Yankees’ new reliever they stole from Pirates will be classic Matt Blake project

Thomas Carannante
ST LOUIS, MO - JULY 11: Junior Fernandez #44 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates in the ninth inning after beating the Philadelphia Phillies at Busch Stadium on July 11, 2022 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - JULY 11: Junior Fernandez #44 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates in the ninth inning after beating the Philadelphia Phillies at Busch Stadium on July 11, 2022 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /
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This is exactly where general manager Brian Cashman outfoxes other executives across the league. Sadly, he’s running the New York Yankees, not the Tampa Bay Rays, so these types of moves, while very helpful, should only be part of the puzzle.

But we have to take the wins where we can get them, right? Cashman’s swiped Wandy Peralta, Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loaisiga, Lou Trivino, Lucas Luetge and others in recent years to build a formidable bullpen full of unfamiliar options.

Cashman’s formed a tag team with pitching coach Matt Blake on this front to watch these projects come to fruition. As long as Blake, who’s currently a free agent, returns in 2023, Cashman’s latest roster move could once again provide salivating dividends.

This week, the Yankees claimed right-hander Junior Fernandez off waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates. The St. Louis Cardinals and Pirates both bailed on the erratic reliever, but we’ve seen situations like this play out in the Yankees’ favor before.

Fernandez, who struggles with command, sports a triple-digit fastball, a nasty sinker, a slider and a curve. He’s yet to truly hone his craft at age 25, but his arsenal suggests a “fix” is on the way.

Is Yankees’ Junior Fernandez the next successful Matt Blake project?

Hey, Mr. Cashman! Stop paying relievers marquee contracts if you’re finding talent like this! Hope you learned that from the Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton deals!

It’s certainly no guarantee Fernandez starts dotting with his sinker, but Blake’s been responsible for multiple successful tweaks with newly-imported Yankees pitchers, which have turned them into valuable contributors.

You know who else was a bit lost (and was a former Pirate) with his sinker/slider mix? That’d be Holmes, who was acquired for nothing at last year’s trade deadline. Blake and the Yankees changed some of his mechanics and he immediately became an All-Star.

Maybe that’s all it takes with Fernandez. Maybe not. Maybe this is a total waste and we never hear from him again. But you have to like the profile, coupled with the Yankees’ track record on this front.

The Yankees’ bullpen is in dire need of another high-leverage contributor with a fearsome pitch mix. Fernandez can only trend upward at this point, as evidenced by his career 5.57 FIP and 1.72 WHIP (thanks to 35 walks in 54 innings). It’s not going to get much worse than that.

Get him to work in the lab and there’s a solid possibility he’s bridging the gap to whomever the Yankees deem their ninth-inning man in 2023.

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