The Yankees have reportedly signed free agent right-hander Trevor Rosenthal to a minor league contract, according to Jon Heyman via Twitter. The rumored deal comes in a long line of minor moves made in an effort to create more pitching depth, after the recent acquisitions of Joe Mantiply, Tyler Lyons, Ryan Dull, and David Hernandez.
Rosenthal, 29, hit the free agent market earlier this month after having been designated for assignment by the Tigers. He also spent time with the Nationals at the beginning of the year, but was released by Washington in June.
It’s not a great sign when a reliever can’t stick with the Tigers, who are mired in a miserable rebuild, or the Nationals, whose relievers have posted a cumulative 6.00 ERA in 2019. Unsurprisingly, then, Rosenthal’s numbers on the year appear ugly. He allowed 24 runs across 15.1 innings with the two teams, striking out 17 but walking an ungodly 26 batters.
Rosenthal just didn’t seem to know where the ball was going in his first season since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2017. Per FanGraphs, his pitches found the strike zone just 38-percent of the time in 2019, compared to a career average of 46-percent. Opposing hitters have been happy to sit back and take the free passes, as they’ve offered at just 36-percent of Rosenthal’s pitches, which would be the lowest rate in the league among qualified relievers.
That said, Rosenthal clearly still has some of the dominant pure stuff that once made him an effective reliever. Baseball Savant indicates that his average fastball velocity of 98 mph puts him in the 99th percentile of all pitchers. His slider, once a devastating secondary weapon, still moves well. When it all works, it looks good, such as when he fanned Andrew Knapp back in April:
It’s easy to envision Rosenthal rediscovering the strike zone enough to once again give batters trouble with a potent fastball/slider combo. He did so as recently as 2017 with the Cardinals, when he maintained a 3.40 ERA with 76 strikeouts against 20 walks in 47.2 innings.
Such a resurgence may be unlikely for Rosenthal after getting dumped by two teams that could use a live arm, but there’s enough of a chance for the Yankees to take a no-risk flyer. In the best-case scenario, Rosenthal finds the strike zone every once in a while and strikes a few batters out in the Bronx next month. Having passed on adding pitching at the trade deadline, and with August waiver deals no longer an option, this is the best the Yankees can do for now.