Yankees Sign LeMahieu; DFA Locastro

Jan. 14: The Yankees have officially signed LeMahieu, and have designated utility man Tim Locastro for assignment to create a 40-man roster spot.

Locastro had been acquired right around the 40-man roster deadline in November in exchange for 2015 third-rounder Drew Finley. I would think the Yankees will attempt to sneak him through outright waivers to have him with the RailRiders in 2019. We’ll see.

The Yankees have agreed with a free-agent infielder on a contract, but it’s not the one people expected. Manny Machado, move over. Multiple reports from all over the baseball media landscape say the Yankees agreed with 30-year-old DJ LeMahieu on a 2-year, $24 million contract. The club has not confirmed.

Jack Curry at the YES Network was first on the news, and said the Yankees will use LeMahieu “as a versatile player around the infield. They will use him at second base, first base and third base.” He has played exclusively second base since 2015, but does have a few games at each of the aforementioned positions.

Like anybody who plays at Coors Field, LeMahieu received a ton of scrutiny for his home/road splits. In 2018, he hit .317/.360/.433 (85 wRC+) at home, and .229/.277/.422 (85 wRC+) on the road. But, he won a batting title in 2016 behind an overall .348/.416/.495 (130 wRC+) batting line.

LeMahieu’s best tool is his defense, having reeled in the National League Gold Glove award at second base in 2014, 2017 and 2018. His 12.9 defensive WAR component (per Fangraphs) was highest among qualified second basemen in all of baseball for 2018. He’ll be tasked with getting himself reacquainted with third base and first base in pinstripes.

This move gives the Yankees five infielders for four spots, which would be fine if the outfield wasn’t four players for three spots. With one designated hitter role, there will either be a ton of off-days or something’s going to happen before March 28. Injuries, regression or a surprise trade could throw things off.

One thing is certain, in my opinion: the Yankees aren’t paying LeMahieu $12 million per year to be a utility bench player. That’s the kind of money you pay someone to be out there just about everyday. I’d watch for some movement that would allow that to be the norm for the Yankees.

Yankees Ink Hutchison, Lipka to MiLB Deals

More depth on minor-league deals.

Jan. 11: The Yankees have officially announced the signings.

Both players have received invitations to Tampa for Spring Training, but will both likely start the season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Jan 10: The Yankees continue to add to their depth, signing right-hander Drew Hutchison and utilityman Matt Lipka to minor-league contracts, according to Gotham Sports Network’s Max Wildstein.

A 15th-round pick by the Blue Jays in 2009, Hutchison bounced around a ton in 2018. He pitched in 11 games for Philadelphia, then made nine appearances for Triple-A Oklahoma City in the Dodgers organization and finished the season with five starts for Texas. Overall in the big leagues, the 28-year-old had an ugly 6.75 ERA (6.42 FIP) and an abysmal 40.9% ground-ball rate. Hutchison likely will eat some innings in Tampa and spend most of 2019 in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Lipka was a first-round pick of the Braves in 2010, and played all of 2018 with Double-A Richmond in the Giants organization. He hit .240/.329/.352 (91 wRC+) with four home runs and 30 RBIs in 123 games for the Flying Squirrels. He started at least one game at second base, third base, left field, center field and right field during the 2018 season.

It’s unknown at this point if either player has been invited to MLB Spring Training, though I’d imagine at the very least Hutchison will get an invite.

Yankees Re-Sign Britton; DFA Alberto

The Yankees secure the first of Brian Cashman’s two relievers.

Jan. 11: The Yankees have officially announced Britton’s signing on Twitter.

To clear a roster spot for Britton, they’ve designated infielder Hanser Alberto for assignment. He was acquired in a waiver claim from the Texas Rangers on Nov. 2. He was hitting .322/.366/.392 with one homer and 16 RBIs in 43 games for the Gigantes del Cibao of the Dominican Winter League. Alberto lasted on the Yankees 40-man roster for two months and nine days.

Jan. 5: With the ink barely dried on David Robertson‘s two-year, $23 million contract with Philadelphia, the Yankees struck a deal to bring back reliever Zach Britton. The deal guarantees the first two years of the contract, a two-year team option after year two, or a one-year player option should the Yankees decline it.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic was the first to report momentum towards a deal, and Jeff Passan of ESPN confirmed shortly after that an agreement was in place.

That contract has become somewhat of a Scott Boras specialty, having debuted these paired options in contracts for Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Yusei Kikuchi and now Britton. Britton will earn a $1 million raise from his final year of arbitration salary, and will remain in the Bronx for at least two seasons. From what I gather, the Yankees have the first choice on the two-year team option, and after that, Britton can either opt in for 2021 or test free agency again.

