In a surprise transaction, the Yankees announced they’ve traded relievers Luis Cessa and Justin Wilson to the Reds in exchange for a player to be named later. Cincinnati designated Ashton Goudeau and Edgar García for assignment to open 40-man roster space.
The appeal for the Reds is in the addition of Cessa, who was a dependable bullpen arm throughout much of his time in the Bronx. The right-hander is capable of working multiple innings and has been an effective pitcher over the past few years. Since the start of the 2019 campaign, Cessa has tossed 141 innings of 3.64 ERA/4.34 FIP ball. He’s been even more effective this season, working to a career-best 2.82 ERA over 38 1/3 frames.
Cessa doesn’t have the bat-missing stuff of most relievers. His 19.3% strikeout rate is well below the 24.5% league average for bullpen arms, and his swinging strike rate is similarly underwhelming. That’s basically been true throughout Cessa’s entire big league tenure, though, and he’s found a fair amount of success by throwing strikes and avoiding especially damaging contact. The 29-year-old is inducing ground balls at a massive 56.8% clip this year, and Statcast shows he’s been among the top twenty percent of pitchers in suppressing opponents’ average exit velocity, hard contact and barrels.
While the Reds don’t look particularly likely to make the playoffs in 2021, the acquisition of Cessa gives Cincinnati a potential multi-year piece for a bullpen that has been one of the league’s worst this year. The 29-year-old is earning just $1.05MM this season (less than $400K of which remains to be paid), and he’s controllable through 2023 via arbitration. With the Reds no doubt hoping to contend in 2022 (and not yet giving up hope of a late push this season), picking up an affordable, long-term bullpen piece holds obvious appeal.
Wilson has a long track record of productivity, but he’s in the middle of a disappointing campaign. The southpaw put up an ERA below 4.00 each season from 2017-20, but he’s only managed a 7.50 mark through 18 frames so far this year. Wilson’s velocity has gone backwards, and his typically lofty strikeout rate has plummeted to 18.1%. Given their own bullpen struggles, Cincinnati figures to give him an opportunity to right the ship, but it’s likely the Reds agreed to take on Wilson’s salary to incentivize the Yankees to part with Cessa.
New York signed Wilson over the winter to a somewhat complex contract. The southpaw is making $2.85MM this year (about $1MM of which remains). He has a $2.3MM player option for next season. If he declines, Cincinnati would hold a $7.15MM club option ($1.15MM buyout) on his services. Given Wilson’s struggles this year, it seems he’d be trending toward exercising his player option — but doing so would entitle the Reds to a 2023 club option worth just $500K north of that year’s league minimum salary.
Goudeau bounced around waivers throughout last offseason. He now seems likely to wind up back on the wire after making five MLB appearances for the Reds this year. He’s tossed 31 innings across eight appearances (five starts) with Triple-A Louisville, working to a 4.65 ERA with a below-average 16.1% strikeout rate. García has also spent most of the campaign with the Bats. He’s been quite good in Triple-A but hit hard over his five big league outings.
From the Yankees perspective, the deal frees some payroll space and clears a pair of spots on the 40-man roster. In addition to getting themselves off the hook for Wilson’s 2022 player option, New York shaves around $1.4MM off their luxury tax ledger in 2021. With the Yankees just a few million dollars shy of the $210MM threshold, the extra breathing room could enable the front office to pursue upgrades before Friday’s trade deadline. Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic (Twitter link) suggests New York could look around the league for bullpen and/or shortstop additions, with a particular focus on left-handed bats.