There have been a couple rumors about the Yankees’ potential interest in a sixth-starter-type to round out the pitching rotation the last few weeks. But what sixth-starter-types are even available right now? Dallas Keuchel is available but isn’t a sixth starter, so he gets crossed off this list, which leaves Gio Gonzalez, Clay Buchholz, Jeremy Hellickson, and Brett Anderson as the four best starting pitchers available.
Maybe one or more of those names inspire confidence in you, but certainly not me. Given the names and skill-sets available, it might be in the Yankees’ best interest to reunite with Adam Warren again.
The Yankees might be interested in a starter, but Warren probably isn’t going to start. That possibility will perhaps always follow Warren because he came up as a starter, spent half the 2015 season as a starting pitcher (and was pretty good at it), but he’s only started one game since that season. His days of being a prototypical starter are long gone.
There’s also little room in the bullpen for Warren right now, at least in a traditional sense. Warren would be at best the sixth or seventh option out of the pen currently. Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Adam Ottavino, Zach Britton, and Chad Green are unquestionably ahead of him, and Jonathan Holder might be too.
Yet, what does the phrase, “the Yankees want a sixth starter” even mean, anyway? For the most part, it’s just a short way of saying, “the Yankees need a pitcher who can throw multiple innings every few days”. From that perspective, another reunion with Warren could absolutely make sense. If the Yankees utilize the opener this season, then Warren could serve as that multi-inning reliever behind the opener.
This model would follow what the Rays did last year with their pitching staff. Typically, Sergio Romo would start a game and toss one inning, sometimes two, only to be followed by someone like Ryan Yarbrough for the next three to five innings. In a similar scenario, the Yankees would hypothetically run out Betances, Britton, Green, or Ottavino for an inning or two then follow them up with Warren.
About 40% of Warren’s appearances the past two seasons have been multiple innings, so asking Warren to go multiple innings wouldn’t be far from a foreign idea. Right now, the closest thing the Yankees have to a long reliever is Luis Cessa, who hasn’t exactly found much success in the big leagues to this point.
Many of Warren’s outings haven’t gone further than six outs, though. Asking him to go three to five innings could end up being a bit of a stretch, but he’s not un-accustomed to that workload. He might even prefer more innings per appearance. By his own admission, Warren enjoyed the routine of being a starter, and working in an opener situation would put him back on more of a set schedule.
In addition to potentially being open to a more-structured schedule, Warren does have a repertoire different from most relievers. Thanks to his days as a starting pitcher, Warren does have four pitches he throws consistently. Taking the Yankees’ anti-fastball approach, he has worked primarily as a slider-fastball pitcher since 2017, but he does still drop the occasional curveball and changeup. Given that repertoire, Warren could work pretty well in a bullpen game.
If the Yankees want to occasionally deploy a different strategy than they have in previous seasons, it’s not difficult to see how a reunion might benefit both parties. The Yankees would get a known commodity back in their clubhouse and on the field. They don’t know how well Brett Anderson or Gio Gonzalez would fit in, or how they’d respond to a possibly diminished role, but they have a good idea of what Warren brings to the table.
As for Warren, he’d get to pitch in more preferred conditions. He performed better in New York than he did with the Cubs or Mariners, and he liked the routine of being a starter. While starting consistently might not be realistic, something closer to starting could be possible for Warren with the Yankees. Warren might not want to return to the club that traded him away twice, but if the Yankees truly are committed to finding a “sixth-starter-type,” then they might not need to look any further than the right-hander.