It's August 28, and later tonight, the Yankees will play their 129th game of the season. A few short days later, it will be September, leaving just 30 games left in the regular season. It's a long season, yet it always seems to end too quickly. That may be a product of the team you root for, though. Twins and Cubs fans would probably feel the opposite way.
Back when there were a lot more games left in the season, the Yankees needed another reliever. They already had plenty of relievers in job title, but that's about it. Rather than trying to add a bullpen arm at the trade deadline, they opted to wait for Joba Chamberlain. With Joba back and September call ups just a couple days away, the Yankees still need another reliever.
Even if Joba had returned without leaving his command somewhere on the George Washington Bridge, the need would still be there. Cody Eppley, Clay Rapada and Boone Logan serve their purpose, but that purpose is largely as half of a pitcher. Teams don't get half-roster spot exemptions for specialists, so they're essentially one-and-a-half pitchers taking up three spots. If we're getting technical, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano could be included in the specialist category, too. In their own way, they're locked into roles where they won't be used outside of set situations. The bullpen is largely handcuffed by roles, and early ineffectiveness from Joba has really brought that issue to light.
Barring a late and unexpected move for a reliever on waivers, it's probably too late to even marginally correct the issue. Rosters expand in a matter of days, but here is what the roster is expanding to. Only the most ardent Dellin Betances fan or overly optimistic Cory Wade supporter would find a reliable non-specialist floating around there. That's just the 40-man as it currently stands, though. With one DFA, the Yankees may have the impact arm they need.
With that less than enthralling teaser out of the way, here's Mark Montgomery. In a season that has been littered with injuries to top prospects, Montgomery has been one of the few bright spots. Even if the farm had stayed completely healthy, a 1.61 ERA and 13.9 K/9 in High-A Tampa /Double-A Trenton is going to stand out. Consider that it's his first year pitching exclusively in full season ball and I struggle to think of what you call that bright spot. A sun. A giant star that you can't touch because of gravity restrictions and wouldn't want to even if you could. Trying to hit his slider may very well be as productive as looking into the sun.
Plenty of time has been spent on Montgomery as a prospect, but that time may be past. Time is running short on this season, and while there's always the future to think about, now is as good a time as any to think about his use on the current team. The use that jumps off the page: he's more than a sweeping slider. The Yankees have plenty of sweeping slider pitchers already available to them. That's great, it's an effective pitch. The problem is the guys who throw it; the lefty/righty specialists that lead to 'three for three outs' shuffling because they're wildly inefficient against hitters facing the opposite way.
No one will accuse Montgomery of being that guy. The slider is still his money pitch, mixing it with a good fastball, but he can actually use it against both sides of the plate. A reliever! A reliever who doesn't fray nerves based on handedness! He's an equal opportunity offender, holding lefties to a .460 OPS and lefties to a .454 over 61.1 innings. Derek Gibson has the worst qualifying OPS in Double-A at .582. Montgomery has made hitters roughly 120 points worse than Derek Gibson at the plate.
Things can't be easy, of course. There is a bit of worry about rushing a player who, while dominant, is working through his first full year. In the context that he'd be asked to pitch impact innings down the stretch, wearing down is a legitimate concern. Since this is supposed to be a rosier outlook for the last month, there's also reason to curb those concerns. His potential bullpen mate David Robertson, despite being a bit older, was fast tracked as he made his way to the majors. When he got his call up in 2008, he was posting a 1.68 ERA with 12.9 K/9 against a 3.9 BB/9. Robertson was doing it against slightly better competition, (35 IP in Triple-A) but Montgomery has improved on all those numbers, including a lower walk rate. If the fast track route is one they take, there's good reason to think he could step into success right away.
Another problem! Because things really can't be easy. The 40-man roster is overloaded with injured people, some of whom will actually return to do stuff this year. Some sooner than later, and when they do, they need their roster spot back. That's later, though. In the meantime, Justin Thomas continues to be the logical candidate to go. I keep saying he's the guy to go, yet he continues to stick around. He's been living on borrowed time for so long that he now maintains legal custody of said time. If his time is quickly repossessed, Montgomery could get his shot. With Joba still a question mark, guys locked into roles and no other impact guys readily available, it would be good to see a non-specialist provide a stable, reliable option.
This assumes he isn't used as a specialist, though. That's always a concern. Why is that always a concern? Stop making problems out of solutions.