The Yankees added veteran catching depth to their ranks Wednesday, reportedly inking 31-year-old Ryan Lavarnway to a minor league contract. That deal also carries an invite to MLB Spring Training, as well as a likely ticket to playing time with the Triple-A SWB RailRiders.
Lavarnway has always been a part-time big-leaguer, appearing in a career-high 46 games for the Boston Red Sox in 2012. He’s also played for the Baltimore Orioles (2015), Atlanta Braves (2015–2016), Oakland Athletics (2017) and Pittsburgh Pirates (2018). He is a career .208/.268/.326 (59 wRC+) hitter with seven home runs and 43 RBI.
In 2018, he hit .288/.375/.485 (145 wRC+) for Triple-A Indianapolis in the Pirates organization. He went 4-for-6 in a six-game cameo with Pittsburgh as a September call-up.
Just like the Erik Kratz trade and subsequent signing last year, Lavarnway is around to provide a veteran presence in Spring Training and help shoulder the workload in Triple-A. The Yankees upper-level catching depth is thin with Wilkin Castillo and Francisco Díaz both set to become minor-league free agents.
The second-longest tenured Yankee will be back for another round next season, as Joel Sherman (New York Post) and Mark Feinsand (MLB.com) report CC Sabathia has agreed to a 1-year, $8 million deal. This will be Sabathia’s final season pitching, according to a source close to Feinsand.
The deal contains no incentives, and is pending a physical. That physical will take place tomorrow, per the Post’s George A. King III. The lefty is currently appealing a five-game suspension levied for purposely throwing at Tampa Bay Rays catcher Jesús Sucre in retaliation for a pitch thrown at Austin Romine‘s head.
In his age-37 season, Sabathia was a solid starter, throwing 153 innings of 3.65 ERA (4.16 FIP) baseball across 29 starts. He saw his strikeouts-per-9 increase while keeping his walks steady, though he allowed slightly more hits per inning. The veteran very likely will return tentatively to the No. 5 spot as the Yankees certainly look to add “multiple” arms, per Brian Cashman.
Since joining the Yankees in 2009, the lefty has gone 129-80 with a 3.74 ERA (3.82 FIP) in 284 starts.
J.A. Happ, one of the arms that the Yankees and Brian Cashman would like back in the Bronx next season, is currently in “preliminary talks,” reports SNY’s Andy Martino. Jon Morosi of MLB.com corrborated the report, and also indicated Toronto had also reached out as well.
This really isn’t a surprise, as the Yankees have expressed public interest in bringing the veteran lefty back after an incredible 11-start run with a 2.69 ERA to end the regular season. He came to the Yankees in a deadline deal that saw Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney traded to Toronto.
Overall in his career, Happ owns a 109-82 record and 3.90 ERA (4.10 FIP). MLB Trade Rumors predicts the 36-year-old will end up with a 3-year, $48 million deal from the Los Angeles Angels.
The Yankees have made clear that their first offseason priority is to upgrade their pitching staff. The most obvious fixes would come from the free agent market in the form of Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ or CC Sabathia.
But now, according to Fancred’s Jon Heyman, there could be multiple aces available via trade as the Indians and Mariners look to shed costs. He reports the Yankees are interested in RHPs Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber from the Indians and LHP James Paxton from the Mariners.
Carrasco made 32 appearances in 2018, going 17-10 with a 3.38 ERA (2.94 FIP) for Cleveland. He has made at least 30 starts in three out of his last four seasons, and owns a 3.40 ERA (3.12 FIP) across that span. Carrasco relies on 5 pitches: Four Seamer (31.4%), Slider (30.9%), Changeup (16.4%), Sinker (13.2%), Curve (8.2%).
Kluber leads all MLB pitchers in fWAR since 2014 with a whopping 31.0. He went 20-7 with a 2.89 ERA (3.12 FIP) in 2018, and was named as a finalist for the 2018 American League Cy Young Award. He won the award in 2017. Kluber relies on 5 pitches: Sinker (32.7%), Cutter (29.5%), Curve (22.4%), Four Seamer (8.8%), Changeup (6.6%).
Paxton is the lone lefty of the group, going 11-6 with a 3.76 ERA (3.23 FIP) in 28 starts in 2018. He missed 17 days on two separate occasions, however, because of lower back inflammation and a left forearm contusion. The issue with Paxton is that you can bank on at least two different disabled list stints per season, as he dealt with a left forearm strain and left pectoral muscle strain in 2017. Paxton relies on 4 pitches: Four Seamer (63.6%), Curve (21.5%), Cutter (14.4%), Changeup (0.4%).
Now, let’s look at the contractual obligations of all three. Each is controllable for multiple years, which will add to the prospect cost.
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Kluber easily has the most team-friendly deal. He provides so much more value than his contract is priced for. I think the Yankees should aim high for Kluber, then fallback on Carrasco should that deal not work out. I’m not the highest on Paxton because of his inability to stay healthy and because of his reliance on fastballs.
It’s no secret that the Yankees are pursuing left-handed starting pitchers in an attempt to revamp their starting rotation for the 2019 season. The team has already been connected to Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ, but another interesting option has emerged from Japan: 27-year-old Yusei Kikuchi.
