- The Rangers are “definitely intrigued” by the idea of acquiring Miguel Andújar from the Yankees to fill their third base vacancy, hears T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com. The Yankees have gotten numerous hits on Andújar this offseason, with interested teams perhaps looking to buy low after a labrum tear ended the 24-year-old’s season in April. With Gio Urshela having supplanted Andújar at the hot corner in the Bronx, the 2018 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up now looks like an interesting trade candidate. Free agency remains an option for Texas, too; Sullivan hears the Rangers are still interested in Josh Donaldson, whom the MLBTR staff guessed would end up in Arlington on a three year, $75MM deal.
The Athletics have been in trade talks about some of their more prominent arbitration-eligible players, including former All-Star reliever Blake Treinen. As per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (Twitter link), the Yankees are one of the clubs who have shown interest in a potential deal for the right-hander’s services.
According to MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz, Treinen is projected to receive a $7.8MM salary in is final year of arb eligibility before free agency. It isn’t a huge raise from the $6.4MM salary Treinen earned in 2019 after beating the Athletics in an arbitration hearing, though since the A’s are always conscious about payroll limitations, it could be more than the team is willing to spend after Treinen’s performance dropped off last season.
Granted, some level of regression was almost inevitable given the outstanding nature of Treinen’s 2018 work. The righty posted an 0.78 ERA, 51.9% grounder rate, and 4.76 K/BB rate while striking out 100 batters in 80 1/3 innings of work. While there was some batted-ball luck involved, ERA predictors (1.82 FIP, 2.42 xFIP, 2.46 SIERA) still indicated an elite level of performance in Treinen’s first full year as Oakland’s closer.
Things turned sour in 2019, however, as Treinen posted a 4.91 ERA, 42.8% grounder rate, and 1.59 K/BB rate over 58 2/3 innings. As compared to 2018, Treinen had big spikes in his walk rate (2.4 BB/9 to 5.7 BB/9) and homer rate (0.2 HR/9 to 1.4 HR/9), and batters made far more solid contact (.236 xwOBA to .334 xwOBA). Injuries surely played a role, as Treinen missed a couple of weeks due to a shoulder strain and then was shut down in late September after pitching with stress reaction in his back for the better part of a month.
Still, these recent health issues also surely aren’t helpful for the A’s in evaluating whether or not to spend a big chunk of their payroll space on a reliever who pitched at a sub-replacement level last season. Roster Resource projects the A’s at a 2020 payroll of just under $111.3MM, which would be well over the team’s franchise high of approximately $101.4MM at the end of the 2016 season.
While it can be assumed that the Athletics would be open to spending more than usual to take the next step on a roster that has reached the AL Wild Card game in each of the last two years, quite a bit of extra space could be freed up if Oakland were to trade or non-tender Treinen, Jurickson Profar ($5.8MM arb projection) and/or Josh Phegley ($2.2MM). Despite Treinen’s projected salary and his rough 2019, his 2018 performance is fresh enough in teams’ minds that finding a trade partner seems feasible for the A’s before Monday’s non-tender deadline.
It isn’t any surprise that the Yankees are among the teams who have come calling, given their reliance on a loaded bullpen in recent years. If Treinen can find even a middle ground between his 2018 and 2019 numbers, he’d be yet another fearsome addition within New York’s already-strong collection of Aroldis Chapman, Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton, Chad Green, and Tommy Kahnle, not to mention the plethora of other interesting young arms in the mix. In theory, Treinen would be replacing free agent Dellin Betances, though the Yankees already went virtually the entire season without any contributions from Betances during an injury-ravaged year for the right-hander.
Though the Yankees have some payroll concerns of their own in terms of the luxury tax, Treinen’s $7.8MM figure isn’t an overly exorbitant sum, plus some money could be sent back Oakland’s way in the form of another player’s salary. Beyond just a pure salary dump, it would be interesting to see what sort of creative deal could be swung between two clubs that figure to be contending for the American League pennant next season. Billy Beane and Brian Cashman have swung a few interesting trades during their long tenures running their respective front offices, perhaps most notably the July 2017 swap that sent Sonny Gray to New York for a three-prospect package.
