This is the latest entry in MLBTR’s Offseason In Review series. The full index of Offseason In Review posts can be found here.

The Yankees entered the offseason with multiple holes to fill after trading away veterans at last year’s deadline, but following a couple of early splashes, the team remained quiet for the bulk of the winter.

Major League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Minor League Signings

Extensions

  • None

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

The Yankees managed to flirt with contention late into the 2016 season despite acting mostly as sellers at the non-waiver trade deadline. New York’s three-headed bullpen monster of Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances (often referred to as “No Runs DMC”) was the envy of clubs around the league early in the season and will be imitated (though not likely replicated) for years to come. However, GM Brian Cashman tore that trio apart just prior to the deadline, dealing Chapman to the Cubs and Miller to the Indians in exchange for a king’s ransom of prospects, thus creating a need in the ’pen.

Aroldis Chapman | Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

New York was linked to each of the “big three” closers on the market — Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Mark Melancon — but ultimately stuck with a known commodity by signing Chapman to a record-setting five-year, $86MM contract. The deal allows Chapman to opt out in three years, should he see fit. Following that addition, the Yankees were linked to countless other relievers, including Boone Logan, Jerry Blevins and Brett Cecil, but Chapman was their lone Major League signing.

Also changing hands at last year’s trade deadline was Carlos Beltran, who went to the Rangers in exchange for yet another pair of prospects. Cashman & Co. explored the possibility of re-signing Beltran and also looked into top slugger Edwin Encarnacion for the better part of a month as they sought to add a DH bat. Ultimately, they settled on a more affordable option, inking Matt Holliday to a one-year, $13MM deal. The Yankees hit just .254/.317/.391 as a collective unit against left-handed pitching last season, and while Holliday had his own troubles against southpaws in 2016, they were largely BABIP driven. He still showed good power and solid strikeout and walk rates against lefties and should help with that deficiency.

Of course, when looking for ways in which to improve performance against left-handed pitching, clearing space for young Gary Sanchez to see regular at-bats likely ranked near the top of the Yankees’ list of priorities. That goal was accomplished by shipping Brian McCann and $11MM to the Astros in exchange for a pair of low-level righties. That deal not only opened the door for Sanchez, who hit .299/.376/.657 as a rookie (albeit with a significant slump to end the year), it also cleared a fair bit of money off the Yankees’ luxury tax ledger. For a club that has sought to get younger not only to build a sustainable core but also to escape the annual luxury taxation penalties, the two-fold value of that trade shouldn’t be overlooked.

Following those three early moves, it was a fairly quiet winter for the Yankees. While they were linked to names like Jose Quintana, Chris Sale and numerous other trade targets, the Yankees elected to hold onto their recently acquired stockpile of prospects. On the other side of the coin, veterans like Brett Gardner, Starlin Castro and Chase Headley were all said to be available in trades but failed to generate interest and/or quality offers.

The Yanks did go bargain shopping late in the winter, poking around Travis Wood’s market and eventually snagging defensively challenged/strikeout-prone NL home run king Chris Carter on a one-year, $3.5MM deal. Relative to the $37.5MM the division-rival Orioles spent on a comparable skill set (Mark Trumbo), that pickup looks like a nice value play for the Yankees.

Questions Remaining

When previewing the Yankees’ offseason back in mid-October, I wrote that adding a rotation arm that’s controllable beyond the 2017 season seemed “imperative” for a Yankees team that is poised to lose each of Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia to free agency next winter. Clearly, the New York front office didn’t agree: the closest the team came to bolstering its rotation was the minor-league signing of long-time starter and reclamation project Jon Niese, who battled in camp for a pen spot.

It was a minor miracle that three players with the injury concerns that Pineda, Tanaka and Sabathia carried into the 2016 campaign combined to start 90 games for New York. With Nathan Eovaldi gone following Tommy John surgery, Luis Severino won the fourth spot in the rotation. He’s admittedly been very promising thus far, but Severino has yet to demonstrate that he’s capable of sustaining this level of play for a whole season.

