When Mariano Rivera retired in 2013, it marked the end of an era for the Yankees bullpen and the broader organization. They no longer had the greatest closer in history securing wins, and when David Robertson departed in free agency a year later, the team was at a crossroads. How would they lock down the later innings of games?
To their credit, New York had no trouble developing or acquiring pitchers to fill those roles. Dellin Betances established himself as one of the premier strikeout artists coming out of the bullpen. The team added Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman to create a dominant, if brief, three-headed monster to finish games. But when they traded that pair to Cleveland and the Cubs respectively at the 2016 deadline, it appeared the Yankees’ bullpen was once more back to square one.
Enter the relief corps’ next iteration. The team re-acquired Chapman, this time as a free agent. They reunited with Robertson while also bringing Tommy Kahnle into the fold via trade with the White Sox. A. few years later they added high-leverage wizards Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino. But despite these high-profile signings, the man who has provided the most value of any relief arm during this latest Yankees bullpen era is Chad Green.
Trade Details: RHP Chad Green, RHP Luis Cessa to the Yankees; LHP Justin Wilson to the Tigers
Transaction Date: 12/9/2015
NYY stats: 258 games, 368.2 IP, 3.17 ERA, 137 ERA+, 1.014 WHIP, 3.30 FIP, 478 K, 11.7 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 7.5 fWAR
The winter prior to the 2016 season, the Yankees starting staff was looking rather thin. Sure, Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda were solid if not spectacular, but behind that pair was an aging CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi and his balky elbow, and an ineffective Ivan Nova. So, the Yankees made a move to acquire a starter of the future, sending reliever Justin Wilson to the Tigers for Chad Green and Luis Cessa.
Cessa’s ceiling was already capped as a borderline fifth starter/long relief man, but Green was the real prize of the deal (though Cessa turned into a useful reliever by the end of his tenure). In three seasons in Detroit’s minor league system, he flashed impressive run prevention abilities with good strikeout-to-walk and home run ratios. This continued after he switched teams, with the young righty pitching to a 1.52 ERA in 16 Triple-A starts, leading to a mid-May call-up. He struggled in his first taste of the big leagues, carrying a 4.73 ERA in 12 appearances (eight starts) before being shut down for the season with a sprained elbow ligament.
Green returned healthy for the 2017 season, and after beginning the season in the minors, Green was once again called up in May and found his groove as a full-time reliever. He made 40 appearances, pitching to a 1.83 ERA while striking out 103 batters in only 69 innings. He and Dellin Betances became the sixth pair of reliever teammates to each achieve over 100 strikeouts in a season, and the 2.4 fWAR Green accrued remains the highest single-season mark of his career.
His first taste of the postseason wasn’t quite as sweet. In the AL Wild Card Game against the Twins, Green came on in relief of Severino after the latter gave up three runs while only recording a single out. Green got out of the inning with a pair of strikeouts, though he did give up the tying run in the third.
Stellar relief from David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Aroldis Chapman drove the Yankees to victory.
Green’s next outing did not quite as well. With two on and two outs in the bottom of the sixth of Game 2 of the ALDS against Cleveland, Green loaded the bases on what was called a HBP. However, replays showed the ball had hit the knob of Lonnie Chisenhall’s bat, but despite Gary Sánchez’s entreaties, manager Joe Girardi refused to challenge. Francisco Lindor then stepped up and launched a grand slam to cut the deficit to 8-7 in a game Cleveland would go on to win 9-8.
The Yankees would win the series in five, and Green rebounded admirably in the ALCS against the Astros. In three appearances across 6.1 innings, Green would allow only one earned run on three hits while striking out seven. Unfortunately, the season would end in Houston, thanks to the Yankees offense scoring only three runs in four games at Minute Maid (along with some other... factors).
2018 brought an increased workload for Green, as well as a slight tweak in role from multi-inning fireman to late-game one inning specialist, thanks to the “lanes” philosophy brought by new manager Aaron Boone. Green made 63 appearances, pitching to a 2.50 ERA with 94 strikeouts in 75.2 innings. He was steady that postseason, giving up just one run on four hits in a pair of relief outings against the Red Sox.
The following year saw Green hit the first substantial speed bump of his major league career. Across his first 10 appearances, he gave up 14 runs in only 7.2 innings, leading to a three-week-long demotion to Triple-A. The reset worked wonders, as Green returned in May, striking out the side in his first game back. He owned a 2.64 ERA across his final 44 games and finished the season with a 4.17 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 69 innings.
That postseason was a tale of two series. He was almost perfect in the ALDS against the Twins, pitching two scoreless outings. Then in Game 4 of the ALCS against the Astros, Green surrendered a three-run home run to Carlos Correa in the sixth to put the game out of reach. Then in the fateful Game 6, Green opened the bullpen game, promptly giving up a first inning three-run home run to Yuli Gurriel to put the Yankees in a hole out of which they would climb but ultimately fall back into.
Prior to the 2020 season, Green swapped his slider for a curveball. He was decent, carrying a 3.51 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 22 regular season appearances while giving up two runs in four postseason outings.
2021 saw the tide of fan opinion turn against Green more than at any point in his career. Though he was excellent in the vast majority of his appearances, his six blown saves and pair of losses to Houston and Boston in which he surrendered four runs apiece are what stick out most in the minds of many of the Yankees faithful. He finished the season with a 3.12 ERA with 98 strikeouts in a career-high 83.2 innings across 67 outings.
Since his transition to the bullpen in 2017, Green has been one of the best relievers in baseball. Among qualified relievers in that timespan, he ranks fifth in fWAR (7.0), sixth in innings pitched (301.2) and K-BB% (27.7 percent), and 15th in FIP (2.96). And yet, his susceptibility to the occasional game-losing blowup as well as his tumultuous postseason resume have prevented him from being universally embraced by the Yankees fanbase. At the end of the day, however, there is no doubt that the Yankees’ trade for Chad Green was one of their shrewdest decisions of the past 25 years.