- Southpaw Phil Coke has been outrighted by the Yankees after he was designated for assignment on Tuesday, Chad Jennings of the LoHud Yankees Blog tweets. Coke wasn’t effective in his six innings over three appearances on the year, though he did show that he’s still capable of delivering his fastball at around 93 mph. The veteran bounced around last year after a five-year run with the Tigers ended followiing the 2014 season. He’ll accept the assignment, Chris Cotillo of SB Nation tweets.
The Yankees announced that they’ve signed left-handed reliever Neal Cotts to a minor league contract. The Pro Star Management client will report to the club’s Triple-A affiliate, according to the team.
Cotts, 36, recently opted out of a minor league pact with the Angels. The 10-year Major League veteran had been throwing well with the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate in Salt Lake, posting a 3.29 ERA with 13 strikeouts against three walks in 13 2/3 innings. Last season, he split the year between the Brewers and Twins after signing a one-year, $3MM contract with Milwaukee and posted a combined 3.41 ERA in 63 1/3 innings while holding opposing lefties to a .186/.243/.330 batting line. Injuries kept Cotts out of the Majors from 2010-12, but since returning with the 2013 Rangers, he’s posted a cumulative 3.03 ERA with 186 strikeouts against 63 walks (six intentional) in 187 innings of work.
The Red Sox announced today that they’ve placed right-hander Carson Smith and left fielder Brock Holt on the 15-day and 7-day disabled lists, respectively. Smith is dealing with continued soreness in his right elbow, and Holt has what the Sox termed a “mild” concussion. In that duo’s place, right-hander Noe Ramirez and catcher Blake Swihart have been recalled, although the Sox’ press release announcing the moves referred to Swihart as a catcher/left fielder, so presumably he will continue the outfield work he began at Triple-A in his latest big league stint. That’d mean that Swihart could platoon with outfielder Chris Young in Holt’s absence, and Swihart’s presence also will allow manager John Farrell to be a bit more liberal in terms of pinch-hitting for either Christian Vazquez or Ryan Hanigan in late situations. Swihart gets the call over high priced outfielder Rusney Castillo, who remains at the Triple-A level with a .263/.315/.316 slash line through 124 plate appearances.
Here’s more from the AL East…
- Blue Jays president of baseball operations Mark Shapiro said to hosts Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt on Sportsnet 590 The FAN this morning that he remains confident in manager John Gibbons despite a “disappointing” start for the reigning AL East champions (via Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith). “To spend time around Gibby is to be incredibly confident in his leadership and to recognize that he’s part of the solution,” said Shapiro. “We feel that he’s a guy who’s consistent. He is strong. He is tough. He is committed, and I feel like he’s the right guy to help guide us through the challenges that we’re facing now.” Rather than focus on potential changes to the field staff, the Blue Jays are instead already having internal discussions about trades and other roster changes, said Shapiro. It’s still rather early to expect significant trades, of course (as White Sox GM Rick Hahn recently noted when revealing that his club has already had talks with other teams), but the groundwork that goes into a trade can often be the product of months of effort.
- ESPN’s Buster Olney opines (Insider subscription required) that while the Yankees have a chance at playing October baseball this season, their focus should be on improving the 2017 club without completely tearing down the 2016 product. That, he writes, means playing Aaron Hicks regularly even if it costs Carlos Beltran and Alex Rodriguez some at-bats. Olney, in fact, believes it’d be wise for the Yankees to explore the idea of trading Gardner to a contender for prospects as a means of getting Aaron Judge some playing time in the Majors later this summer. Other contributing pieces that could be moved without significantly tanking the club’s chances, he continues, are Brian McCann and one of Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller. The Yankees currently sit at 18-22, last place in the division, although there’s clearly time to turn things around, and they’ve won seven of their past 10 games.
- Yankees prospect Ty Hensley is lost for the season due to a setback in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, reports Chad Jennings of the Journal News. The 2012 first-rounder has seen a once-promising career decimated by injuries to this point, as hip surgery cost him the entire 2013 season and he missed all of 2014 due to the aforementioned Tommy John procedure. Jennings doesn’t state that Hensley needs a second Tommy John surgery, and the specific nature of the setback isn’t entirely clear, but Jennings does note that both GM Brian Cashman and VP of player development Gary Denbo have confirmed that Hensley will miss the 2016 campaign. Now 22 years of age (23 in July), Hensley hasn’t pitched since 2014 and has pitched in just 16 games since being drafted, posting a 2.98 ERA with 54 strikeouts against 18 walks in 42 1/3 innings.
