The Yankees might not have an experienced closer on their roster, but they do have one in camp.
Andrew Bailey is back with the Yankees on a minor league contract. He threw a bullpen this afternoon, and said he no longer thinks of himself as a rehab pitcher just trying to get healthy. He sees himself as a legitimate reliever trying to make the big league roster.
“One hundred percent,” Bailey said. “I came in and spent the offseason training, working as I would if I played last year. The doctor gave me 18, 24 months (to be healthy after surgery), and we’re in that 18th, 19th month. Everyone around here, training staff, coaches and strength and conditioning have all kind of (treated it as if) I’m a normal guy with some needs. Hopefully we get rid of those needs. Everything feels great. I’m with the team and doing everything as I would normally, and if I need a little extra work here or there, that’s fine too. I’m here to compete and earn a spot.”
Bailey has thrown five bullpens since he reported to Tampa after the Super Bowl. In between bullpens, he takes a few more days off than other guys, but the Yankees believe that’s a temporary precaution. Bailey expects to start throwing live batting practice around the time the exhibition schedule begins, which he believes will give him enough time to pitch the innings necessarily to break camp.
“I thought today he looked pretty good, actually,” Joe Girardi said. “I talked to Gil Patterson about it. Compared to where he was last year to where he is (now), there’s significant improvement. I don’t know exactly what we’ll see as far as games, and his bullpens are a little more spread out than maybe some of the other relievers, but that’s on purpose right now, and our hope is that we can catch him up and keep him healthy.”
Bailey’s still just 30 years old. He made two all-star teams as a closer in Oakland, and he could be an option for that wide-open spot in the Yankees bullpen (maybe not as closer, and maybe not by Opening Day, but certainly at some point he could play a significant role). Hard to know what exactly to expect from a guy who hasn’t pitched anything beyond a simulated game in more than a year, but Bailey was awfully good in the past, and he said he feels that way again.
“To feel as good as I do and locate as well as I have been, it’s a pretty awesome feeling,” Bailey said. “I feel fresh and ready to go, and excited for the next step.”
• Bailey is one of the few players who aren’t expected to be ready to play in games the first week of camp. Bailey is just slightly behind the others, but Girardi said he expects Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and CC Sabathia to each be ready for games when the spring schedule starts.
• Over at the minor league complex, Rodriguez was asked about the leadership void in the Yankees clubhouse. “First, no one can replace The Captain,” Rodriguez told reporters. “I know I’m going to miss him tremendously. I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of things. If guys want to ask questions, I love talking baseball, and you guys know that better than anyone. I love the game, and I love to talk it. Whoever needs my help, I’m available.” Clearly Rodriguez isn’t going to be a leader in the way Derek Jeter is a leader, but he really does talk hitting with other players a lot.
• Speaking of which, Didi Gregorius said he got some hitting tips from Rodriguez at the minor league complex this afternoon. Said it was good to meet him. “He’s a good teammate,” Gregorius said. “He introduced himself to everybody when he walked in (at the complex). New player, you don’t know everybody yet, so everybody comes to introduce (themselves) or you go to them.”
• Several other position players began to move stuff into their lockers this afternoon, including outfield prospects Slade Heathcott, Ramon Flores and Tyler Austin, who have three lockers in a row right next to one another on a back wall. Jose Pirela also arrived today. Rodriguez, Gregorius, Chase Headley, Chris Young and Garrett Jones all worked out at the minor league complex.
• Heathcott had yet another knee surgery last season and spent six months recovering at the Andrews Institute. He said he feels a significant difference between now and last spring. “Excellent,” he said. “I’m ready to play in a game right now.” I’ve been talking to Heathcott for many springs at this point, this is the most confident I’ve heard him in years. Finally sounds like he truly believes he’s healthy.
• So far, no significant injuries to report in Yankees camp, though minor league catcher Juan Graterol is still coming back from a broken arm and hasn’t been taking batting practice with the other guys. He’s been catching bullpens, though.
• Speaking of bullpens, there were a lot of them today. I caught most of Michael Pineda’s, and he looked sharp. “I thought his bullpen was excellent,” Girardi said. “I think he ended up throwing 35 pitches. I thought everything was working for him. Arm strength was really good, so that was good.” Remembering that spring of 2012, the arm strength seems to be a key issue.
• Another bullpen that seemed to catch the manager’s eye: “You know, I thought (CC Sabathia’s) bullpen was good today,” Girardi said. “I was pleased, I mean really pleased, with what I saw. Physically, I know the recovery is important, and going out there inning after innings, sitting down and getting back up (will be a different challenge), but I saw a lot of good signs today.”
• Girardi has not yet talked to Rodriguez face-to-face about playing first base, but he said he expects that conversation at some point. “I anticipate that, yeah,” Girardi said. “I’ll talk to him about taking some grounders over there just to be prepared, if I need to give a guy a day off or whoever we chose to do it, but yeah, I’m going to talk to him about it and see how comfortable it is.”
• With Rodriguez set to work at first base, and Headley having some experience there, Girardi left open the decision about who will backup Mark Teixeira. There seems to be one obvious standout candidate, though, and Girardi mentioned him by name. “I think it’s too early to decide who our backup first baseman is,” Giradri said. “Garrett Jones has played over there. That’s something that we’ll work on in spring training.”
