The New York Daily News reported Wednesday night that the New York Yankees have signed veteran outfielder Matt Diaz to a minor league contract and extended an invitation to spring training to the 35-year-old.
Diaz played in just 51 games for the Atlanta Braves in 2012 and missed the second half of the season after having surgery on an injured thumb. He hit an unusually poor .222/.280/.333 with two home runs and 13 RBI in 118 plate appearances for the Braves.
Most importantly for the Yankees, he is an outfielder who hits from the right side of the plate. Diaz, if he earns a spot on the roster, would provide a right-handed alternative in both corner outfield positions.
The Yankees' regular outfield appears to be all left-handed, with Ichiro Suzuki replacing the departed Nick Swisher in right field while Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson will man left and center field.
Granderson has played center for the last three years in New York, but CBSSports.com’s Danny Knobler reported in November that there have been discussions about moving Granderson to left and playing Gardner in center.
Diaz has a history of crushing left-handed pitching. For his career, Diaz is a .324/.364/.498 hitter against lefties in 1,026 plate appearances with 31 homers and 119 RBI. That compares to a .248/.314/.362 line in 1,007 plate appearances against right-handers.
The Daily News reported that Diaz will earn $1.2 million and have a chance to make up to $800,000 more in incentives based on the number of at-bats he gets.
“I’m healthy and feel like I can go to camp and show what I can do,” Diaz told the Daily News. “If I can go and do what I do, which is hit lefties and take tough at-bats against them, that’s what the Yankees need and want. It will be a good fit.”
According to the Daily News, playing in the Bronx is a dream come true for Diaz.
“My dream in life as a kid was to play for the Yankees,” Diaz said.
He almost became a Yankee after the 2010 season, but signed a two-year deal with the Pirates with the promise of more playing time than he would have gotten in New York. The Yankees ultimately brought in Andruw Jones as a spare right-handed hitting outfielder.
Atlanta wound up re-acquiring Diaz at the postseason trade deadline in 2011. It was hoped that he would bolster the bench for the Braves’ postseason run, but Atlanta blew the 10.5 game lead it held on Aug. 26 and lost the wild-card spot to the St. Louis Cardinals on the final day of the regular season.