November Notes: Activations, Betances, Cole/Sabathia, Gregorius, Lyons, Swanson

The quiet period has ended and the true madness of MLB free agency has begun. The Yankees made just one noteworthy move, as they prevented star closer Aroldis Chapman from becoming a free agent with a with a three-year extension.

The Yankees made a few procedural moves catch and there were a few small headlines as unrestricted free agency opened at 5 PM yesterday:

Five Players Reinstated From 60-Day Injured List

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Since there is no injured list in the offseason, the Yankees were forced to activate five players prior to the 5 PM deadline Monday. Third baseman Miguel Andújar, right-handed pitcher Jake Barrett, first baseman Greg Bird, outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and right-handed pitcher Jonathan Holder all returned to the active roster, per team announcement.

Andújar was recovering from shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, Barrett was out with right elbow inflammation, Bird tore the plantar fascia on his left foot, Ellsbury apparently was still feeling pain from his hip surgery plus some irritation from plantar fasciitis and Holder suffered from right shoulder inflammation.

The Yankees announced they sent Barrett outright to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after his activation, removing him from the 40-man roster.

With the removal of eight 40-man roster players to free agency and the return of these five, the 40-man roster stands at 36.

Betances “Will Be Fully Recovered” by December

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Arguably the most unlucky Yankee in 2019, current free agent Dellin Betances appears to be on track for a normal 2020 season after rupturing his Achilles tendon on the mound in Toronto in his only 2019 appearance.

The Achilles tear made Betances’ contract year go from bad to worse after missing most of the season with a right shoulder impingement. He made his season debut in game 151, recorded two strikeouts, apparently injured the Achilles tendon celebrating what he thought was the third out, was removed from the game and subsequently out for the season.

Anything close to a regular Betances season would have put him in the conversation for top relief pitcher on the market. Betances is second to only Aroldis Chapman for fWAR from 2014 to 2018 amongst qualified relievers. Questions about his ability to recover from his 2019 injuries likely depress his earning power in the free market.

That would increase the Yankees’ hope (and mine, personally) that they can bring back their 8th-round pick back from 2006 on a prove-it contract in 2020. The question remains whether Betances will be open to something like that, especially given the pre-existing animosity between himself and the Yankees front office.

Cole, Sabathia Have Discussed Pitching for Yankees as “A West Coast Guy”

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Now that CC Sabathia is officially retired, he might play an even more important role in the Yankees offseason than ever before. He revealed in his R2C2 podcast together with Yankees announcer Ryan Ruocco that he has talked to Gerrit Cole about “pitching as a Yankee as a West Coast guy”.

(some NSFW language)

“Me and Gerrit Cole have spoken at length many times about me pitching as a Yankee as a West Coast guy.

This is crazy. You know how, this is like shaping out like the same offseason that I had [in 2008]. Everybody here going crazy like, blah blah blah, ‘he don’t wanna come here, he don’t wanna come here’.

If you offer that motherfucker enough money, he’s gonna want to come here. I’m speaking from experience.”

CC Sabathia on Gerrit Cole’s free agency

CC makes a great point that no one thought the Yankees had a legitimate chance at landing the left-hander, who told then-Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti he wanted to play in California.

Ten days after that article was published, Sabathia, of course, signed his seven-year, $161 million contract to become the ace of the Yankees. He famously would not leave the team until his arm literally self-destructed on the mound at Yankee Stadium in 2019.

Only time will tell if history will repeat itself with Cole and the Yankees.

Gregorius Does Not Receive Qualifying Offer

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The Yankees decided (rightly, in my opinion) to let shortstop Didi Gregorius hit the free market without offering him the one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offer.

Gregorius played in 82 games after recovering from offseason right elbow reconstructive surgery. The development of his market will be interesting, coming off a major surgery and a .238/.276/.441 (84 wRC+) slash line.

The 2018 season made it look like Gregorius could truly step into the conversation as an elite shortstop, with a .268/.335/.494 (122 wRC+) slash that was bogged down by an awful month of May (.396 OPS/0 wRC+). Add in +2.3 BsR and a +9.8 DEF and it really looked like the Yankees found their guy to lock up with an extension.

But, a regression in walk rate (from 8.4% to 4.9%), increase in strikeouts (12.1% to 15.4%) and drop in wOBA (.350 to .297) left himself and the Yankees with bad tastes in their mouths.

It’s unclear what Gregorius is looking for on the open market, but the reality is that the qualifying offer would be far too expensive if the Yankees were looking to retain Didi for just one more season. In contrast, accepting that offer would easily have been a strong outcome for Gregorius. He’d get a raise of $6.05 million on a prove-it deal to then re-enter the free agent market without a qualifying offer next time around.

If the Yankees were planing to keep Gregorius for just one year, they would be able to get him for much cheaper than $17.8 million. That’s why he wasn’t tagged with the qualifying offer.

Lyons Elects Free Agency In Lieu of Outright

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The Yankees tried to outright lefty Tyler Lyons off the 40-man roster like they did with Jake Barrett. However, Lyons elected free agency since he had been outrighted by the Pirates already this year.

Lyons was signed to a minor-league contract after his release from the Pirates organization and first pitched for the Yankees in Triple-A on August 16. He allowed one run in 4⅔ innings for the RailRiders before an eventual promotion September 1.

He made 11 appearances in September, allowing four runs in 8⅔ innings while auditioning for a LOOGY role. The Yankees carried him on both the ALDS and ALCS rosters. He appeared in ALDS Game 2 (1 IP) and ALCS Game 4 (⅔ IP) without allowing a run.

Lyons is not eligible for arbitration until next offseason.

Yankees Hire Swanson From Twins as Catching/Quality Control Coach

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The Yankees have added a coach from the Minnesota Twins for 2020, per Brandon Warne of Zone Coverage, a publication dedicated to covering Minnesota sports. They’ve poached Tanner Swanson to serve as their Major League Catching and Quality Control Coach.

Swanson had been the Twins’ Minor League Catching Coordinator since the 2017 offseason. Previously, he worked for Santa Clara University and the University of Washington.

He was repeatedly cited by Twins catcher Mitch Garver as the reason behind his improved defense. “It’s the only reason I’m still catching,” Garver told FiveThirtyEight of his work with Swanson. “Really.”

Garver was ranked in the 3rd percentile in framing by Baseball Savant in 2018, but improved to be ranked in the 47th percentile in 2019. It’s worth noting that Savant’s framing metrics ranked Gary Sánchez in the 72nd percentile in 2018 but dropped him to the 30th percentile in 2019.

Swanson confirmed the hiring by changing his Twitter biography and header photo to include the Yankees.

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