• Interesting tidbit from Brendan Kuty: Former Gold Glove third baseman Scott Rolen has been working with third-base prospect Eric Jagielo at the minor league complex. That was at the suggestion of Gary Denbo.
• Final word goes to Girardi, about the way he’ll handle Rodriguez now that position players are set to report in the morning. “The idea for me as a manager is to get the most out of a player,” Girardi said. “I have to do whatever it takes; that’s my job. Will I be any different? I don’t know if the situations will be the same, in a sense. In 2013, he hadn’t served his suspension, a lot of things were still in question and it was different. Now it’s different. He’s served his suspension, a lot of questions have been answered, and now my job is to get to the most out of him again. I’ll do what it takes.”
Associated Press photos
Just got off the phone with assistant general manager Billy Eppler, who answered a few questions about the non-roster guys invited to Yankees camp this spring.
Eppler confirmed that both Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers have been told to prepare as starting pitchers. They will essentially show up in Tampa as sixth-starter options — guys who could fill a rotation spot if someone else gets hurt — but Eppler didn’t rule out the idea of either Warren or Rogers pitching well enough to win a rotation job even if everyone else is healthy.
“I don’t know,” Eppler said. “I think you just walk into it with an open mind and just see. I think you just let it all play out. You usually don’t have to end up making the call. Situations and the players will make the call for you.”
Rogers pitched well as a starter in winter ball this offseason, and Warren was a legitimate rotation prospect throughout his minor league career (he made his big league debut as a starter back in 2012). For now, the Yankees seem to be looking at a five-man rotation of Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Capuano, while they wait for Ivan Nova to come back from Tommy John.
The Yankees expect reliever Andrew Bailey to be an active pitcher in camp. After missing basically all of last season while recovering from a shoulder injury, Bailey should be back on the mound this spring, presumably with a real chance to win a spot in the Yankees bullpen.
“He’s in a throwing program, and there’s been nothing adverse reported from him,” Eppler said.
Slade Heathcott is also expected to report to camp fully healthy. He had surgery yet again last season and played in just nine Double-A games, but the Yankees signed him to a new minor league contract this offseason.
“His progressions are moving forward really positively,” Eppler said. “The last checkup we had, he’s able to do full baseball activities, it’s just (a question of) how regular and how long of a duration.”
New reliever Johnny Barbato — acquired in the Shawn Kelley trade — is also healthy. Barbato didn’t get an invitation to big league camp, but Eppler said that’s not because of the elbow injury that kept him off the mound the second half of last season. Eppler said Barbato actually finished 2014 healthy and pitched in the Padres’ instructional league this offseason before the Yankees acquired him. They’re considering him a healthy and available pitcher, one that will continue to work as a reliever.
“He was cleared and good to go,” Eppler said.
MINOR LEAGUE ASSIGNMENTS
While he wouldn’t give an exact date, Eppler said that veteran pitcher Scott Baker does have an opt-out in his contract (pretty common for a veteran guy on a minor league deal). He’ll come to camp to provide rotation depth, but that could be a short-term thing. If he goes to Triple-A at all — and that might be a big, if — Baker might not be there very long before looking for an opportunity elsewhere.
As for Heathcott and Mason Williams — two prospects whose assignment, Double-A or Triple-A, seems pretty far up in the air — Eppler said their assignments will, in fact, be determined in spring training. This spring could be pretty important for each of those two.
“Any young player wants to make an impression,” Eppler said. “… But you want them to do so in a very cautious manner. (Joe Girardi) tells them, no one is making the team in the first week of spring training.”
Along those same lines, Eppler said the Yankees entered the offseason with strong interest in minor league infielders Noonan, Jonathan Galvez and Cole Figueroa — Galvez, in particular, was signed very quickly — and the team sees all three as potential Yangervis Solarte-types who could really capitalize on a fresh opportunity. Galvez is 24, Noonan is 25, and Figueroa is 27.
And for whatever it’s worth, Eppler said not to dismiss Cito Culver, the former first-round pick who’s hit just .233/.316/.321 in the minor leagues but still got an invitation to big league camp.
“When people look at Cito or whoever, when you look at a player, you’re throwing his offensive numbers in your face,” Eppler said. “We do feel that Cito Culver is a very high, high-end defender. Very high-end defender.”
Because of that defensive ability at such an important defensive position, Eppler said the Yankees still believe Culver could become a consideration should the Yankees have a need at shortstop in the big leagues. In the past, I’ve compared Culver to Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma, also a first-round defensive standout who didn’t hit much in the minors but has seen quite a bit of big league time on pretty good teams.
Some of the more notable names left off the Yankees’ list of spring invites were, as expected, simply the victims of a numbers crunch. Taylor Dugas and Adonis Garcia each played well in Triple-A last season, but the Yankees have 10 other outfielders coming to camp, and Eppler pointed out that infielders Garrett Jones and Jose Pirela will also get some outfield time. As it is, that’s 12 outfielders for three spots.
A similar glut of third basemen kept Eric Jagielo and Dante Bichette Jr. from getting invitations, and Eppler confirmed that reliever Mark Montgomery is healthy, he was simply kept out of big league camp by the recent influx of bullpen talent.