While rolling the dice, so to speak, on a pitcher of his upside is a perfectly reasonable play in a vacuum, it’s considerably riskier when the rotation is led by three injury risks with four even more inexperienced arms on hand to round out the fifth slot. Southpaw Jordan Montgomery won the fifth spot and has looked solid through three starts, but the injury question marks and inexperience that permeate the Yankees’ rotation could bite the team later this season. Righties Chad Green, Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell are all on hand as reserve options, though that trio has combined for just 25 Major League starts.

Looking to the bullpen, the Yanks again possess a solid late-inning trio in Chapman, Betances and Tyler ClippardAdam Warren, meanwhile, is a fine multi-inning/swingman option, though the remainder of the relief corps, as is the case in the rotation, is lacking in experience. Tommy Layne posted a terrific ERA in the Bronx after a midseason pickup, but his secondary stats paint a less impressive picture. Rookie right-hander Jonathan Holder posted video game numbers in the minors last season but entered the year with just 5 1/3 innings under his belt. Mitchell claimed the other bullpen spot, but the 26-year-old hasn’t yet shown the ability to miss bats on a consistent basis in the Majors. Chasen ShreveBen Heller, Green and Cessa are among the depth options in the upper minors, but it still looks like there was room to add another arm to the bullpen this winter.

Perhaps the lack of additions shouldn’t come as a surprise, however. The Yankees are a club that has oft stated a desire to get younger, and that’s played out both in the pitching staff and throughout the lineup. The early returns on both Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks are both extremely encouraging — so much so that Gardner’s playing time could potentially take a hit. (Should that play out, expect to hear his name once again bandied about trade rumors.)

The results at first base have been far less encouraging, with Greg Bird and Carter both struggling. Tyler Austin was lost for all of Spring Training due to a fractured foot and has yet to get back into the Triple-A lineup, so the Yanks will have to hope for one of the current options to come alive at the plate. If no one from that group can get it going at the plate, this past offseason served as proof that the current supply of first basemen is larger than the demand, so perhaps an addition could be made.

From a larger-picture perspective, the future of several veteran Yankees is also worth speculating upon. Gardner, Headley and even Castro (despite his relative youth) were all prominently featured in trade rumors this winter. As previously noted, Judge and Hicks could diminish Gardner’s role if both stay productive, and Clint Frazier is waiting in the wings in Triple-A. Either Castro or the resurgent Headley could become expendable as well, once Gleyber Torres reaches the cusp of the Majors. And, of course, moving any of those veterans would further help the Yankees move away from the dreaded luxury tax threshold, as each is playing on a significant multi-year deal.

Deal(s) of Note

The Yankees will face obvious public relations issues for years to come for acquiring Chapman not once, but twice in the wake of his domestic violence allegations in the 2016-17 offseason. Some will move on and prioritize Chapman’s on-field contributions over his off-field issues, but there will be fans and industry folk alike that pass harsh judgment on the organization.

From a purely baseball standpoint, though, the Chapman contract was noteworthy for the Yankees themselves and for the future of free-agent relievers. Chapman was one of three relievers to break Jonathan Papelbon’s fairly long-standing record (four years, $50MM) for a relief pitcher this winter. Beyond that, each of Chapman, Jansen and Melancon secured an opt-out provision in his contract, further boosting the premium that is placed on elite bullpen help.

That’s especially notable as we look ahead to the mega-class of free agents that looms in the 2018-19 offseason; Zach Britton will headline that year’s crop of relievers, with Cody Allen, Kelvin Herrera and Jeurys Familia all on the open market as well. While it’d be tough for any of them to top Chapman’s $86MM guarantee (Britton seemingly has the best chance), this offseason unquestionably helped to move the market forward for top-tier relief help.

And yet, despite the exceptional value placed on Chapman and other relievers in free agency, the arbitration system lags behind. There’s no greater evidence of that disconnect than the bizarre scenario that unfolded between the Yankees and setup man Dellin Betances.

