News of the Yankees signing sidearming reliever Darren O’Day broke two weeks ago, but it took a little while for it to be officially announced. A roster move was almost certainly coming in the form of either a trade or the ol’ “designate for assignment.”
Today, that transaction went through. As expected, O’Day was signed to a one-year contract with a player/club option for 2022.* To clear room on the 40-man roster, Brian Cashman designated reliever Ben Heller for assignment. The Yankees now have seven days to trade him or put him on waivers.
*If you’re looking for more analysis from us on the O’Day signing, I’d recommend Josh, John, and Tom’s articles from late January.
Heller was once seen as a promising relief addition, as he arrived from Cleveland alongside Clint Frazier and two other prospects in the Andrew Miller trade deadline deal in 2016. He didn’t impress much in 10 games as a rookie later that year, but he showed potential with a 0.82 ERA and 1.000 WHIP in 11 innings in 2017. That performance came on the heels of a strong year in Triple-A Scranton where Heller notched a 2.88 ERA and 0.976 WHIP in 56.1 innings while fanning 82 batters (a flashy 13.1 K/9).
Although the 2017 Yankees bullpen was crowded with dominant arms, Heller seemed like he would be a part of its future. Then came the three words that all pitchers fear: Tommy John surgery. He went under the knife in April 2018 and only made it back in 2019 for 17 games (11 in the minors, 6 in the majors). The cancellation of the 2020 minor league season was a crushing blow for the 29-year-old, as he could only really train at the alternate site. While the Yankees did use Heller in six games, a biceps nerve injury in September cut his opportunities short, and the upcoming offseason roster crunch meant that the writing was likely on the wall that his time in New York was coming to a close.
There’s still a chance that Heller could return on a minor-league deal, but if this is it, best of luck to him in the future.