The Yankees were arguably the most active team in baseball this offseason and, for a little while there in January, they made a free agent signing a week. Troy Tulowitzki one week, Zack Britton the next week, DJ LeMahieu the week after that, then Adam Ottavino the week after that. Then they capped it all off by trading Sonny Gray.
Those few weeks were quite busy, and buried in all that activity was a minor league signing that represented so much more. The Yankees inked journeyman righty Danny Farquhar to a minor league contract on January 21st, eleven months after he collapsed in the dugout while with the White Sox. He suffered a life-threatening brain hemorrhage after an aneurysm ruptured.
“To think ten months ago I would be here, you don’t know. I am extraordinarily thankful,” said Farquhar last week, during a press conference following his first Spring Training bullpen session. “… It’s my drive, my passion. Baseball is something I’ve been doing since I was five years old. I want to keep playing until someone won’t put a uniform on me.”
Watch the video of his press conference and scroll through his Instagram feed and you see someone who is so very clearly overjoyed to be playing baseball again. Farquhar’s still a young man, he turned only 32 this past weekend, and he has a wife and three young children. He nearly lost his life last year and now he’s back at the park, doing what he loves. It is impossible not to root for this guy.
Does Farquhar have a chance to crack this bullpen? Yes, he does. I wouldn’t call it likely but he does because there are two open bullpen spots. Farquhar says he’s trying not thinking about that — “I’m happy to be in a uniform and playing. I try not to look at the big picture too much because then you get overwhelmed and caught up in stuff,” he said — but gosh, it has to be in the back of his mind, no? It’s only natural.
Obviously Farquhar’s performance in camp will be the biggest factor in determining whether he gets a bullpen spot. The arm strength is looking good but we have to see how he fares against hitters — “Hitters will always let you know what your stuff is. I’m curious to have that feedback,” he said — because, at the end of the day, this is a guy who hasn’t pitched competitively since April. There’s bound to be some rust.
There are a few things beyond spring performance that Farquhar has going for him. First of all, he has a history with the organization. The Yankees liked Farquhar enough that they claimed him off waivers in June 2012 — Farquhar said he and Dellin Betances were roommates with Double-A Trenton — and while they traded him for Ichiro Suzuki a month later, that was business. The MLB roster takes priority over a Double-A bullpen prospect.
Secondly, Farquhar is a strikeout pitcher and the Yankees love strikeouts. He’s thrown at least 30 innings in five different MLB seasons and in three of those five he posted a 27.0% strikeout rate or better. (His career strikeout rate is 26.9%.) Relatedly, Farquhar is an analytics guy. He told James Fegan (subs. req’d) the Rays got him into numbers during his time with Tampa and he’s kinda run with it.
“The fastball has a thing called carry,” Farquhar said. “My fastball has an average of 10 or 11 inches of carry — and this is what the Rays told me — the average big league fastball is nine inches of carry, so it’s a couple inches above that. Then you have the kill zone which is the one that gets murdered most of the time by the hitters, and that’s eight inches of carry. That’s the one where you don’t want to be no matter what the pitch is. That’s not to say that every pitch with that carry level is going to be hit over the fence, but a majority of them get hit for extra-base hits. And then you have the changeup, I think mine sits between three and four, so it comes out the same but there’s separation in the pitch.”
Not coincidentally, Farquhar is a spin rate guy and the Yankees love pitchers who can spin the ball. Over the last two years his low-to-mid-90s four-seamer averaged 2,372 rpm, better than the 2,263 rpm league average. Add in his reputation for being a good clubhouse guy — “He’s already brought something to us just from the energy he brings to the park every day,” said Aaron Boone to Dan Martin — and Farquhar has some things going for him.
Of course, we are talking about a pitcher who was just okay (4.20 ERA and 4.07 FIP) in his most recent full MLB season, and a guy returning from a serious medical condition. The bullpen sessions look good but those are only bullpen sessions. Once Grapefruit League games begin this weekend, it could become clear quickly that Farquhar is rusty and will need Triple-A time before he’s ready to contribute to a big league roster.
“No fear or trepidation yet,” Farquhar said to Mark Didtler. “I haven’t had any hurdles to jump, but I’m sure those hurdles will come. Honestly, it’s just been working out and throwing more than anything. Haven’t had to face a batter. Haven’t given up a home run yet. So, I think there’s a lot more steps that I still have to go through.”
Don’t mistake this for a charity minor league signing. Farquhar’s been a full-time big leaguer since 2013 and he’s pitched in high-leverage situations, most notably saving 16 games for the 2013 Mariners and setting up for the 2016-17 Rays. The strikeouts, spin rates, and analytic slant are all things the Yankees value. This is the second time they’ve acquired him, remember. He’s been on their radar for a while.
The Yankees signed Farquhar because they believe he could help them win games at some point. If not right away in one of those final two bullpen spots, then later in the season, once he gets his bearings in Triple-A. No matter what happens on the field, Farquhar is a feel-good story and someone worth rooting for. This is the best kind of comeback story.