On Monday, in a move that could help the Yankees towards the end of the 2015 season or in 2016, the Yankees traded relief pitcher Shawn Kelley to the San Diego Padres and received a minor league relief prospect named Johnny Barbato.
Kelley made 1.76 million this season and would have gotten a raise in 2015 through salary arbitration. The Yankees likely didn’t want to pay the 30-year-old the increased salary, so they traded him for a young relief pitcher with potential. Since the Yankees traded a right handed relief pitcher who pitched in 59 games last season they will likely acquire another established pitcher before spring training.
Kelley had spurts where he pitched well, like when he filled in for David Robertson last season and picked up four saves, but he was far too inconsistent overall. He had a 4.39 ERA in 53.1 innings in the 2013 season, and in 2014 he had an even worse 4.53 ERA in 51.2 innings. He allowed 45 hits and 20 walks this season in his 51.2 innings, which is far too many for a relief pitcher.
The Yankees were able to continue to get younger with their acquisition of Barbato as he is only 22. He has a 3.79 ERA in 139 appearances in four minor league seasons, but Barbato pitched much better last season at the more challenging Class-AA San Antonio than he did at Class-A Lake Elsinore. He had a 5.01 ERA and a 1.398 WHIP in 2013, but last season he had a 2.87 ERA in 31.1 innings, picked up 16 saves, had 33 strikeouts, only 10 walks and an impressive 1.149 WHIP.
Barbato, who was drafted in the sixth-round of the 2010 draft by the Padres, is a Miami native who went to Felix Varela HS. His fastball is his greatest asset as it tops out at 97 and averages 94. Other pitches that have helped him have a strikeout/walk ratio of 256-105 include a knuckle-curve and a decent changeup.
The other notable relief pitchers that the Yankees have acquired this offseason are Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson and they are similar to Barbato in that they are pitchers who throw hard and get strikeouts. This is now a theme throughout the bullpen. The Yankees also had to have been drawn to his better-than-average control because the manager never wants a reliever to come into the game and walk a batter.
The one negative about Barabato is that he was shutdown in June as a result of elbow issues, which has led to a report that he might need Tommy John Surgery. However, he is only 22, which means that if he has it he would still be a young 23-year-old pitcher when he returns in 2016.
The Yankees will be losing some comic relief with the departure of Kelley. The veteran relief pitcher wanted to make his teammates laugh so he started wearing a horse head mask on the field before games in August. He started to be called Seabiscuit and the team went on a five-game winning streak when he wore the mask that he found on Amazon.
In making this move, GM Brian Cashman praised Barbato’s arm as well as the fact that the Yankees will control him for several more years, but the 30-year-old Kelley will be a free agent after the 2015 season. The Yankees acquired a relief pitcher with upside who can help the bullpen for years to come while trading away a pitcher who is in decline based on his last two seasons.