“There’s a limited number of at-bats and innings to hand out in spring training,” Eppler said. “You don’t want to water it down.”
Associated Press photo
The Yankees have invited 26 non-roster players to spring training. Here’s an attempt to rank them in terms of significance these next two months. It’s totally pointless, but it’s also a random Thursday in early February. What else is there to write about today?
Obviously, this isn’t a prospect ranking, and it’s not an attempt to determine ultimate upside or talent. It’s simply an attempt to evaluate which players have a chance to have an impact — whether by making the big league team, affecting minor league assignments, or climbing to the verge of a call-up — based on what they do in big league camp. Basically, for which players does getting an invitation really mean something?
1. Rob Refsnyder 2B
For me, this an easy choice as the Yankees’ most relevant non-roster invitee. Refsnyder brings a perfect combination of long-term potential and short-term opportunity. A big spring could push him into the Opening Day lineup, and if he gets there, he could stick around for the next decade. The Yankees have Stephen Drew penciled in at second base. Refsnyder could change their minds.
2. Jacob Lindgren LHP
Maybe Refsnyder is 1A and Lindgren is 1B. Lindgren also has that combination of long-term potential and short-term opportunity, though the Yankees’ crowded bullpen could diminish Lindgren’s immediate impact. Even if he makes the team, he would likely open in a smaller role like Dellin Betances did last season. Big time potential, though, even if it doesn’t show right away.
3. Luis Severino RHP
Seemingly very little chance of actually making the big league roster out of spring training, but I’m keeping Severino this high because a big spring — making a big impression on Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild — could accelerate his development, push him to Triple-A to open the season, and put him on the verge of a call-up if/when the Yankees need rotation help. Top pitching prospect in the system. Impossible to overlook.
4. Andrew Bailey RHP
This might be too high considering he missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, but the Yankees must have seen something positive in his rehab because they brought him back for another look. The Yankees have at least one wide-open spot in their bullpen, and Bailey has been a very good reliever in his career. Still just 30 years old, too. Might be an all-or-nothing situation; either he’s healthy and valuable or he’s a complete non-factor.
5. Kyle Roller 1B
An admittedly aggressive ranking, but here’s my thinking: The Yankees don’t know what they have in Alex Rodriguez at DH, and they can’t feel totally confident about Mark Teixeira at first base. Roller hit .283/.378/.497 in Triple-A, and this is “don’t forget about me” moment. With Greg Bird on his heels, Roller’s window of opportunity with the Yankees could be very small. This spring, he can make a case that he’s the solution if and when the Yankees need a big bat this season.
6. Nick Rumbelow RHP
Still not Rule 5 eligible, otherwise he’d be a slam dunk for a 40-man roster spot. He’s one of many in a crowded field of relievers, but Rumbelow has impressed and moved quickly — got to Triple-A in his first full season of pro ball — so he belongs on the big league radar. If he outpitches a guy like Danny Burawa or Branden Pinder, Rumbelow could take one of their 40-man spots when the Yankees go looking for bullpen help.
7. Scott Baker RHP
The only veteran starter signed to a minor league contract, Baker is coming to a big league camp in which on starter is a lock for the disabled list (Ivan Nova) and three others carry significant health concerns (Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia). There might not be a spot for Baker right now, but that could certainly change before Opening Day. Baker is trying to prove he has enough left to fill a spot if one becomes available.
8. Tyler Webb LHP
Drafted just a few rounds after Rumbelow back in 2013. Now, those two are in roughly the same spot in terms of call-up potential. Webb has big strikeout numbers and got to Triple-A last season. I’m putting him behind Rumbelow largely because the Yankees already have two lefties locked into big league jobs, plus they have Lindgren and Chasen Shreve also in the picture. But Webb has a real chance to pitch in New York this year.
9. Slade Heathcott CF
Hard to know what to make of Heathcott, which is why I’m keeping him in the top 10. What does he look like after missing nearly all of yet another season because of yet another injury? In a system loaded with left-handed center fielders, can Heathcott do enough to get back on the radar? His status will be more heavily affected by the regular season, but big league camp is a chance to make a real statement.
10. Aaron Judge RF
He’ll get a ton of attention for obvious reasons, but I’m keeping just this low because I’m not sure he can do anything in big league camp to change the fact he’s heading to Double-A to open the season. A big spring might speed up his development a little bit and slightly increase the chances of maybe getting to the big leagues this season, but this is really just a first impression. His regular season will determine who quickly he moves.
11. Greg Bird 1B
Very similar to Judge, except that Bird might have an even greater obstacle standing in his way with both Teixeira’s contract and Roller’s Triple-A success standing between him and New York. Bird is going to be fascinating to watch this spring, but no matter what he does, he’s almost certainly headed to Double-A with only a slim chance of getting to the big leagues this season.
12. Nick Goody RHP
Injuries have slowed his progress significantly, but Goody has a good arm, and spring training might be a chance to make a statement and get himself back on the radar. He’s clearly jumped ahead of Mark Montgomery in the organizational pecking order, so he shouldn’t be taken lightly. Big league camp could be a “remember me” moment.
