The 27-year-old Gregorius has missed the entire season to date due to a strained right shoulder. Kozma was added to the Yankees’ roster to serve as a backup to Ronald Torreyes, who has been filling in at short, though Torreyes will now presumably slide into that utility role that Kozma had held. In 11 plate appearances with the Yanks, Kozma collected one hit and a walk. Well regarded for his defense at shortstop, Kozma is a career .221/.286/.290 hitter in 699 plate appearances — the vast majority of which came with the Cardinals from 2011-15.
This is the latest entry in MLBTR’s Offseason In Review series. The full index of Offseason In Review posts can be found here.
The Yankees entered the offseason with multiple holes to fill after trading away veterans at last year’s deadline, but following a couple of early splashes, the team remained quiet for the bulk of the winter.
Major League Signings
- Aroldis Chapman, LHP: Five years, $86MM
- Matt Holliday, OF/DH: One year, $13MM
- Chris Carter, 1B/DH: One year, $3.5MM
- Total spend: $102.5MM
Trades and Claims
- Traded C Brian McCann to the Astros in exchange for RHPs Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman
- Traded RHP Nick Goody to Indians in exchange for cash or player to be named later
- Traded LHP James Pazos to the Mariners in exchange for RHP Zack Littell
- Claimed LHP Joe Mantiply off waivers from the Tigers (later outrighted and re-signed to minors deal)
Notable Minor League Signings
- Ruben Tejada, Jon Niese, Ernesto Frieri, Ji-Man Choi, Donovan Solano (re-signed), Nick Rumbelow (re-signed), Joe Mantiply (re-signed)
- Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, Nathan Eovaldi, Billy Butler, Dustin Ackley, Richard Bleier (waivers), Jacob Lindgren (non-tendered)
The Yankees managed to flirt with contention late into the 2016 season despite acting mostly as sellers at the non-waiver trade deadline. New York’s three-headed bullpen monster of Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances (often referred to as “No Runs DMC”) was the envy of clubs around the league early in the season and will be imitated (though not likely replicated) for years to come. However, GM Brian Cashman tore that trio apart just prior to the deadline, dealing Chapman to the Cubs and Miller to the Indians in exchange for a king’s ransom of prospects, thus creating a need in the ’pen.
New York was linked to each of the “big three” closers on the market — Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Mark Melancon — but ultimately stuck with a known commodity by signing Chapman to a record-setting five-year, $86MM contract. The deal allows Chapman to opt out in three years, should he see fit. Following that addition, the Yankees were linked to countless other relievers, including Boone Logan, Jerry Blevins and Brett Cecil, but Chapman was their lone Major League signing.
Also changing hands at last year’s trade deadline was Carlos Beltran, who went to the Rangers in exchange for yet another pair of prospects. Cashman & Co. explored the possibility of re-signing Beltran and also looked into top slugger Edwin Encarnacion for the better part of a month as they sought to add a DH bat. Ultimately, they settled on a more affordable option, inking Matt Holliday to a one-year, $13MM deal. The Yankees hit just .254/.317/.391 as a collective unit against left-handed pitching last season, and while Holliday had his own troubles against southpaws in 2016, they were largely BABIP driven. He still showed good power and solid strikeout and walk rates against lefties and should help with that deficiency.
Of course, when looking for ways in which to improve performance against left-handed pitching, clearing space for young Gary Sanchez to see regular at-bats likely ranked near the top of the Yankees’ list of priorities. That goal was accomplished by shipping Brian McCann and $11MM to the Astros in exchange for a pair of low-level righties. That deal not only opened the door for Sanchez, who hit .299/.376/.657 as a rookie (albeit with a significant slump to end the year), it also cleared a fair bit of money off the Yankees’ luxury tax ledger. For a club that has sought to get younger not only to build a sustainable core but also to escape the annual luxury taxation penalties, the two-fold value of that trade shouldn’t be overlooked.
Following those three early moves, it was a fairly quiet winter for the Yankees. While they were linked to names like Jose Quintana, Chris Sale and numerous other trade targets, the Yankees elected to hold onto their recently acquired stockpile of prospects. On the other side of the coin, veterans like Brett Gardner, Starlin Castro and Chase Headley were all said to be available in trades but failed to generate interest and/or quality offers.
The Yanks did go bargain shopping late in the winter, poking around Travis Wood’s market and eventually snagging defensively challenged/strikeout-prone NL home run king Chris Carter on a one-year, $3.5MM deal. Relative to the $37.5MM the division-rival Orioles spent on a comparable skill set (Mark Trumbo), that pickup looks like a nice value play for the Yankees.
