There have been plenty of famous on-again, off-again relationships in our world. Elaine Benes and David Puddy got together and broke up too many times to keep count of on Seinfeld. David Lee Roth was the lead singer of Van Halen on three different occasions. Rickey Henderson was an Oakland Athletic four times. Billy Martin, of course, had five bombastic stints with the Yankees over the years.
The thing about these relationships is, when you hear the names, you picture Elaine with Puddy. Roth is the definitive Van Halen singer. Henderson is synonymous with the A’s, and Martin is regarded as a Yankee for life.
The relationship between Adam Warren and the New York Yankees is far more civil than any of the aforementioned episodes, but it’s still been plenty eventful. On Tuesday, the Yankees brought Warren back for his fourth stint in pinstripes, signing him to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. It might end up a largely inconsequential offseason move, but it poses almost zero risk for the Yankees to give him a shot, and he may just be able to help the bullpen out.
Every time the Yankees dump Warren, it’s through no fault of his own. He’s a seemingly great guy, well-regarded among his teammates. He’s put up his best numbers of his career as a Yankee, yet always gets the short end of the stick. The Yankees traded him originally before 2016 for Starlin Castro, which was a good trade for a Yankees team desperate for hitting at second base. Then, after reacquiring him in the Aroldis Chapman trade (who the Yankees would also ultimately bring back), they let him go to Seattle late in 2018 for international signing money. Did that money help the Yankees get super-prospect Jasson Dominguez the next summer? It’s certainly possible.
The Yankees nabbed him for a third time before the 2020 season, but cut him without pitching in a game ahead of the shortened season. And now, we get the Adam Warren experience, part four, in New York. This time, Warren is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery he underwent in 2019 and is ready to go. But, the all-important question: can he still pitch?
Warren is now 33, eight years removed from his MLB debut. His fastball, which once averaged as high as 95 mph in 2014, was last clocked (pre-TJ-Surgery) at 91.4 mph. Over his last three seasons (1.5 of them with the Yankees), he worked on improving his slider, enough to where it actually became his primary pitch. It remains to be seen how much confidence he’d have in the pitch after missing almost two years to injury.
When Warren was at his best for the Yankees, he never had exceptional strikeout or walk numbers. Instead, his ability to generate weak contact and keep the ball in the park were his strongest points. He had minuscule 3.1% and 3.3% barrel rates in 2015 and 2017, and in the latter year, was in the top three percent leaguewide with his 24.8% hard-hit rate. Even if he didn’t have dynamic stuff, Warren was usually able to keep the ball in front of his outfielders.
He achieved that by varying pitch type and location, which is something he can still do in 2021. Because Warren was never really a “stuff” guy who got batters out by blowing them away, there’s still a reasonable chance he can excel if he can stay healthy and get his arm up to full strength.
From the Yankees’ perspective, the deal costs them no guaranteed money, and if he’s still got it, they can make Warren a lower-tier member of the bullpen, where he’s a known commodity and a player well-liked by his teammates. The Yankees need more bullpen depth, so taking a flyer on Warren, a player who has had success here before, is totally harmless and could pay dividends. When paired with the Yankees’ similar minor-league commitment to former Cardinals reliever Matt Bowman, it’s becoming clear that the Yankees probably aren’t going to renovate the bullpen with a big splash, but they may be able to find some capable arms off the scrap heap.
At the very least, it’s a reason for mid-2010s Yankees fans to celebrate the return of one of the good guys from the dog days, who might have a chance to get in on the potential success of the 2020s. Old reliable Adam Warren is back in pinstripes, yet again.