Acquiring Juan Soto will always be the headline of a team’s offseason, and of course, the Yankees did just that. In return for their new superstar, they gutted much of their pitching depth at the big league level and high minors. It would seem as though the Yankees are not done yet, though, and filling some of the new voids would seem to be a reasonably high priority. Seth Lugo, Soto’s former teammate in San Diego, declined his player option for 2024 and is a free agent that could make a lot of sense for the Bombers.
The headliner they sent back to the Padres was likely Michael King. Much like Lugo over the course of his career, King bounced between the bullpen and rotation for the Yankees. He did quite well in this role, well enough to help fetch Soto, and will certainly be missed in both roles going forward for the Yankees. Lugo, however, could be an adequate replacement to help soften the blow of losing King.
The 34-year-old Lugo has been in the big leagues for eight seasons now, with 2023 being his most prominent as a starter. His first two seasons, 2016 and ‘17, he was a starter the majority of the time, and was fairly average but solid enough. The following two seasons were when Lugo really broke out for the Mets. Over the course of 181.1 innings across the two years, almost entirely out of the bullpen, the righty worked a 2.68 ERA and 2.96 FIP. The shortened 2020 season was not so fruitful, as he posted an ERA above five in his 16 appearances (seven starts).
With his 30th birthday behind him, and a full-time move to the pen, Lugo bounced back in 2021 and ‘22. He made over 100 appearances in that stretch, all in relief, and maintained a respectable 111 ERA+, albeit with slightly worse walk and strikeout rates. Prior to the 2023 season, entering free agency for the first time, he signed a two-year, $15 million contract with the Padres. This included a player option for ‘24, which he of course declined.
In San Diego, Lugo got his first relatively full chance at starting, and did a nice job with the opportunity. In 26 starts and 146.1 innings (both career highs), he maintained a 3.57 ERA and 3.83 FIP and accumulated 2.8 fWAR. He posted his lowest K rate since 2017, but also lowered his walk rate from its already solid standing. In simplest terms, he was a solid middle-of-the-pack starter, and is betting he can do better than the one year and $7.5 million option he had with the Padres.
Lugo’s pitch mix has fluctuated quite a bit over the course of his career, but not without reason. His four-seamer and curveball are the main attraction, but the success has varied with both pitches year to year:
The heater and curve accounted for over 60 percent of his pitch usage, and it has been that way for most of his career. He gets consistently elite downward movement on his curveball, and he has found solid success pairing it with his solid four-seamer. Lugo’s sinker also yielded some of its best results yet, which helps add another element to the 34-year-old’s repertoire.
As far as fit goes, there is certainly one from the Yankees’ perspective. It would seem that any team could use a consistent, above-average righty who has extensive experience out of the ‘pen as well as in the rotation. Given New York’s recent shedding of pitching depth, it could be an even more fitting move. As of right now, Roster Resource has the Yanks’ 3-4-5 as Clarke Schmidt, Nestor Cortes, and Clayton Beeter. That’s not an ideal way to follow up Gerrit Cole and Carlos Rodón, and it seems doubtful that it would stay like that.
In a starting pitcher market that has already thinned out, Lugo could make a lot of sense at a much more palatable price tag than some of the other free agent options. FanGraphs’ crowdsourced projections have him in the neighborhood of two years and $26 million, which could be a savvy move to help fill some newly-dug holes in the roster.
Lugo to the Royals. $45M, 3 years.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 12, 2023
Well, so much for that. Lugo’s off to KC for more than what most folks projected.