When previewing the Yankees’ offseason back in mid-October, I wrote that adding a rotation arm that’s controllable beyond the 2017 season seemed “imperative” for a Yankees team that is poised to lose each of Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia to free agency next winter. Clearly, the New York front office didn’t agree: the closest the team came to bolstering its rotation was the minor-league signing of long-time starter and reclamation project Jon Niese, who battled in camp for a pen spot.
It was a minor miracle that three players with the injury concerns that Pineda, Tanaka and Sabathia carried into the 2016 campaign combined to start 90 games for New York. With Nathan Eovaldi gone following Tommy John surgery, Luis Severino won the fourth spot in the rotation. He’s admittedly been very promising thus far, but Severino has yet to demonstrate that he’s capable of sustaining this level of play for a whole season.
While rolling the dice, so to speak, on a pitcher of his upside is a perfectly reasonable play in a vacuum, it’s considerably riskier when the rotation is led by three injury risks with four even more inexperienced arms on hand to round out the fifth slot. Southpaw Jordan Montgomery won the fifth spot and has looked solid through three starts, but the injury question marks and inexperience that permeate the Yankees’ rotation could bite the team later this season. Righties Chad Green, Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell are all on hand as reserve options, though that trio has combined for just 25 Major League starts.
Looking to the bullpen, the Yanks again possess a solid late-inning trio in Chapman, Betances and Tyler Clippard. Adam Warren, meanwhile, is a fine multi-inning/swingman option, though the remainder of the relief corps, as is the case in the rotation, is lacking in experience. Tommy Layne posted a terrific ERA in the Bronx after a midseason pickup, but his secondary stats paint a less impressive picture. Rookie right-hander Jonathan Holder posted video game numbers in the minors last season but entered the year with just 5 1/3 innings under his belt. Mitchell claimed the other bullpen spot, but the 26-year-old hasn’t yet shown the ability to miss bats on a consistent basis in the Majors. Chasen Shreve, Ben Heller, Green and Cessa are among the depth options in the upper minors, but it still looks like there was room to add another arm to the bullpen this winter.
Perhaps the lack of additions shouldn’t come as a surprise, however. The Yankees are a club that has oft stated a desire to get younger, and that’s played out both in the pitching staff and throughout the lineup. The early returns on both Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks are both extremely encouraging — so much so that Gardner’s playing time could potentially take a hit. (Should that play out, expect to hear his name once again bandied about trade rumors.)
The results at first base have been far less encouraging, with Greg Bird and Carter both struggling. Tyler Austin was lost for all of Spring Training due to a fractured foot and has yet to get back into the Triple-A lineup, so the Yanks will have to hope for one of the current options to come alive at the plate. If no one from that group can get it going at the plate, this past offseason served as proof that the current supply of first basemen is larger than the demand, so perhaps an addition could be made.
From a larger-picture perspective, the future of several veteran Yankees is also worth speculating upon. Gardner, Headley and even Castro (despite his relative youth) were all prominently featured in trade rumors this winter. As previously noted, Judge and Hicks could diminish Gardner’s role if both stay productive, and Clint Frazier is waiting in the wings in Triple-A. Either Castro or the resurgent Headley could become expendable as well, once Gleyber Torres reaches the cusp of the Majors. And, of course, moving any of those veterans would further help the Yankees move away from the dreaded luxury tax threshold, as each is playing on a significant multi-year deal.
Deal(s) of Note
The Yankees will face obvious public relations issues for years to come for acquiring Chapman not once, but twice in the wake of his domestic violence allegations in the 2016-17 offseason. Some will move on and prioritize Chapman’s on-field contributions over his off-field issues, but there will be fans and industry folk alike that pass harsh judgment on the organization.
From a purely baseball standpoint, though, the Chapman contract was noteworthy for the Yankees themselves and for the future of free-agent relievers. Chapman was one of three relievers to break Jonathan Papelbon’s fairly long-standing record (four years, $50MM) for a relief pitcher this winter. Beyond that, each of Chapman, Jansen and Melancon secured an opt-out provision in his contract, further boosting the premium that is placed on elite bullpen help.
That’s especially notable as we look ahead to the mega-class of free agents that looms in the 2018-19 offseason; Zach Britton will headline that year’s crop of relievers, with Cody Allen, Kelvin Herrera and Jeurys Familia all on the open market as well. While it’d be tough for any of them to top Chapman’s $86MM guarantee (Britton seemingly has the best chance), this offseason unquestionably helped to move the market forward for top-tier relief help.
