The Super Bowl has come and gone, but pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training still isn’t in sight. MLB’s labor situation is all there is to discuss at the moment, and we’ll certainly chat about that tomorrow afternoon. Perhaps the MLBPA will have a response to the owners’ offer from the weekend. Until then, let’s rewind to a February from five years ago.
February 6, 2017: Yankees Made Starlin Castro Available In Trade Talks
The Yankees explored trades for several high-priced veterans on their roster this winter, with Joel Sherman of the New York Post reporting that Starlin Castro was among these names. The Yankees “let some clubs know [Castro] was available,” which comes short of actually shopping the second baseman but it does indicate at least an openness to the idea of a deal.
After a not so great Yankees debut in 2016 (.270/.300/.433, 93 wRC+), the Yankees apparently sought deals for the infielder in the offseason. Obviously, nothing came to fruition, and Castro had a nice rebound at the plate in ’17. He hit .300/.338/.454 (111 wRC+) as the team’s second baseman. That performance helped rebuild some of his lost trade value.
As we know now, the Yankees moved Castro in a package for Giancarlo Stanton following the 2017 season. If anything, this rumor foreshadowed Castro’s eventual departure from New York.
February 6, 2017: New York Notes: Yankees, Mets, Romo, Betances, Bullpens
Even though Romo signed with the Dodgers, he actually finished the year with Tampa. He was awful with LA — 6.12 ERA in 25 innings — before closing the year strong for the Rays (because of course he did). The righty pitched to a 1.47 ERA in 30.2 innings with the Yankees’ rivals. Woulda been weird to see a beardless Romo in pinstripes, right?
There hasn’t been any change in the Yankees’ “file-and-trial” stance towards Dellin Betances’ arbitration hearing on February 17, George A. King III of the New York Post writes. “Nothing has changed, we haven’t talked. We have no intention of talking. It’s not close. Somebody else will make the decision,” GM Brian Cashman said.
Dun dun dun. That Cashman quote made things sound icy between both sides, but little did we know how ugly things would get later in the month.
February 7, 2017: Yankees Interested In Chris Carter
The Yankees are “keeping tabs on” one of the best free agents remaining on the board, first baseman Chris Carter, and have had talks with agent Dave Stewart, sources told Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com (Twitter link).
Greg Bird and Tyler Austin were the Yankees’ first base options entering camp, but neither felt like certainties. Bird had missed all of 2016 after shoulder surgery and Austin struck out 36 times in 90 plate appearances in 2016. Carter, who the Brewers non-tendered, led the National League in home runs in 2016 and made some sense as a safer, veteran option.
February 7, 2017: Yankees “Have Checked In On” Travis Wood
With no established major league starters beyond Masahiro Tanaka, C.C. Sabathia and Michael Pineda on their roster, the Yankees “have checked in on” free agent left-hander Travis Wood, tweets FanRag’s Jon Heyman. However, the Yankees “don’t necessarily seem at the forefront of talks” for Wood, whose market has heated up in recent days.
This is one of those rumors I have absolutely no memory of. Wood, a 30 year-old at the time, pitched all of 2016 out of the Cubs’ bullpen after spending most of his early career starting. The southpaw pitched for both the Royals and Padres in 2017 and was awful, so consider that a bullet dodged.
February 16, 2017: Yankees Sign Chris CarterEmbed from Getty Images
The first reports of a deal with Carter actually came on the 7th, the same day the team was reportedly interested. However, the deal wasn’t official until this day. The Yankees and Carter agreed to a $3.5 million deal with plate appearance based incentives.
Carter never reached the first incentive threshold (250 PA) with the Yankees. After 62 games and 208 PA, the Yankees cut him loose. The first baseman hit .201/.284/.370 (74 wRC+) with only 8 homers in pinstripes. The low batting average and high strikeout rate were expected, but the lack of power and poor defense at first base were likely the breaking point.
February 9, 2017: Yankees Talked Chris Carter Trade With Brewers Before Non-Tender
Going in reverse order from MLBTR’s archives for a second here (they merge the initial report of a signing into the official one, hence the February 16th date of the Carter signing post). Good thing the Yankees didn’t do this. Not only would they have had to trade something (not much, but still) for Carter, but they’d also have been on the hook for a more expensive arbitration salary.
