It’s possible that we won’t see Chasen Shreve in a Yankee uniform for very long this season. The 27-year-old lefty reliever is unquestionably the last man in the Yankees’ bullpen and now out of minor league options. Considering his past performance and all the other arms in the minor leagues, Shreve could find himself out of a gig without a strong showing this spring.
The Yankees first landed Shreve back before the 2015 season in a trade that sent Manny Banuelos to the Braves and David Carpenter and Shreve to the Yankees. Despite being the second piece in the deal, Shreve has found more success than either Banuelos or Carpenter. Across 140 games the past three seasons, Shreve has been a mainstay in the Yankee pen, but he has certainly had his ups and downs in that time.
There are more than a few red flags in Shreve’s history that indicate his time with the Yankees could be coming to an end. Shreve seems to wear down by season’s end. In each of the last three seasons, he’s significantly underperformed in the second half compared to his first half numbers. Despite using a splitter as his best secondary offering, Shreve doesn’t really generate groundballs. His 37.4% groundball rate last season was below average, and his 5.0 BB/9 rate last year only compounded the problems. Finally, he doesn’t really appear to be very tough on lefties. His career lefty-righty splits are about equal (100 tOPS+ against LHB vs. 99 tOPS+ against RHB). Free passes and fly balls aren’t going to do a pitcher any favors in Yankee Stadium, especially against lefties.
Still, there are undoubtedly some good things in Shreve’s stat line, or he wouldn’t have hung around so long. His K/9 rate has hovered around 10 during his years in pinstripes, and his 112 ERA+ in that time shows that Shreve has been a slightly above average relief pitcher, especially during the early months of the season. For a low-leverage reliever like Shreve, those numbers will serve, but without any more minor league options, the Yankees have lost some bullpen flexibility.
Without any more minor league options, the Yankees will have to expose Shreve to waivers in order to be able to send him to the minors. Given that he has shown to be effective in spurts, it figures that Shreve would be claimed. In order to keep Shreve on the roster, the Yankees would likely either have to demote a different pitcher or a position player in place of Shreve. Chad Green and Tommy Kahnle are the only other bullpen arms with option years left, but they play a far more vital role than Shreve. On the other hand, the Yankees used a short bench for sizable stretches last season, but to do so in order to protect a low-leverage arm like Shreve seems less than ideal. While neither option really makes sense, the latter seems far more likely than the former.
Fortunately, it appears there are more than a few capable arms on the 40-man or in the upper-minor leagues that could slide in to the seventh spot in the bullpen if needed. Luis Cessa, Giovanny Gallegos, Domingo German, Jonathan Holder, and Ben Heller all have major league innings under their belts and are all on the 40-man roster. Plus, non-40-man players like JP Feyereisen and Cody Carroll figure to be in the upper-minor leagues this season and could feasibly make their big league debuts in 2018. Finally, there’s always the off-chance someone like Chance Adams could find his way to the pen, as many before me have suggested.
For the time being, Chasen Shreve still occupies the seventh spot in the bullpen. While he has shown that he can be an effective reliever, especially in low-leverage situations, it seems as if the tide might be turning against him. Without any minor league options left and several arms knocking at the big league door, it’ll take a very strong performance from Shreve this spring for him to hold down his job for the foreseeable future.