Dellin Betances | Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Betances carried one of the most unique arbitration cases in recent history into the hearing room this offseason, as he filed for a $5MM salary against the Yankees’ $3MM submission.

Saves are king in arbitration dealings, and Betances is lacking in that department, with just 22 in his career. However, few relievers hit their first trip through arb with anywhere near the combination of 22 saves and 78 holds that Betances carried, and none has done so with those totals and Betances’ rate stats. The 28-year-old, to date, has registered a career 2.16 ERA with 14.3 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9.

Betances ultimately lost his case, which was noteworthy on its own, but the bizarre tirade from Yankees president Randy Levine that followed the hearing was even more head-scratching. Seemingly unprovoked, Levine blasted Betances and his reps for attempting “to change a well-established market” by seeking a significant raise for a pitcher who had not been utilized as a pure closer. The unnecessary tirade may have damaged the relationship with Betances, as the righty said shortly thereafter that he thinks free agency “will be a little easier when the time comes.”

There’s admittedly little in the way of impact on the Yankees’ roster in the near future, and perhaps the two sides can bury the hatchet between now and the completion of the 2019 season, when Betances will be a free agent. But it’s nonetheless rare to see an executive so brazenly call out one of his players, especially with nothing to gain from the ordeal.

Overview

The Yankees broke the bank on arguably the most dominant reliever in the game, but the remainder of their moves were either short-term or made with an eye toward continuing to inject youth into the roster. For a team that won 84 games last season, a full year of Chapman in the ’pen and Sanchez behind the plate seems like a recipe for improvement. However, the Yankees almost wholly ignored their lack of rotation depth, instead continuing to bank on a trio of injury-prone starters and a host of unproven young pitchers that may or may not prove to be capable rotation cogs in the long-term.

For a team with postseason aspirations, the contradictory nature of spending $86MM on a closer while simultaneously passing up the ability to add rotation help despite an abundance of affordable arms is confounding. The Yankees’ roster is teeming with young talent and upside, but a few extra arms in what wound up being a buyers’ market for pitching would’ve gone a long ways toward bolstering their playoff hopes. Moreover, the plan for 2018 remains cloudy, as there’s no one with an established Major League track record controlled beyond the current season

The Yankees are off to a strong start and may well return to the playoffs in 2017. Their minor league depth is impressive, to say the least, but I can’t help wondering if the top-heavy allocation of resources in the rotation and in the bullpen necessitated relying too heavily on that depth this year.

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Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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The Pirates are set to promote infielder Gift Ngoepe to the majors for the first time, as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. Upon making his MLB debut, Ngoepe will become the first player born in Africa ever to appear in the majors, as MLB.com’s Adam Berry notes on Twitter.

Ngoepe, who is represented by Josh Chetwynd of Elite Sports Group, had already been added to Pittsburgh’s 40-man roster in the fall of 2015 to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. The 27-year-old South African has nevertheless remained at Triple-A in the meantime, awaiting an opportunity.

Though he doesn’t offer much with the bat, Ngoepe is considered an excellent defender and has shown some base-stealing ability at times. Last year, he took 27 bags in 32 attempts and he’s four-for-four thus far in 2017. Ngoepe is slashing .241/.308/.379 over his first 66 plate appearances of the current campaign.

It has been quite a week for the international market-to-Pittsburgh pipeline. Just two days ago, the Bucs made Dovydas Neverauskas the first Lithuanian player ever to reach the big leagues. For more on Ngoepe’s unlikely path to the majors, check out this recent piece from Berry and Carrie Muskat.

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ESPN.com’s Keith Law provides his ranking of the top fifty amateur players (Insider link) who are eligible for selection in this summer’s Rule 4 draft. The group as a whole has generally disappointed, Law writes, perhaps leading teams to “flee to safety” by looking at safer collegiate performers with their top selections. Of course, such a strategy would also open up some greater opportunities for organizations with multiple early selections to take some risks on higher-upside, younger prospects.

