In each of the last two offseasons, the Yankees traded away a relatively young and cheap pitcher who could have been considered rotation depth. Last year it was David Phelps, who went to the Marlins in the Nathan Eovaldi trade, and this offseason it was Adam Warren. Warren will now ply his trade with the Cubs on Chicago’s north side after being swapped for Starlin Castro.
Replacing Warren won’t be easy. He gave the Yankees a 3.23 ERA (3.59 FIP) in 287 innings from 2013-15 and pitched in a variety of roles. Long man, middle reliever, setup man, spot starter, you name it. The guy was really valuable, though, as the trade indicates, the Yankees believe it’ll be easier to find another Warren than it will be to find another Castro.
Among those who will get a chance to fill Warren’s role is fellow righty Bryan Mitchell, who has been up and down a bunch of times the last two years but has not yet had the opportunity to settle into a defined role at the big league level. Mitchell struggled down the stretch big time last season, though that was after he took a line drive to the face, so I’m inclined to cut him some slack.
Mitchell, now 24, showed what we all knew last season: he has really good stuff. PitchFX clocked his average fastball at 96.7 mph — he topped out at 99.3 mph in relief — and when hitters swung at this trademark curveball, they missed 24.0% of the time and put it on the ground 62.9% of the time. The raw tools are there, no doubt about it. Mitchell lacks command and consistency, which were Warren’s strengths.
Right now, Mitchell is seventh on the rotation depth chart, though he’ll also have a chance to win a bullpen job in Spring Training. Remember 2013? The Yankees had Warren, Phelps, and Vidal Nuno in camp as depth starters, and instead of sending one or two to Triple-A to stay stretched out, all three made the Opening Day roster because the Yankees felt they were the best men for the job.
Mitchell is in a similar situation right now as Phelps, Warren, and Nuno were back in 2013. I don’t think it would surprise anyone if he made the bullpen out of Spring Training or was sent to Triple-A. The Yankees have a lot of candidates for the three open bullpen spots, more than I care to count, and I don’t necessarily think Mitchell has a leg up on any of them simply because he’s been in the organization longer.
Mitchell and the rest of the bullpen candidates will get a chance to strut their stuff in Spring Training and I think the competition is a good thing. It’s healthy. Everyone will try their best to win a job knowing that even if they don’t make the Opening Day roster, there’s a good chance they’ll be called up at some point. At the very least, those guys will want to put themselves in position to be the first guy called up.
The Warren trade doesn’t necessarily mean the Yankees have faith in Mitchell replacing him. I just think it means they have faith in their ability to cobble together a reliable middle relief crew out of their internal options, which includes Mitchell. Mitchell just so happens to be a starter by trade, like Warren. Most of the bullpen candidates are relievers. Like, actual relievers. Guys who came up in the minors working out of the bullpen.
Mitchell’s 2016 season is more important to him personally than it is the Yankees. He’s not expected to be a core player going forward. He’s a depth player. Mitchell wants to establish himself as a potential core piece and the best way to do that is by replacing Warren, by taking advantage of what looks like a great opportunity and turning his potential into production.