In a surprising move, the New York Yankees have sold the contract of third baseman/outfielder Zelous Wheeler to the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan's Pacific League. The move happened Thursday, and MLB.com's Andrew Simon says it is "one of several moves [the Yankees] made before the 11:59 p.m. E.T. deadline to protect prospects from the Rule 5 Draft on [December] 11."
#Yankees sell the rights of INF Zelous Wheeler to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan’s Pacific League.— New York Yankees (@Yankees) November 20, 2014
Wheeler, who will turn 28 in January, signed with the Yankees as a Minor League costless agent last offseason after spending 8+ seasons in the farm systems of the Milwaukee Brewers and Baltimore Orioles. He made his Major League debut in 2014, but it did not pan out as well as he and the Yankees had hoped. Wheeler hit just .193/.230/.298 with 2 HR and 5 RBI in 29 games, totaling 57 official at bats. He had 11 hits and 12 strikeouts.
Wheeler is a career .274 hitter with 77 HR and 420 RBI in the Minor Leagues.
The Golden Eagles are the former team of Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka and current Miami Marlins third baseman Casey McGehee, who returned to the Majors in 2014 and won the National League Comeback Player of the Year.
Simon notes that the Yankees also promoted outfielders Tyler Austin and Mason Williams to their 40-man roster as well as right-handers Danny Burawa and Branden Pinder. Thursday's moves set the Yankee's 40-man roster at 38 with two spots left to fill.