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Yankees Activate Aroldis Chapman, DFA David Hale

The Yankees’ bullpen just got a whole lot deeper. Aroldis Chapman is back with the team after recovering from COVID-19. Aaron Boone told reporters that Chapman will pitch the 9th inning tonight if there is a save situation, but they will not use him on back-to-back nights this week. He’s been throwing some sim games at the Alternate Site and supposedly sitting 99 with his fastball. He should be game-ready, but they won’t push him. That all makes sense to me.

Chapman is a welcome addition to the pen. The Yankees middle relief has been shaky at beset so far in 2020, and Chapman has been the best reliever in baseball by fWAR since joining the Yanks in 2016. Chapman threw to a 2.21 ERA (2.28 FIP) with 85 strikeouts in 57 innings pitched for the Yankees last year. His return moves Zack Britton (1 R in 8.1 IP so far this year) to the 7th and 8th inning. It’s good.

It’s bad news for David Hale, though, who was DFA’d to make room on the 40-man roster. Hale has been pretty good in his two years with the Yankees, but will be sent to the Alternate Site if he clears waivers.

Spring Training Competition: Back of the Bullpen

As Bobby noted in his 26-man roster projection yesterday, expect the Yankees to carry eight relievers to start the regular season. Six of those eight spots are pretty well set barring injury, leaving two openings up for grabs. Here’s how things shake out:

  1. Aroldis Chapman
  2. Zack Britton
  3. Chad Green
  4. Adam Ottavino
  5. Tommy Kahnle
  6. Luis Cessa
  7. ???
  8. ???

Bobby predicted that Jonathans Holder and Loáisiga will travel north come opening day. Let’s take a look at those two’s candidacies along with the rest in competition.

The favorites

Not only is Loáisiga in the mix here, but he’s also an option for the fifth starter role. The 25 year-old’s stuff will play regardless of role, though his durability and control seem to make relief more sensible. One more thing that may be construed as telling for Loáisiga’s status was that Aaron Boone called him on in relief in the 10th inning of Game 2 of the 2019 ALCS with the score tied. Basically, all Boone had left was Cessa, Loáisiga, and JA Happ. That Loáisiga was above Cessa in the pecking order in that situation could be an indicator of his status, especially with Cessa all but a lock in this year’s bullpen.

Next is Holder, who had a rough 2019. Ineffectiveness eventually resulted in a demotion to Triple-A, and later, he ended the year on the injured list because of shoulder inflammation. It was a big step back from his prior two years during which the 26 year-old righty pitched 105 1/3 innings and posted a 3.42 ERA and 3.25 FIP.

After a down season ended with injury, it seemed like Holder was on the 40-man chopping block. Instead, the Yankees kept the first-time arbitration eligible reliever and settled for $750,000. Considering that vote of confidence and past success in the big leagues, Holder figures to be a very strong candidate for one of the last two spots. One thing that could go against him is that he still has a minor league option remaining, though so do a number of others discussed in this post.

Non-roster invitees who could fit as a longman

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It’s pretty clear that the front office is a fan of David Hale, who’s back again this year as a non-roster invitee. He’s been with the organization since 2018 and was quite effective in the big leagues last year. In 20 games and 37 2/3 innings, Hale recorded a 3.11 ERA and 3.32 FIP. Unfortunately, he went on the injured list with a lumbar spine strain at the end of July and didn’t return.

Bettis came aboard over the weekend. Before joining the Yankees, Bettis mostly worked as a starter for the Rockies (except 2019). He hasn’t been very good since 2015 or 2016. That said, his 60.8 percent ground ball rate last season is intriguing. Bettis also might be someone who would thrive by throwing more curveballs. Last year, he threw his yakker just 12 percent of the time in spite of an exception whiff rate (40.1 percent) and high spin (2,539 RPM).

Both Hale and Bettis can provide length in relief should they need it. We know Bettis has spent a good deal of his career in the rotation, meaning that he’s used to being stretched out. Meanwhile, Hale has also started quite a bit. Hale has made 18 starts for Scranton since 2018.

I suppose Cessa is the true long man on the roster at the moment, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be two especially in April when managers tend to be more careful with starters.

Prospects on the 40-man in the running

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If ZiPS had its say, Ben Heller (projected 108 ERA+) and Brooks Kriske (101 ERA+) would be in the Yankees’ bullpen coming opening day. Nonetheless, the odds of either righties making it don’t seem great, though I wouldn’t say that they’re longshots either.