  • Like most analysts, Law has called right-handed pitcher and shortstop Hunter Greene the top overall draft prospect. As has been suggested previously, he will indeed no longer take the hill in high school competition in advance of the draft, as Hudson Belinsky of Baseball America writes. That’s unlikely to impact his stock, as teams have already seen plenty of triple-digit heaters and will continue to watch him play in the field — where he’s also considered a top talent. Greene and his family are taking a very active role in assessing organizations and their approaches to developing pitchers, Belinsky explains, with the Twins (who sit at first overall) and Padres (third) seemingly making for a better match than the Reds (who choose second).
  • One of the draft’s other top prospects, South Carolina righty Clarke Schmidt, has unfortunately been diagnosed with a torn UCL and will undergo Tommy John surgery, as Belinsky also reports. The junior starter had risen to be seen as a clear first-round selection before this rough news. Of course, he could still end up being taken with a lofty selection; we have seen several hurlers nabbed quite early in the draft in recent years despite serious arm injuries.

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Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford departed last night’s game with a groin strain, as Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News reports. The veteran had already been scheduled to miss a few games on the bereavement list, but the club will be anxious to see how he feels upon his return. “I really haven’t felt anything like that before,” said Crawford, “so I can’t tell you how bad it is. It just felt tight. I didn’t feel a pop, so from what I hear, that’s good news.” San Francisco will likely bring up utilityman Kelby Tomlinson to fill in for Crawford during his three-day absence, Baggarly notes.

Here are a few more notes from out west:

  • With the Rangers set to give Ryan Rua additional time in left field, writes Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, it seems that Jurickson Profar has again failed to capitalize upon a chance to lay claim to playing time. Through 46 plate appearances, he is slashing just .135/.289/.135, though at least he has managed as many walks as strikeouts (eight apiece). Now, the 24-year-old switch-hitter seems to be slotted beneath both Rua and Delino DeShields on the depth chart in left, with little apparent room to fit in the infield. There’s still time for Profar to find a way into the lineup, of course, but it also doesn’t help his cause that fellow former top prospect Joey Gallo has hit so well while filling in at third base. Profar’s future in Texas has long been in question, but that’s perhaps more true now than ever.
  • The Mariners may increase the flexibility of their usage of closer Edwin Diaz, as Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune writes. Deploying the high-powered youngster for multiple innings and in non-traditional situations would line up with a leaguewide movement away from fixed bullpen roles. That certainly seems to be part of the impetus here — skipper Scott Servais notes that “you don’t want to not get the game to the 10th inning because you kept your closer fresh” — but it’s also the case that, per Servais, Diaz just “needs to pitch” more than he has been.

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Twins left-hander Ryan O’Rourke, who has been on the disabled list all season, will undergo surgery to repair a tear in his left elbow’s ulnar collateral ligament, the team announced today. “We were all holding on to a little hope that he might get a couple options to how he should proceed instead of having to undergo the Tommy John procedure, but unfortunately didn’t get that news,” manager Paul Molitor told reporters (link via Dave Sessions of MLB.com).

O’Rourke, 28, has spent parts of each of the past two seasons with the Twins, appearing in 54 games out of the bullpen in total. His 2016 efforts resulted in a 3.96 ERA with 8.6 K/9 against 3.6 BB/9 and a 45.3 percent ground-ball rate. Though there didn’t appear to be an immediate spot in the Twins’ bullpen for O’Rourke, with Taylor Rogers and Craig Breslow already serving as lefty options for Molitor, though he could’ve emerged later in the season as a southpaw option if healthy. O’Rourke has held left-handed opponents to a .134/.244/.239 batting line through 80 plate appearances thus far in his Major League career.

O’Rourke did research Tommy John alternatives, including the “primary repair” procedure that Seth Maness underwent last August, according to Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. However, as Berardino notes, even that abbreviated seven-month recovery period would’ve sidelined O’Rourke until late November or early December.