After coming to the Yankees in a Trade Deadline deal for prospects Cody Carroll, Josh Rogers and Dillon Tate, Britton pitched to a fantastic 2.88 ERA and stellar 77.8% ground-ball rate in 25 outings for the Yankees. With his impending free agency approaching, Britton fielded questions about a return to the Bronx, and he always seemed open to the idea.

The Yankees had always said they were looking at two relievers, and it will be interesting to see the direction they take as the market begins to heat up. They’ve been very connected to Adam Ottavino recently, but he would be an expensive piece for a bullpen already stocked with expensive pieces. I’m very into the idea of ownership going full Evil Empire and securing Ottavino, as well as Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado. They’re definitely going over the first luxury tax threshold, and they should make it worth it.

CC Sabathia Cleared to Begin Working Out

The 38-year-old should be ready for Feb. 13 in Tampa despite an early-December health scare.

CC Sabathia took an important step towards being ready for February’s Pitchers & Catchers reporting date, as the team announced Tuesday that he has been cleared by doctors to begin working out after an early-December angioplasty.

The veteran lefty had a stent inserted Dec. 11 after experiencing “acid reflux, heartburn and an increased amount of perspiration while riding an exercise bike,” according to Bryan Hoch of MLB.com. After a hospital evaluation, Sabathia “is said to have an excellent short-term and long-term prognosis.”

“We’re thankful for CC responding or reacting to the complaints he was having in such an intelligent way to make sure he got the care necessary, so there were no serious consequences,” GM Brian Cashman said.

The Yankees had put a pause on their trade negotiations surrounding Sonny Gray as they awaited confirmation that Sabathia was still on track for Feb. 13. Gray, as I’m sure you know, has generated trade interest from up to 11 different teams this offseason. Cashman had said that they might hold onto Gray in order to ensure they would be protected if Sabathia’s heart issue would delay his arrival in Tampa.

Sabathia will still be forced to sit out the first five games of 2019 after hitting Tampa Bay Rays catcher Jesús Sucre with a pitch in retaliation for a pitch thrown behind the head of Austin Romine.

Hot Stove Notes: Gray, Germán, Ottavino, Tulowitzki

Sonny Gray could be here much longer than anyone expected.

With Zach Britton back in pinstripes pending a physical, there are a few other storylines involving the Bronx Bombers as there are just 37 days until Pitchers & Catchers are due in Tampa:

CC Sabathia’s Health Could Delay Sonny Gray Trade

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The Yankees are considering holding on to right-hander Sonny Gray because of CC Sabathia‘s recent angioplasty. Brian Cashman insisted early in the offseason that Gray would absolutely be traded prior to the 2019 season.

“Our intention is to move Sonny Gray and relocate him when we get the proper return, in our estimation,” Cashman said. “It’ll happen this winter, it’ll happen in the spring or it’ll happen sometime during the season. The CC circumstance certainly has given us pause, because we want to make sure that we’re covered and protected.”

Sabathia had a stent inserted during an emergency angioplasty in early December when a blocked artery was found in his heart. Bryan Hoch of MLB.com reported that “While the Yankees have said that they expect the 38-year-old Sabathia to report to Spring Training on time, Cashman has slowed negotiations concerning Gray until Sabathia clears an array of follow-up visits scheduled for this month.”

Per Jon Morosi of MLB.com, the San Diego Padres continue to be in touch with the Yankees about Gray, and have been connected to him all winter. As many as 11 teams have been connected to Gray at some point this offseason, though Cashman appears to be narrowing his focus.

Domingo Germán Granted Fourth Option Year

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A minor housekeeping note about right-handed pitcher Domingo Germán: he has been granted a fourth option year because he spent an entire optional assignment year on the disabled list. After being acquired in the 2014 offseason alongside Nathan Eovaldi and Garrett Jones for David Phelps and Martin Prado, Germán missed all of 2015 after burning his first option because of Tommy John surgery. Cashman announced the news during the conference call announcing Troy Tulowitzki‘s signing, and also noted that fellow righty Luis Cessa will be entering 2019 out of options.

Yanks “More Engaged” on Ottavino Than Machado

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The reliever market is moving, and Andy Martino of SNY is reporting that the Yankees are currently “more engaged on Adam Ottavino than Manny Machado“. Martino cited that Machado’s decision-making process appears to be “still moving at glacial pace” and that the bullpen “market is moving and Ottavino could sign soon”.

Earlier in the offseason, the Yankees weren’t included in the list of teams that were in talks with Ottavino. The most cited were the Red Sox, Rockies and White Sox. Now, even with Britton in agreement to return to the Bronx, the Yankees “are continuing to pursue Ottavino,” per Jon Heyman of Fancred.

Ottavino, for his part, turned in another fantastic season as the setup man for Wade Davis in Colorado. In 75 games, he owned a 2.43 ERA (2.74 FIP) and a 193 ERA+.

