Part 3 in a series analyzing the New York Yankees.
For much of his career, Luis Cessa has been known more for the players he’s been traded for than anything he’s done on the mound.
After signing as an international free agent with the Mets as an infielder, Cessa was converted to a pitcher two years later. Cessa was at Triple-A Las Vegas when he was involved in one of the biggest trades in Mets history, included in a package in 2015 with Michael Fulmer to Detroit in exchange for Yoenis Cespedes.
The arrival of Cespedes sparked the Mets’ run to the World Series that season, while Cessa’s time with the Tigers was short-lived. He was traded again that offseason — along with Chad Green — to the Yankees for Justin Wilson.
“We think he has starter capability, just like we think Green has starter capability,” general manager Brian Cashman said in early 2016. “And then if not, all failed starters go to the pen. We feel we acquired, in Cessa’s case, a strike-thrower with a good arm.”
Cessa bounced back and forth between The Bronx and the minors over the next three years before spending all of last season in the majors, since he was out of minor league options.
The 28-year-old showed his value for stretches a year ago, especially during a 10-game span from June 19-Aug. 8, when the right-hander allowed just four earned runs in 27 ¹/₃ innings.
And Cessa pitched in the playoffs for the first time, tossing four scoreless innings in two games against the Astros in the ALDS.
But there was also a five-game stretch in which he was pounded for 11 earned runs in 5 ¹/₃ innings.
His 81 innings were the most of any pitcher out of the Yankees’ bullpen, as he had the unenviable task of eating up innings in a lot of losses. In his 43 appearances, the Yankees went 18-25.
This spring, Cessa might have entered the mix to spend time in the rotation due to Luis Severino being lost for the season following Tommy John surgery, as well as James Paxton’s absence due to back surgery and Domingo German serving the final 63 games of his 81-game suspension for violating MLB’s domestic abuse protocol last season.
But the coronavirus pandemic forced the shutdown of spring training and indefinite delay to the start of the regular season, meaning Paxton could be healthy by the time games are being played.
Cessa would then resume a valuable role in the bullpen, especially since pitching staffs figure to be taxed in however an abbreviated season is constructed. And the Yankees are likely to be forced to rely on inexperienced starters like Jonathan Loaisiga, Mike King and Deivi Garcia — among others — and Cessa’s ability to pitch multiple innings would prove to be especially valuable.
He was pitching well out of the pen again this spring before the Grapefruit League season was halted, impressing manager Aaron Boone with his slider, a pitch he threw more frequently and with significant success last season, while nearly abandoning his curveball and reducing usage of his fastball and changeup. But he has yet to prove he can take the next step to pitching regularly in critical spots.