Heller, who missed all of 2018 because of Tommy John Surgery, finally made it back toward the end of last season. He was dominant in 11 Triple-A innings (0.82 ERA) and 7 1/3 major league frames (1.23 ERA). This is really the first time the 28 year-old has been in position to get an extended major league look. He’s not all that different from Holder, who I noted as a favorite, but Heller may need a little more game action in Triple-A.

Kriske, 26, is new to the 40-man roster. He was downright fantastic in 60 2/3 minor league innings last season (split between High-A and Double-A). The righty struck out 80 batters while posting a 2.08 ERA and 2.69 FIP. Never say never, but Kriske will probably get a look at Triple-A hitters before getting to the majors.

Unlikely Non-roster invitees

The new three batter minimum rule is going to make it tough on Luis Avilán and Tyler Lyons. Both are pretty classic lefty specialists whose values have been hurt by MLB’s rule change. I just can’t imagine the Yankees going north with either of them.

Dan Otero, Tony Zych, and Domingo Acevedo are also in camp as NRIs, but with slim odds of wearing pinstripes. Otero’s been pretty bad in each of the last two seasons in Cleveland. He doesn’t miss bats and gives up a ton of homers. Zych hasn’t pitched since 2017 and has been hurt quite a lot in his career. Finally, the Yankees surprisingly invited Acevedo to camp. Once one of the Yankees’ better prospects, Acevedo has fallen from grace as stuff has diminished. The Yankees actually pulled a release-and-sign with him last summer to make room on the 40-man roster. Hard to picture him with the Yankees unless he regains his stuff.

As I noted in the favorites and as Bobby predicted, Holder and Loáisiga are the early frontrunners. That said, there are a number of permutations these last two spots can take, unexpected injuries aside.

Heller and/or Kriske could be deemed as better middle relief options than Holder. The Yankees are pretty set from the sixth inning on in relief, so it really could just come down to who has the best spring training here.

I also could see Hale winning a spot over Loáisiga. And not necessarily because Loáisiga isn’t deserving, but rather, because the Yankees may want to give him another shot as a starter and thereby keep him stretched out in Scranton. Plus, Hale was pretty good last season and has obviously had fans in the organization for a few years.

Regardless of the outcome, we’ll probably see quite a bit of shuffling with these last two spots as long as the bullpen is at full strength. Being on the opening day roster is neat and all, but it’s more ceremonial than anything. In all likelihood, it’ll be another season of the ol’ Scranton Shuttle getting its run.

Long relief: Another Chance for Adams, Nasty Nestor, and David raises Hale [2019 Season Review]

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It’s a mostly thankless role, but someone has to do it. Chance Adams, Nestor Cortes, and David Hale were all summoned from the minors at various points this season to serve as extra arms in the Yankees’ bullpen. Let’s take a quick look at how each pitcher did and what lies ahead for them in 2020.

Chance Adams

The Yankees recalled Adams from Triple-A four separate times this season. In each instance he never stuck for an extended period until September callups. Around all of those promotions and demotions, Adams had an ugly 8.53 ERA (6.53 FIP) in 25 1/3 innings, all in relief. He pitched better in Scranton’s rotation, but it wasn’t anything special either. In 18 games (15 starts), the 25 year-old righty had a 4.63 ERA (5.07 FIP) in 81 2/3 innings. 2019 is now Adams’ second consecutive poor season.

After ascending the minor league ranks with relative ease after being the team’s 5th rounder in 2015, Adams seemed like a potential back of the rotation arm. 2017 was his peak — he threw just over 150 frames between Double and Triple-A and had a 2.45 ERA (3.70 FIP).

Now, Adams is running out of time to recover with the Yankees. He still has one more option remaining, so he could split time between Triple-A and the majors next year. However, because of back-to-back rough years, he could be on the 40-man cutting block. The Yankees probably would have a hard time keeping him if they tried to slip him through waivers because Adams has an somewhat interesting Statcast profile, particularly his curveball:

(Baseball Savant)

Nestor Cortes

Nasty Nestor came out of nowhere this season. The Yankees previously left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft before the 2018 season and the Orioles gave him a shot. Baltimore returned him and there was really no threat of him getting picked again in 2019. And, there was seemingly little chance of him being in the majors at all this year. Then, the injury plague struck the Yanks. The Bombers sent him up and down between the majors and minors seven times by late July, but his eighth promotion proved to be the charm.

