On March 16, the New York Yankees signed relief pitcher Ernesto Frieri to a minor league contract that included an invitation to spring training. The move was somewhat surprising, but now there is a new competitor for a bullpen spot in camp. It may be a tall order, but if Frieri could regain his previous form, the Yankees may have gotten a bargain.
I will be completely honest; my hypothesis relies on a big “if.” Frieri, 31, has not been a positive contributor on the mound since 2013 and did not even play affiliated baseball last year. WAR is an imperfect statistic, especially for relief pitchers, but every number Frieri has posted since the previously discussed 2013 season has either been zero or a negative number and despite the flaws in the metric, it is still telling. To put it mildly, there have not been many instances of success in the last four years for the pitcher.
Frieri pitched for his native Colombia in this year’s World Baseball Classic, where he threw two scoreless innings. This signing appears to be one of the impulse variety, where the credence of “what have you done for me lately?” is on full display. Evidently, Yankees executives were happy with what they saw in the tournament and decided that it was worth it to hand out an invitation to the hurler. Even with all of the struggles in recent years, a healthy, successful Frieri would give the team heaps of value.
2013 has been the cutoff year for this article, as it was the last year Frieri posted an earned run average under 4.00, with his 3.80 spread across 68.2 innings that year. Prior to that, however, he was downright dominant; in a 2012 season that saw him play for both the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Angels, the right-hander gave up just 17 runs in 66 innings, and he contributed 98 strikeouts as well. All of that led to a 1.4 WAR, a fantastic number for a relief pitcher. He also comes with some experience in the closer role, with 73 career saves on his career stat line.
Personally, though I was initially confused by this move, I think that it is low-risk in nature. If Frieri excels, he is either solid minor league depth or a cheap major league bullpen option. If his struggles continue for a fourth straight season, he is easy to release. The Yankees are banking on the fact that Frieri was once a genuinely exciting and successful reliever, and if their move pays off, the rewards will most certainly be seen on the mound.
If you would like to receive an email each time a new New York Yankees article is published, fill out our email notification form.