|Jose Pirela and John Ryan Murphy are the first Yankees on the move this offseason.|
The Yankees swung into action Wednesday eliminating one of the competitors for the 2016 second base job and possibly adding a player that could spell the end of Brett Gardner in Pinstripes.
First, GM Brian Cashman sent second baseman Jose Pirela to the San Diego Padres for pitching prospect Ronald Herrera. Pirela had an excellent 2015 Spring Training and looked poised to head north when the regular season started until a collision with an outfield wall and the resultant concussion that followed landed him on the disabled list.
Pirela hit .333 in seven games for the Bronx Bombers in 2014, before he appeared in 37 games this past season. He wasn't able to take advantage of his opportunity, with just 17 hits in 74 at-bats and a .558 OPS. His departure could mean the Yankees will go with a platoon of Dustin Ackley and Rob Refsnyder at second base next season
Later Wednesday the Yankees acquired one-time outfield prospect Aaron Hicks from the Minnesota Twins for backup catcher John Ryan Murphy. Hicks was the 14th overall pick in the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft and made his MLB debut in 2013. It's been no picnic at the plate for the 26-year old switch-hitter, although he began to show some promise in the latter part of the 2015 season.
Hicks made a career high 390 plate appearances this past season and produced 11 home runs, 33 RBI and stole 13 bases. He has the opportunity to strengthen the Yankees lineup against left-handers - he produced an .870 OPS against southpaws last season - and will likely replace Chris Young as a fourth outfielder. There have also been rumors that the Yankees might be willing to part with left fielder Brett Gardner for the right price. Gardner has had poor second halves of the season the last two years though new hitting coach Alan Cockrell recently told the media that Gardner played with a wrist injury all season.
The departure of Murphy, who did a solid job (.277/.327/.406) as Brian McCann's backup in 2015, could mean that long-time prospect Gary Sanchez gets a shot at being the #2 catcher next season. Still just 23-years of age, Sanchez has been in the Yankees' farm system since they signed him out of his native Venezuela in 2009. He's had his ups and down at the plate throughout his minor league career, but has been on a tear playing in the Arizona Fall League the past month.
The 20-year old Herrera, himself a native of Venezuela, was originally signed by the Oakland A's before he was acquired by the Padres in 2014. He put up solid numbers for advanced-A ball club Lake Elsinore of the California League - 3.88 ERA, 1.255 WHIP - in 2015 before he struggled in eight starts for Double-A San Antonio. Herrera has a low 90s fastball, a strong curveball and a changeup.