Between the numerous callups, Cortes was pretty effective for an extended stretch. A lot of it was surely smoke and mirrors, as his end of year stat line is not so great. But, there was a stretch of 41 1/3 innings in which had a 3.81 ERA from May 26th through August 9th. And as you know, there were a number of shuttle trips between the Bronx and Scranton during that period. Much of that success occurred as the bulk innings guy for Chad Green, who was oft-used as an opener.

Unfortunately, Cortes lost his magic touch to close the year. He allowed at least one run in 10 of his final 13 appearances, which helped balloon is end of year ERA to 5.80. The crafty lefty isn’t someone who blows hitters away, so it was a matter of time until the league figured him out. At least it was fun to watch him succeed while it lasted, though. He arm angles, quick pitch, and slow windups were a treat when he was on.

And for good measure, check out all these release points from his last outing of the season:

(Baseball Savant)

Cortes is another fringe 40-man roster guy who could lose his spot over the winter. However, there’s a chance the Yankees may be able to hold on to him. His upside isn’t so high that a number of teams would try to claim him. The Yanks would have to pass him through outright waivers to keep him in the organization should they cut him from the 40-man.

David Hale

Saved the best of this post’s crew for last. Hale bounced between the Yankees, Twins, and back to the Yankees in 2018, but was able to settle in with the Bombers this year. The righty was a non-roster invitee to spring training and began the season in Triple-A’s rotation. But by mid-May, the big leagues came calling.

Hale only pitched 37 2/3 innings with the Yankees. Like the rest of the roster, he wasn’t impervious to the injury bug. But those innings were quite effective: he had a 3.11 ERA and 3.32 FIP despite only striking out 5.5 batters per nine. How? Thanks to good control (1.67 walks per nine) and his ability to keep the ball in the yard (0.48 homers per nine), he limited damage. He also only allowed an 86.5 MPH exit velocity and .277 xWOBA. A lumbar spine strain put him on the shelf in late July and he never returned.

The Yankees designated Hale for assignment when Aaron Hicks returned for the postseason. In lieu of accepting an outright assignment, the righty elected free agency. Still, I’d assume there’s a decent chance he’s back with the team next spring on another minor league deal. It doesn’t seem likely he can land a guaranteed major league job despite his success in 2019.

Yankees add Frazier, Adams among initial call-ups

Clint!!! (MLB.tv)

The Yankees recalled OF Clint Frazier, RHPs Chance Adams and Ryan Dull and selected the contract of LHP Tyler Lyons for their first set of September call-ups.

To make room for Lyons on the 40-man roster, David Hale was placed on the 60-day IL.

Frazier was the lone position player called up and is in the lineup batting eighth and DH’ing for the series finale in Oakland. Though he batted .283/.330/.513 (115 wRC+) in 53 MLB games, he struggled in Triple-A, going .247/.305/.433 (85 wRC+) in 61 games. However, he worked on his defense and seemed to improve in left field.

Adams and Dull worked in the Triple-A bullpen after recent demotions. Dull never got into a game with the Yankees this year, while Adams had a 7.48 ERA in 21 2/3 innings in his second taste of the Majors. If you want more on Dull, here’s my piece on him from his original acquisition.

Lyons, meanwhile, is new to the Yankees’ roster after signing a Minor League contract two weeks ago. The left-hander was an effective reliever in St. Louis in 2013-2017 before falling to a 9.15 ERA over 20 2/3 innings with the Cardinals and Pirates over the last two seasons. He’s been more effective in his Triple-A stints, including with the Yankees.

The 31-year-old’s fastball velocity is down from the low-90s to high-80s in the past two seasons, though he’s a slider-first pitcher anyway. We’ll see if he can find something back in the Majors.

Hale recently had an injury to his left kene in his rehab from a back injury, so he’s on the shelf for a while. The 60-day IL placement likely keeps him out for the season.

Yankees place Luke Voit and David Hale on injured list

The Yankees announced a couple of roster moves before this afternoon’s affair with the Diamondbacks. And really, they just cannot catch a break on the injury front. Voit could be out for six weeks if he needs surgery, which, yikes!

The Yankees won’t have word for another 24-48 hours regarding the necessity for surgery, which doesn’t allow the front office to play wait and see if they want to make a trade. They do have Edwin Encarnación, who can slide over from the DH spot, but then that role would need to be filled. Maybe it’ll be Clint Frazier if he’s not traded away. Or, the team can run with DJ LeMahieu at third and allow Gio Urshela to resume everyday play.

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