- Yankees officials believe DJ LeMahieu’s lackluster 2021 could be traced to a sports hernia that the infielder tried to play through before finally getting surgery after the season, The New York Post’s Dan Martin writes. A healthy LeMahieu that could return to his 2019-20 form would be an enormous help for the Bronx Bombers as they continue to figure out their infield picture, as LeMahieu’s position next season is still up in the air. Presuming New York does acquire a regular shortstop, LeMahieu seems set to toggle between third, second, and first base, with Gleyber Torres set for regular duty at the keystone and Gio Urshela and Luke Voit penciled into at least part-time duty at the corner spots.
Astros third baseman Alex Bregman was cleared to hit today for the first time since undergoing surgery on his right wrist in November, reports Mark Berman of Houston’s Fox26 (Twitter link with video). Though he played through it, Bregman injured his wrist in September, an issue that came to light only when teammate Carlos Correa told Sports Illustrated’s Stephanie Apstein about it during the World Series. The extent to which the injury played a role in Bregman’s postseason struggles isn’t entirely clear, but it’s likely to have had at least some effect given his .217/.304/.300 postseason line across 69 plate appearances, including a meager .095/.200/.143 in 25 trips to the plate during the Astros’ World Series loss to the Braves.
The injury came at the end of what was a forgettable season by Bregman’s high standards. After following a second-place MVP finish in 2019 with a solid but unspectacular 2020, Bregman missed the first two months of the 2021 season with a quadriceps injury and saw a major dip in his power numbers, posting only a .422 slugging percentage against a .507 career mark (and a top-notch .592 in 2019).
Some other baseball tidbits from around the league…
- Yankees pitcher Jameson Taillon discussed his ongoing ankle rehab with former Yankees workhorse David Cone on the latter’s podcast this week. The 30-year-old Taillon once again acknowledged that he remains about a month behind his typical offseason throwing program, jiving with the report he gave last December. More encouragingly however, is the right-hander’s claim that he isn’t feeling any lingering pain from his surgically repaired ankle. While his current regimen consists of throwing 3-4 times a week at much less than full, mid-90’s velocity, this marks another positive step forward in the right-hander’s rehab process. Taillon was a league average arm last year, sporting a 4.30 ERA in 144 plus innings, but has demonstrated the ability to be more than that throughout his career. More positive news as Taillon ramps back up will be welcome for a Yankees club that has a number of solid rotation options but only a few that don’t come with health concerns of their own.
- Per a report from Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, longtime Marlins radio announcer Dave Van Horne announced that he is “essentially retiring” after declining the team’s offer to return to the organization in 2022 in a reduced capacity. The 82-year-old Van Horne retires after 53 years of broadcasting at the major league level. After a 33-year tenure broadcasting for the Montreal Expos, Van Horne pivoted to an upstart Marlins team at the end of 2000. In his lengthy career, the veteran sportscaster called three perfect games, thirteen no-hitters, narrated the 2003 Marlins successful World Series run, and was awarded the Ford C. Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame in recognition of his broadcasting contributions. We at MLBTR extend a hearty congratulations to Van Horne for an illustrious career.
Longtime major league outfielder Melky Cabrera announced his retirement this morning (h/t to Héctor Gómez of z 101). Cabrera last appeared in the majors in 2019 but had played winter ball in each of the past two years.
The announcement officially closes the book on Cabrera’s successful big league playing career. He broke into the majors with the Yankees halfway through the 2005 season, getting to the majors a bit before his 21st birthday. The switch-hitter emerged as a regular in the Bronx the following year, playing with the Yankees through their World Series-winning 2009 campaign.
The following offseason, New York traded Cabrera to the Braves. The Dominican Republic native struggled in Atlanta and was released after one year, but he bounced back after hooking on with the Royals the following season. After a solid year in Kansas City, he was traded to the Giants before the 2012 campaign. He’d only spend one year in the Bay Area as well, but that season proved to be the most productive of Cabrera’s career. He hit .346/.390/.516 across 501 plate appearances, earning his only All-Star nod in the process.