And yet, despite the exceptional value placed on Chapman and other relievers in free agency, the arbitration system lags behind. There’s no greater evidence of that disconnect than the bizarre scenario that unfolded between the Yankees and setup man Dellin Betances.
Betances carried one of the most unique arbitration cases in recent history into the hearing room this offseason, as he filed for a $5MM salary against the Yankees’ $3MM submission.
Saves are king in arbitration dealings, and Betances is lacking in that department, with just 22 in his career. However, few relievers hit their first trip through arb with anywhere near the combination of 22 saves and 78 holds that Betances carried, and none has done so with those totals and Betances’ rate stats. The 28-year-old, to date, has registered a career 2.16 ERA with 14.3 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9.
Betances ultimately lost his case, which was noteworthy on its own, but the bizarre tirade from Yankees president Randy Levine that followed the hearing was even more head-scratching. Seemingly unprovoked, Levine blasted Betances and his reps for attempting “to change a well-established market” by seeking a significant raise for a pitcher who had not been utilized as a pure closer. The unnecessary tirade may have damaged the relationship with Betances, as the righty said shortly thereafter that he thinks free agency “will be a little easier when the time comes.”
There’s admittedly little in the way of impact on the Yankees’ roster in the near future, and perhaps the two sides can bury the hatchet between now and the completion of the 2019 season, when Betances will be a free agent. But it’s nonetheless rare to see an executive so brazenly call out one of his players, especially with nothing to gain from the ordeal.
The Yankees broke the bank on arguably the most dominant reliever in the game, but the remainder of their moves were either short-term or made with an eye toward continuing to inject youth into the roster. For a team that won 84 games last season, a full year of Chapman in the ’pen and Sanchez behind the plate seems like a recipe for improvement. However, the Yankees almost wholly ignored their lack of rotation depth, instead continuing to bank on a trio of injury-prone starters and a host of unproven young pitchers that may or may not prove to be capable rotation cogs in the long-term.
For a team with postseason aspirations, the contradictory nature of spending $86MM on a closer while simultaneously passing up the ability to add rotation help despite an abundance of affordable arms is confounding. The Yankees’ roster is teeming with young talent and upside, but a few extra arms in what wound up being a buyers’ market for pitching would’ve gone a long ways toward bolstering their playoff hopes. Moreover, the plan for 2018 remains cloudy, as there’s no one with an established Major League track record controlled beyond the current season
The Yankees are off to a strong start and may well return to the playoffs in 2017. Their minor league depth is impressive, to say the least, but I can’t help wondering if the top-heavy allocation of resources in the rotation and in the bullpen necessitated relying too heavily on that depth this year.
Cast your own vote on the Yankees’ offseason below (link to poll for Trade Rumors app users)…
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- As righty Ivan Nova continues to produce good results for the Pirates, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post looks at why things didn’t quite turn out that way when he was pitching for the Yankees. Though Nova did have his share of success in New York, he was dealt last summer on the cusp of free agency and re-signed in Pittsburgh after eleven impressive outings. He doesn’t blame the Yankees’ handling for his uneven stint there, but does say that a lack of confidence in his standing in his old organization was partially at fault. “It’s very different when you know that you’re going to pitch every five days, that’s for sure,” says Nova. He continued to explain that he previously would worry about being dropped to the bullpen or Triple-A, explaining: “It wasn’t because they told me what’s going to happen after. It was something I put in my mind. It was my mistake, my fault, to think that way instead of keeping positive all the time.”
- The Yankees are still taking it slow with catcher Gary Sanchez, but there are some indications of progress, as Laura Albanese of Newsday writes. Sanchez, who is dealing with a biceps strain, was able to throw and take some dry cuts. He reported no issues, but the club isn’t planning to speed up his timeline, with manager Joe Girardi suggesting the original plan of a four-week absence hasn’t changed.
The Yankees announced that they’ve traded right-hander Johnny Barbato to the Pirates in exchange for a player to be named later or cash. Barbato was designated for assignment by the Yankees last week. THe Bucs entered the day with a pair of open spots on their 40-man roster, so a corresponding move isn’t required. Pittsburgh announced that Barbato has been optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis.