February 16, 2017: Yankees Designate Richard Bleier For Assignment
This was the corresponding move to make room for Carter. Bleier, a lefty who’s carved out a very respectable big league career, pitched to a 1.96 ERA in 23 games for the Yankees in 2016 as a 29 year old rookie. Since then, he owns a 3.07 ERA in 226 innings in time with the Orioles and Marlins.
February 17, 2017: Tyler Austin Out Six Weeks Due To Foot Fracture
Austin sustained the injury when he fouled a ball off his foot in batting practice yesterday. He’ll be in a walking boot for the next three weeks and will be shut down from all baseball activity for six weeks, Sherman adds.
Good thing the Yankees signed Carter! At least, it felt that way at the time. Austin begin a rehab assignment in late May, was optioned to the minors in early June, and eventually made it back to the majors before the end of the month when the Yankees designated Carter for assignment.
February 18, 2017: Dellin Betances Loses Arbitration Hearing
February 18, 2017: Dellin Betances, Yankees President Spar Over Betances’ Arbitration Filing
Now, Yankees president Randy Levine is criticizing Betances and his representation at Excel Sports Management for what he describes as a “half-baked attempt” to “use a player to change a well-established market,” as MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch writes (all Twitter links). The hitch was that the best-paid relievers are typically closers, and Betances’ experience in that role is limited. Betances’ $5MM filing number had “had no bearings in reality,” Levine says.
“It’s like me saying, I’m not the president of the Yankees, I’m an astronaut. I’m not an astronaut and Dellin Betances is not a closer,” Levine adds.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes that there’s “bad blood” between Betances and the Yankees going back to last season, when the Yankees renewed Betances’ salary for the league minimum of $507K despite Betances’ strong performances to that point.
Betances, for his part, says the situation will make him more inclined to head elsewhere once he becomes a free agent following the 2020 season, as MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch tweets. “You look at it a little differently now. I think (free agency) will be a little easier when the time comes,” says Betances.
What an incredibly embarrassing and low moment for Randy Levine and the Yankees’ organization. Is there ever a good reason to let Levine get in front of a microphone and speak to the media? I think not. Disagreeing with Betances’ ask is one thing, but these attacks were uncalled for.
To Dellin’s credit, he put this behind him and strung together another terrific two years in pinstripes before an injury-riddled 2019. Then, as he hinted, he departed in free agency to the Mets.
February 20, 2017: Latest On Yankees’ Spending, Rivalry With Red Sox
A number of key players, including Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, are set to become free agents in the 2018-19 offseason. But Cashman says the Yankees aren’t building their strategy on the availability of those types of talents. “We’re not planning that way,” says Cashman. “We’re waiting to transition out of some contracts and some older players and then eventually I’m hoping that we develop enough young players that would prevent us from having to go crazy in the free agent market. … Doesn’t mean we won’t participate in free agency, but we’re hoping to develop.”
The Yankees’ 2017 season was a blessing and a curse, wasn’t it? The unexpected pennant run resulted in the organization taking its foot off the pedal. Were there some developmental successes? Obviously. Aaron Judge lit the world on fire, Didi Gregorius blossomed, and so on. But that doesn’t excuse the richest franchise passing up on mid-20s generational talent just because of money. I guess we shouldn’t have ever gotten our hopes up for either of those two considering what Cashman stated months earlier.
February 20, 2017: Yankees To Sign Jon NieseEmbed from Getty Images
We saw the Wood rumor earlier, but this was the actual transaction the team made to add some veteran rotation depth. Niese never pitched for the Yankees, though. In fact, after the Yankees cut him later in camp, the longtime Met never latched on anywhere else that year. He signed minor league deals with Texas in 2018 and the Mariners in 2019, but only actually appeared in affiliated ball with Seattle’s Triple-A club in ’19.
February 21, 2017: Orioles Acquire Richard Bleier, Designate Christian Walker
The Yankees picked up cash or a player to be named later for Bleier. Seems like the return must have been for cash considerations, because I can’t find any evidence of a player being announced.
February 26, 2017: Yankees Still In Mix For Jose Quintana
…the 28-year-old is still in high demand around the majors, according to CBS Chicago’s Bruce Levine, who writes that the Astros, Yankees, Cardinals and Pirates are “dug into” the Quintana sweepstakes.
I think we’ve discussed Quintana ad nauseam in prior editions of this monthly feature, but here he is again. A Quintana deal did not occur until mid-July when he was moved to the crosstown Cubs.