- Entering the day in last place in the AL East, the Yankees need to seriously consider prioritizing future improvements over their 2016 prospects, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney argues (Insider link). Olney ticks through a variety of ways — including allocation of playing time and weighing trades — that New York can and should shift its focus to 2017, suggesting a sort of realistic re-tooling rather than any kind of full rebuilding project.
Each year, the free-agent class is impacted by the performance of players with vesting options (as is the financial future of players with said provisions in their contract). For those unfamiliar with the option, a vesting option is typically a club option that can automatically trigger based on the player’s health and/or performance. Meeting pre-determined criteria for games played, innings pitched, plate appearances, etc. are the most common means of triggering vesting options, though as you’ll see below, there have been some more creative approaches to vesting options in the past as well.
We’ll check in on these players periodically throughout the season, and here’s the first look…
- Chris Iannetta: The Mariners hold a $4.25MM club option over Iannetta for the 2017 season, but that option can also vest at $6MM if Iannetta starts 100 games in 2016 and does not finish the season on the disabled list due to an injured hip, back or right elbow. Having started 30 of the Mariners’ first 39 games, Iannetta is on pace to clear the 100 start threshold with ease, and if he can continue to post an OPS in the mid-.700s, the Mariners probably won’t mind having him back for another season at that price. One factor that could throw a wrench into his playing time: Mike Zunino is demolishing Triple-A pitching thus far, batting .305/.357/.580, though the former first-round pick has cooled off considerably in the past two weeks.
- Kurt Suzuki: Another backstop with a $6MM vesting option, Suzuki needs to reach 485 plate appearances in 2016 for that option to trigger. The big 2014 first-half that earned Suzuki that extension never seemed sustainable, and he has batted just .242/.294/.330 since signing the deal. The Twins probably don’t want to see this one vest, as evidenced by the fact that he’s on pace for 349 plate appearances, which would be his lowest total since signing in Minnesota.
- Matt Holliday: The 36-year-old Holliday has a $17MM club option for the 2017 season that automatically vests if he places within the Top 10 of this season’s NL MVP voting. Holliday isn’t the hitter he once was, and even in his best years with the Cardinals, he (somewhat surprisingly) never landed inside the Top 10 in NL MVP voting. At 36 years of age and off to a good but unspectacular .250/.325/.485 start to the season, it seems safe to assume that his option won’t vest. The club will have the choice of exercising the option or paying Holliday a buyout of $1MM.
- Coco Crisp: Crisp, also 36, has a more complicated vesting option tacked onto his two-year, $22MM deal. The option is valued at $13MM and will automatically kick in if Crisp receives 550 plate appearances or appears in 130 games this season. The option initially could also have vested based on combined playing time from 2015-16 (1100 PAs from 2015-16 or 260 games from 2015-16), but Crisp spent most of the 2015 campaign on the DL, so he’ll have to hope to trigger the option based solely on his 2016 health. He’s appeared in 31 of Oakland’s 41 games and picked up 126 plate appearances, so he’s a bit shy of the pace for either threshold. Clearly, though, there’s still plenty of time to make up ground. He’s batting .234/.304/.405.
- Yusmeiro Petit: The one-year, $3MM contract signed by Petit this winter came with a $3MM club option ($500K buyout) that vests if Petit reaches 80 innings pitched. Petit has occupied a role similar to the one in which he thrived for a few years as a member of the Giants’ bullpen, and he’s picked up 21 innings through the Nationals’ first 40 games. If that pace holds, he’ll indeed clear 80 innings and see that salary lock in. With a 1.71 ERA and 3.28 FIP through his first 21 frames, the Nats probably wouldn’t mind that at all.
- CC Sabathia: The 35-year-old Sabathia’s vesting option is tied to the health of his shoulder. He’ll lock in a $25MM salary for the 2017 campaign if he doesn’t end the 2016 season on the DL due to a shoulder injury or spend 45+ days on the DL this year due to a shoulder injury. Sabathia is currently on the disabled list, but it’s due to a groin injury, so it doesn’t impact the option’s status. While he’s certainly no longer an ace, Sabathia did have a 3.81 ERA through his first five starts of the season, though his strikeout and walk numbers weren’t particularly encouraging.
It’s perhaps worth noting, as well, that both Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher had vesting options for the 2017 season worked into the four-year deals they originally signed with the Indians. However, with each player having been released from that contract and signing new deals (with the D-backs and Yankees, respectively), those options are no longer in play. (The lack of playing time for each player this season would’ve made them a non-issue anyhow.)
