WARWICK – Chris Iannetta heads to spring training next week with a steadfast approach despite his status with the New York Yankees anything but certain.
The prefix “non” is synonymous with the St. Raphael alum these days, from the non-guaranteed deal he signed with the Yankees in early January, to the non-roster invitation he received to attend the team’s major league camp.
The objective is to win the backup catching spot, but what happens if New York decides to go in a direction that doesn’t include Iannetta?
Let’s just say there’s a definite plan if a 15th MLB season is not in the cards.
“I’m not going to Triple-A. It’s either I’m going to make it with the Yankees, get picked up by another team, or I’m done,” said Iannetta while taking break from his Thursday morning workout at the R.I. Baseball Institute.
There is an opt-out in Iannetta’s contact that can be triggered a few days before Opening Day that’s scheduled for Thursday, March 26. Having such language written into his deal is yet another reminder that nothing is set in stone for a player who for the longest time hasn’t had to worry about his roster status heading into the regular season.
“If I don’t see myself making the team, I can talk with other clubs, see about possibly getting picked up, or come home and experience a summer in New England for the first time in 18 years,” said Iannetta, laying all of his options on the table in the event the opt-out clause is enacted.
The firm grasp that Iannetta possesses as it relates to the possible end of the line dates back to last August 13 when the Colorado Rockies, the same team that drafted the SRA product back in 2004, designated him for assignment and officially released him two days later. The Rockies weren’t going anywhere fast in the National League West and were adamant about looking to the future in what amounted to a 71-91 record.
“I knew it was a possibility but was hopeful I could reach September and finish out the year. Obviously that didn’t happen so that was tough,” said Iannetta.
Understandably, the player with over 3,500 career at-bats in the majors didn’t know if the end of his second go-around with the Rockies also meant that his days as a major leaguer were numbered. There were some opportunities for Iannetta to join teams in playoff contention after Colorado decided to part ways with him, but all possible scenarios didn’t exactly satisfy what the former SRA standout was craving.
“There were situations where I didn’t know if I would actually see the field. I’d be there as insurance and help out,” he said. “Was it worth getting a ring when you’re not really a part of it? For me, I want to play and I want to contribute. With that in mind, six weeks home with my daughters versus being on a roster didn’t make much sense.”
The interest that was out there post-Rockies informed Iannetta that he was still valued within baseball circles. For him, the head-start he received on the offseason allowed him to take a step back and hit the reset button before deciding what the next step would entail.
“You never really know. I know I can still play. The way I feel physically and my age are two different things. Age is a factor. That’s why I don’t have a guaranteed contract right now,” said Iannetta, who turns 37 in April. “If I was 33, I might have a major-league contract.”
While he’s not making the kind of money compared to the game’s big-time stars, the business side of baseball of teams trying to navigate the luxury tax is a factor that could also play a part in Iannetta’s fate with the Yankees, who would need to add him to the 40-man roster.
“I could play well but there’s also the financial piece,” said Iannetta. “It’s interesting, but it’s also an opportunity.”
Iannetta admitted that he had offers that featured more clear-cut paths to make an MLB roster out of spring training. Still, all of them were non-guaranteed deals. The Yankees, however, represent a different caliber of incentive.
“The opportunity to play on a winning team and compete for a World Series ring in what realistically could be my last year, that was a deciding factor,” said Iannetta.
In spring training 2020, Iannetta knows he must hit the ground running. The Yankees brought in fellow veteran catchers Erik Kratz and Josh Thole and already have Kyle Higashioka on the 40-man roster, though he’s out of minor-league options.
“I’ve always used Opening Day as a target to be ready. Now you don’t have the safety of a guaranteed contract. It’s a crapshoot,” he said.
That said, the higher stakes aren’t giving Iannetta cause for concern. On Monday, he’ll depart for Tampa, Fla., the spring training home of the Yankees.
“The competition piece isn’t even in my mind,” said Iannetta, who per an article published earlier this week on website SNY.tv was part of the Yankees’ 26-player roster projection. “I’m not competing against someone else. I just have to go do what I do … catch, hit, and lead a pitching staff and be a leader in the clubhouse. If I do that, everything will take care of itself. It’s not about me saying, ‘I need to do this drill better than someone else.’”
Recently, Iannetta spent some time in the company of several current members of St. Raphael’s baseball team at the Baseball Institute.
“It was fun to interact with kids who have been in my shoes. To hear what they’re going through and answer the questions they had was cool,” he said.
Asked if he gave the SRA players any tips that had nothing to do with blocking pitches in the dirt or hitting a curveball, Iannetta said he used the occasion to impart some down-the-line wisdom.
“Not everyone is going to do what I did. I didn’t think I would make it. There are things I learned along the way that I can say, ‘There is some important stuff you need to do,’’’ said Iannetta. “Focus on baseball but use all that work ethic and translate that into the classroom and on your chosen career path in the future. You’re at a good school and have the opportunity to go to college. Better yourself and really put yourself in a good position for the rest of your life.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03