The New York Yankees added Ernesto Frieri to the spring training roster to audition for a roster spot, while an even better option is sitting in free agency.
Just because it’s an insanely low-risk deal for the New York Yankees, doesn’t mean it’s the right low-risk move.
On Thursday, general manager Brian Cashman signed former closer Ernesto Frieri to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. This signing came after the righty impressed Yankees’ scouts during his stint with Team Colombia in the World Baseball Classic.
Frieri owns a 3.55 ERA over 296.3 career innings of work while striking out 382 batters (11.6 K/9 rate) and back in 2013, he recorded 37 saves which was good enough for seventh-most in the American League.
The 31-year-old could possibly be a valuable asset to the middle relief unit of a bullpen containing a deadly back-end tandem of Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman at no risk. All this is for both Frieri and the Yankees is a tryout. He’ll get some Grapefruit League innings and if he looks like he can help, the Yankees will keep him.
If not, a release or an assignment with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders will be coming his way but there’s no such thing as too much pitching and the signing itself isn’t necessarily the reason why signing Frieri was unwise.
The truth of the matter is he hasn’t faced major league hitters since May 24, 2015. Between then and now, he earned an invitation to Phillies spring training camp in 2016, got released before Opening Day, was unemployed all summer, pitched in winter ball in Venezuela (where he pitched in just 1.2 innings and surrendered two runs) and struck out one in merely two scoreless innings during the WBC.
Brook’s Baseball registered his fastball at an average of 95 mph during the tournament and, again, while the “no-hurt” aspect warrants this move, going after Luke Hochevar could have produced similar, if not higher, upside.
In 40 games with the Kansas City Royals in 2016, Hochevar maintained a 3.86 ERA with a 9.6 strikeout-per-nine ratio. Three years before that, he ranked fourth in strikeouts (82), third in ERA (1.92), second in batting average against and walked the fourth fewest batters (17) among American League relievers who pitched in at least 70 innings.
So why is he a free agent and not signed with a team yet? Well, Hochevar underwent surgery to fix his thoracic outlet syndrome — a neurogenic issue caused by the compression of nerves near the neck and shoulder — back in late July.
The surgery was deemed a success, and Hochevar can return to the mound within the next month.
Matt Harvey, Tyson Ross and Phil Hughes have had the same surgery over the last few years and Chris Young, one of Hochevar’s former teammates, overcame the surgery during the later portion of his career. So there’s a glimmer hope he can overcome this.
Hochevar also underwent Tommy John surgery which sidelined him for the entire 2014 season and part of 2015, but he still posted fairly respectable numbers (3.78 ERA, 9.1 K/9) thanks to the institution of a brand-new knuckle-curve which held opponents to a .177 batting average against and a cutter which held opponents to a .200 batting average against.
At the very least, it was better than what Frieri has displayed in the majors since 2015.
To reiterate, the hurler Cashman did sign to a contract can very well help the Yankees — a team that could use an upgrade in the middle innings beyond rookies and additional 40-man options — contend in 2017. But the fact that a one-year incentive deal, like the one given to Jon Niese, wasn’t considered for a pitcher who hasn’t let up a run in 10.2 postseason innings (38 batters faced) is certainly a head-scratcher.
Yes, the injury risk is there. However, the risk that Frieri continues the narrative of being ineffective exists as well. Considering the fact that Hochevar, who carries a more attractive major league resume, might have to settle for a minor league deal as well makes you wonder why Cashman didn’t try to pull off his magic on him instead of Frieri. But let’s digress a bit.
The reason Cashman didn’t venture into what seems like a better investment could simply be justified by Hochevar not wanting a minor-league deal or they [the Yankees] didn’t want to deal with the medical issues.
Frieri is also closer to regular season ready, as he has at least thrown a baseball over the last few months in competitive play but in the end, it’s nothing to lose sleep over as it’s just another veteran given a shot to restore their career in the Bronx.
In all likelihood, this column really won’t mean much in the long run. We’re honestly just talking about which reclamation project we’d prefer to watch New York pull off next. Either one of these guys has the potential to be a valuable asset but history tells us, they might just join the list of forgotten Yankees.
What do you think fans? Would you have rather seen Cashman invest in Hochevar? Are you content with Frieri? Let your voice be heard in the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter.