Yankees Extend Aaron Hicks

Just before 8 o’clock this morning, Jack Curry of the YES Network announced via Twitter that the New York Yankees signed center-fielder Aaron Hicks to a 7 yr./70 million dollar contract extension.

The extension begins with this season, replacing the one year contract Hicks signed in January, and extends through his age-35 season. This is an extremely wise move by Yankees GM Brian Cashman and the front office. It ensures that Hicks, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton will stay together through 2022 at the earliest.

Hicks will man centerfield for the foreseeable future, at least until highly-touted OF prospect Estevan Florial is ready for major-league action. Florial is in Yankees camp as a non-roster invitee, but probably two years away. Chances are Hicks will shift to left field when that time comes.

For this season, it looks like long-time Yankee Brett Gardner will get most of the playing time in left. Gardy is 35, and wears down as the season goes on. He could split time with Clint Frazier, or Jacoby Ellsbury (remember him?) if he actually plays. The Yankees have to pay Ellsbury anyway, so they may as well see if he can contribute.

Long term, I have a feeling Cashman will try to trade Frazier if he has a healthy spring. With Hicks, Judge, Giancarlo and Florial, there’s really no room for Clint. They may as well trade him for prospects and start replenishing the farm system for the future.

Also of note, according to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are now shifting their attention to try to sign Dellin Betances to a long-term deal.

The Yankees play this afternoon against the Toronto Blue Jays at 1:00 on YES Network. The Big Maple, James Paxton makes his spring debut against Marcus Stroman. See you there!

MLB Non-Roster Invitees – American League Central

Welcome back! Pitchers and catchers have been in camps across Florida and Arizona, getting acquainted or reacquainted with each other. This week, position players will be in camp looking to get things started. In addition to players on 40 man rosters, there are several “non roster invitees” with each team, looking to make good impressions. Some are young guys, usually early round picks that teams are excited to see, and the rest are veteran ballplayers trying to latch on somewhere.

On Friday, we took a look at three non-roster invitees on each team in the AL East who To start off your Monday. Let’s pick three NRI’s on each team in the AL Central to talk about.

Chicago White Sox

  • Blake Rutherford (RF) – Rutherford, a 2016 1st round draft pick, came to the White Sox in the summer of 2017 from the New York Yankees in the deal that sent David Robertson, Todd Frazier and Tommy Kahnle to the Bronx. Rutherford, 21, spent last year in High-A ball where he posted a .293/.345/.436 slash line to go with seven home runs and 78 RBI. A left-handed hitter, Rutherford is tall and lanky (6’3″, 195), can play all three outfield spots and can steal a few bags (15 in 2018). He is expected to begin 2019 with the Double-A Birmingham Barons.
  • Ryan Goins (INF) – Goins began the 2018 season with the Royals, where he posted an anemic .226 average in 41 games. He was released at the beginning of July and signed a minor league deal with Philadelphia the following day. The 31 year old Goins spent the rest of the season with their Triple-A team where he hit .220 over 42 games. At least he was consistent. He’s no more than minor league filler, but will provide steady infield defense no matter where he plays.
  • Evan Marshall (RHP) – If 28 year old Evan Marshall never throws another major league pitch, he’s come out on top. He’s overcome and returned from brain injury from a 105 mph comebacker and he and his wife, Allie, had a major health scare when their four-month son Ryan became ill. Thankfully, it appears both Evan and Ryan are healthy now. Here’s hoping Evan can resume his major league career on Chicago’s South Side in 2019.

Cleveland Indians

  • Dioner Navarro (C) – Wait, what? The 35 year old switch-hitting catcher hasn’t played a major league game since 2016, when he split the season between the White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, hitting a weak .207. In 2018, Navarro played 20 games with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League, with pedestrian results. Surprises can happen, but I will be stunned if he plays another MLB game.
  • Matt Joyce (OF) – After hitting a career-high 25 home runs in 2017, the left-handed slugger lost his mojo in ’18. He finished the season barely above the “Mendoza Line” at .208 and only seven HR’s in 83 games. After two seasons in Oakland, Joyce signed a minor-league deal with the Tribe a little more than a week ago. He rebounded nicely in ’16 after having a rough 2015 season in Anaheim, but at age 34, the odds are a bit longer.
  • Alex Wilson (RHP) – Signed to a minor league deal the same day as the aforementioned Matt Joyce, Wilson came from the Tigers, where he spent the last four seasons. He had decent numbers last season, posting a 1.05 WHIP to go with a 3.36 ERA. The 32 year old Wilson isn’t a strikeout pitcher. He “only” throws 92-93 with his heat and has a cutter (86-88) he employs well. Wilson could be a guy the Indians make good use of, especially after losing Andrew Miller and Cody Allen to free agency

