I imagine Bird will be in the starting lineup and Holliday will not. Holliday has been pretty terrible against righties lately.

The Yankees, of course, don’t want to use their 25-man roster in the Wild Card Game. They’d like to stick with their nine starting position players and three, maybe four pitchers, tops. That would be the ideal Wild Card Game scenario. The rules say you have to carry a 25-man roster though, and you knows, maybe those 23rd and 24th and 25th players on the roster end up being a factor. No one plans for it to happen that way, but baseball can be weird sometimes.

Yanks activate Holliday, call up four others as rosters expand

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
Matt’s back. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

September roster expansion has arrived and the Yankees added five players to the active roster Friday. Matt Holliday was activated off the disabled list and Jordan Montgomery, Ben Heller, Bryan Mitchell, and Erik Kratz were all called up from Triple-A Scranton. Luis Cessa, who is out with a rib cage injury, was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot for Kratz. The Yankees now have 30 players on the active roster.

Holliday has been out since August 4th with a back problem and, prior to that, he’d been dealing with an illness for weeks. He is hitting .229/.319/.430 (98 wRC+) with 16 home runs this season, but, in the 31 games prior to the back injury, he hit a weak .175/.263/.307 (51 wRC+) in 156 plate appearances. I’m curious to see how the Yankees use him. Will Holliday step back into the lineup as the full-time DH? Or will he see more time on the bench until he proves he deserves more at-bats? We’ll see.

Montgomery and Mitchell were locks to be called up — at least I thought they were — and I’m pleasantly surprised to see Heller get the call over Jonathan Holder. Holder got the call pretty much every time the Yankees needed a shuttle arm this summer, so I figured he’d come up on September 1st and Heller would remain in Triple-A. Instead, Heller is up and Holder is still down. Holder will be up soon enough though. Probably after the Triple-A postseason.

The Yankees acquired Kratz from the Indians in a cash trade yesterday and he’ll be the third catcher the final month of the season. Kyle Higashioka is currently on the Triple-A disabled list and he’s missed an awful lot time this year. Only 96 plate appearances all season. I imagine he’ll remain with Scranton through the postseason. Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine will serve their suspensions at some point, so Kratz is going to play a bit.

Garrett Cooper (hamstring) and Clint Frazier (oblique) are on the disabled list and figure to be activated at some point this month. There are eight players on the 40-man roster and not in the big leagues right now: Holder, Higashioka, Miguel Andujar, Tyler Austin, Domingo German, Ronald Herrera, Caleb Smith, and Tyler Wade. Austin, Smith, and Wade can’t come up yet because of the ten-day rule. The other guys will have to wait until the Triple-A postseason ends, I imagine.

Yankees acquire Erik Kratz from Indians for cash

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have brought in some extra catcher depth. The team announced this afternoon they’ve acquired veteran journeyman backstop Erik Kratz from the Indians for cash considerations. He is not on the 40-man roster and I assume he’s heading to Triple-A Scranton for the time being.

Kratz, 37, hit .270/.359/.472 (132 wRC+) with 13 homers in 326 Triple-A plate appearances with the Indians before the trade. He has MLB time with the Phillies, Blue Jays, Royals, Astros, and Pirates, and is a career .200/.248/.362 (62 wRC+) big league hitter. Twenty-four homers in 647 plate appearances is nothing to sneeze at though.

At some point Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine will have their appeals heard and serve their suspensions stemming from last week’s brawl with the Tigers. Kyle Higashioka, the third catcher, is currently on the Triple-A disabled list with a shoulder injury. Also, Triple-A backup Wilkin Castillo left last night’s game with a knee injury, so yeah. The Yankees needed another backstop.

Midnight tonight is the deadline for teams to acquire players and have them be eligible for the postseason roster, and that’s a hard deadline. The player doesn’t have to be in the big leagues or even on the 40-man roster, but he has to be in the organization by midnight, otherwise no postseason. No exceptions or loopholes. Kratz is postseason eligible for the Yankees.