Down the stretch, however, Cabrera was suspended after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. That ban carried over into 2013, where he landed with the Blue Jays after signing a two-year deal over the winter. Cabrera struggled in the first season of that deal but bounced back with a very productive 2014 campaign. He proved a capable, high-contact bat for a good chunk of 30s, suiting up with the White Sox, Royals (for a second time), Indians and Pirates.
Cabrera’s run of productivity came to a close in 2019. Despite hitting .280 that year, his overall offensive output was 16 percentage points below the league average (by measure of wRC+) due to a lack of power and a minuscule 4.3% walk rate. Cabrera briefly caught on with the Mets in 2020 Summer Camp but was cut loose before the start of the season.
Altogether, Cabrera had a lengthy, impressive showing in the big leagues. He appeared in fifteen consecutive MLB seasons from 2005-19, donning the uniforms of eight different clubs. Over a bit more than 7,500 plate appearances, Cabrera hit .285/.334/.417, an overall slash line a hair above average by both wRC+ and OPS+. He hit 144 home runs, 383 doubles, drove in 854 runs and stole 101 bases. FanGraphs valued his career around 16 wins above replacement, while Baseball Reference pegged him around 21 wins. Cabrera tallied a bit more than $72MM in earnings, according to B-Ref. MLBTR congratulates the 37-year-old on a very fine run and wishes him the best in retirement.
The Yankees recently signed righty Ryan Weber and southpaw Manny Bañuelos to minor league contracts, according to Chris Hilburn-Trenkle of Baseball America. Both pitchers were minor league free agents, allowing them to sign non-roster deals during the ongoing transactions freeze.
Weber has pitched in the big leagues in each of the past seven years. The sinkerballer has worked in a swing capacity, starting 16 of his 63 appearances and tallying 167 cumulative innings. While he’s only punched out 14.9% of batters faced at the MLB level, Weber has demonstrated excellent control (5.4% walk rate) and racked up grounders on over half the balls in play against him.
The 31-year-old only made four MLB appearances last season, although they came with three different teams. He made one outing each with the Red Sox and Brewers and pitched in a pair of games for the Mariners. Weber spent the bulk of the year with those teams’ respective Triple-A affiliates, combining for 103 1/3 frames of 4.18 ERA ball with a minuscule 3.1% walk percentage in generally hitter-friendly settings.
While Weber has the more recent MLB run of the Yankees’ two new pitching additions, Bañuelos is probably the more familiar name to much of the fanbase. Added by the Yanks as an amateur out of Mexico during the 2008-09 signing period, Bañuelos fairly quickly developed into one of the sport’s top pitching prospects. Baseball America ranked the southpaw among the game’s top 50 overall farmhands entering both the 2011 and 2012 campaigns.
Unfortunately, Bañuelos’ progress was beset by injuries as he hit the high minors. He missed the entire 2013 season recovering from Tommy John surgery and wasn’t as effective upon returning. New York traded him to the Braves in advance of the 2015 season. Bañuelos debuted with seven appearances for Atlanta that year, then didn’t pitch in the majors again until 2019 with the White Sox.
Those two seasons mark his only big league experience to date. Across 77 innings, Bañuelos owns a 6.31 ERA with subpar strikeout and walk rates (17.7% and 12.6%, respectively). He’s spent the past two seasons pitching professionally in foreign leagues, appearing in Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League and in the Mexican League. He’ll return to affiliated ball with his original organization in an attempt to get back to the majors for the first time in three years.
- Per Lindsey Adler of The Athletic, the Yankees have promoted former big-league outfielder (and longtime minor-leaguer) Kevin Reese to the position of Vice President of Player Development. Since retiring after spending the 2007 season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Reese joined the Yankees as a minor league scout. Before this promotion, he had served as the Yankee’s Director of Professional Scouting since 2017. In an extremely small sample (16 plate appearances between 2005 and 2006), Reese posted a .385/.500/.385 batting line in the majors.
- Eric Hinske is one of the names the Yankees are considering for their hitting coach vacancy, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports (Twitter link). The 2002 AL Rookie Of The Year and a veteran of 12 big league seasons, Hinske would certainly fit the Yankees’ preference for an experienced former player to join their staff. Hinske also has an accomplished coaching resume, working as a first base coach, assistant hitting coach, and hitting coach over parts of seven seasons with the Cubs, Angels, and Diamondbacks. No stranger to the Bronx, Hinske played for the Yankees’ 2009 World Series team, and briefly worked as a scout for the Yankees before embarking on his coaching career.
