The transaction freeze has been lifted, and the Yankees have until 4 PM on Sunday to finalize their 60 player group that will be invited to the Bronx for Spring Training 2.0. Here are a few player-related notes that have bubbled up over the last few days:
Bettis to Retire Rather Than Re-Join Yankees
After a career full of challenges both on and off the field, right-handed pitcher Chad Bettis has decided to call it a career. The 31-year-old pitched for the Colorado Rockies from 2013 to 2019 after being drafted by the club in the second round of the 2010 draft. In December 2016, Bettis was diagnosed with testicular cancer that spread enough to require chemotherapy in March 2017. He was unable to pitch until the Rockies 118th game that season. The Rockies attempted to send him outright to the minor leagues after the 2019 season, but he declined the assignment and became a free agent.
The Yankees signed Bettis to a minor-league contract in February, but he did not appear in game action for the Yankees before Spring Training was shutdown by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bettis finishes his big-league career with a 5.12 ERA (4.59 FIP) in 600⅔ innings pitched for the Rockies.
Hicks “Ready to Play” After Elbow Surgery
Under normal circumstances, the Yankees would have needed to plan for their starting center fielder to miss a significant chunk of the season after undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery in the offseason.
However, the timing of the pandemic shutdown ended up providing Aaron Hicks with the time needed to properly rehabilitate his elbow in order to participate fully in the second iteration of Spring Training. The 30-year-old told George A. King III of the New York Post that he “would be ready to play” once things get going.
“I am doing really well. I am up to 160 feet throwing, taking BP on the field and doing defensive work. I get better and better [throwing] every day and every week. The throwing gets stronger. It is definitely coming. It comes in its own ways when it wants to. I am not too far off. I will throw to bases coming up here pretty soon, think next week. My arm feels great.”— Aaron Hicks, via George A. King III (NY Post)
A back injury in Spring Training and the elbow flexor strain that predated his surgery limited Hicks to just 59 games in 2019, where he slashed .235/.325/.443 (102 wRC+) with 12 home runs. This will be the second season of his $70 million extension signed in February 2019. He would have been due $10,785,714 in a full season, but will make $3,994,708.89 in the shortened 60-game season.
Since taking the majority of starts in center field for the Yankees in 2017, Hicks has authored a .250/.359/.464 (123 wRC+) slash line with 54 homers in 284 games. He has featured a walk rate that is comfortably above league average, and strikes out around the average MLB clip.
The unfortunate caveat to these impressive numbers is that Hicks has played in just about 58% of the team’s games in that same sample size. His injury history since joining the Yankees is significant: right hamstring strain (September 2016), right oblique strain (June 2017), left oblique strain (September 2017), right intercostal muscle strain (March 2018) and left lower back strain (March 2019). Hicks still managed to be able to play in the 2019 ALCS despite knowing he would need elbow surgery in the offseason.
Judge Hitting Off Tee; Opening Day Status Still Unclear
The mystery ailment that slowed Aaron Judge during the first Spring Training appears to have relented enough to allow the slugger to begin hitting off a tee. Judge’s injury was revealed to be a stress fracture in his ribcage and partially punctured lung from a diving catch late in the 2019 regular season.
It’s unclear how far behind Judge is in his quest to be ready for the Opening Day lineup. Stress fractures require periods of downtime to allow the bone to heal, and allowing Judge to participate in a high-stress activity like hitting indicates he has made signifcant progress.
Even if Judge is not ready for Opening Day, the Yankees have the luxury of putting 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton (now healthy from a calf strain) in right field, or some combination of Brett Gardner, Clint Frazier or Mike Tauchman in the outfield corners.
Naturally, the Yankees would love to have Judge fully healthy in their lineup. Since becoming the full-time starter in right field in 2017, he has slashed .279/.401/.572 (157 wRC+) with 106 home runs.
First-Round Pick Wells Signs With Above-Slot Bonus
The Yankees have signed their first-round pick from this year’s draft, inking catcher Austin Wells with a signing bonus of $2.5 million. He was selected 28th overall, which carried a slot value of $2,493,900.
Wells used his leverage as a draft-eligible sophomore to squeeze an extra $6,100 out of the Yankees. He had indicated early on in the process that he intended to sign with the team. The lefty-hitting Wells slashed .357/.476/.560 with seven homers in 71 games for the University of Arizona.
Some scouts think Wells’s offensive skills will develop fast enough to require a position change. Most think he will be a competent corner outfielder, with first base as a possible backup plan. Wells has indicated he will put in the necessary work to try and stick behind the plate, and the Yankees have catching guru Tanner Swanson to help with that mission.
The Yankees have $1,196,000 remaining in their bonus pool, including the maximum allowable 5% overage. The team has yet to sign third-round pick Trevor Hauver ($587,400 slot value) or fourth-round pick Beck Way ($438,700 slot value). The sum of those slot values comes to $1,026,100, so the Yankees will have an extra $169,900 to sway those last two players.
Including the eight undrafted free agents, and assuming each received the $20K maximum bonus, the Yankees have spent $2,660,000 on this year’s draft class. The team has until August 1 to sign Hauver and Way.