The Yankees have been no stranger to big bullpen moves. Next season, they’ll have both Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton under contract for deals in excess of $10 million. It was just under three years ago that they signed Adam Ottavino for three years and $27 million. The organization very much likes to assemble deep bullpens.
However, one could also argue that the Yankees’ insistence on doing so hurt them last year. Due to their other insistence of rigorously sticking under the completive balance tax, they might have missed out on adding talent for last year’s team, with so much money owed to Chapman and Britton.
At the outset of the current offseason, reports indicated that this time around, the Yankees were willing to spend — although they didn’t exactly act on that before the lockout began. If they do end up spending, they should probably focus more on starting pitching, and filling the holes among the position player group. However, if they want to add a piece to the bullpen, Thyago Vieira could be an intriguing option.
From 2017-19, Vieria pitched in the majors leagues for the Mariners and White Sox, becoming just the fourth (of now five) Brazilian player to even make the major leagues. He didn’t have a long run in the majors, and he wasn’t exactly successful. In 25.2 innings across those three seasons, Vieira put up a 7.36 ERA, a 1.792 WHIP, and walked over six batters per nine innings. Even though he was a prospect of enough pedigree to have played in the Futures Games, it’s not shocking that those results got him released after the 2019 season.
After the 2019 season, Vieira went to Japan, signing with the Yomiuri Giants. With the Giants, Vieira has impressed over the last two seasons. This past season, he became their closer, and set records for scoreless appearances and the fastest pitch in NPB history. After that superb run, there is reported interest from teams hoping to bring him back to MLB. So, should the Yankees be among those teams?
Viera’s time in Japan has brought out the “stuff” that he’s always had in his repertoire. Even for as much as he struggled in MLB, he struck out batters at a decent clip considering that he was getting hit around. Add in the Futures Game appearance and the story about the fastest pitch, and it’s clear that’s never been the issue.
The issue has been Vieira failing to truly harness said stuff, and in his career in Japan, he was able to do that. In 80 innings across two seasons in NPB, he has a 3.04 ERA and struck out 10.5 batters per nine innings. In 2021 in particular, he put up a 2.93 ERA and a 1.157 WHIP.
Vieira’s primary problem in MLB came about mainly due to control and walks in general. Despite his other improvements in Japan, that really hasn’t been one of them. The 4.8 BB/9 he’s put up over there is pretty much exactly in line with what he did in the majors, it’s just that his improved run prevention has made them less of an issue.
With Clay Holmes, the Yankees did a very good job of turning around a guy who was putting up mediocre results, but had the raw talent to succeed. Considering Vieira’s years in NPB, it’s not an exact comparison, but you’d hope that Matt Blake and company could help his walk issue if the Yankees took a chance on him.
Something to consider is that the Yankees would need to outbid not only all other MLB teams interested in his services, but also possibly some NPB ones. Yes, if they wanted to, any MLB team could pay a higher contract than an NPB team. However for the Yankees, Vieira seems very much like a “take a flier” guy, while in the NPB, he could be seen as a sure thing. It might be more worth it for them than any MLB team.
At the very least, Vieira is an intriguing option if the Yankees are looking for a bullpen arm.