The Yankees continued their recent pitching depth splurge today with the most significant signing of them all: RHP Trevor Rosenthal signed a minor league contract, joining David Hernandez and Tyler Lyons as recent signings. They also claimed RHP Ryan Dull recently off of waivers and traded for Joe Mantiply.
Two years removed from Tommy John Surgery, Rosenthal was once one of baseball's top strikeout relievers. Between 2013 and 2017, Rosenthal's 31.4% K rate ranked him 6th in baseball. During that stretch, he owned a 3.01 ERA (2.56 FIP) and 6.2% HR/FB rate, the second-best rate in baseball. However, that does come with a GB rate that is more average than it is elite (43.9%).
While his 2019 results have been far from good, he is still averaging 98 MPH on his fastball, which likely tells us that the arm strength is back, but the command is not. Rosenthal has never been great when it comes to limiting walks. Coming off TJS, one would suspect the walk rate to be awful. In his small sample size this year, it has lived up to that suspicion: 30.6% in 22 games covering 15.1 innings. It is true what they say: Walking 26 batters in 15.1 innings is not a recipe for success at any level of baseball. Will he be able to drop his walk rate back to their pedestrian levels? That will be the key to whether or not he can be helpful to the Yankees.
As for his other pitches, Rosenthal hasn't been featuring his change-up as much in 2019 as he was pre-surgery. I already wonder if the Yankees will try to get him back to throwing more of the pitch. Regardless, Rosenthal is primarily one of those "here is my heat, I dare you to hit it" types. In that 2013-2017 stretch, Rosenthal featured the fastball 76.4% of the time, the 11th highest rate in MLB. The average velocity (97.4) tied him for 4th with Dellin Betances.
Like many players on the free-agent market this year, Rosenthal opted to sign a unique contract rather than something straightforward. There is a $10 million mutual option for next year and a $15M player option that can only be triggered if he reaches incentives (Note: No worries. He won't.). He also earns $500,000 this season once he reaches 25 appearances, which is really the only incentive he has a shot at fulfilling.
It seems doubtful that Rosenthal would say no to the $10M mutual option if the Yankees said yes. This is not a likely scenario, but if he comes up in September and looks like the Rosenthal of old, it may just be enticing. Regardless, this gives the Yankees a chance to look at him up close to see if any future investment would be wise.
Bottom Line: I am an advocate of signing players to minor league deals. Unless those players are blocking a significant prospect (and at this point in the minor league season, there isn't much to worry about), there is zero harm in doing this. You may just capture lightning in a bottle, especially with relief arms.
For as long as Rosenthal flirts with 100 MPH on the radar gun, teams are going to be enticed. This is especially true since he has a lot of MLB success under his belt prior to his surgery. Everyone is going to think that once he shakes the rust off, he is going to become a force again. There could be some truth to that.
While it is still a longshot that he is going to be a difference-maker in 2019, the Yankees are in a good position. They don't need Rosenthal to jump in and become a high leverage reliever. But what if he can show the ability to blow hitters away down the stretch? There is at least a small chance that Rosenthal can surge his way onto the postseason roster – more of a chance than any of the other relievers they have picked up recently, at least.
The new trade deadline rules have certainly kept middle relief types on their toes. You never know – one of these frequent travelers could become a postseason difference-maker for someone. The Yankees don't necessarily need that to happen, but when you are a team that is going to rely on offense and the bullpen to try to earn 11 postseason victories, every out counts. Maybe Rosenthal can earn a few of those outs.