[Related: Updated Pittsburgh Pirates Depth Chart]
The 24-year-old Barbato, originally acquired in the trade that sent right-hander Shawn Kelley to San Diego, struggled in his Major League debut with the Yanks last season, as he surrendered 11 runs in 13 innings of work. On the plus side, Barbato did post an impressive 15-to-5 K/BB ratio in that short time while averaging 94.6 mph on his fastball. Barbato’s numbers in Triple-A last season were solid as well: a 2.61 ERA with 9.1 K/9, 4.3 BB/9 and a 46.3 percent ground-ball rate in 48 1/3 frames.
There’s no immediate room in the Pittsburgh bullpen for Barbato, as manager Clint Hurdle’s relief corps is fairly well set with Tony Watson (the current closer), Daniel Hudson, Felipe Rivero, Juan Nicasio, Antonio Bastardo, Trevor Williams and long man Wade LeBlanc providing a nice blend of both left- and right-handed options. Bastardo has gotten off to a rough start, but his $6.5MM salary probably gives him a bit of a leash to right the ship. For now, Barbato will join relievers such as A.J. Schugel and Pat Light on a Triple-A pitching staff that is fairly well stocked with depth options for the big league pitching staff (both in the bullpen and in the rotation).
For a team trying to get younger, this year’s Yankees have gotten plenty of mileage out of veterans, Tyler Kepner of the New York Times writes. Chase Headley, Jacoby Ellsbury, Starlin Castro, Matt Holliday, CC Sabathia and Aroldis Chapman have all played well, as have two veteran pitchers (Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren) who were acquired at last year’s trade deadline even as the Yankees were attracting more attention for trading away veteran pitchers like Chapman and Andrew Miller. “They made all the trades last year, but we still went out and got Clippard, who’s a big part of our team now. It’s always about winning here,” says Sabathia. “I’ve only got so many bullets left. It’s at the end. I’m not interested in playing for somebody that’s not trying to win.” Here’s more from around the game.
With Toronto off to a 2-9 start, executives from rival teams are already wondering which players the Blue Jays might shop in the coming months if they don’t turn their season around, according to Buster Olney of ESPN.com. Olney lists several possibilities, the most prominent being onetime MVP-winning third baseman Josh Donaldson, who’s currently on the disabled list with a calf injury. Three members of the Jays’ rotation – J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano – as well as right fielder Jose Bautista and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki are also candidates to end up on the move, per Olney.
More from the American League:
- Designated hitter Matt Holliday hasn’t been a member of the Yankees for long, but the 37-year-old has quickly emerged as one of their strongest leaders, writes Andrew Marchand of ESPN.com. One important member of the organization Holliday has impacted is high-end outfield prospect Clint Frazier, who told Marchand the longtime Cardinal is “the best guy” he has met in baseball. “He is the nicest guy. He has a lot to offer about [how] to go about your business on the field and how to go about it after the game and how to handle things at home,” continued Frazier. “He is someone I want to emulate, to be like him on and off the field.” The addition of Holliday has also been a positive between the lines for the Yankees, as the free agent signing has thus far hit a productive .242/.419/.394 in 43 plate appearances.
- The Athletics have placed shortstop Marcus Semien on the 10-day disabled list, retroactive to Saturday, with a right wrist contusion and recalled infielder Chad Pinder from Triple-A (depth chart). It’s possible Semien has a fracture, but the A’s will know more after he undergoes a CT scan on Monday, tweets Joe Stiglich of NBC Sports California. Semien’s wrist has been acting up since last month, which has likely contributed to the 26-year-old’s lack of power early this season. After homering 27 times and posting a .197 ISO last year, Semien has shown almost no pop in his first 46 PAs of 2017 (zero HRs, .057 ISO).
- Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., on the DL with a right knee sprain, could return as early as Friday, reports Jen McCaffrey of MassLive.com. The 2016 All-Star is first slated to play five innings in center with Triple-A Pawtucket on Tuesday and then nine Wednesday, per manager John Farrell. Bradley hasn’t been in Boston’s lineup since April 8, leaving Chris Young to fill in during his absence. Young has handled left field, thus shifting Andrew Benintendi to center.
- Prior to the arbitration hearing that led to a controversial string of comments from Yankees president Randy Levine, right-hander Dellin Betances was offered a two-year deal that would have guaranteed him between $8MM and $8.5MM, reports Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports in his latest AL Notes column. However, with Betances’ camp seeking as much as $5MM in arbitration, they elected to go on with the trial. Rejecting the deal seems reasonable, from my vantage point, as even after losing the trial Betances took home a $3MM figure for the 2017 season. Betances figures to earn more than $4MM next year in arbitration, so the downside in aiming high with the arbitration hearing was relatively minimal.