Detroit Tigers

  • Casey Mize (RHP) – 21 year old Casey Mize was the number one pick in last year’s amateur draft after a successful collegiate career at Auburn University. He has a fastball that ranges 92-96 and can reach back for a little more when he needs it. Mize made five brief starts in the low minors, all but one at High-A ball in Lakeland (Florida State League). Over his 11.2 innings, he struck out ten and walked only two. Look for Mize to spend all 2019 in the minors, and at the very least the first month of 2020 so the Tigers can keep an extra year of team control.
  • Daz Cameron (OF) – Cameron, a 2015 first-round draft pick of the Houston Astros, was acquired by Detroit in the 2017 mid-season trade that sent Justin Verlander to Houston. The young center-fielder, the son of former MLB outfielder Mike Cameron, began 2018 in High-A Lakeland. He was promoted to Double-A after 58 games, and again promoted to Triple-A Toledo after a good showing in more than fifty games in Erie. In AAA, the sleek right-handed hitter struggled a bit in his brief 15 game stint as a Mud Hen. Look for him to begin ’19 in Toledo, but he could be in the Motor City by September, maybe even mid-season if he tears it up.
  • Pete Kozma (INF) – Thirty year old Pete Kozma will never be confused for a good hitter, but hard work and determination are a staple of his. After his days with the Cardinals ended after 2015, he bounced from the Yankees to the Rangers, to Detroit. He even found time to play 24 games with the Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball League. Expect Pete to play in Toledo this year, assuming he stays with the organization. If nothing else, Kozma’s work ethic and experience will be more important to the team than his actual play.

Kansas City Royals

  • Drew Storen (RHP) – The ink on Storen’s minor league deal isn’t even dry, having signed his contract on Friday, Feb. 15.

If he doesn’t make the team, he has an opt-out he can exercise on March 25. Storen spent 2018 recovering and rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, last pitching for the Cincinnati Reds in 2017. If Drew is healthy, he will be a serviceable reliever. Storen, now 31, doesn’t have the velocity he had when he was closing for the Nationals in the early part of this decade, but he knows how to pitch. It’s no-risk, high reward potential for the Royals.

  • Homer Bailey (RHP) – Also pulled from Cincinnati’s recycling bin is former Red Homer Bailey, he of one of the most hideous season stat-lines in recent history. All he did over his 20 starts was go 1-14 with a 6.09 ERA and WHIP of 1.63. He is still only 32, and the velocity is still more than good enough, averaging more than 93 with his gas. Perhaps a much needed change of scenery and some mechanical adjustments will do Bailey good. Another no-risk/potential high reward.
  • M.J. Melendez (C) – 20 year old Melendez was Kansas City’s second round pick in 2017 and is rated as the team’s fifth-best prospect in their system. He spent last year in A-ball in Lexington of the South Atlantic League where he hit a respectable .251 with 19 home runs and 73 RBI in 111 games. It’ll be a while before Melendez reaches the majors for good, but rubbing elbows with the boys in the big-club now will be good motivation for him to work hard and get back.

Minnesota Twins

  • Royce Lewis (SS) – Royce is the top prospect in the Twins organization and was the number one pick of the 2017 amateur draft. Lewis, 19, spent last season split between Single-A Cedar Rapids, where he hit .315, and High-A Fort Myers (.255). His combined stats were respectable, logging .292/.352/.451 with 14 HR’s and 74 RBI. He stole 28 bases in 36 attempts. Lewis had 21 errors in 112 games, but experience and maturity will help clean that up. Look for him to start the season in High-A ball and advance to AA Pensacola later in 2019. If he really crushes it, a promotion to AAA Rochester late in the season isn’t be out of the question.
  • Lucas Duda (1B/DH) – Like a lot of current free agents, the market just hasn’t been there this offseason. The lefty power-hitting Duda took what he could, signing a minor league deal last week. The Twins need a first baseman after Joe Mauer retired, and this is a low-risk deal that will pay off if the 33 year old Duda has a rebound year. He’s never going to hit for average, but if Lucas hits closer to the 30 jacks he tallied in 2017, it’ll be well worth it.
  • Tim Collins (LHP) – Collins first made it to the major leagues back in 2011, when he made the Royals team out of spring training. He stayed in Kansas City through 2014, then missed the 2015, ’16 and ’17 seasons because he had two Tommy John surgeries. The 28 year old Collins resurfaced in 2018 with the Washington Nationals, making 38 appearances. The 5’7″, 168 lb. lefty is small in stature, but still generates a good fastball, still reaching 93-94 even after his elbow surgeries.

