The Yankees announced they have signed right-hander Luke Weaver to a one-year deal with a club option. Robert Murray of FanSided initially reported the deal, noting that Weaver will make $2MM in 2024 with the potential for the deal to max out at $8.25MM. The deal for the Ballengee Group client is pending a physical. Jon Heyman of The New York Post relays that there are performance bonuses in 2024 while the 2025 option comes with a $2.5MM base salary and escalators based on innings pitched in 2024 that could push it to $6MM.
Weaver, 30, had a nomadic season in 2023, one which he finished with the Yankees. They claimed him off waivers from the Mariners in mid-September and he made three starts for the club down the stretch. He tossed 13 1/3 innings over those outings and had a solid earned run average of 3.38.
That’s obviously a small sample of work and the rest of his season wasn’t nearly as impressive. He signed a $2MM deal with the Reds for the year but posted a 6.87 ERA in 97 innings for that club. He was released in August and signed with the Mariners, logging 13 1/3 innings for them with a 6.08 ERA before heading to the Yanks to finish out the year. Between the three clubs, he talled 123 2/3 frames with a 6.40 ERA, 19.4% strikeout rate, 7.1% walk rate and 35.5% ground ball rate.
The righty has shown better form in the past, including a stretch from 2017 to 2019 when he posted a 4.21 ERA in 261 innings between the Cardinals and Diamondbacks, with Weaver joining Andrew Young and Carson Kelly as the return in the Paul Goldschmidt trade. He paired a 23.4% strikeout rate in that time with a 7.6% walk rate, also getting grounders on 43.5% of balls in play. But his ERA jumped to 6.58 in the shortened 2020 season. He recovered somewhat in 2021, getting that down to 4.25, but missed time due to a strained shoulder and elbow inflammation and only made 13 starts.
In 2022, the Diamondbacks moved him to a relief role, which didn’t work out. He finished the year with a 6.56 ERA, split between the Snakes and the Royals, getting flipped at the deadline for Emmanuel Rivera. The Reds took a shot on him and moved him back to a starting role but, as mentioned, that didn’t work out well either.
Overall, he goes into 2024 with a 5.14 ERA which isn’t immediately impressive. He has never really had control problems, however, having never walked more than 8.9% of hitters in any season and currently sporting a 7.4% rate for his career. For reference, the league average in 2023 with 8.6%. Perhaps there’s some bad luck overall in his results, as his .328 batting average on balls in play and 68.4% strand rate are reach on the unfortunate side of average. ERA estimators such as his 4.31 FIP and 4.20 SIERA paint a more flattering picture than his actual ERA. But on the other hand, his strikeouts have ticked down for four straight seasons now.
The Yankees put a sizable dent in their pitching depth with the Juan Soto trade, as Michael King, Drew Thorpe, Jhony Brito and Randy Vásquez were each sent to San Diego. The Yanks are set to have Gerrit Cole ace the ace this year, with Carlos Rodón and Nestor Cortes each looking to bounce back from injury-related struggles in 2023. Clarke Schmidt should be line for a back end job. The club has also been heavily connected to free agent starters like Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery and Marcus Stroman, as well as trade candidates like Dylan Cease.
Even if they do land another starter in the coming weeks, depth will still be important. Almost no club gets through a season using only its top five projected starters, with each team inevitably needing to turn to starter number six and seven and so on. The Yanks have Clayton Beeter, Luis Gil, Yoendrys Gómez, Cody Poteet and Will Warren around as depth options but Weaver will presumably jump into that mix.
Though his results on the season as a whole were poor in 2023, he finished strong in pinstripes and they must have liked what they saw. He’s also a former first-round pick and top prospect, in addition to having some decent major league results in the past. The $2MM salary isn’t far beyond this year’s $740K major league minimum, but the Yankees are slated to be a third-time competitive balance tax payor, with Roster Resource projecting a $291MM CBT figure at the moment. That puts them above the third tax line and near the fourth and final line of $297MM. Their current level of spending has a 95% and it would be 110% for any spending beyond the top line, so the Yanks will effectively be paying double for Weaver and anyone else they sign from now on.
If Weaver doesn’t have a rotation job to start the season, he will likely find himself in a bullpen job, perhaps as a long reliever. He has over five years of major league service time and cannot be optioned to the minors without his consent. If the Yanks want to remove him from the active roster at any point, they will need to work out a trade or designate him for assignment.