When teams make trades or cut players, it’s inevitable for the fans to play the “What If?” game with the names included in those transactions.
Sometimes it’s the recognizable names we wonder about and sometimes it’s the less known names that we see years later on another team doing what we would have hoped they would do in pinstripes. In most cases, those players do not end up doing much at the big league level but we always remember the ones that do. Here are a few players the Yankees have let go the past few seasons that they probably regret letting go.
Here is a guy that Yankees probably have the least amount of seller’s remorse for because he would only be depth in an already deep bullpen. Drafted by the Yankees in 14th round in 2008, David Phelps spend four years in the Yankees minor league system before making his debut in 2012. He would bounce between the rotation and the bullpen during that time putting up 4.21 ERA with 15 wins and 14 losses in 299.1 innings and 87 games. He showed flashes as starter and as reliever but nothing that made you look twice. He was ultimately part of the 2014 offseason trade with the Marlins that brought in Nathan Eovaldi. Since leaving the Bronx, Phelps has pitched better across the board. He’s increased his K/9 (8.03 vs 9.43), decreased his BB/9 (3.58 vs 3.46), lowered his ERA (4.21 vs 3.60), and produced double the amount of WAR in basically the same amount of innings pitched (1.8 WAR in 299.1 innings vs 4.2 WAR in 319.2 innings). Despite those statistical improvements, Phelps has had trouble sticking with one team since 2015 showing up on the rosters of the Marlines, Mariners, Blue Jays, Cubs, Brewers, and Phillies. He’s on the rosters for a second time with the Blue Jays in 2021 and so far is having his best start to a season in his career. His K/9 is 13.06 to go along with an ERA of 0.86. The season is still early and he’s spending most of his time in the bullpen thus far but Phelps’s age 34 season could end up being his best yet.
Another bullpen name that the Yankees might have some remorse about letting go is Kirby Yates. After the 2015 season, the Yankees acquired Yates from the Indians for cash considerations marking the second time that Yates was traded that offseason (traded from the Rays to the Indians). Yates was mostly lack luster during the 2016 season with the Yankees pitching to a 5.23 ERA despite posting a K/9 of 10.89. There was some bad luck for Yates though as his BABIP that season was an unusually high .340. Still, the Yankees decided to place Yates on waivers and he was subsequently claimed by the Angels. Yates was their briefly however as the Angels designated him for assignment early on in the 2017 season where he was claimed by the Padres.
Once he arrived in San Diego, Yates took off in the bullpen. He credits his improvement to use of a new split-fingered fastball and the numbers don’t lie. His first season with Padres produced a 3.97 ERA, a 13.98 K/9, and a 3.02 BB/9 in 56.2 innings pitched. The next season the Padres decided to use Yates as the setup man behind closer Brad Hand and since then has become one of the top relievers in baseball. Since 2018, Yates has thrown 128 innings with an ERA of 2.04, a BB/9 of 2.39, a K/9 of 13.99, and 5.2 WAR. After the Padres traded Brad Hand in the middle of 2018, Yates became the closer and between 2018 and 2019 he accumulated 53 saves. The injury bug hit him in 2020 limiting Yates to only 6 games but he was still able to find a job with the Blue Jays for the 2021 season. Unfortunately, the injuries would hit once again leading to Kirby Yates undergoing Tommy John Surgery back in March of this year. Despite the injuries today, it would have been fun to see another shutdown reliever in the Yankees bullpen over the last few seasons.
The jury is still out as to whether the Yankees will regret trading away Taylor Widener but so far in 2021 it looks possible that he could be a solid piece in the Diamondback rotation. Drafted in the 12th round of the 2016 draft, Widener spent two seasons in the Yankees minor league system making it to Low-A ball before being traded to Arizona as part of the three team trade for Brandon Drury that also included Tampa Bay.
Widener would spend some more time in Arizona’s minor league system before making major league debut in 2020. Entering the 2021 season, Widener was looking to make the rotation out of camp and he did just that. He started his first game on April 4th of this year and before going on the injured list last week he had an ERA of 2.82 in four games started. There is some worry that his ERA is somewhat lucky given his low strikeout rate (7.25 K/9), high HR/9 rate (1.61), and high LOB% (88.2%). Widener’s disparity between his ERA and FIP (2.82 vs 4.77) leads one to believe that there will be regression if/when he makes it back to the rotation. Still, at 26 years old the Diamondbacks may have a future mid-rotation starter they can rely on and the old adage that you can never have too many pitchers still rings true.
This one probably hurts the most but even still, the positions that Nick Solak plays are positions that the Yankees probably wouldn’t play him. Originally drafted in the 2nd round in 2016, Solak spend two seasons in the minors before being traded to Tampa Bay as another part for Drury deal with Arizona. Solak was again traded at the 2019 deadline to the Rangers where he would make his debut in August of that year. Solak showed out during that cup of coffee slashing .293/.393/.884 but failed to follow that up in 2020 by hitting .268/.326/.344. Even though 2020 was not the year Solak hoped it would be, he had established himself as a big league that can split his time between second base and the outfield. Entering 2021, Solak was on track to lock in a starting job at a permanent position. Thanks to early season injuries, he’s done just that. Solak has been the Ranger’s starting second baseman for most of the season but that’s not the real story. The real story is Solak’s production as a hitter. In 120 plate appearances, Solak has already produced a career high in homeruns (7).
His current slugging percentage is .514 and that is something you will take from a guy that wasn’t projected to have a lot of power at the big league level. Overall he’s shown himself to be an on base threat hitting .290 with an OBP of .367. His wRC+ and WAR are 153 and 1.2 respectively meaning he’s got the inside track to be the Ranger’s sole representative at the 2021 All-Star game. There’s no way of knowing if Solak would have been playing this way if he was still in pinstripes but given the struggles of some of the Yankee hitters, I would gladly welcome his production this season.