The Yankees have made a groundbreaking hire in their minor league ranks, as The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler (Twitter link) reports that Rachel Balkovec will manage the organization’s lower-A team in Tampa next season. Balkovec will become the first woman to ever manage an affiliated minor league club.
This is the latest of several barriers broken over the course of Balkovec’s decade-long career in baseball. Beginning as a strength and conditioning coordinator in the Cardinals’ farm system from 2011-15, she then moved to a similar role with the Astros from 2016-18, working with both Houston’s Latin American prospects and then the Astros’ Double-A affiliate. She has spent the last two seasons working within the Yankees’ minor league system as a hitting coach, following some time spent working with Driveline and in the Netherlands working with the Dutch national teams.
Along the way, Balkovec has routinely been noted as the first woman to be hired in these positions, whether in her strength/conditioning jobs or as a hitting coach. The 34-year-old will now take yet another step forward managing some of the Yankees’ top young prospects, and Balkovec is undoubtedly already familiar with many of these players due to her coaching work.
As Balkovec told The Associated Press’ Ronald Blum in 2019, “I have aspirations of being in a more leadership role from a broader standpoint,” mentioning the possibility of one day being hired as a “director of baseball operations or farm director or GM.” Such goals aren’t as remote as they once seemed for women in baseball, considering that Kim Ng is the Marlins general manager, Eve Rosenbaum is the Orioles’ director of baseball development, and Sara Goodrum was recently hired as the Astros’ director of player development. As for on-field personnel, Alyssa Nakken is a member of the Giants coaching staff, while Bianca Smith (Red Sox) and Rachel Folden (Cubs) have worked coaching jobs in the minor leagues for their respective teams.
To fill the assistant hitting coach void left behind by Eric Chavez, the Yankees have “cast a wide net” in their search but are looking to hire an experienced former player, Kristie Ackert of The New York Daily News reports. The Yankees’ coaching staff is thin on MLB playing experience, so the club was looking to address that issue by hiring a hitting coach who is well-versed in competing at the Major League level. A 17-year veteran like Chavez would have been a perfect fit, and yet Chavez was only officially a member of the staff for a few weeks before being hired away by the Mets as their new lead hitting coach.
The Yankees had lined up Chavez and Casey Dykes as assistant coaches under lead hitting coach Dillon Lawson, with the trio presenting a varied set of perspectives. Lawson and Dykes each played college ball and have coached at the collegiate and minor league levels, but neither played pro ball. Chavez, meanwhile, has never worked as a coach before, but he was a minor league manager with the Angels and also worked as a special assistant within the Yankees’ and Angels’ front offices, in addition to his lengthy playing career.
One of the names under consideration for the assistant hitting coach job is Mark Trumbo, though it remains to be seen if Trumbo is necessarily interested in the position. A source tells Ackert that it would “take a lot” to convince Trumbo to return to the daily grind of big league life, as he has “settled” into a nice family life after 10 MLB seasons. Trumbo hit .249/.302/.459 with 218 home runs over 4419 career plate appearances, spending four seasons each with the Angels and Orioles while also suiting up with the Diamondbacks and Mariners.
Known for his power, Trumbo led baseball with 47 homers in 2016, resulting in a Silver Slugger Award and one of his two career All-Star nods. Knee problems hampered Trumbo following that big year, however, and he played only 12 games in 2019, which now seems to be his final season. While Trumbo wasn’t ready to officially retire following that abbreviated 2019 campaign, he hasn’t signed anywhere since, and even suggested to The Athletic’s Dan Connolly that a coaching career might eventually be in the cards.
The Mets and Yankees haven’t agreed to a player-for-player trade since the Mike Stanton-for-Felix Heredia swap in December 2004, but that streak was almost broken in blockbuster fashion during Brodie Van Wagenen’s two-year stint as the Mets’ general manager. The two New York teams came very close to a July 2019 swap that would have sent Zack Wheeler to the Bronx, according to SNY’s Andy Martino, except an unknown player also involved in the trade failed a medical exam.