13. Nick Noonan SS/2B
I really think there’s some chance Noonan is too low on this list. Still just 25 years old. Former first-round draft pick. Has big league experience. Hits left-handed. Able to play all over the infield. The Yankees apparently like his defense at shortstop. Given the lack of infield depth in the Yankees’ system, a guy like Noonan could make a strong impression and get on the radar. The fact the Yankees like him at short seems significant. Maybe a Dean Anna-type.
14. James Pazos LHP
A lot of walks but not very many hits in Double-A last season. Has a non-zero chance of pitching in New York this season, but of the six left-handed relievers coming to camp, Pazos is probably sixth on the depth chart. His spring could be more about making sure he doesn’t get completely overshadowed.
15. Jonathan Galvez 3B
Just turned 24 years old. Coming off a pretty good season in the offense-heavy Pacific Coast League. And the Yankees signed him early this offseason, which would seem to be a sign of serious interest (they also signed Zelous Wheeler really early last offseason). Can’t say that he has a great chance of making the roster at some point, but Galvez seems awfully similar to both Wheeler and Yangervis Solarte (or even Jose Pirela). Could be absolutely nothing, or he could be a surprising something.
16. Wilking Rodriguez RHP
Pitched two games in the big leagues last year. Signed with the Yankees very briefly, became a free agent, then signed again. He turns 25 in March, and not that long ago he was considered a pretty solid prospect in the Rays’ system. Probably gets buried in the Yankees bullpen depth, but shouldn’t be dismissed. A lot of strikeouts (with a lot of walks) in his minor league career.
17. Cole Figueroa INF
Similar to Noonan and Galvez in that the Yankees lack of upper-level infielders could create an opportunity for Figueroa, who played 23 games for the Rays last season. He plays all over the infield and has shown a real knack for getting on base. He’s another left-handed hitter. Could make a spring impression and eventually get a call-up like Wheeler did last year.
18. Eddy Rodriguez C
Cuban catcher who got a cup of coffee with the Padres back in 2012. He’s basically the token veteran catcher brought in to add some experience. If the Yankees lose Austin Romine on waivers and aren’t satisfied with Gary Sanchez’s progress in Triple-A, then I guess Rodriguez could be in the mix for a call-up if the Yankees need help behind the plate. It’s a long shot, but he does have some experience.
19. Cito Culver SS
Hard to know what to make of this one, but the Yankees have repeatedly said that they haven’t given up on Culver, and they seemed to back up those words by inviting him to big league camp. Strong glove, but he’s shown no offensive ability in the minors. Clearly he’s still on the radar. Does a big spring push him to Double-A with a chance to get to Triple-A at some point? Does he still have a big league future? He plays shortstop in a system that’s thin at the position in the upper levels. That can’t be overlooked.
20. Jake Cave CF
Interesting young prospect, one that has jumped ahead of Heathcott and Mason Williams to become the top center field prospect in the organization. He’s this low on the list not because of his long-term potential, but because of his short-term opportunity. Best-case scenario is probably that he plays well enough to end the season in Triple-A.
21. Jose Campos RHP
This is a definite “remember me” opportunity for a guy once considered to be among the top pitching prospects in the organization. Tommy John surgery derailed his development so much that Campos was released this winter. He ultimately re-signed, and a good big league camp — probably with very limited appearances — would simply be a chance to get his name back on Girardi’s radar.
22. Diego Moreno RHP
Came to the Yankees from Pittsburgh in the A.J. Burnett trade back in 2012. He pitched alright in winter ball this year; has good Double-A numbers but didn’t pitch well in his first taste of Triple-A last year. Probably a non-factor, but again, it’s worth recognizing that he got a big league invitation ahead of a guy like Montgomery. Clearly Moreno is on the radar somewhere.
23. Kyle Higashioka C
Got some big league invitations early in his minor league career, but he’s also dealt with injuries while putting up unimpressive offensive numbers. The Yankees like his glove, and like him as a prospect enough to send him to the Arizona Fall League for a few at-bats this offseason. Not a lot of standout, mid-level catchers in the Yankees system. Higashioka is basically trying to earn regular minor league at-bats again.
24. Trent Garrison C
Little surprise that the end of this list is loaded with catchers. Every team brings catchers to camp who have no real chance of impacting the big league roster. I’m putting Garrison ahead of the next two because he was drafted in 2013 and played in High-A last season. Still fairly young and could become a regular among non-roster invitees the next few years.
25. Francisco Arcia C
Hits left-handed. Played in Triple-A last season. Got some playing time in winter ball. It tend to think of Arcia as an organizational catcher who will basically play wherever the Yankees have an opening (could be A-ball, could be Triple-A). I don’t think of him as a factor, but I did have one scout suggest that a team really desperate for catching could have considered Arcia in the Rule 5 draft, so there’s that.
26. Juan Graterol C
Right down to the birth year, the home country, and the little bit of time at first base, it’s hard to see a ton of difference between Arcia and Graterol. Maybe I’m completely missing something, but Graterol seems like additional organizational filler, except this one’s less familiar than Arcia.
Photo from the Charleston RiverDogs
Just when you thought the Yankees had moved on from Stephen Drew, they’ve decided to bring him back.
This week, the Yankees and Drew agreed to a one-year deal worth $5 million plus some incentives based on plate appearances. For now, it seems Drew slides in as the team’s regular second baseman with the flexibility to add depth at shortstop and perhaps third base if necessary.