No Utility Role Discussed With Tulowitzki

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It seems the Yankees will use Troy Tulowitzki exclusively at shortstop for his Yankees tenure. Andy Martino of SNY reports that the Bombers’ pitch to the former All-Star “was fully centered around an opportunity to play short”. Tulowitzki will begin 2019 suiting up at the same position as his idol, Derek Jeter, and will have the luxury of a no-trade clause accompanying his league-minimum contract. Tulowitzki has yet to record a professional inning away from shortstop, and it appears that won’t change with the Yankees.

Yankees Sign Billy Burns to MiLB Deal

The 29-year-old is a switch-hitter with great speed.

The Yankees added to their outfield depth Friday, reportedly signing speedy 29-year-old Billy Burns to a minor-league contract. That report came via Michael Meyer of the Mets blog MetsMerized. Jon Heyman of Fancred confirmed the signing in a tweet Saturday.

Burns is a switch-hitter with experience in all three outfield positions. Of course, with his kind of speed, he’s played the majority of his big-league innings in center field. In 242 MLB games with Oakland and Kansas City, Burns owns a career .270/.308/.353 slash line with five home runs, 55 RBIs and 46 steals (75% success rate). That line is mostly buoyed by his stellar 2015, where he hit .294/.334/.392 for Oakland. Since then, he’s been a .233/.269/.293 hitter in the MLB.

The Atlanta-native played all of 2018 at Triple-A in the Royals organization, hitting .255/.314/.316 with four homers and 36 RBIs in 102 games. He saw a marked decrease in stolen base success, stealing 10 bases in 18 tries (56% success rate). Again, he saw the majority of his time in center field, with his next highest number of innings coming in left field.

Besides providing a third outfielder for the RailRiders, Burns will likely be in MLB camp as a non-roster invitee in the same role as Shane Robinson in 2018. Hopefully, he won’t be starting in a pivotal August series at Fenway Park. The Yankees showed how important outfield depth can be last year, and I would think signing Burns is just an initial step after losing their once formidable depth to trades, the Rule 5 draft and injuries. I’d imagine a plethora of similar signings

Yankees Sign Troy Tulowitzki; DFA A.J. Cole

Tulowitzki will suit up at the same position as his idol, Derek Jeter.

January 4, 2019: The Yankees have officially announced the Tulowitzki signing, and have designated RHP A.J. Cole for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot.

Cole made 28 relief appearances for the Yankees in 2018, mostly in a mop-up role. He had a stellar first few months, but the wheels fell off when he finished the season with a 8.40 ERA in August and September. All told, Cole finished with a 3-1 record and 4.26 ERA after his April 24 acquisition in a cash trade.

For Tulowitzki, the plan is for him to be the Opening Day shortstop should his health allow it. The Yankees internal options, namely Hanser Alberto, Thairo Estrada, Tyler Wade or a position shift for Gleyber Torres, were not deemed sufficient.

“I think the Troy Tulowitzki thing is about being open-minded and reactionary and making sure we’re exploring all options that present themselves,” Brian Cashman said during the introductory conference call. “I think this probably snuck up on a lot of people. We’re aiming high and we’re evaluating other options that present themselves, and Troy was a late entry into the available marketplace.”

For now, the Yankees will feature an all-righty infield of Miguel Andújar at the hot corner, Tulowitzki at shortstop, Torres at second base and Luke Voit at first.

January 3, 2019: According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Tulowitzki will be undergoing his physical with the Yankees today.

After his release from the Toronto Blue Jays, the Yankees attended 34-year-old shortstop Troy Tulowitzki‘s free agent workout in California. Now, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the Yankees are in agreement with the veteran on a one-year, league-minimum contract, pending a physical.

Passan notes that Tulowitzki “is expected to play shortstop for the Yankees while Didi Gregorius recovers from Tommy John surgery,” and that the move does not remove the Yankees from the Manny Machado sweepstakes.

Tulowitzki was released by Toronto on Dec. 11, allowing him to become a free agent and sign with any of the other 29 teams. The Blue Jays still owe him $38 million through the end of the 2020 season, but the Yankees will be responsible for a $555K salary. He last played consistently in 2016, when he slashed .254/.318/.443 (104 wRC+) in 131 games for the Blue Jays. He managed to be a 3.0 fWAR player that year because of stellar shortstop defense. He missed all of 2018 because of bone spurs in both of his heels that required surgery.

At league-minimum, this seems to be a low-risk, high-reward move for the Yankees. They can easily cut bait with Tulowitzki if he’s unable to perform at a high enough level or if his ugly injury history shows itself again.

I’m intrigued to see what this means for Miguel Andújar. If the Yankees also sign Machado, it seems Andújar’s only path to playing time with the Bombers would come at first base, left field (unlikely) or at designated hitter. Of course, they could also use him as a trade chip to bring in a high-profile starting pitcher as well.


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