The Yankees have released Chris Gittens, according to the MLB.com transactions tracker. Lindsey Adler of the Athletic reports (on Twitter) that the hulking first baseman is likely to pursue an opportunity with a team in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. The move opens a spot on New York’s 40-man roster, which now sits at 39.
This kind of move isn’t uncommon for players on the fringes of a 40-man roster. Teams in South Korea or Japan are often willing to put forth a loftier guaranteed salary than players like Gittens would receive shuttling between the majors and Triple-A. Assuming he’s indeed signing with an NPB club, Gittens is likely to find himself in a more financially stable situation than he’d have been in with the Yankees.
Gittens, 28 in February, earned his first brief big league look this past season. He only tallied 44 MLB plate appearances and didn’t perform especially well, but he had an otherworldly year with their top affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Over 184 trips to the plate at the minors’ top level, the right-handed hitter mashed at a .301/.440/.644 clip with 14 homers. Given that dominant run against high level pitching, it’s easy to understand why he caught the attention of evaluators in foreign pro leagues.
It’s not out of the question Gittens makes a return to the U.S. over the coming seasons. Eric Thames, Merrill Kelly, Miles Mikolas and Josh Lindblom are a few fairly recent examples of former big leaguers who raised their stocks with strong showings in Asian professional leagues. Those players all returned to the U.S. on guaranteed big league deals later in their careers. That’s not to say it’s a given every one-time major leaguer will have that kind of success, but it’s also not out of the realm of possibility Gittens follows a similar path.