It’s hard to believe, but the countdown to pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training can now be measured in just days, rather than weeks or months. As is the case, teams are putting the finishing touches on their rosters. Though most of the free agent signings at this point of the offseason tend to be for role-type players, teams hope they will still be contributors to some degree when the regular season arrives.
Among the latest signings is a pair of left-handed veterans in the American League East. In New York, the Yankees have signed designated hitter Travis Hafner to a one-year deal with a base salary around $2-million. The DH spot was about the only hole the Yankees had left to fill. Hafner has spent nearly his entire 11-year Major League career with the Cleveland Indians. He had a very successful stretch of seasons from 2004-2006, which included hitting 42 homeruns during that ’06 season and leading the American League in both slugging percentage and OPS. Since 2008, though, he has averaged only 86 games a year due to injuries, has hit just .259, and topped out with 16 homers in 2009. If the 35-year-old can stay healthy, he could have a productive year taking aim at the right field fence in Yankee Stadium. His short-term contract and low cost also fit with the Yankees’ plan to get under the luxury tax threshold by 2014.
The Yankees’ main rival also just added a similar player. The Boston Red Sox signed 36-year-old first baseman Lyle Overbay to a minor league contract which includes an invitation to spring training. Overbay will try to earn a spot on the team to back up Mike Napoli. The team has been looking for another left-handed bat capable of playing first base as Napoli will get some time behind the plate, as well. Overbay is long past his prime, with his best season coming in 2006 when he hit .312 with 22 home runs for the Toronto Blue Jays. Over the last three seasons with the Blue Jays, Pittsburgh Pirates, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Atlanta Braves, he combined for just a .241 average and hit a total of 31 home runs. If Overbay doesn’t make the big league club, the backup job could go to Mauro Gomez, the 2012 International League MVP. But he, like Napoli, hits from the right side of the plate.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are taking a chance on another underperforming starting pitcher with upside, signing Jonathan Sanchez to a minor league deal. The team also agreed to a deal with Francisco Liriano in December, but the sides are still working through some injury-related concerns. Sanchez has to reprove himself after struggling over the last couple of years. Last season, he pitched for the Kansas City Royals and Colorado Rockies to a combined record of 1-9 with a 8.07 ERA. Sanchez has always been a great strikeout pitcher with a career 9.1 K/9 rate, but it is his command that causes him problems. His BB/9 rate finished at 5.9 and 7.4 over the last two years and he led the National League in walks in 2010 when he was with the San Francisco Giants. Sanchez also has the ability to be dominant, though, as evidenced by his no-hitter in 2009. He is still just 30-years-old and could prove to be a savvy addition for the Pirates if he can improve his control.
The Milwaukee Brewers reached an agreement with Alex Gonzalez for the shortstop to return to the team for another year. Gonzalez is primarily known for his defense, considered by many to be among the best shortstops in the game. His offensive ability leaves much to be desired, as he is just a .249 career hitter with sporadic power and minimal speed. Gonzalez was the Brewers’ starter last season, but was lost for the year when he tore his ACL after just 24 games. Though he will be returning to that same team for another season, it will likely be in a different role. The soon-to-be 36-year-old will serve as backup and mentor to 22-year-old Jean Segura who finished the season as Milwaukee’s starter. He hit .264 in 44 games and added 7 stolen bases. He had been ranked the #2 prospect in the Los Angeles Angels’ organization by Baseball America before being the centerpiece of the Zack Greinke trade last season.