Really, though, it seems we’re going to have to wait until spring training to see how exactly Drew impacts the 25-man roster. His contract is not so substantial that the Yankees absolutely have to stick with him no matter what happens elsewhere. If Rob Refsnyder, for example, looks like a stronger option at second, the Yankees could get creative to find a way to make that happen.
Ultimately, Drew is a veteran option at a position where the Yankees had no one with substantial big league experience. He hits left-handed and has typically been a much better hitter than what last year’s numbers suggest. This could be a strong buy-low situation, or it could be a $5 million mistake that ends with a mid-season release much like Brian Roberts a year ago.
For now, though, Drew is coming to spring training to give the Yankees another option in an infield that has changed almost completely in the past few months.
• Yankees pitching prospect Ty Hensley was hospitalized with multiple facial injuries after a fight at a friend’s house in Oklahoma. A former college linebacker has been charged with assault, and each side claims the other started the whole thing. Hensley suffered a broken jaw but seems optimistic that this will not derail his career. Just a sad situation all around.
• Speaking of prospects, the Yankees have re-signed their own prospect by agreeing to a new minor league deal with Slade Heathcott. Released earlier this offseason to open a 40-man spot, Heathcott has always been a high-potential center fielder, but his progress has been slowed by a series of injuries. He and Jose Campos were both released at the non-tender deadline, and both have since been re-signed.
• Whatever you want to make of it, Alex Rodriguez posted a picture to his Instagram account showing him going through third base fielding drills as a high school in Miami. Seems little surprise that Rodriguez wants to at least get ready to play some third base. I’m sure he’d like to prove he can handle the position better than Chase Headley, even if the Yankees are clearly doubtful.
• Speaking of DH options, Jerry Crasnick reported that Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard left the Yankees off his no-trade list. In theory, that opens the possibility of trading for Howard in a bad-contract swap, but the Howard contract might actually be worse than anything on the Yankees roster (aside from maybe Rodriguez, who seems perfectly unmovable under any circumstances).
• Coaches were named for Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Most notable seems to be the promotion of hitting coach Marcus Thames to Triple-A, and the promotion of P.J. Pilittere to Double-A. Those two seem to be among the organizational favorites, and both could be rising toward big league roles in the future. Manager Dave Miley and pitching coach Scott Aldred are returning to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, while Al Pedrique is replacing Tony Franklin as the manager in Trenton.
• The leagues in Venezuela, Mexico and the Dominican Republic have entered their postseason, which means several young Yankees have wrapped up their winter league regular seasons. Ramon Flores, Adonis Garcia, Jose Pirela and Ali Castillo stand out as Yankees who played particularly well this offseason.
• Speaking of winter ball, it’s worth noting and remembering that Esmil Rogers has been working as a starting pitcher in the Dominican Republic this winter. Could be stretched out as rotation insurance in spring training.
Associated Press photos
With Slade Heathcott re-signed to a minor league deal, the Yankees now have a ton of outfield depth, but still not the kind of depth that necessitates a trade or a particularly difficult decision. It’s not like the Francisco Cervelli situation in which the Yankees have a player with a defined value, along with the need to move someone in order to open up the proper at-bats for everyone else. Here’s a rough look at the Yankees top upper-level outfielders. Each comes with some good, some bad, and some reason — either because of the team’s needs or because of his own value — that limits his trade possibilities.
The good: Already a borderline Hall of Famer expected to be healthy again after last year’s elbow injury.
The bad: About to turn 38 years old — are we sure last year’s .703 OPS was strictly the product of injury?
Trade him? Not a lot of trade value in an aging player, coming of a bad year, with $30 million left on his deal.
The good: Signed a hefty deal last winter and more or less delivered an as-expected season in his Yankees debut.
The bad: Even coming off a solid season, seven years and $153 million is a massive contract.
Trade him? Might be the best position player on the roster right now.
The good: Power numbers spiked, and for a while he looked like a better player than Ellsbury last year.
The bad: Still a rather streaky player with limited power for a corner outfielder.
Trade him? Might be the most valuable trade chip on the big league roster, but also signed to a reasonable extension.
The good: History of left-handed power with an ability to backup first base, right field and designated hitter.
The bad: Turns 34 in June and his power numbers have been down the past two seasons.
Trade him? Would be more of a salary dump than an actual effort to get anything valuable in return (also provides first base insurance).
The good: Returns to bring right-handed balance after reestablishing himself with a terrific September.
The bad: Other than one good month, last season was bad enough to get him released … by the Mets.
Trade him? Plays a role the Yankees need as a veteran right-handed bat with power and speed off the bench.
The good: Last year’s terrific second half brought back memories of how good a hitter he was earlier in his career.
The bad: A wrist injury contributed to much less exciting numbers before that second-half resurgence.
Trade him? Of all the outfielders ticketed for Triple-A, Austin probably has the most offensive impact potential.
The good: Left-handed hitters with speed and some defensive flexibility; looks like a nice fourth outfielder down the road.
The bad: Coming off an ankle injury and isn’t a great fit while Gardner and Ellsbury are on the roster.
Trade him? Low power potential probably limits his value to more of a second or third piece in a significant trade.