- The Orioles will turn to Alec Asher to start versus Toronto on Saturday, writes Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun. His selection to face a heavily right-handed lineup suggests that Baltimore plans to utilize its upper-level pitching depth on a case-by-case basis to fill Chris Tillman’s spot in the rotation while Tillman is out, Encina adds. Manager Buck Showalter elaborated on that concept a bit, telling Encina: “We know that has potential to be a moving piece until Chris gets back. We can play a little matchup there until we know for sure when we’re going to get Chris back. … The good news is we have some guys to pick from, not only there, but potentially in Bowie, too.” The Orioles added Asher in a minor Spring Training trade and also picked up several other potential options, including Gabriel Ynoa (in a trade with the Mets) and Richard Bleier (in a trade with the Yankees). Lefty Jayson Aquino was also a consideration for this weekend’s start, Encina notes, but the glut of righties he’d have faced led the team to turn to Asher instead. Tillman figures to be out until early May, so there should be quite a few more spot starts up for grabs among this group.
Prized Yankees prospect James Kaprielian is slated to undergo Tommy John surgery next week, per a club announcement. While the news is obviously a disappointment, it was perhaps the anticipated outcome at this stage.
Kaprielian, who was taken 16th overall in the 2015 draft, had already missed time with elbow issues early in his career. The former UCLA righty was limited to just 56 frames (including a fall league placement) in his first two seasons as a pro. When he experienced elbow discomfort again this spring, it was determined that the surgery was required.
There had been at least some hope that Kaprielian could contribute to the Yanks as soon as this year. Despite his limited action over the past two seasons, he impressed when he was on the hill, compiling an overall 2.89 ERA with 10.0 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 since joining the organization.
Instead, Kaprielian will require a layoff that will likely extend into the beginning of the 2018 season. Though the organization will hope that he’ll progress as a pitcher even as he recovers, that extended delay is hardly a positive development. And while Kaprielian won’t be earning MLB service time during his layoff, his future now faces added uncertainty — though it still retains plenty of promise.
Entering the 2017 season, Kaprielian drew strong ratings from most major prospect analysts. Baseball America ranked him fifth in the Yankees organization, while MLB.com placed him just one spot lower on its list. Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs, who rated Kaprielian fourth among the club’s prospects, wrote that the youngster has an arsenal “approaching [that of] a top-of-the-rotation arm,” while noting that his ability to maintain his velocity and stay healthy remained major points in question.
Diamondbacks bench coach Ron Gardenhire is slated to undergo surgery for prostate cancer next Tuesday, as Bob Nightengale of USA Today writes in an update on the former Twins skipper. As Nightengale writes, the bad news came at a particularly disappointing time for Gardenhire, given that he was returning from a layoff after leaving Minnesota. But he’s tackling the condition with typical form, as Nightengale writes. “Cancer is a big word, you know, but it’s been pretty special having so many people reach out,” says Gardenhire, who adds that he “can’t wait to sit in that dugout again.”
Here’s more from around the game:
- ESPN.com’s Andrew Marchand penned an interesting profile of Yankees assistant GM Jean Afterman, who is currently the only woman holding that position leaguewide. Afterman has a fascinating and varied background; she ultimately became a lawyer and later helped pioneer the movement of players from Japan to the majors. While Yankees GM credits her as a “pit bull” who could easily hold a position as his peer, she says she prefers to remain with the organization as an adviser. It’s a fun look at an interesting person that also tackles the ongoing question of whether the game can do more to grow the involvement of women in upper management.
- In another profile, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com takes a look at controversial Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria as he reportedly prepares to sell his franchise. Crasnick examines some of the differing angles on Loria, focusing on his relationship with the tragically departed Jose Fernandez. Loria also defends his place in the game and discusses the possibility of taking an ambassadorship to France in a sit-down with Crasnick, which you’ll want to read for yourself.
- Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado chatted with Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, who calls the star performer “one of the game’s most inquisitive superstars — if not the most inquisitive.” As he looks to build upon his standing as one of the game’s better all-around players, Arenado is described as constantly seeking to improve by interview subjects such as agent Joel Wolfe, former skipper Walt Weiss, and a variety of veteran players. Soon to turn 26, Arenado has compiled back-to-back forty-plus home run seasons, and also significantly boosted his walk rate last year while continuing to provide high-quality defensive work at third. Of course, his park-adjusted batting production suggests he has been more a very good than a great hitter to this point in his career, though he has improved at the plate in every season in the majors and could perhaps continue to do so if he can expand upon that growth in the plate-discipline department.