Now-former Nationals’ right-hander A.J. Cole was traded to the New York Yankees after he was designated for assignment by Washington last week, and he was added to New York’s active roster on Wednesday.
According to what Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone told reporters this week, they’re hoping the 26-year-old will benefit from a change of scenery after he struggled in the rotation and bullpen early this season with the Nationals.
“He’s stretched out as a starter right now, which is helpful for us,” Boone said, as quoted by MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch.
“We do feel like there’s some upside from a stuff standpoint, being a little bit younger, and he has had some points of success in the big leagues. He’s a guy that throws pretty hard, with a good breaking ball.
”We’re hoping maybe a change of scenery is a spark for him and he can give us something. But we feel good about having him down in our bullpen right now if we get into a situation where we need some length. Who knows? Maybe down the road he becomes an option to be a starter at some point, too.”
The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal speculated that Cole might not be in pinstripes for long after the deal was announced.
Unlikely A.J. Cole will be with #Yankees long. Simply replaces David Hale as long man as part of ongoing roster churn and is likely to be next DFA. Yankees acquired Cole last night from #Nationals for cash considerations.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) April 24, 2018
In an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo talked about the trade and the starting depth in the organization after Cole’s departure.
Cole made the Nationals’ rotation out of Spring Training at least in part because he was out of options, but also because he impressed late last season.
Things didn’t work out well for the 2010 4th Round pick, who gave up 16 hits (six of them home runs), six walks, and 15 runs total, all of them earned, posting a rough 13.06 ERA, a 10.49 FIP, and a .356/.431/.867 line against in 10 1⁄3 innings pitched before the DFA and the trade.
“We wanted to give him a chance as a starter,” Rizzo explained. “We thought that [Jeremy] Hellickson once he got ready was a better option for us. He gives us more depth and A.J. would be our long man out of the bullpen, and it just didn’t go well for him out of the bullpen.
“He struggled to get ready in time as a reliever,” the GM and President of Baseball ops continued, “and his stuff just didn’t play up like we thought it would out of the bullpen.
“When you get out there and you’re giving up runs and you’re not helping yourself or your teammates, we thought it was time to make a roster move and when we brought up a roster player we had to make room, [and] A.J. was the candidate we decided to designate for assignment.
“The Yankees had some interest in him so we dealt him over there for a Player To Be Named Later, or cash considerations, and we wish him well. He’s a guy we drafted, signed, and developed, and we always wish the best for those guys.”
In two starts since he was brought up, Hellickson has given up ten hits and five runs in 10 innings, improving on his initial outing this week in LA, when he held the Dodgers to three runs on three hits in 5 1⁄3 innings pitched.
“Jeremy has been through the battles before,” Rizzo said. “He’s a veteran, a young veteran, but he’s a veteran of a lot of seasons. He knows himself, he’s knows what type of pitcher he is. You saw the type of guy he is. He’s a touch, feel, finesse right-handed pitcher that has to sink the baseball and spin the breaking ball.
“We really like his poise and his moxy on the mound. He really was hitting his spots in the game against the Dodgers and pitched a whale of a game for us, and we feel confident that he’s going to help this team.”
While starting depth was a question going into Spring Training, and the Nationals traded away some of it when they dealt Cole, Rizzo said he was still happy with the options that were available.
“We like the depth down in the minor leagues after Jeremy,” he said.
“We’ve got Austin Voth, who’s pitched extremely well for us in Triple-A, as has Erick Fedde, so we feel good about our starting rotation depth at the big league level and in the minor leagues.”
Voth, 25, has a 0.96 ERA, a 2.76 FIP, two walks (0.96 BB/9), and 22 Ks (10.61 K/9) in 18 2⁄3 IP early this season at Triple-A Syracuse, after he struggled at Double and Triple-A in 2017.
Fedde, whose 2017 campaign ended after he suffered a flexor mass strain, impressed in Spring Training, and has a 2.25 ERA, a 2.45 FIP, five walks (2.25 BB/9), and 17 Ks (7.65 K/9) over four starts and 20 IP for the Nationals’ top minor league affiliate.
There are options if Hellickson doesn’t work out at the back of the rotation, but there’s also less starting depth in the organization now.