The good: Right-handed hitter who’s shown some speed, defense and on-base ability in the minor leagues.
The bad: Plucked off waivers, suggesting he was not exactly a high commodity (also put up bad winter ball numbers this year).
Trade him? Value is pretty low just a few months after being placed on the waiver wire; DFA might be more likely than a trade.
The good: Offensive utility man put himself back on the prospect map — and in the big league picture — with a terrific Triple-A season.
The bad: Can’t really play shortstop and hasn’t really established whether he hits enough to keep a job in the big leagues.
Trade him? First and foremost, he seems to have a legitimate shot at the big league second base job heading into spring training.
The good: Speed and defense were deemed major-league ready, enough to protect him from the Rule 5 draft this winter.
The bad: Hasn’t hit the past two years, doing a number on his once elite prospect status.
Trade him? Would be selling awfully low — Williams no longer has the value to remotely headline a significant deal.
The good: Might have surpassed Williams and Heathcott as the system’s top center field prospect.
The bad: Doesn’t have overwhelming speed or power, and doesn’t have more than 42 games above A ball.
Trade him? Could be a nice complementary trade piece; could also be the most viable center fielder in the minor league system.
The good: The guys gets on base way too much to ignore; played his way out of the shadows and up to Triple-A last year.
The bad: Never a standout prospect, doesn’t run much, very little power, has spent more time in left field than center.
Trade him? Has never moved the needle among prospect watchers, suggesting his stock is too low to be considered a real chip.
The good: Has been a solid hitter throughout the minor leagues, even when easily overshadowed by other prospects.
The bad: Always kind of a sleeper prospect, but not one who’s forced people to really wake up and take notice.
Trade him? Hasn’t done nearly enough; could more easily simply become a Double-A bench player behind all of this depth.
The good: Has been a pretty nice hitter both in Triple-A and in winter ball (able to play center field and third base in a pinch).
The bad: Turns 30 years old in April so the upside is probably limited.
Trade him? Sure, if some team values a 30-year-old with no major league experience; could be another Ronnier Mustelier.
The good: No one seems to question the former first-round pick’s raw talent and ultimate potential.
The bad: Just can’t stay healthy, which has cost valuable development time; hard to gauge his ceiling at this point.
Trade him? Was a free agent until yesterday; if another team valued him highly, he probably wouldn’t have come back.
The good: After a standout first full season, he emerged as the top offensive prospect in the entire minor league system.
The bad: Ultimately we’re talking about fewer than 500 minor league at-bats; he’s promising but unproven.
Trade him? Plenty of value here, but Judge could be the best middle-of-the-order bat the Yankees have developed since Robinson Cano.
Associated Press photos
Heathcott turned 24 in September and still has big league potential. He was a first-round pick in 2009 and has consistently ranked among the Yankees high-end prospects based largely on his raw talent and athletic ability. His upside was occasionally said to be, basically, Brett Gardner with power.
Injuries, though, have significantly derailed Heathcott’s progress. He played only nine games last season and has only once played more than 76 games in a season.
Because of those injuries, the Yankees made a somewhat surprising yet totally understandable decision to release Heathcott at the non-tender deadline last month. The Yankees did the same with another often-injured prospect, Jose Campos, and have since re-signed both Heathcott and Campos (each of whom might easily have been selected off waivers had they been designated for assignment rather than being released, a trick the Yankees have pulled a few times in recent years).
Even if he’s healthy, Heathcott would seem to be a longshot to make the big league roster if only because he’s left-handed and the Yankees have plenty of lefties in their outfield as it is. Instead, Heathcott will almost certainly slide into a large pool of upper-level outfielders that will fill the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Trenton rosters.
Put Heathcott in the AAA/AA mix with Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, Eury Perez, Ramon Flores, Taylor Dugas, Adonis Garcia, Jake Cave, Aaron Judge and Ben Gamel. Jose Pirela might also need some Triple-A outfield time if he’s not the Yankees starting second baseman.
Random thoughts on this Friday morning • 12.05.14
It’s Friday, and I’m actually off the clock for about 72 hours. I’m taking a few vacation days to spend today and the rest of the weekend with my parents, who are visiting from Missouri. I’ll check back in on Monday — or late Sunday night — when I get to San Diego for the Winter Meetings. Until then, a few random thoughts.
• One sure indication that this free agent market hasn’t played out in the Yankees favor is the fact Chase Headley has gotten a ton of attention lately. He’s a nice player — great glove, does enough offensively, strong presence in the clubhouse — but we just reached the start of December and he’s the best infielder out there. That’s not a great thing for a Yankees team that would like to add not one but two everyday infielders this offseason. With that in mind, last year’s Martin Prado trade looks better and better. Can you imagine trying to find three everyday infielders in this market? If that were the case, wouldn’t the Yankees have to simply roll the dice with either Alex Rodriguez or Rob Refsnyder?
• Andrew Miller is really good, and between him and Dellin Betances, the Yankees could surely find a closer. But I still think if the Yankees do end up signing Miller — without signing Dave Robertson — they might go after a guy like Jason Grilli or Casey Janssen on a one-year deal to potentially handle the ninth inning. Closer is an unusual job, but it’s not necessarily the most important job in the bullpen. Find a one-inning guy who’s been there and done that, and use Miller and Dellin Betances to really shorten the game. Just an idea. I still think the better way to go is simply re-signing Robertson.
