As the trade deadline approached, it became very clear that the Yankees needed to do something if they wanted to actually compete for a playoff spot. The acquisitions of Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo deepened the lineup and as lefties, they gave the Yankees some balance. The additions of Joely Rodríguez and especially Clay Holmes gave them invaluable innings as a bullpen that seemed at times to be coming apart at the seams.
With injuries and the general craziness of 2021, they also probably needed some sort of starting pitching help. While managing to land one of the big names available like Max Scherzer or José Berríos would’ve been ideal, the reasons they couldn’t pull it off are understandable. However, they still could’ve used someone to eat innings at the very least. Well, in a very technical sense, they did get someone who did that.
In the dying hours before the deadline, the Yankees traded minor leaguers Janson Junk and Elvis Peguero to the Angels for pitcher Andrew Heaney. A top 100 prospect once upon a time, Heaney was in his eighth MLB season, with eight years that ranged from a bit above average to not good.
Heaney was in the middle of the latter with the Angels in 2021 when the Yankees picked him up. However, considering his “stuff,” there was some hope that the Yankees could maybe turn him into someone serviceable at the very least. That did not happen. Heaney had several mostly bad outings as a starter before getting pulled from the rotation as the Yankees started to get some starters back. He then shifted to the bullpen, where he again was mostly bad, and eventually got DFAed. (Although he did briefly stay in the organization afterwards.) For his performances and for the specter of worry that he became for fans, Heaney is our Least Valuable Player for 2021.
A couple days after the trade, Heaney made his first start for the Yankees on August 2nd against the Orioles. He got through the first two innings having allowed just one hit, leading to some optimism that maybe the Yankees had managed to find something in him. That optimism came crashing down quickly. He then allowed two home runs each in the third and fourth innings, as the Yankees eventually lost.
Outside of one completely unexpected good outing against the Red Sox, when he allowed one run in seven innings, his time as a Yankees starter was pretty much completely bad otherwise. Even including that Red Sox game, in five starts through August 24th, he put up a 6.23 ERA in 24 innings, with opposing batters putting up a .860 OPS against him. If you’re wondering, “That’s bad, but some of that’s just bad luck,” I can say: it’s not. His FIP over that same period was 6.86.
The Yankees then shifted him to the bullpen, but that arguably went even worse. In his first game in a bullpen role, Heaney piggybacked a returning Corey Kluber. It already wasn’t an ideal game, as Kluber allowed five runs in four innings. However, the Yankees offense answered with three in the top of the fifth. Heaney came in and then immediately allowed a home run to Shohei Ohtani. He wasn’t the only culprit, as the Yankees tied the game after that and still lost.
In his second appearance out of the bullpen, Heaney entered with the Yankees up three runs on the Orioles. Heaney entered in the seventh and here’s how his day went: hit by pitch, single, single, doubly, pop fly, single, removed from the game. He got one out, and was eventually tagged with four runs, as Baltimore took an 8-7 lead. That’s where it stayed, as the Yankees lost against the worst team in the league when they desperately needed wins.
For the most part, Heaney’s bullpen outings were either fine or unobtrusive after that, but he was also used far more sparingly. Some of them even ended up being crucially good, but the damage was already done. Heaney finished his 2021 with the Yankees with a 7.32 ERA. Of any Yankee pitcher to throw at least the 35.2 innings in a season that Heaney did, that’s the seventh-worst figure of all-time.
If you want to determine value purely in WAR, then Heaney didn’t have the worst 2021 by a Yankee. His -0.5 fWAR wasn’t as low as Clint Frazier’s team-worst -0.9. Heaney wasn’t even technically the worst pitcher, as Albert Abreu and Brooks Kriske both had -0.6 fWARs. However, the fact that the Yankees went out of their way to acquire him and then gave him as long a leash as they did made it too hard to not pick Heaney as least valuable player.