The Yankees were known to be one of the teams interested in Wheeler heading into the deadline, though the Bronx Bombers reportedly had even more interest in another Mets hurler in Noah Syndergaard. Beyond those two members of the Mets rotation, the Yankees cast a wide net looking for rotation help at the deadline but didn’t come away with any significant trades whatsoever, whether it be for pitchers or hitters.
The Mets also held off on dealing Wheeler to anyone, as the right-hander finished off a strong season and then left Queens that winter for a five-year, $118MM free agent contract with the Phillies. Interestingly, the Yankees were also linked to Wheeler’s free agent market, but instead pivoted to make an even bigger splash by signing Gerrit Cole to a nine-year, $324MM pact — still the largest contract ever given to a pitcher in total dollars.
Beyond the sheer rarity of the two Big Apple rivals swinging such a notable trade, the Wheeler deal would have created a big ripple effect across recent baseball history. For starters, adding Wheeler might have been the final piece the Yankees needed for a championship, as the club overcame a ton of injuries to win 103 games before eventually falling to the Astros in the ALCS.
If Wheeler had been a key cog in a 28th Yankees World Series title, perhaps the Bombers would’ve been more inclined to retain their new hero in free agency, rather than sign Cole. Even if keeping Wheeler might’ve cost more than $118MM in this scenario, his deal would’ve been worth much less than Cole’s contract, thus giving the Yankees extra money to spend on other needs that offseason.
It isn’t known what the Yankees would’ve had to have given up to land Wheeler from the Mets, though since he was a free agent that winter, it wouldn’t have been an overwhelming trade package for just two-plus months of the righty’s services. However, it was clearly enticing enough for Van Wagenen to pull the trigger had everything worked out on the medical front, and it was enough to outbid the many other teams known to be circling Wheeler in the lead-up to July 31, 2019. The Mets could have kept those Yankees trade pieces as a way of restocking the farm system after the Marcus Stroman deal with the Blue Jays that same deadline, or perhaps looked to flip the prospects in a future trade for more immediate help.
A Wheeler trade would have impacted his free agency in another fashion, as he would’ve been been ineligible to receive a qualifying offer due to the midseason deal. While it didn’t seem like the QO draft compensation had much impact on Wheeler’s market, the lack of a qualifying offer might have resulted in one or two extra teams getting involved, which could have resulted in a few extra millions in Wheeler’s bank account.
The qualifying offer also must have factored into the Mets’ decision-making about the proposed Wheeler deal. The Yankees must have offered something Van Wagenen judged as being more valuable than the compensatory pick the Mets were set to receive for Wheeler. This ended up being the 69th overall pick in the 2020 draft, which the Mets used on high school outfield prospect Isaiah Greene. With his first pro season now in the books, the 20-year-old Greene hit a very solid .289/.421/.368 over 191 plate appearances…
…for the Guardians’ rookie ball affiliate. This is another interesting branch in the Zack Wheeler/Yankees multiverse, as Greene was part of the four-player package (along with Amed Rosario, Andres Gimenez, and prospect Josh Wolf) sent to the Guardians in exchange for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco — a blockbuster trade completed exactly one year ago today. While Greene wasn’t the centerpiece of that deal from Cleveland’s perspective, it could be that the two sides might have agreed on another prospect as the fourth player. Or, maybe that one little change makes the whole trade fall apart, and Cleveland could have opted for another team’s offer for Lindor and/or Carrasco.
- The Mets already made a notable coaching move this morning, tabbing longtime big league third baseman Eric Chávez as hitting coach. Chávez had accepted a position as one of two Yankees assistant hitting coaches just a few weeks ago, leaving the Bronx club with an unanticipated vacancy on staff. Lindsey Adler of the Athletic reports (on Twitter) that the Yankees do plan to replace Chávez this offseason. That aligns with general manager Brian Cashman’s stated wish to enter the season with three hitting instructors on staff. Dillon Lawson is slated to be the team’s lead hitting coach, with Casey Dykes lined up for an assistant role.