• Isn’t it a bit odd that the free agent rumor mill seems to have completely forgotten Asdrubal Cabrera and Jed Lowrie? Stephen Drew’s name pops up occasionally in reports about the market’s lack of a standout shortstop, and Headley has gotten a ton of attention ever since Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval came off the market, but there’s been hardly a peep about Cabrera or Lowrie. Those two might not be shortstops, but in a market that’s thin on third basemen and second basemen, they can surely find an everyday job somewhere. Maybe even with the Yankees if dominoes fall the right way.
• Some talk earlier this week about the possibility of giving up the pursuit of Headley and simply giving Refsnyder a chance to play second base. How would the market have to develop for the Yankees to engage in similar conversations about letting Brendan Ryan play shortstop every day? He hardly played last season, but he carries a well-earned reputation as a defensive wizard. There are worse fallback options, I just what it takes for the Yankees to legitimately open that particular possibility.
• Six at least fairly interesting Yankees prospects who can play center field in Triple-A and/or Double-A next season: Eury Perez, Jake Cave, Mason Williams, Ramon Flores, Taylor Dugas and Adonis Garcia. That’s not to mention Ben Gamel, and even Jose Pirela got some center field time with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year. Point is, the Yankees have a lot of center fielders in the upper levels, so many that I have no idea where exactly Slade Heathcott will play if he re-signs. Losing a first-round pick in a situation like this — ultimately non-tendered because of recurring injuries — is obviously no good, but at this point, I’m not sure Heathcott is a better prospect than a lot of guys just mentioned. Maybe he’ll be back, maybe he won’t, but I have a hard time disagreeing with the Yankees decision that they could no longer hold onto him at all costs. (By the way, all of this is to say nothing of Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge who will surely get most of the time in right field, and give the Yankees two more legitimate upper-level outfield prospects.)
• A quick checklist of topics for the first couple weeks of spring training: Don’t forget to ask about Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow, Carlos Beltran’s elbow, CC Sabathia’s knee, Michael Pineda’s shoulder, Ivan Nova’s rehab, Mark Teixeira’s wrist, Tyler Austin’s wrist, Martin Prado’s appendix, Brett Gardner’s abdomen, and Alex Rodriguez’s … everything. Offseason injury updates usually fill a day or two down in spring training. They might take up all of February this time.
Associated Press photo
This piece by J.J. Cooper over at Baseball America does a pretty nice job explaining the upside to non-tendering a young-but-underperforming prospect. From Cooper:
After checking with a few front office officials, the answer is that teams have figured out a nice quirk of the nontender deadline. It’s one time that teams can clear a player off the 40-man roster without having to designate the player for assignment. Players nontendered do not hit the waiver wire, they become free agents immediately.
Essentially it’s the same idea that the Yankees have used in spring training the past two years when they’ve released rather than designate David Adams and Nik Turley. In each case, the Yankees were able to re-sign the player to a minor league deal. In the case of Adams, he was on the big league roster in a matter of weeks after re-signing.
In the case of Heathcott and Campos, the Yankees clearly decided those players weren’t the best use of a 40-man spot (for obvious reasons). They could have waited and designated them when the roster got full, but that would have exposed the prospects to waivers. If another team had room on its 40-man, it very easily could have claimed the player, stashed him on its roster and hoped for the best.
As free agents, though, Heathcott and Campos have to be convinced to sign elsewhere. Certainly they could be wooed by the promise of a major-league contract and a spot on the 40-man — or they could be enticed by more money or the perception of a better opportunity — but they don’t have to blindly latch on with another organization.
As Cooper writes:
The now-free agent can opt to sign with someone else, but that’s often not as appealing as returning to the organization one already knows. Go to another organization and you’re often just another guy. Stick with your existing organization and you have a few coaches, a signing scout or a roving instructor who is sticking up for you in organization meetings.
It might not work, but in the case of Heathcott in particular — who’s been through quite a bit with the Yankees — there’s surely some appeal in the idea of staying with the Yankees at least until value is reestablished.
Check out Cooper’s story. He uses Heathcott as specific examples of the non-tender strategy.
Associated Press photo
It’s often difficult to determine a team’s non-tender plans involving prospects. Organizational decision makers are obviously hesitant to spread negative information about their own young players, and those same decisions makers are weighing a prospect’s potential against the needs and restrictions of a 40-man roster.
Injured prospects are always at risk of being non-tendered (which helps explain the Yankees decisions on Slade Heathcott and Jose Campos), as are prospects who have not advanced as expected toward the big leagues (that’s Campos) and prospects who have essentially been surpassed by similar players in the system (that’s Heathcott).
While last night’s decisions might have come as a surprise — it’s always a bit surprising to see these decisions with former top prospects — it’s hard to be truly stunned by them. Prospects have to develop, and those two really didn’t.
The non-tender surprises, though, really started with the new contract for Esmil Rogers, a relief pitcher who seemed expendable and stood out as the most obvious non-tender candidate on the roster. Using the wildly accurate MLB Trade Rumors projections, Rogers was expected to earn roughly $1.9 million in this second year of arbitration. Instead, according to Jon Heyman, the Yankees got him to agree to $750,000 guaranteed with the potential to earn up to $1.48 million. Think of it as kind of a middle ground between the non-tender and the typical arbitration process.