The Twins already transferred O’Rourke to the 60-day disabled list yesterday as a means of clearing a 40-man roster spot for right-hander Nick Tepesch, whose contract was selected from Triple-A Rochester. O’Rourke will rack up a full year of big league service time while on the disabled list, though he’ll still finish the season with two years and six days of service time, leaving him short of arbitration eligibility. O’Rourke joins right-hander Trevor May as the second Twins hurler to undergo Tommy John surgery this season. The club’s 2016 first-round pick, outfielder Alex Kirilloff, has also gone down with a UCL tear that required Tommy John.

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Mariners right fielder Mitch Haniger, one of the early candidates for American League Rookie of the Year honors, exited tonight’s game with a strained oblique muscle, per Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times. While there’s no further word on the severity of the injury, oblique strains have a reputation for lingering for a month or more. The Mariners, of course, won’t provide further updates until tonight’s game is wrapped up. However, Divish adds in his column that Triple-A outfielder Ben Gamel is expected to replace Haniger on the 25-man roster, thereby suggesting that a trip to the disabled list is in Haniger’s future.

The 26-year-old Haniger is off to an astonishing start to the season, having compiled a robust .338/.442/.600 batting line through his first 95 plate appearances (including two hits in his two plate appearances tonight). Acquired alongside Jean Segura in the offseason trade that sent Taijuan Walker to the D-backs, Haniger has also clubbed four homers and stolen two bases. On the defensive side of the coin, both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating consider his work to be above-average (superlative, in the case of DRS, which already pegs him at +5 runs through just 176 innings).

[Related: Seattle Mariners Depth Chart]

The Mariners have plenty of outfield depth, although that depth took a bit of a hit over the weekend when the team rather surprisingly designated Leonys Martin for assignment. Even with Martin currently in DFA limbo, however, the Mariners have Guillermo Heredia, Jarrod Dyson, Taylor Motter and Danny Valencia as outfield-capable assets on the 25-man roster. In the minors, Gamel and Boog Powell are both on the 40-man roster. Top organizational prospect Tyler O’Neill, too, opened the season in Triple-A, though he’s played just 18 games at that level and has not gotten off to a strong start to the year (.208/.266/.417, 21 strikeouts in 79 plate appearances).

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Initial evaluations on Madison Bumgarner, who suffered bruised ribs and a shoulder sprain last week in a dirt bike accident, are fairly positive, per Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News (Twitter links). Bumgarner’s injured shoulder won’t require surgery and has calmed down to the point where he could begin rehab work on it in the next four to five days, Baggarly adds. While that all sounds encouraging, Bumgarner’s layoff will still be considerable; Baggarly notes that he could be ready to begin throwing off a mound in about two months’ time, and he’ll of course need to then build up enough arm strength to rejoin the rotation.

All told, that timeline seems to suggest that Bumgarner won’t be back in the Giants’ rotation until at least mid-July. Of course, that timeline is dependent both on how his shoulder responds to rehab work and on how lengthy of a rehab assignment he’ll require once he returns to the mound. More clarity on Bumgarner’s timeline may soon become available, it seems, as Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets that the Giants will give an official diagnosis on Bumgarner tomorrow.

“He’s going to start some light work,” manager Bruce Bochy told reporters (link via Schulman). “It’s going to be slow at first, nothing major. Things have calmed down a little. There’ll be no surgery or anything. We’re going to rehab this.”

[Related: San Francisco Giants Depth Chart]

The Giants’ rotation without its ace still appears solid, albeit unspectacular, as nominal No. 2 starter Johnny Cueto would be the top arm in most rotations around the league. Cueto will be followed by Jeff Samardzija, Matt Moore, Matt Cain and Ty Blach for the time being, though it’s certainly possible that top Giants prospect Tyler Beede eventually forces his way into the big league rotation mix. That group faces an uphill battle in helping the Giants stay afloat in the National League West, however; San Francisco enters play tonight with just a 7-13 record, and two-plus months without one of the game’s very best pitchers clearly hampers the team’s ability to dig out of that early hole.

On a related note, it seems that the Giants got a bit of good news regarding another member of the rotation. Schulman notes that an MRI on Cain’s ailing hamstring came back clean. The veteran right-hander is expected to make his next scheduled start — a Saturday outing against the Padres.

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