And with that, we’ve knocked off the AL Central Division. On Wednesday, we will turn our eyes to some non roster invitees in the AL West. Please join us!

MLB Non-Roster Invitees – American League East

Spring training is finally here! Pitchers and catchers are already with their teams in Arizona and Florida, along with a good number of position players looking to get a head-start on things.

There are always a ton of players in MLB camps every spring, the majority of them being players on the 40-man rosters. Every team also has a number of players who are “non roster invitees”. The term is pretty self-explanatory. These guys are players who are not on the 40 man, but are invited to major league camp so the front office, manager and coaches can take a look at them. It’s generally a mix of young talent (think early round draft picks) and older players who are looking to looking to latch on with teams, hoping to continue their careers.

Today we’re going to look at a few players on each team in the American League East Division, and we will cover the remaining AL and National League divisions in future articles. Here we go!

Baltimore Orioles

Sean Gilmartin (LHP) – Gilmartin is a 28 year old soft-tossing lefty pitcher who first broke in with the New York Mets in 2015. He pitched very well in the ’15 season, but has scuffled in succeeding years, kicking around the minor leagues. He surfaced in Baltimore in 2018, pitching to a 3.00 ERA in 27 innings. He may come in handy for the O’s in 2019, and lefties have a way of sticking around.

Jace Peterson (Utility) – Peterson began 2018 with the New York Yankees, but was gone by the end of April when the Orioles plucked him off waivers after playing only three games in the Bronx. He didn’t hit well, ending the season on the Mendoza-line (.200 average), but he proved to be handy because he can play anywhere on the field. The Orioles have little talent, so the 28 year old handyman may end up sticking. Being a left-handed bat helps.

Mike Yastrzemski (OF) – Does the name Yastrzemski sound familiar? If you know your baseball history, it should. Yes, Mike is the grandson of former Red Sox legend and Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. The 28 year old bats left-handed like his grandfather and plays good defense in the outfield like him. In 2018, he spent the bulk of the season in Triple-A Norfolk, where he had a slash-line of .265/.359/.441. If young Yaz has a productive spring, he could fill a gap with the big club until some of their OF prospects are ready down the line.

Boston Red Sox

Erasmo Ramirez (RHP) – It seems like the former Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners hurler has been around forever, having made his debut back in 2012, but he’s only 28 years old. After Seattle acquired him in the middle of the 2017 season, he pitched reasonably well, compiling a 3.92 ERA down the stretch. Things went sideways last season. Ramirez made ten starts, pitching to the tune of a 6.50 ERA over 45.2 innings. He spent a few months on the DL with a shoulder injury, which might have been why he was so ineffective last season. The Red Sox’s rotation is pretty well set, but a good spring could land him a bullpen spot or a MLB deal elsewhere.

Zach Putnam (RHP) – The 31 year old Putnam hasn’t pitched since April 2017, when he injured his elbow in the middle of a game, resulting in Tommy John Surgery. He signed a minor league deal in December. He doesn’t throw hard (91-92) but was effective in 2016 (2.30 ERA), striking out more than a batter per inning. If Putnam stays healthy, he could provide good bullpen depth.

Rusney Castillo (OF) – The Red Sox signed the Cuba-born outfielder prior to the 2014 season to a seven year deal worth more than 72 million dollars. For all this money, the Sox have received a grand total of seven home-runs and 35 RBI since Castillo signed his name to the contract. He played a half season in 2015 in Boston and a handful of games in ’16, after which the Sox correctly figured Castillo was a bust. They have to pay him anyway, so he may as well be in big-league camp. He will probably be paid another 11 million to play in Pawtucket in 2019. His contract has an opt-out after this year, but I’m pretty sure he’ll want the 14 million he will be owed in 2020.

New York Yankees

Danny Farquhar (RHP) – Danny’s 2018 season came to an abrupt halt in late April after he suffered a brain hemorrhage in the White Sox dugout in the middle of an appearance. He made an incredible recovery after having life-saving brain surgery, and the Yankees signed him to a minor league deal on February 1. Farquhar has good stuff, but with mixed results over his career. If the soon to be 32 year old stays healthy, he will be excellent bullpen depth. This is such a great feel-good story, it won’t matter if he throws another pitch because he’s already won. I’m rooting for him.