It was not exactly what was expected, which means it mildly changed some things going forward.
Three reasons Rogers seemed to be a strong non-tender candidate:
1. The roster: The Yankees 40-man roster stood at 39 players with a shortstop, third baseman, starting pitcher and relief pitcher still on the shopping list. Non-tendering Rogers was a way to open a roster spot for someone else.
2. The money: At slightly less than $2 million, Rogers’ expected salary for next season wasn’t much, but it was enough to be worth saving if possible. Why sign a deal if the team knows it’s going to cut the player?
3. The bullpen: Assuming the Yankees add a true late-inning reliever, the bullpen seemed to have six logical pieces already in place without Rogers (Betances, Kelley, Warren, Wilson, Phelps, and a new guy). That left one spot open for spring competition among a few young guys and probably a non-roster veteran or two, which meant the Yankees didn’t absolutely need Rogers.
So what’s the impact of keeping Rogers?
1. The roster: Rogers now has a roster spot that could have gone to someone else. Could have gone to Heathcott, for example, or it could go to the new shortstop (whoever that is). Obviously the Yankees could DFA Rogers at some point, but if it’s as simple as that, then a non-tender was the way to go. Re-signing Rogers suggests he’s higher on the pecking order than some of the younger guys. At some point — either this winter or next season — the Yankees are probably going to have to open a roster spot, which means someone’s going to have to go. Is it going to be the guy they just signed? Probably not.
2. The money: After making $1.85 million last season, Rogers was projected to earn $1.9 million for next season. That’s more than David Phelps is projected to make and only slightly less than Michael Pineda. Instead, he’s guaranteed only slightly more than the minimum, and his financial upside is still fairly small. Clearly the Yankees like him too much to simply let him go for nothing. Amazingly enough, if he maxes out the contract, Rogers could be the second-highest-paid reliever among players on the current roster. Only Shawn Kelley is expected to make more.
3. The bullpen: At this point, Rogers has to be considered a favorite for a spot on the Opening Day roster. Clearly that could change between now and then, but Rogers would have been non-tendered if the Yankees didn’t think he had a good chance to make the roster. Put a free agent in the ninth inning, then put Kelley, Dellin Betances and Adam Warren in various setup roles, make Justin Wilson the go-to lefty, and treat Phelps and Rogers as long relievers and middle-inning guys. That could be the Opening Day bullpen. Probably won’t actually work out that way, but based on the guys in place, that’s at least a reasonable prediction. If nothing else, Rogers is another bit of pitching depth to compete for a job this spring.
Associated Press photo
Late last night came word that the Yankees non-tendered three players, including two prospects. Here’s a look at all three decisions.
Non-tender possibilities always begin with arbitration eligible players, but prospects become candidates in certain situations. In the case of Heathcott, injuries have taken their toll and have cost him a spot on the 40-man roster (and perhaps a spot in the organization). Around this time last year, Heathcott was added to the 40-man after hitting .279//.339/.514 in the second half in Double-A. His 2013 season was cut short by a late-season knee surgery, but it was said to be minor, and Heathcott seemed determined during spring training. By mid-season, he was having knee surgery again. The Yankees roster was overflowing with outfielders — especially left-handed hitters who can play center field — and so Heathcott was, in a way, expendable. It’s worth noting that a non-tendering Heathcott might also give the Yankees a chance to keep him by re-signing him to a minor league deal (might have a easier time keeping him that way rather than having to DFA him mid-season).
Three years in the Yankees organization and Campos has pitched just 111.2 minor league innings. He made just five starts in 2012 and spent the rest of the year nursing a somewhat vague elbow injury. He came back in 2013, worked with a very strict pitch limit, and completed 19 starts plus another seven multi-inning relief appearances. Things seemed to be heading in the right direction until April of this year when Campos had Tommy John surgery. His minor league numbers are impressive — 3.37 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 8.6 strikeouts per nine — but he’s never pitched above Low A, and now he has the surgery hanging over him. He’s simply no longer a guy who looks like he belongs on a 40-man roster. It’s always a bit stunning to see a legitimate prospect non-tendered, but it’s hard to know what to make of Campos these days. Like Heathcott, he stands out as a guy who the Yankees could try to re-sign to a minor league deal that doesn’t require a roster spot.
Here’s a guy who pitched fairly, seems unlikely to make much money, but simply doesn’t fit on the Yankees roster. When this offseason started, Huff was probably the top left-handed reliever on the 40-man. Then the Yankees acquired two players. Justin Wilson came over from Pittsburgh and instantly became the top in-house lefty for the big league bullpen, and minor league veteran Jose De Paula signed a major league contract that made him look like basically a younger version of Huff (and a version that still has options). The Yankees simply have too many potential long relievers and spot starters — Phelps, Rogers, Mitchell, Banuelos, Whitley, De Paula — and Huff would have been redundant, despite the fact he’s not likely to earn much more than the minimum next season. Huff stood out as a non-tender candidate from the beginning, though he’s a non-tender guy who could legitimately land a big league contract on a different roster. He just doesn’t fit this one.
Associated Press photo