Does Adam Ottavino have a role with the 2021 Yankees?

Aug 11, 2020; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Adam Ottavino (0) pitches against the Atlanta Braves during the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 11, 2020; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Adam Ottavino (0) pitches against the Atlanta Braves during the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

The Yankees couldn’t rely on Adam Ottavino for much of the 2020 season.

The New York Yankees need pitching help, but they’ve only made subtractions this offseason. Jonathan Holder was non-tendered. Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and JA Happ are free agents (though we hope Tanaka or Paxton return). Tommy Kahnle will miss all of 2021 and elected free agency.

There’s still plenty of time this offseason. Nothing has yet to really materialize and the Winter Meetings begin next week. However, what’s important is how the Yankees view the pitchers on the roster because that’s who they have to work with at the moment.

In the case of Adam Ottavino, who will make $9 million in the final year of his contract in 2021, the right-hander has arguably the most unclear role of anyone after the manner in which he spiraled out of control down the stretch and in the playoffs in 2019 before following that up with a disastrous 2020.

To be honest, we have no idea what to expect, but he made it clear he wants to rebound and not be a payroll casualty with the Yankees obviously looking to cut costs.

Here’s the latest from Ken Davidoff of the New York Post:

"“With Hal Steinbrenner talking publicly about the economic beating his 2020 Yankees took, the team very likely will cut its payroll for next season.“Adam Ottavino hopes he doesn’t become a casualty of such a slash.”“’I want to stay on the team. I want to prove my worth. I want to pitch well,” Ottavino said. “I want to finish what we tried to start these last few years and win that title and all that.’“’It’s not up to me. So I don’t pay attention to any of that, really.'”"

Ottavino, for most of 2019, was viewed as the ultimate Swiss Army knife in the bullpen. You could call on him in the sixth inning to get you out of a jam or use him as a closer if your big guns in the back end of the ‘pen needed rest. By the end of 2020, he wasn’t even being used in the playoffs. He got 0.2 innings of work in five total games against the Rays.

Perhaps Ottavino’s two career years were truly an outlier. He didn’t really catch on until his age-30 season and he did manage to regress in some capacity during his first year in the Bronx. After a 2018 season with the Rockies in which he went 6-4 with a 2.43 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 112 strikeouts and six saves in 77.2 innings, he logged a 6-5 record with a 1.90 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 88 strikeouts and two saves in 66.1 innings of work in ’19 with the Yanks. As you can see, there was a big drop-off in his WHIP, which is considerable when you realize he mostly pitched the sixth and seventh innings.

Then in 2020? 2-3 with a 5.89 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 25 strikeouts and zero saves in 18.1 innings. Yes, a shortened season, but regression across the board. Pitchers were the most disadvantaged of the bunch in the 60-game campaign because they didn’t get the necessary time to build up their arm strength and stamina, but those numbers are right in line with how Ottavino’s 2019 season ended when he allowed three earned runs on seven hits and three walks in just 3.1 innings against the Twins and Astros.

The fact of the matter is that the Yankees might be stuck with Otto because nobody will be trading for his $9 million contract unless New York pays a good portion of his salary. So his 2020 role? It’ll likely be very de-emphasized at the onset to help him work his way back up before he (maybe) gets a crack at high-leverage innings.

The Yankees aren’t in a great spot with him at the moment and they don’t have much of a choice. Ottavino will have to be used if he’s not traded and his role will be dependent upon how he starts off 2021.

We definitely don’t want to see him as a garbage innings guy like he was for the last month-plus of 2020, so hopefully pitching coach Matt Blake has some pointers to get him back on track. For now, though, his role is undefined, and so is his status with the team.