Ryan Lavarnway (C) – The Yankees signed Lavarnway to a minor league deal in early November with an invitation to big league camp. The 31 year old will likely spend 2019 in Triple-A Scranton Wilkes Barre as depth and to add a veteran presence to work with the organization’s young hurlers such as Michael King, Domingo Acevedo and others. This is a nice addition.

Mike Ford (1B/DH) – 26 year old Mike Ford is a power-hitting first baseman who has worked his way through the Yankees minor league system. In 2017, he hit 20 home runs between AA Trenton and AAA Scranton, but was left unprotected on the 40 man. The Seattle Mariners took him in that winter’s Rule 5 Draft, meaning the M’s had to keep him on their big league roster for all of 2018, or have to return him to the Yankees organization. The latter happened, and he was returned. He hit 16 homers last year in Triple-A, and provided a slash-line of .253/.327/.433. His strong left-handed bat is good insurance if Luke Voit and/or Greg Bird go down.

Tampa Bay Rays

Ryan Merritt (LHP) – Remember him? The former Cleveland Indians pitcher who made a strong postseason start in Toronto back in 2016 has battled shoulder injury problems ever since. He was released last fall and quickly signed a minor league deal with the Rays. Merritt, soon to be 27 years old, never threw hard but does throw strikes —  and the Rays have a way of getting a lot out of their pitchers, so who knows?

Emilio Bonafacio (Utility) – Bonafacio is yet another guy who seemingly has been around forever, but is “only” 33 years of age. He’s played on eight different MLB teams, and if he makes the Rays squad, it’ll be nine. The switch-hitting utilityman spent most of 2018 with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League, where he hit .348 and stole 20 bags. With a young team, his veteran presence could go a long way, and his hard work would set an example for the kids.

Oliver Drake (RHP) – This poor guy must always keep his bags packed. He spent time on the rosters of five (FIVE!) different major league teams in 2018, having been plucked continuously off waivers. Despite all this time migrating from once place to another, he managed to make 44 appearances (1-1, 5.29 ERA), recording 51 strikeouts over 47.2 innings. Hopefully the 32 year old Drake will find a home with the Rays.

Toronto Blue Jays

Eric Sogard (INF) – Sogard spent the last two seasons in Milwaukee after spending parts of six seasons with the Oakland A’s. He was released by the Brewers on Sept. 1 with an anemic .134 average. Tampa signed him to a minor league deal in December and will add depth. There’s not much chance of him making the big league squad, as there are too many guys ahead of him. The 32 year old Sogard will likely be slated for Triple-A Buffalo. He’s a pro and young kids such as Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will benefit from his tutelage.

Mark Leiter, Jr. (RHP) – 27 year old Mark Leiter, Jr. was selected off waivers on Sept. 1 by the Blue Jays after the Phillies DFA’ed him. He came up as a starter in the Philadelphia organization and made a handful of starts for the Phillies in 2016 with mixed results. Leiter, the son of former MLB pitcher Mark Leiter and nephew of Al Leiter, pitched exclusively out of the pen last season. He’s not overpowering, topping out in the low 90’s and will probably be minor league filler in 2019.

Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. (3B) – I saved the best for last. This is Vladdy Jr’s first big league camp. To be sure, it will be his last as a non-roster invitee. The 19 year old son of MLB Hall of Fame right-fielder Vladimir Guerrero tore the cover off the ball between AA and AAA in 2018, to the tune of a .381/.437/.636 slash-line. He hit 20 home runs in 95 games and had 227 total bases. What stands out to me is the fact he only struck out 38 times in 357 at bats, walking 37 times. I had the privilege of watching him at a game in Buffalo last August. Here he is facing Scranton Wilkes Barre’s lefty Nestor Cortes, Jr.

 

 

Vladdy will likely begin the 2019 season with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, to give the Blue Jays an extra year of team control. I can’t wait to see what he can do when he’s called up, which will likely be early May.

In our next entry, we’ll take a look at some non-roster invitees in the AL Central. I hope you’ll join us!

Jack Morris: The Definition of an Ace

Jack Morris has had a busy summer. The former Detroit Tigers starting pitcher was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 29, and this afternoon he had his number 47 retired by the Tigers, ensuring that no Tiger player will ever wear the 254 game winner’s number ever again.