While he didn’t debut in the majors until 2018 and hasn’t posted lights-out results since then, it’s still not hard to see Hill’s appeal. He’s a respectable reliever who comes with several years’ team control, as he’s not slated to reach arbitration until after the 2021 season or free agency until the conclusion of the 2024 campaign.
The groundball-heavy Hill’s coming off a season in which he induced worm burners at a 57.3 percent rate, struck out 8.85 batters per nine and walked 2.95. Those solid numbers helped the soon-to-be 30-year-old to a 3.63 ERA/3.84 FIP across 39 2/3 innings. And the relatively soft-tossing Hill, owner of a 90.2 mph average fastball velocity this past year, proved capable of retiring same- and right-handed hitters. Granted, Hill was markedly better against lefties (.217 wOBA) than righties (.316).
For the Yankees, adding Hill would seemingly give an already strong bullpen a third sturdy lefty to go with Zach Britton and Aroldis Chapman. The club’s bullpen is facing the departure of righty Dellin Betances in free agency, though injuries prevented him from factoring in during its 103-victory, AL East-winning campaign in 2019.
1:07pm: The Yankees announced that Bird has indeed rejected an outright assignment in favor of free agency.
This isn’t how the Yanks expected things to end. The now-27-year-old had a big 2015 debut, hitting .261/.343/.529 with 11 homers in 178 plate appearances, creating some optimism that he could settle in as a long-term option at first base. As one would expect given that rookie output, Bird was afforded quite a few opportunities over the years, but on-field struggles and injury issues sapped him of staying power.
In the past four seasons, Bird has only managed to stay on the field for 140 games and 522 plate appearances, recording a woeful .194/.287/.388 batting line in that time. Ultimately, Bird took seven hundred plate appearances for the Yankees. He hit 32 home runs and carried a .211/.301/.424 slash line. He has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining and should latch on with another club in need of first base/DH depth.
1:41pm: The two teams have both announced the move.
“Nestor is a versatile lefty who can do a little bit of everything,” Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto said in a statement announcing the swap. “He can start, he can relieve, he can give you those middle innings or even operate as an opener.”
Seattle’s 40-man roster is now at 36 players.
1:30pm: The Yankees have traded left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr. to the Mariners in exchange for international bonus allotments, Buster Olney of ESPN reports (via Twitter). New York designated Cortes for assignment last week when setting the 40-man roster in advance of next month’s Rule 5 Draft.
Cortes, 25 next month, has appeared in 37 big league games over the past two seasons — all but one of which was a relief outing. Though he’s been a longtime Yankees farmhand, the lefty actually made his MLB debut with the Orioles in 2018 after Baltimore selected him in the 2017 Rule 5 Draft. He wasn’t able to hold his roster spot, however, and was returned to the Yankees during the ’18 season.
This past year, Cortes made his Yankees debut but limped to a 5.67 ERA in 66 2/3 innings. He averaged 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and logged a 10.5 percent swinging-strike rate, but Cortes also averaged 3.8 walks and 2.2 home runs per nine frames in his limited time with the Yanks. He doesn’t generate many grounders (34.2 percent), nor does he throw especially hard (89.6 mph average fastball), but lefties with strong Triple-A track records and minor league options remaining will always have some appeal throughout the league. Cortes has a pair of options left and, in 205 1/3 innings at the Triple-A level, has a 3.11 ERA with 8.7 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9. A move to a more pitcher-friendly setting could certainly help to curb the home-run troubles that plagued him in 2019, and at the very least he’ll give the Mariners some depth both in the rotation and as a long relief option.
The amount of money the Yankees received in return for Cortes isn’t presently known, but international allotments have to be traded in blocks of $250K, so New York picked up at least that much in additional resources to add to its pool.
