Save for the Aaron Hicks trade, the Yankees have been relatively quiet early on in the off-season while maintaining that they weren't planning on spending much money. On Friday afternoon, a St. Louis Cardinals beat writer broke the news that Yankees fans were surely all anticipating: the team had signed the Cards' old shortstop, Pete Kozma:
Multiple reports out of New York say the Yankees have signed Pete Kozma to minor-league contract. #STLCards— Rob Rains (@RobRains) December 4, 2015
Kozma is a punchline at this point, but once upon a time, he was actually a first round pick. Baseball works in mysterious ways. Selected 18th overall in the 2007 Draft ahead of big names like Todd Frazier, Josh Donaldson, and Andrew Brackman, Kozma never hit much in the minors, but he moved the system at a good pace due to his vast positional versatility. He made a 16-game cameo with the Cardinals in 2011, but most fans did not learn who he was until the 2012 playoffs.
Thrust into the Cardinals' starting lineup in September due to incumbent shortstop Rafael Furcal 's season-ending elbow injury, Kozma caught fire, batting .333/.383/.569 with 10 extra base hits and a 157 OPS+ over the 2012 campaign's final month as St. Louis secured a Wild Card spot. After they beat the Braves in a controversial one-game playoff (wherein the umpires made a baffling infield fly call on a ball in the outfield between Kozma and Matt Holliday), Kozma hit .250/.455/.500 in the five-game NLDS upset victory over the Nationals, providing the Game 5 ninth inning series-clinching hit that broke DC fans' hearts.
It's pretty much been all downhill since then for Kozma. His bat went quiet during the NLCS loss to the Giants, and in 2013, he was absolutely abysmal, batting just .217/.275/.273 over 143 games, an atrocious 49 wRC+. Even with good defense up the middle, that just wasn't an acceptable big league season. The Cardinals Devil Magic briefly brought him back to the life when he had a .955 OPS in the Cards' NLDS win over the Pirates, but since then, he has gone an impressive 1-for-30 in postseason play. In the meantime, St. Louis signed Jhonny Peralta to take over shortstop and Kozma spent almost all of 2014 in the minor leagues.
Kozma returned to St. Louis for 76 games in 2015. How did he fare? Oh, dear readers. Avert thine eyes.
For comparison's sake:
Pete Kozma, 2015: 111 PA, .152/.236/.152, 7 wRC+
Roger Clemens, career: 195 PA, .176/.235/.206, 14 wRC+
Kozma hit worse than Clemens, who had almost all of his career at-bats after turning 40 years old. He also had that whole pitching thing going on.
In stunning news, the Cardinals decided to cut him from the 40-man roster in November. Now he's the Yankees' new toy, likely destined to provide infield depth at Triple-A Scranton, or perhaps even take fellow former St. Louis shortstop Brendan Ryan's spot on the big league bench should he get hurt or the Yankees cut ties. This is indeed a man who is worse than Brendan Ryan. It is something to behold and #R38PECT.
#r38pect pic.twitter.com/7DaVPNcF7V— Dan Doelling (@daniel_doelling) December 4, 2015
Minor league deals really don't matter at all in the long run, so this isn't a move that should actually irritate fans. It's more amusing than anything else, for the time being. To be safe though, the Yankees should probably bubble-wrap Didi Gregorius and make sacrifices to the baseball gods for Didi's health.
Actually, this was probably the main reason for signing Kozma. Good call, Ferenchick.