BOCA RATON, Fla. (CBSNewYork/AP) — He’s not wasting any time.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is following through on his vow to aggressively transform his team this offseason, acquiring switch-hitting outfielder Aaron Hicks from Minnesota for catcher John Ryan Murphy on Wednesday and dealing infielder Jose Pirela to San Diego for a minor league pitcher.
The 26-year-old Hicks takes the roster spot of Chris Young, who became a free agent, and the move could be a precursor to trading All-Star Brett Gardner. The 14th overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft, Hicks hit .256 with 11 homers and 33 RBIs in 97 games for the Twins this year, including .307 with six homers and 11 RBIs in 101 at-bats against left-handers.
“A young, exciting talent,” Cashman said after making the first two deals of the annual GM meetings. “We think he’s an everyday player. … At the very least, he provides us what we were getting from Chris Young the last two years, and at the very most he provides us a lot of flexibility depending on how the winter transpires.”
New York thought Hicks was helped this year by tutoring from Minnesota outfielder Torii Hunter, a five-time All-Star who retired after the season.
Hicks is part of the Yankees’ movement for a more athletic roster.
“I wasn’t going to trade John Ryan Murphy for an old guy,” Cashman said.
Murphy, 24, was Brian McCann’s backup this year and batted .277 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 67 games. He looked ready to assume a starting role elsewhere, and New York considered itself deep at catcher, with Austin Romine and touted prospect Gary Sanchez in the minors.
“We know he’s got power and he can throw and he’s a pretty good defensive catcher,” Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said. “We think he has all the skills and the traits to be a major league starting catcher. Whether it’s now or down the road, it may take a little time.”
Minnesota expects Murphy at first to share time with Kurt Suzuki, the starting catcher the past two seasons. The trade gives Bryan Buxton a chance to win the center field job in spring training and could open a corner spot for Miguel Sano, who was moved from third base to outfield in winter ball.
As for the Yankees, Cashman says he has no untouchables. A trade could be explored for Gardner, who has been with the organization since 2005 and was New York’s primary left fielder this year.
“I have been hit on Gardy over the years quite often, and he hasn’t gone anywhere,” Cashman said. “I value Gardy a great deal. … He’s not an easy get.”
Cashman sensed Hicks might be available when the Twins made the position move with Sano.
Pirela, a 25-year-old who made his big league debut with the Yankees in 2014, hit .230 with one homer and five RBIs this year with the major league club. He batted .310 with three homers and 23 RBIs at three minor league levels in 2015.
Pirela was dealt for right-hander Ronald Herrera, who is not eligible to be selected in the winter meetings draft next month. Cashman said he made the trade to clear space on his 40-man roster, a reason he sold reliever Chris Martin to Japan’s Nippon Ham Fighters last week for $750,000.
The 20-year-old Herrera was 8-7 with a 4.08 ERA in 25 starts and one relief appearance for Double-A San Antonio and Class A Lake Elsinore this year.
New York also has Dustin Ackley and Rob Refsnyder as second-base options and could look on the free-agent market, where Ben Zobrist and Howie Kendrick are both available.
Cashman hopes to make more moves quickly.
“Why wait?” he said. “If it makes sense, do it.”
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