The Yankees recently signed reliever Richard Rodríguez to a minor league contract, as first reported by Chris Hilburn-Trenkle of Baseball America. According to the right-hander’s transactions log at MLB.com, he’s been assigned to the club’s Florida complex.
Rodríguez, 32, isn’t all that far removed from being one of the game’s better late-inning arms. He broke onto the big league scene with 69 1/3 frames of 2.47 ERA ball for the Pirates in 2018, kicking off a generally excellent three and a half year run in black and gold. He soaked up another 65 1/3 innings with a 3.72 ERA the following season before seemingly taking his game to another level in 2020. Rodríguez posted a 2.70 ERA through 24 contests during the shortened campaign, pushing his strikeout rate to an excellent 36.6% while only walking 5.4% of opponents.
That strong work both earned Rodríguez a closing role in Pittsburgh and made him one of the rebuilding club’s more interesting trade chips. His strikeouts plummeted during the first half of last season, though. Even as he continued to excel keeping runs off the board, the diminished swing-and-miss took its toll on his trade value. The Bucs flipped him to the Braves at last year’s deadline for Bryse Wilson and 2019 eighth-round pick Ricky DeVito.
Rodríguez made 27 appearances with Atlanta but only struck out nine batters in 26 innings. He allowed six home runs over that stretch and was a healthy scratch throughout the team’s World Series run. The Braves declined to tender him a contract at the end of the year, and Rodríguez hit free agency.
While he seemed a solid candidate for a buy-low big league deal, he lingered on the market until after the lockout. The reason became evident shortly after league business resumed, as he was hit in April with an 80-game suspension after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. The suspension was announced just before Opening Day but was the result of a failed test from before the December 2 lockout.
Now that the ban is up, he’ll have to pitch his way back to the big leagues. He’ll presumably spend some time at the complex building into game shape before reporting to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The Yankees could eventually turn to Rodríguez as a late-season bullpen option, but he won’t be eligible for postseason play in 2022 as a result of his suspension. He has four-plus years of big league service time and won’t have enough time this season to eclipse the five-year threshold, so he’d be controllable through 2024 if he earns an MLB look and impresses club brass.