The Yankees have made a notable addition to their player development staff, hiring Rachel Balkovec to serve as a minor league hitting coach, reports Lindsay Berra of The New York Times. Balkovec, 32, played college softball with both Creighton and New Mexico and went on to earn two master’s degrees in kinesiology and the science of human movement. She broke into the industry as the Cardinals’ minor league strength and conditioning coordinator and landed a job with the Astros in Latin America after teaching herself Spanish. With Houston, she would meet Dillon Lawson, who now works as the Yankees’ hitting coordinator and recommended Balkovec for the job. She has also worked with Driveline Baseball, conducting research on hitters’ eye tracking and pitchers’ hip movement, which she hopes to apply in her work with the Yankees. As Berra writes, Balkovec is believed to be the first woman employed as a full-time hitting coach at any level of professional baseball. She’ll begin her work in earnest when spring training rolls around in February.
- Free agent outfielder Marcell Ozuna could be in line for a five-year deal, according to J.P. Morosi of MLB Network (video via Twitter). Interestingly, Morosi also names a market of five teams that have expressed preliminary interest in the 29-year-old slugger—which includes a few teams that haven’t been mentioned as obvious suitors for Ozuna. It’ll come as no surprise that the Cardinals remain connected to Ozuna, but Morosi also lists the Rangers, Reds, Diamondbacks, and Braves as teams that could pursue him. Five years still feels a bit optimistic for a player who has yet to show that the career-best numbers he put up in 2017 are repeatable; MLBTR tabbed Ozuna for a three-year deal at the outset of the offseason. However, it’s hadly surprising that Ozuna is drawing his fair share of interest, given his age and raw skills.
- The Pirates are no longer considering Joey Cora for their unfilled manager post, Tweets Enrique Rojas of ESPN. That leaves Twins bench coach Derek Shelton and the Rays’ Matt Quatraro atop GM Ben Cherington’s wish list. Cora has worked as a coach within the Bucs organization for the last several years, first as the Double-A skipper and later as a base coach for the big league team. His ascent up the coaching ladder will be temporarily put on hold, with the Pirates apparently turning their focus to external candidates. The Pirates’ is the last remaining managerial vacancy, so it looks like they won’t have to compete with other clubs for Quatraro or Shelton—assuming they are willing to leave their current employers.
- Turning our attention to free agent pitchers, The Athletic’s Jayson Stark is hearing from Cole Hamels’s agent that the 35-year-old southpaw is a hot commodity, having drawn inquiries from as many as 14 teams. We’ll see just how much of this rumbling is a representative trying to drive up the price for his client, but it’s not hard to see why Hamels has a robust market. There’s no shortage of clubs vying for help in the starting rotation, and Hamels provides exactly that while coming at a considerably lower cost than consensus top options like Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Zack Wheeler: Hamels doesn’t come saddled with a qualifying offer, and, at age 35, won’t rival the market’s juggernauts in contract length or yearly value. For pitching-needy teams that have balked at the asking prices for Cole, Strasburg, and Wheeler, Hamels represents a short-term, reasonably-priced alternative who’s shown he can still hang.
Granite, 27, cracked the majors briefly with the Twins back in 2017 after a strong showing at Triple-A that year. He proved that his keen eye is still good against MLB pitching, drawing a dozen walks against nine strikeouts in 107 plate appearances, but didn’t make much hard contact and ended with a .237/.321/.290 batting line.
In recent years, Granite has plied his trade exclusively at the highest level of the minors. He spent the 2019 season with the Rangers organization, turning in a .290/.331/.375 slash in 541 plate appearances.
3:56pm: If there was any doubt, the MLBPA erased it in a statement making clear that it’s ready to fight on this issue. (Via Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, on Twitter.) The statement provides: “The Players Association will vigorously defend any action taken against Jacoby or his contract and is investigating potential contract violations by his employer.”
As Rosenthal notes, the CBA does speak to this subject, providing: “Any treatment a Player receives for a Work Related Injury by a health care provider who is not affiliated with the Club must be authorized by the Club in advance of the treatment in accordance with Regulation 2 of the [Uniform Player’s Contract].” But that general rule does not necessarily leave us with a clear guide to the outcome of the dispute.
For one thing, there are loads of potential factual and interpretive questions to be addressed. Just what constitutes medical treatment, for instance? For another, the current CBA includes letters of understanding exchanged between the league and union. One in particular acknowledges that there are open disagreements regarding what occurs in cases of conflict in medical opinion. There are perhaps also other legal concepts that might limit the extent to which an employer, even if theoretically empowered by a collective bargaining agreement, may dictate the health and medical choices of an employee. Beyond all that, even if it is determined that Ellsbury has breached his contract, it must still be established that the breach justifies the full or partial abrogation of the Yankees’ future salary obligations.
