With Spring Training roughly three weeks away, the Yankees have accomplished their reported goal of adding two relievers this offseason. They re-signed Zach Britton two weeks ago and agreed to a deal with Adam Ottavino last week. Those two join Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, and Jonathan Holder to form a very strong bullpen top six. That’s quite a reliever core.
The Yankees still have two bullpen spots to figure out, assuming they continue forward with an eight-man bullpen. Tommy Kahnle is likely to get a chance to show he can get back to his 2017 form, but, even if he does, the Yankees still want another swingman/sixth starter type to replace the soon-to-be traded Sonny Gray. Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga will be stashed in Triple-A as rotation depth. The Yankees still need a long reliever.
Relievers are pretty much the only free agents getting paid these days. Even then, there are still plenty of bullpen arms sitting in free agency. I count 45 of them. Among those 45 is two-time former Yankee Adam Warren, who’s market seems to be heating up. The Rangers want him (per Ken Rosenthal), the Cubs want him (per Rosenthal), and the Mets want him (per Andy Martino). Some team will sign Warren soon enough.
The Yankees have not been connected to Warren at all but a reunion does make some sense even after spending big for Britton and Ottavino. For starters, Warren is still very effective, throwing 30 innings with a 2.70 ERA (3.29 FIP) in pinstripes last year. He wasn’t as good with the Mariners (3.74 ERA and 4.82 FIP) and his career splits are kinda funny:
- As a Yankee: 3.18 ERA (3.61 FIP) and +7.6 WAR in 407 innings
- As a Not Yankee: 5.08 ERA (5.42 FIP) and -0.4 WAR in 56.2 innings
We always hear about guys who can’t handle New York. Is there such a thing as a guy who can only handle New York? That might be Warren. In all seriousness, the Yankees know Warren and vice versa, and that’s not nothing. They know they can plug him right into their environment and he’ll handle it well. The ballpark, the clubhouse, the coaching staff, his role in the bullpen. No questions asked.
After returning to the Yankees at the 2016 trade deadline Warren bought into the anti-fastball plan …
… and the result was the best strikeout numbers of his career. He’s never been a huge strikeout guy, but, in his second stint as a Yankee, Warren struck out 24.4% of the batters he faced. It was 20.3% in his first stint as a Yankee and 19.5% in the season before the trade to the Cubs. Point is, Warren adapted and remained effective, so you know he can make adjustments.
There’s also the multi-inning potential. Warren didn’t do it quite as much last year — eight times in 24 appearances with the Yankees did he record at least four outs — but he still did it, and at age 31, he’s not so past his prime that it’s unreasonable to think he could do it for another year. When your starters don’t pitch deep into games, having a versatile multi-inning reliever in the bullpen is an obvious plus. The Yankees are said to want one.
Warren earned $3.315M last season and my hunch is he’s looking at something along the lines of Jesse Chavez (two years, $8M) and Hector Rondon (two years, $8.5M) money. Maybe he could milk a team for $10M across two years. Either way, that is the kind of contract that can fit into any team’s budget, even if the Yankees consider the $226M second luxury tax tier a hard spending limit. Even though he’d be at best the sixth reliever in the Yankees’ bullpen, Warren has shown over the years how valuable he can be in that role.
The question now is does Warren want to come back to the Yankees? By all accounts he loved being a Yankee and the team appreciated his professionalism and that he’s low maintenance. The Yankees have traded him twice though. Does Warren want to open himself to that possibility again? Would another team offer him a chance at high-leverage work or (gasp) give him a chance to start? I imagine he’d take that over being sixth (at best) on the bullpen depth chart with the Yankees.
Also, money will be a factor. Warren turns 32 in August and this may be his only chance at a nice free agent payday. Being a middle reliever doesn’t pay all that well and there’s minimal job security. Warren earned $8.9M in player contracts during his six years of team control, so while he’s done well, he hasn’t cashed in huge. This offseason might be his only chance at a good free agent deal. I’d bet on Warren signing with the highest bidder regardless of his role with the team. Gotta cash in while you can.
The Yankees don’t have to spend big on another reliever after signing Ottavino. The goal now is adding depth — quality depth — and a reunion with Warren would strengthen one of those final two bullpen spots. Maybe he can’t be a true sixth starter, but he can be a long guy. The Yankees know Warren and Warren knows the Yankees. As the seventh or eighth guy in the bullpen, the Yankees could do a heck of a lot worse than a third stint with Warren.