Going into the Winter Meetings we heard the Yankees were open to trading a left-handed reliever. On Wednesday, they did exactly that, just not the one anybody expected. Justin Wilson is headed to the Motor City where he'll pair with Mark Lowe in a setup platoon ahead of newly-acquired closer Francisco Rodriguez. Wilson, 28, was an instrumental part of the Yankees late-inning lockdown corps last season, pitching to a 3.10 ERA (2.69 FIP) with 20 walks, 49 hits, and 66 strikeouts in 61.0 innings. In exchange, the Yankees obtained two minor league right-handers, Luis Cessa and Chad Green.
Cessa, 23, is the higher-profile addition. The Mexican native was dealt to Detroit from the Mets last summer in the Yoenis Cespedes deal. The Mets signed Cessa as an infielder back in 2008 when Luis was 16 years old. In fact, Cessa didn't become a pitcher until 2011, the same year he left the Dominican Summer League and came stateside.
Working out of the rotation, Cessa put up good-not-great numbers in the minor leagues. Though he runs his fastball up to the mid-90s, it doesn't have much life. In addition, Cessa throws a decent change and an iffy slider that shows signs of being a good pitch but is still inconsistent. Still, although he does not possess elite stuff, Cessa has impeccable control. For his career, he's walked just 1.9 batters per nine innings in the minor leagues. He'll miss some bats (119 SO in 139.1 IP last year), but as he's progressed through the minors, his strikeout rate has consistently declined with each level he ascends.
Ranked as the Mets' No. 15 prospect entering spring training last year, Cessa did not meet expectations. Early on, Cessa was chugging along at Double-A Binghamton, where he kept a 2.56 ERA through his first 13 starts. Then came the promotion to Triple-A. Before the trade, Cessa had made 5 starts in Las Vegas. He was absolutely dreadful, surrendering an 8.51 ERA and 14.8 H/9. Even in the über-hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, those stats were troubling.
Detroit kept Cessa in Triple-A, assigning him to the Toledo Mud Hens. There, he fared only slightly better than he did in Vegas. In seven starts, Cessa pitched to a 5.97 ERA while again allowing far too many hits. He kept his strikeout ratio decent (8.9 SO/9), but his numbers told the tale of a player struggling with the infamous Double-A-to-Triple-A jump.
The 6'3" Cessa currently profiles as a starter, although at some point the Yankees might decide his stuff plays better in the bullpen. Like we saw with Adam Warren last year, a chance to rear back and let it fly can turn so-so starters into singe-inning dynamos. Cessa might stand to benefit from a couple more mph on his fastball. With the departure of Esmil Rogers and Chris Capuano, the constant promotion and demotion of Bryan Mitchell, and dealing away Adam Warren, the Yankees could certainly use depth in the Triple-A rotation. Still, the team is hoping that Cessa will be able to provide more than that in the long term.
Green, another 6'3" righty, made 27 starts last season, his third in pro ball. He was drafted out of Effingham High School in Illinois by the Blue Jays in 2010, but chose instead to attend college at Louisville. The Tigers selected him in the 11th round of the 2013 draft and by the end of that summer, Green had worked his way up to High-A in Lakeland.
Following a solid season in 2014 in which Green pitched to a 3.11 ERA in 23 starts while allowing less than one hit per inning, the Tigers promoted him to Double-A. Pitching with the Erie SeaWolves, Green took half a step back. In 27 starts (148.2 IP), Green surrendered 170 hits and 43 walks while punching out 137. He finished the season with an ERA of 3.93 (3.22 FIP). All in all, it was a solid season for the 24-year-old, albeit not one that raised many eyebrows.
Green throws three pitches: a mid-90s fastball plus a mid-80s change and a mid-80s slider. None of them are particularly excellent. While Green has worked as a starter throughout the minor leagues, concerns about his ability to pitch deep into games might ultimately relegate him to the pen. Green's results have surpassed his stuff thus far. Of course, it's possible to pitch in the big leagues without electric talent but Green's lack of explosiveness gives him a narrower margin for error. At the Major League level, Green has less upside than Cessa, although he might be able to carve out a career as an innings eater. Depending on how the Yankees fill out the rest of their organization, Green could open 2016 in either Trenton or Scranton.
Justin Wilson gave the Yankees a terrific season. However, relievers are quite volatile year-to-year and the team determined it useful to capitalize on Wilson's value and sell high. The question is, how high did they sell? Ken Giles, while admittedly a superior pitcher to Wilson, brought back a much better return when the Phillies dealt him to Houston on Wednesday. Seattle has already dealt both Tom Wilhelmsen and Carson Smith for two quality major-league pieces: Leonys Martin and Wade Miley, respectively. There is no guarantee that either Cessa or Green will develop into a quality big leaguer.
Still, the Yankees could afford to exchange some lefty relief for depth elsewhere. With Andrew Miller in the ninth and James Pazos, Jacob Lindgren and Chasen Shreve in the southpaw downline, the Yankees should be able to replace Wilson's production, at least most of it. I'm just not entirely convinced that Cessa and Green was really the best they could get for Wilson.