In other news, Ellsbury is said to be planning to attempt a return in 2020, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter). His anticipated timeline for readiness is not evident. Obviously he’d be looking to catch on with another organization if he’s able to show he’s physically capable of giving it another shot.
1:26pm: The Yankees finally cut bait on Jacoby Ellsbury this week, begrudgingly waving the white flag on the center fielder’s ill-fated seven-year, $153MM contract. Ellsbury is still owed $26,142,857 of that deal — his 2020 salary plus a $5MM buyout on his option for the 2021 season. But he may not receive all of that cash without a fight.
It seems the Yankees intend not to pay Ellsbury his salary for the coming season, based upon the premise that Ellsbury underwent outside medical treatment without approval to rehab the injuries that have plagued him since 2017. George A. King III and Ken Davidoff of the New York Post reported the brewing battle, with Jon Heyman of MLB Network adding further details (via Twitter).
We don’t know much about the precise factual underpinnings of this issue, but the reporting suggests the team believes that Ellsbury acted inappropriately for multiple years. Presumably, the organization believes it can establish that the alleged actions not only violated the terms of his contract, but also contributed to his inability to return to the field of play over the past two seasons.
Ellsbury’s outlook for 2020 isn’t really known, though there has been no indication that he’s likely to play. The once-excellent outfielder had a few solid but generally uninspiring years in New York before falling apart physically more recently. We’ve seen a steady stream of generally ambiguous ailments cited over the past few campaigns. The 36-year-old hasn’t even made it into a single rehab game.
What we do now know is the anticipated procedural progression of the dispute. The Yankees will simply refuse to cut Ellsbury his checks, per Heyman, leaving it to him and agent Scott Boras to pursue a grievance action. It is somewhat difficult to imagine that there won’t be a full-throated battle on both the factual and contractual merits of the Yanks’ anticipated course of action, though certainly a settlement will also be possible. No doubt the league, union, and Yankees’ insurer will have major roles to play in this as well.
It’s all but impossible to guess how this’ll turn out based upon what little we know at present. There’s nothing in terms of recent precedent for such a grievance — at least not one that was public knowledge — so it’s difficult to gauge just how much of the contract the Yankees might ultimately be able to avoid paying or whether they even have a legitimate hope of winning their case. But any finances saved will be notable, as the Yankees currently have about $203MM on the books for 2020 (including projected arbitration salaries) and about $210MM worth of luxury tax considerations.
The Yankees have released outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and designated first baseman Greg Bird for assignment as part of a series of roster moves. The club has also designated left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr. and added seven players – outfielder Estevan Florial and right-handers Deivi Garcia, Luis Gil, Brooks Kriske, Luis Medina, Nick Nelson and Miguel Yajure – to its 40-man roster. Ken Davidoff and George A. King III of the New York Post first reported the Yankees were considering releasing Ellsbury.
This brings to an end a hugely disappointing New York tenure for Ellsbury, a former star with archrival Boston who parlayed his success with the Red Sox into a seven-year, $153MM deal with the Yankees after 2013. Ellsbury was merely a decent to good contributor for the Yankees from 2014-17, and a series of injuries prevented him from taking the field at all over the previous two seasons.
The Yankees currently have a need in center field with Aaron Hicks on the mend from Tommy John surgery and Brett Gardner a free agent, so the fact that they’ve moved on from Ellsbury and eaten the remaining $26MM-plus on his contract speaks to how far his stock has fallen. Now, if the 36-year-old is going to continue his career, he’ll likely have to settle for a minor league pact with another organization.
Injuries have also been ruinous for the 27-year-old Bird, whom the Yankees once regarded as their first baseman of the future. Bird was tremendous during a 178-plate appearance debut in 2015, when the left-hander’s swing looked tailor-made for Yankee Stadium, but that’s the only regular-season excellence he has shown to this point. Bird missed all of 2016 after undergoing shoulder surgery and then hit a meager .194/.287/.388 in 522 trips to the plate from 2017-19. Thanks in part to foot problems, he totaled just 41 PA at the MLB level this season. At this point, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see another team trade for or claim Bird, who still has three minor league options left.
