Weekly Mailbag: Gardy’s Delayed Contract, Minor League Signings, and the Training Staff Overha
It’s officially the doldrums of winter. As much as I like watching the Yankees make moves in the off-season, I’m ready for actual baseball once the calendar turns. Some of the moves that we’ve been waiting for (Clint Frazier, JA Happ, etc.) have not happened yet, and outside of a couple of minor league moves, not much has happened in terms of the roster since the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole. There’s been much bigger news elsewhere within the organization, but we’ll talk about that in just a minute.
In today’s mailbag, we’ll talk about the delay in the official addition of Brett Gardner to the 40-man roster, recent minor league signings, and the training staff overhaul.
Let’s get at it:
Jon asks: Why hasn’t the Brett Gardner deal been announced officially? Usually, teams find room on the 40 man roster a lot faster – are there rules about this?
This is one of the more intriguing storylines this winter. Once the Yankees handled their business with Gerrit Cole, they moved quickly to announce the signing of Brett Gardner, pending a 40-man roster move. That move has not yet been made, so now Gardy has been floating in limbo for close to a month.
I admit that this is not a scenario I’ve ever seen play out for this length of time, but I think the circumstances are unique. Generally, when a team signs a Free Agent, teams try to button up any required roster moves pretty quickly because the team doesn’t want someone else to scoop in and sign the player out from under them. That won’t happen in this situation because Gardy made it pretty clear that the Yankees were the team with whom he wanted to finish his career, so Gardy’s eyes are not likely wandering.
The only rule governing a scenario like this is that once Gardy signs his official contract, the Yankees must add him to the 40-man roster. In this scenario, the Yankees will need to make a move to clear space on the 40-man roster in order to squeeze Gardy onto the active roster. This is the reason for the hold-up. The Yankees need to make a move, but they don’t want to just DFA someone to make room for Gardy. There are a couple of obvious trade candidates on the 40-man roster, but the Yankees don’t want to make a trade just because they are trying to free-up space. Rushing to make a move like that hurts the Yankees’ leverage.
I would expect Gardner to be added to the roster soon.
Jeff asks: The Yankees signed Nick Tropeano to a minor league deal. He’s got MLB experience and the Yankees have spots open on the roster. Does he have a shot at the MLB roster?
Paul asks: Is Chris Iannetta competition for Kyle Higashioka? He just signed a minor league contract with the Yankees.
I grouped these two questions together since the Yankees made similar moves a day apart. I’ll start with Nick Tropeano. Tropeano has struggled with injuries throughout his MLB career, and was last an effective starter in 2016. Tropeano has not been able to find success consistently since Tommy John Surgery and a subsequent shoulder injury. Tropeano struggled mightily last season, hence why the only contracts available were minor league deals. Tropeano has below-average fastball velocity, but his fastball spin rate is slightly above-average. Looking at Statcast, the biggest issue that Tropeano has is locating his fastball. Check out the location map below:
Nick Tropeano 2019 Fastball Location Map, Courtesy of Baseball Savant
That’s…not good. The bulk of his fastballs were over the heart of the plate in 2019. Given that he can spin his fastball decently, maybe the Yankees will work with Tropeano to help him command the ball up in the zone a bit better, which would help his slider play a little better, since Tropeano does a good job of working that pitch to the low corners. All-in-all, Tropeano is a depth signing, likely not much more.
Iannetta is also a depth signing, but one with significant MLB experience and someone with the talent to push Higashioka in camp. Iannetta’s results have been below league average offensively over the last couple of seasons, but he still hits the ball very hard, with an average exit velocity of 92.1 MPH according to Baseball Savant. Iannetta has a solid defensive reputation, though most of the metrics grade his pitch framing at a below-average level. I think Higashioka is being given the chance to earn the backup job in Spring Training, but in the event that something happens to Higgy, I think the Yankees could do worse than Chris Iannetta behind the plate as a backup catcher.
Brian asks: Steve Donahue is now a “Trainer Emeritus” and they hired a celebrity trainer, Eric Cressey, to oversee the entire operation. How will this change what the Yankees do to prevent injuries and what do you think of the moves?
From an outsider’s perspective, it’s almost impossible to know how things will change. That said, I appreciate that the Yankees recognized that the had a deficiency in the organization, and have worked swiftly to make changes.
Multiple outlets have reported that Eric Cressey, who works with multiple star players, will be allowed to maintain his non-Yankee clients in his new role. That arrangement seems strange at first glance, but it is becoming more common within the industry as teams try to get an edge with avant garde training techniques. Really, I think that the Yankees want someone at the head of training and performance who they trust to lend a guiding hand to training practices and methodologies, so the fact that Cressey works with outside clientele shouldn’t be a liability.
Steve Donahue has spent close to 40 years with the Yankees, which is as impressive a run as almost anyone who has worked in professional sports. The Yankees clearly are not just making changes for changes sake, given that Michael Schuk, formerly the Assistant Head Athletic Trainer under Donahue since 2012, will simply step up to take Donahue’s role as Head Athletic Trainer.
In short, I think that the Yankees have worked logically to try to modernize their training and rehabilitation programs. I don’t have enough insight to comment with any degree of certainty, but kudos to the Yankees for recognizing a problem and attempting to solve it.
That’s all for this week! Thanks for the great questions, as always. For those of you who have never written in, or are reading the mailbag for the first time, don’t be shy – jump on in, and send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. I promise I don’t bite. See you all next week with another mailbag!