Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman has said that he will be active this offseason in exploring ways to improve his team, and on Wednesday he took the first step.
The Yankees acquired switch-hitting outfielder Aaron Hicks from the Twins for backup catcher John Ryan Murphy.
Hicks, 26, hit .256 (90-for-352) with 48 runs, 11 doubles, 11 home runs and 33 RBI in 97 games with the Twins in 2015. The switch-hitter batted .307 (31-for-101) with 6 home runs off left-handed pitching last season and has hit .272 (62-for-228) with 10 home runs in his career off left-handers.
The Long Beach, Calif., native has appeared at all three outfield positions in his career, playing 226 games in centerfield, 21 in right field and 10 in left field. He has a .995 fielding percentage as an outfielder, with just three errors in 657 total chances. In 2015, he had nine outfield assists and made just one error in 254 chances , for a .996 fielding pct.
Hicks was originally selected by the Twins in the first round (14th overall) of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. He made his Major League debut with Minnesota in 2013 and is a .225 (184-for-819) career batter with 20HR and 78RBI in 247 games.
With this one trade, Cashman answered the following questions of who the new right-handed bat in the outfield will be, as Hicks will replace the light-hitting Chris Young; and the catching situation, as Gary Sanchez likely will be the backup to Brian McCann.
Sanchez made his major-league debut in September, but had only two at-bats. He then had a great performance in the Arizona Fall League, earning MVP honors, which made it a question of when he will reach the majors, either to start next year as the backup to McCann or start in Triple-A.
Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said of Sanchez on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium, “He had a really good year, made a lot of improvements. Played extremely well in the fall league, off the charts, so I mean it’s something we’re going to look at.”
Girardi said in Tuesday of where he sees Sanchez’s role in 2016, “Do you want to play him once or twice a week or do you want him to continue to develop his traits? That’s something we’ll have to look at.”
This trade does not change that thought that a full year of playing every day at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is what Sanchez needs more than playing at the major-league level, where at-bats could be hard to come by.
McCann started to play more first base last season. Depending on Mark Teixeira’s health coming off a leg injury, and the development of first baseman Greg Bird, Sanchez could see more time at catcher that would be usual for a “backup.”
This trade opens up a lot of possibilities for Girardi. It will be interesting to see how he manages playing time McCann, Sanchez, Teixeira, and Bird between first base and catcher. Girardi will also have to manage time at designated hitter, as Alex Rodriguez primarily served that role, but he also used McCann and Teixeira there last season to give them a day off from the field.
Murphy, 24, hit .277 (43-for-155) with 3HR and 14RBI in 67 games (43 starts at catcher) for the Yankees in 2015, spending the entire season at the Major League level for the first time in his career. He ranked third among AL catchers in batting average (min. 100AB) behind the Orioles’ Steve Clevenger (.287) and the Rays’ John Jaso (.286). He was originally selected by the Yankees in the second round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft and hit .267 (70-for-262) with 4HR and 24RBI in 115 games at the Major League level with the club.
Earlier in the day, the Yankees acquired right-handed pitcher Ronald Herrera from the San Diego Padres in exchange for infielder Jose Pirela.
It’s a good trade for the Yankees because Pirela will not see much playing time with the emergence of Didi Gregorious at short stop, and Rob Refsnyer and Dustin Ackley at second base in 2015. The Yankees need all the young pitching they can get, and Herrera could make the major-league roster late in the 2016 season, assuming he starts the season at Triple-A after spending time in Double-A in the Padres’ season last season.
Herrera, 20, went 8-7 with a 4.08 ERA. He threw 145.2 innings, and allowed 148 hits and 73 runs, 66 earned; 42 walks, 104 strikeouts, and 10 home runs in 26 games, 25 of which were starts, between Single-A Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio in the Padres organization in 2015. The right-hander was acquired by San Diego from Oakland along with OF Jake Goebbert in exchange for OF Kyle Blanks on May 15, 2014.
Originally signed by the Athletics as a non-drafted free agent on December 11, 2011, Herrera owns a 23-24 record and 3.79 ERA (415.1IP, 446H, 210R/175ER, 100BB, 296K, 25HR) in 82 career games (74 starts) over four minor league seasons.
Pirela, 25, hit .230, with 17 hits in 74 at-bats, with one home run and five RBI in 37 games with the Yankees in 2015. He missed the first month of the season on the concussion disabled list following an injury suffered during a spring training game on March 22 in Port St. Lucie. In 64 combined minor league games—including his rehab assignment—with Single-A Tampa, Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he hit .310 (76-for-245) with 3HR and 23RBI. The Venezuela native made his Major League debut with the Yankees in 2014 and was originally signed by the club as a non-drafted free agent on July 2, 2006.
The Yankees’ 40-man roster now stands at 38.