Cortes, 24, is also in the DFA pile with Bird. The southpaw, a two-time member of the Yankees organization and also a former Oriole, saw extensive MLB action with New York in 2019. While Cortes limped to a 5.67 ERA/5.57 FIP in that 66 2/3-inning span, he did amass 9.32 strikeouts per nine against 3.78 walks. Cortes also had a solid year at the Triple-A level, where he posted a 3.86 ERA/3.40 FIP with 9.53 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 over 39 2/3 frames. He has a pair of minor league options remaining.
The Yankees entered the 2019 season expecting Miguel Andujar to continue establishing himself as one of the best young third basemen in baseball. It wasn’t an unrealistic thought on the Yankees’ part, as Andujar was then just several months removed from a 2018 rookie campaign in which he posted outstanding offensive numbers and seemed capable of hitting a double at will. But this past season ended up serving as a massive disappointment for Andujar, who battled right shoulder problems from the outset and barely factored into the Yankees’ 103-win outburst.
Andujar, owner of a sparkling .297/.328/.527 line with 27 home runs during a 606-PA rookie showing, fell from grace this season over 49 injury-affected trips to the plate. The 24-year-old batted a horrid .128/.143/.128 without a homer, and now it’s fair to wonder if he has walked to the plate as a Yankee for the last time.
General manager Brian Cashman has always advocated for Andujar, and that remains the case, but the executive revealed last week that Andujar – even after a nightmarish season – continues to garner plenty of trade interest. Cashman could easily swat away Andujar suitors, as he has consistently done, but unlike last winter, it wouldn’t be out of bounds to wonder whether the Yankees still have a place for him.
When Andujar’s shoulder troubles put an end to his 2019 in mid-May, there was panic because it didn’t seem the club had an obvious replacement on hand. But it turned out the little-known Gio Urshela was more than up to the task, as the 28-year-old slashed a jaw-dropping .314/.355/.534 and swatted 21 HRs with 3.1 fWAR over 476 PA. Was it a fluke from someone who had never even hit much in the minors? Perhaps. However, when Cashman was discussing the Yankees’ third base plans last week, he suggested the position will remain in Urshela’s hands going into 2020. If Urshela continues clinging to the role, is there any other obvious place to put Andujar – whose defense at third has generated poor reviews thus far? It’s debatable.
Cashman has stated the Yankees are open to trying Andujar at first base or in the corner outfield, but the club also has plenty of talent in those areas. Luke Voit, Mike Ford and even the semi-forgotten, injury-riddled Greg Bird represent options there. Even if you’ve given up on Bird (and who could blame you?), Voit and Ford make for a pair of effective major league bats who are affordable. In the corner outfield, meanwhile, the Yankees have the superstar tandem of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton with some potential mix of Brett Gardner, Mike Tauchman and Clint Frazier as fallback choices. Would there be space for Andujar there? Maybe, especially as the free agent Gardner (if he re-signs) will likely be the Yankees’ go-to guy in center field with Aaron Hicks recovering from Tommy John surgery. And the Yankees could certainly rotate Andujar in at designated hitter, where they figure to also rely on a capable-looking cast consisting of Voit, Ford, Judge, Stanton, Frazier and catcher Gary Sanchez.
It goes without saying that the Yankees do not have to trade Andujar. He’s a potential offensive star who’ll make a relative pittance for the next couple years and isn’t even on track to reach free agency until after the 2023 season. But for a club that’s targeting starting pitching this offseason, it wouldn’t be stunning to see New York deal from a surplus (offensive talent) to land an arm(s) prior to 2020. If Andujar does indeed end up on the block, teams like the Pirates, Tigers, Rangers, Royals, Brewers, Marlins, Indians, Angels, Braves and Nationals are among those who could end up in pursuit. Cashman’s in the catbird seat, though, as he could simply retain Andujar in hopes of a bounce-back season if nobody makes an offer to his liking.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.