The lefty was just posted by his Nippon Professional Baseball team, the Seibu Lions. He is now free to negotiate with all 30 MLB teams under a new posting policy that got rid of the exclusive negotiation period that teams would bid for previously. Instead, teams now pay a percentage of the overall guarantee to the original team that posted the player.
Kikuchi made 23 starts (163⅔ innings) in 2018 around a disabled list stint for left shoulder stiffness. He went 14-4 with a 3.08 ERA and 8.5 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. The ERA was his highest since 2014, when he pitched to a 3.54 ERA in 139⅔ innings.
Reports indicate Kikuchi has the ceiling of a No. 2 starter in the MLB, with a fastball that usually sits between 92 and 94 mph with the occasional pitch around 96 mph. His other pitches are a slider, curveball and change-up.
In 2009, Kikuchi considered bypassing the Japanese amateur draft and signing directly with an MLB team. He reportedly met with the Red Sox, Dodgers, Rangers, Giants, Yankees, Mets and Mariners before ultimately deciding to sign a contract with Seibu. He was the Pacific League’s leader in wins and ERA in 2017, and was an NPB All-Star in 2013, 2017 and 2018.
Of course, the Yankees are no strangers to using the posting system to acquire talent from Japan. They signed Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year, $155 million deal in January 2014. They signed Hideki Matsui to a three-year, $21 million contract in 2002.
Jon Heyman of Fancred has reported that the Yankees will, at the very least, “look into” signing free agent infielder Manny Machado this offseason. This report paints the Yankees as more favorable towards a run at the mercurial star, after it was previously reported that the team was “lukewarm” on a pursuit of the 26-year-old.
Machado hit .315/.387/.575 with 24 homers and 65 RBIs in 96 games for Baltimore before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers and finishing the year hitting .273/.338/.487 with 13 more home runs and 42 additional RBI. That led to an overall .297/.367/.538 batting line and 37 home runs, which matches a career-high.
But, a .672 OPS in the 2018 postseason and controversies about how he handles himself have led to questions about an all-out pursuit of Machado. That is likely what led the Yankees to be just “lukewarm” on one of the most hyped free agents of all-time. I’d also imagine that term was leaked in order to safeguard the Yankees’ leverage in any potential negotiations.
The Yankees attempted to pry Machado away from the Orioles at the 2018 Trade Deadline, and have been connected to the superstar on a few different occasions. Didi Gregorius is set to miss most of the 2018 season with Tommy John surgery, and there have been consistent questions about Miguel Andújar‘s defensive abilities at third base. Those two spots are obvious fits for Machado with his elite offensive and defensive abilities.
MLB Trade Rumors, which does an annual prediction series on the fates of their Top 50 Free Agents, believes Machado will sign a record-breaking 13-year, $390 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. That’s the second-biggest contract prediction in their article, as they also predict Bryce Harper will land an unprecedented 14-year, $420 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Yankees are aiming to put a majority of their offseason focus into improving their pitching staff for 2019. That search will be centered on a pair of lefties – Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ, according to Fancred’s Jon Heyman. Having more than one strong lefty in the Yankee rotation would help neutralize lefty bats that often target the right-field porch at Yankee Stadium.
Patrick Corbin – 11-7, 3.15 ERA (2.47 FIP), 11.07 K/9, 2.16 BB/9, 6.3 fWAR
By WAR, Corbin was the third-best qualified pitcher in the National League behind stunning seasons from the Mets’ Jacob deGrom and the Nationals’ Max Scherzer. His 48.5% ground-ball rate was sixth-best in the National League, and would’ve been second-best on the 2018 Yankees (minimum 50 innings) behind Sonny Gray‘s 50%. Obviously, Gray wasn’t as successful as Corbin, but Gray walked close to two more batters per nine than Corbin and struck out three batters less per nine. Simply put, Corbin misses bats and can avoid the big hit despite an NL-leading 41.7% hard contact rate amongst qualified pitchers. If it’s hit hard, but on the ground, a well-positioned infield can get you an out. There will be an obvious learning curve with a jump from the National League West to the American League East, but I think Corbin is up to it.
J.A. Happ – 17-6, 3.65 ERA (3.98 FIP), 9.78 K/9, 2.58 BB/9, 3.2 fWAR
At first glance, Happ’s stats are not as strong as Corbin’s, but are still impressive. What I appreciate most from Happ is that he put this line up against the formidable American League East with the pressure of a New York Yankees postseason run on his shoulders. Happ was filthy down the stretch and provided incredible value for the Yankees when he went 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts. Age is the only big concern for the lefty. Happ is 36 now, but showed how he can still be effective for at least a few more seasons.
In a perfect world, the Yanks are able to haul both of these southpaws in as free agents with room to keep building the team. Heyman listed Nathan Eovaldi, Gio González, Dallas Keuchel, Wade Miley, Charlie Morton, Hyun-jin Ryu and CC Sabathia as other options should the Yankees fail to sign either Corbin or Happ. He also mentioned Clayton Kershaw but the lefty just agreed to a 3-year, $93 million extension with the Dodgers as expected.