I began watching baseball regularly in 1983, about the same time Morris’ name began to be associated with other top starting pitchers of the day. I watched every game pitched, as long as the game was televised. He became more of a strikeout pitcher under the tutelage of then-Tigers pitching coach Roger Craig, who taught his pitchers how to throw a split-finger fastball. This pitch, which became known as a “splitter”, has the same action as a fastball coming out of the hand, but drops suddenly just before reaching the plate. A properly thrown splitter will cause the hitter to swing over top of the ball, and Morris perfected this pitch to his advantage.

Morris won 20 games for the first time in his career in ’83, and started 1984 off with a bang. In his second start of the season, he pitched a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox. At the time, the White Sox were no slouches, having come off a 99 win season in ’83, losing to the Baltimore Orioles in that year’s ALCS.

 

Morris’ no-hitter was the first one I ever saw on TV, and it was so exciting to watch. I was barely a teenager watching NBC’s “Saturday Game of the Week” , with legendary broadcasters Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola making the call. Not many games were shown on TV in those days the way they are today. NBC chose to cover this game in advance, as future Hall of Famer and new White Sox starter Tom Seaver was originally slated to make his debut with the team. However, a rain-out changed things, bumping all Chicago starters back a day.

The Tigers went on to win 35 of their first 40 games, and they ran away with the AL East Division in 1984. They went on to win the World Series, beating the San Diego Padres four games to one. Morris went on to win 198 games in a Tigers uniform, starting 34 or more games in six of his last seven seasons in Detroit. However, 1984 was the only year he won a ring with the Tigers.

Jack became a free agent after the 1990 season. On February 5, 1991, he signed a one year deal with the Minnesota Twins, getting an opportunity to play for his hometown team, having been born and raised in St. Paul. 1991 would prove to be memorable for the Twins and Morris. They won 95 games that year, and Jack did his part, winning 18 games, logging almost 250 innings en route to the playoffs. He made five starts in the postseason, winning four of them. Morris started Game 7 of the ’91 World Series against the Atlanta Braves, matching zeroes with future fellow Hall of Famer John Smoltz. The Twins’ workhorse threw 126 pitches over 10 innings, when Minnesota pinch hitter Gene Larkin drove in Dan Gladden, ending the game and the World Series. Morris’ 10 inning shutout became his defining moment and cemented his legacy forever.

 

 

But his career in Minnesota would prove to be “one and done”, as Morris again became a free agent and signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. Benefiting in large part to Toronto’s generous offense, Morris would win 21 games in 1992, marking the first time any Blue Jays starter would win 20 games or more. Despite a relatively high ERA of 4.04, he would come in fifth in voting for the AL Cy Young Award. Morris did pitch 240.2 innings, the 11th season he would reach that threshold in his career.

The Blue Jays would reach the postseason in ’92 and eventually went on to win the World Series four games to two over Atlanta. To help get them there, Toronto rode Morris hard in the second half of the season. He threw 127 innings over his last 18 starts of 1992, an average of just over seven innings/start, which would be unheard of today. But the 37 year old workhorse seemed to wear down, as he allowed 19 runs in 23 postseason innings. Still, Morris had another World Series Championship.

 

Jack Morris Boomer Wells.jpeg

In 1993, he would earn yet another ring as the Blue Jays won 95 games and the AL East, going on to beat the Philadelphia Phillies in seven games. Joe Carter became Toronto’s Game 7 hero as he hit a walk-off home run to give the Blue Jays back to back championships. Personally, Morris had the worst season of his career, going 7-12 with an ERA of 6.19. Age and injury seemed to catch up to him.

The Blue Jays released Morris from his contract on November 5, 1993, making him a free agent. He would pitch one more season, going 10-6 for the Cleveland Indians with a ERA of 5.60 in 1994 before being released on August 9, a mere three days before a player’s strike wiped out the rest of that season. Morris went to spring training in 1995 with the Cincinnati Reds in a final attempt to catch on with a MLB team, but retired shortly afterward.

This writer believes the Baseball Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee made the right call by inducting Jack Morris into the Hall (along with former Tigers teammate Alan Trammell). He didn’t have the gaudiest of numbers, but he won ballgames and gave his teams a lot of innings. He just seemed to WIN. Morris pitched 3,824 innings over his career, over 549 appearances. That’s an average of 6.97 innings every time he took the mound. He’s the guy I would want standing on the mound in a “must win game”.