Get your bullpen scorecards ready and sharpen those pencils, because the relief arms are going to be flying around everywhere over the next 24 hours.
The Yankees got a jump in that hectic section of the trade market Monday, acquiring righty Scott Effross from the Cubs for righty pitching prospect Hayden Wesneski. From the headline standpoint, this deal might not generate the large font, but it could have plenty of impact on New York’s quest to end its title drought this October.
Let’s grade it.
From a value-for-value standpoint — the actuarial perspective — this is a good trade for both Chicago and New York. The Yankees land a reliever in Effross, 28, who won’t become a free agent until 2028 and has his rookie eligibility intact through this season. This isn’t a trade for a half season of a bullpen arm; it’s a trade for a long-term contributor.
Giving up Hayden Wesneski, 24, is not nothing. Kiley McDaniel rated him outside of his top 18 players in his organizational rankings before the season, but he was one of McDaniel’s breakout picks and Baseball America had Wesneski as New York’s fourth-ranked prospect in its midseason rankings. We’ll get more into his specific outlook in the Cubs’ part of this, but Baseball America recently wrote about the looming 40-man roster crunch the Yankees were facing this offseason. Wesneski was very much a part of that.
Thus, the Yankees provide a little more space for their looming offseason while landing a right-now big leaguer who will help them in their immediate title pursuit but will also slot nicely into their bullpen mix for years to come.
Effross is a late bloomer who doesn’t throw hard but found himself a big league career a few years ago when he changed his arm slot and became a sidearmer with wicked movement from his four-pitch arsenal.
Effross only throws 90-to-91 mph with his four-seamer and sinker, but velocity is not his game. His sinker features almost freaky arm-side movement that bears in on righties, while his slider sweeps wickedly to the glove side. Meanwhile, the four-seamer darts from his low release point to various spots at the top of the strike zone, and he mixes in an effective changeup as well, mostly to lefties. The slider is the star of the show: According to StatCast, Effross had thrown 249 of them through Sunday, allowing a .157 average with zero homers and a 30.1% whiff rate.
Add it all up, and Effross has produced 146 ERA+ over his first 61 career games with a double-digit strikeout rate, a walk rate under two per nine innings and only four homers allowed. Unlike some sidearmers who struggle against opposite-side hitters, he’s dominated lefty hitters so far in his career.
The release point, production and arsenal make Effross a bullpen fit not just because of ability to fill a role, but also because he stylistically complements what New York already has in the pen and fills the void opened up when Michael King went down for the season with an elbow fracture.
The Yankees need more in the bullpen but the deadline period is just ramping up. Clay Holmes has mostly been outstanding, but has had a couple of rough outings recently against second-division opponents. Aroldis Chapman has enjoyed three straight clean outings but still has much to prove after a two-month slump. Jonathan Loaisiga had a miserable first half but he, too, has put up some zeros lately.
Some of the Yankees’ other above-average relief producers — Clarke Schmidt, Wandy Peralta, Ron Marinaccio, Lucas Luetge, JP Sears — don’t have long track records, especially in October. Like every contender, New York will surely want additional depth in this area. But in Effross, they have already landed one of the best relievers likely to move this week.
As good as Effross has been, he is a 28-year-old rookie and a reliever at that. In Wesneski, they land a near-ready righty who touches the high-90s with his four-seamer and has a slider with eye-catching, social-media-friendly movement. Before the season, McDaniel wrote, “His above-average fastball/slider combo and fringy command probably fits best in relief.”
Wesneski has spent this season in Triple-A, going 6-7 with a 3.51 ERA and 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings. He has walked 2.8 batters per nine innings and given up nine homers over 89⅔ frames. But the raw stuff is there and with that, so is the potential to become a mid-rotation starter. Dealing Effross is a short-term hit, especially if Chicago also ends up moving closer David Robertson, which seems likely.
The ultimate grade for this from Chicago’s perspective will be determined by how much Wesneski improves in terms of command and his secondary offerings. If he becomes a rotation fixture for the Cubs, it’s a good deal. But if he ends up as a reliever, then it’s problematic. Because Effross wasn’t just a good reliever, he was one with five controllable seasons left beyond this one.
And surely the Cubs plan to return to contention long before then. Right?