Every offseason, fans debate the big names that the Yankees should chase through either free agency or trade. Big named talent often drives the team, but many under-the-radar deals help provide the depth that successful teams need to remain in contention as the attrition of a major league season takes its toll. Lets take a look at some of the better under-the-radar signings that the Yankees pulled off this past offseason.
A number of Yankees prospects in the East Texas area, looking for ways to stay in form with the 2020 minor league season cancelled, found their way to Dynamic Sports Training in Texas. Josh Breaux, Max Burt, and Hayden Wesneski are three notable minor leaguers who spent time at the facility honing their craft. While there, they rubbed shoulders with a player attempting to make a comeback after last being in the major leagues during the 2015 season. The Yankees signed that player, Lucas Luetge, to a minor league contract on December 11th in a move that generated little expectations for the coming season.
When the Yankees suffered a handful of pitching injuries coming out of spring training, Luetge earned the call to the majors after putting together a strong spring. After some tough early outings, Luetge earned his way into Aaron Boone’s circle of trust for much of the season, pitching key innings in close games on a regular basis. Luetge has generated 0.9 WAR while pitching to a 2.75 ERA in 52.1 innings pitched. It was assumed he would be a strong candidate to be designated for assignment when the bullpen regained its health, but Luetge has not given the team any reason to take him off the roster.
A few weeks after the Yankees signed Luetge, they made another move to offer some pitching depth when they signed Nestor Cortes to a minor league contract. A longtime Yankees farmhand, Cortes saw pervious major league action with the Yankees, Orioles and Mariners before finding himself on the free agent market this past winter. He had earned a reputation for being a quirky pitcher who was able to put up good numbers in the minors but struggled to get consistent outs at the major league level.
Assigned to Triple-A Scranton to start the season, Cortes pitched extremely well with a 1.20 ERA in 15 innings at the level. He was called up shortly after both Corey Kluber and Justin Wilson went on the IL in late May, punching a hole in the Yankees pitching depth. Cortes continued to pitch well at the major league level and has helped stabilize the rotation as they have battled injury and illness throughout the summer months. Overall, Cortes has registered a 1.2 WAR this season while pitching 13 games in both a starting and relieving role.
A day after the Yankees added Cortes to their mix, another deal that seemed to fly under the radar happened that has paid dividends for the Yankees. On January 5th, the Yankees traded left-handed relief pitcher James Reeves to the San Diego Padres for outfielder Greg Allen who had been designated for assignment by the team after they made a series of roster moves. Once one of Cleveland’s top prospects, Allen was unable to put it all together during his major league auditions for both Cleveland and San Diego.
It was assumed that Allen would provide depth to the Yankees outfield as they had yet to re-sign Brett Gardner, perhaps even serving as the fourth outfielder himself. When the Yankees were hit by both COVID and injuries immediately following the All-Star break they turned to Allen and he proved to be a spark for their mid-season resurgence. In 15 games Allen has slashed .270/.417/.432 with five stolen bases and nine runs scored.
The most recent under-the-radar move came to the Yankees due in part to the team’s relationship with Eric Cressey. After being released by the Royals, Stephen Ridings worked as a substitute Chemistry teacher while building up his body with Cressey Sports Performance. A big time boost in velocity followed, and the 6-foot-8 Ridings caught the Yankees’ attention. A few days before the team made news by swinging a trade for Jameson Taillon, they inked Ridings to a minor league deal.
Starting out with Double-A Somerset, he quickly gained attention for his 100 mph fastball and shutdown innings. He struck out 42 batters in 29 innings while earning a promotion to Triple-A. While at Triple-A, he helped finish a combined no-hitter shortly before earning a promotion to the big league club. Ridings had a solid start with the big league club, striking out six in 3.1 innings before getting into rough waters in last night’s appearance. Still, he’s got promising potential and if he can bounce back from his latest outing, he could be an arm to keep around for the stretch run.
Many signings during the winter months fly under the radar of even serious baseball fans. While big time trades generated a lot of headlines, the acquisitions of players like Lucas Luetge, Nestor Cortes, Greg Allen and Stephen Ridings have paid off in a big way for the Yankees so far. These are the type of acquisitions that help the team establish a strong floor for the team. This year’s Yankees team needed that floor to bounce back up the standings and put themselves back into contention after looking lost for long stretches of the season.