While some Yankees fans have questioned GM Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi amid the team’s early struggles, owner Hal Steinbrenner tells Ken Davidoff of the New York Post that he thinks both men and the team’s coaching staff have done a good job to this point. Rather, Steinbrenner puts the onus on the players themselves and specifically mentioned Mark Teixeira and Michael Pineda as players that need to find ways to improve their production. Of Teixeira, Steinbrenner says the veteran “[is] not playing up to his potential with the bat,” and he later expressed “concern” with Pineda. “He’s got all these strikeouts, and yet he’s given up these runs,” says Steinbrenner. “Clearly, he’s been giving up runs early. Clearly, there have been issues with his slider. Again, Larry can only do so much. Whatever technically is wrong with the delivery, Larry [Rothschild] is working on it, but the rest is up to Pineda to figure it out.” As for Cashman, Steinbrenner goes on to praise the trades for Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks, giving no inkling of dissatisfaction with his GM.
- Vote of confidence aside, Girardi takes blame for the Yankees’ early struggles, writes Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York. “I always take full responsibility for what happens here — good or bad,” said Girardi. “It’s my job to get the best out of the players and right now, we’re not performing to the level I think we’re capable of.” Girardi said that he hadn’t seen or heard Steinbrenner’s comments, but he’d had meetings with the owner on what’s gone wrong early in the season, during which Steinbrenner has expressed his frustration with the team as a whole. Girardi, however, insisted in yesterday’s comments that he believes the Yankees are a playoff-caliber club and can still make a run at the postseason.
The Yankees have designated left-hander Phil Coke for assignment as part of a series of roster moves, per Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News (Twitter link). Beyond Coke’s DFA, the Yanks have optioned right-handers Chad Green and Conor Mullee to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and recalled left-hander James Pazos, right-hander Luis Cessa and infielder Rob Refsnyder from the same affiliate.
The 33-year-old Coke’s return to the organization which originally drafted him in 2002 was brief, as he logged just six innings in the Majors and surrendered four earned runs on seven hits and four walks with one strikeout. Coke did fire off seven strong innings at the Triple-A level prior to the selection of his contract to the big league roster, however, and if he clears waivers he’ll have the option of accepting an outright assignment and remaining with the team in hopes of another crack at the Majors.
A mainstay on the Tigers’ pitching staff from 2010-14 (after being traded by the Yankees in the three-team Curtis Granderson/Max Scherzer/Austin Jackson/Ian Kennedy/Edwin Jackson blockbuster), Coke’s production began to slip late in his Detroit tenure. He wound up signing with the Cubs last season but lasted 10 innings before being designated and released, at which point he signed with the Blue Jays. Coke tossed 2 2/3 innings for Toronto late in the year but didn’t stick on their roster, either.
- Cuban star Yulieski Gurriel “would be super happy” to join the Yankees, Aroldis Chapman told NJ Advance Media’s Brendan Kuty through a translator. Gurriel and Chapman are former teammates on Cuba’s national team, and in a conversation two weeks ago, Gurriel asked the closer some questions about what it was like to play for the Yankees. As Kuty points out, the Bombers may not have room for Gurriel given that Chase Headley is already locked in at third base and Gurriel (who turns 32 in June) may be too old for a Yankees club that has been focused on transitioning to a younger, more flexible roster. Gurriel and his younger brother Lourdes defected from Cuba earlier this year and are still waiting on clearance from MLB to become free agents, with several teams expected to bid on the siblings once they’re officially on the open market (though Lourdes is subject to international signing pools).
- The Yankees selected the contracts of right-handers Chad Green and Conor Mullee prior to Saturday’s game. In corresponding moves, Greg Bird, Mason Williams and Bryan Mitchell were all moved from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL and top catching prospect Gary Sanchez was optioned back to Triple-A after appearing in just one game for New York. Green and Mullee are both getting their first taste of the big leagues. Green has a 3.29 ERA, 8.4 K/9 and 3.53 K/BB rate over 336 1/3 minor league innings, starting 59 of his 69 career games. He will start the Yankees’ game on Monday against the Diamondbacks. Mullee, a career reliever, has a 2.13 ERA, 8.9 K/9 and 3.46 K/BB rate over 143 1/3 pro innings since being picked in the 24th round of the 2010 draft.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe is the latest to weigh in on the possibility of the Angels trading superstar center fielder Mike Trout, naming 10 teams capable of putting together packages for the 24-year-old. The Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Phillies, Nationals, Astros, Rangers, Mets, Giants and Cubs could all make a hypothetical Trout trade work, writes Cafardo.
- The Yankees could make closer Aroldis Chapman available in late June if they’re not in playoff contention by then, according to Cafardo. The lights-out left-hander is on an $11MM-plus salary and is slated to hit free agency at the end of the season.