Yankees make a trade with Pirates for JT Brubaker to bolster pitching depth

MLB: Spring Training-Pittsburgh Pirates at Toronto Blue Jays
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Following their Opening Day win over the Houston Astros, the New York Yankees have struck a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates to acquire JT Brubaker, according to Alex Stumpf of MLB.com. After a three-year stretch with the Pirates where he posted a 4.99 ERA and 4.43 FIP, the 30-year-old underwent Tommy John Surgery last season and is still recovering from the procedure. He began throwing off of the slope of the mound earlier in Spring Training, and it’s unclear when he’ll return from the surgery.

He has 324 strikeouts across 315.2 innings pitched, boasting a five-pitch mix that includes a sinker, slider, curveball, four-seamer, and changeup. The Yankees will be sending a player to be named later to complete the deal, and this should add some depth to their Triple-A rotation.

JT Brubaker Joins the Yankees in Trade With the Pirates

MLB: Spring Training-Minnesota Twins at Pittsburgh Pirates
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JT Brubaker was hoping to be a mainstay in the Pirates’ rotation last season, but he would tear his UCL in Spring Training and require a season-ending Tommy John Surgery. This was after recording a career-high 144 innings, leading the way for a miserable Pittsburgh team that struggled to do much in the 2022 season. Brubaker hasn’t had a remarkable MLB career, serving as a command-first pitcher with underwhelming stuff, but perhaps the Yankees can unlock something in his profile as he is a sinker-slider kind of pitcher.

He has pretty even splits against both right-handed and left-handed batters, but perhaps being a starter isn’t what the Yankees envision for the 30-year-old veteran. His sinker sits at 93.1 MPH with over 16 inches of arm-side movement with a tight-spinning gyro slider that has death-ball properties as it sits near the zero-line in terms of vertical and horizontal movement, which should make it a strong offering against any kind of hitter. It generated a whiff rate of over 40% in each of the last two seasons he pitched, so perhaps he could work in a shortened role while relying heavily on it.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at New York Yankees
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He started utilizing a curveball that generated plenty of strikeouts and a mere .250 wOBA against, tying with his sinker (+4) for the most Run Value on any pitch he threw in his most recent season. That being said, the results have been underwhelming in comparison to the peripherals, as he had a 3.92 FIP and 3.97 SIERA compared to his 4.69 ERA across 28 starts in 2022. The Yankees have had excellent success with getting more out of sinkerballers, as evidenced by their bullpen, and perhaps they see something in Brubaker that could help their bullpen.

Since he’s currently on the 60-day IL, the Yankees will not have to use a 40-man spot on him, and Bryan Hoch of MLB.com reported that the right-hander is targeting a return near the All-Star Break. How the Yankees choose to utilize him remains to be seen, but perhaps they see him as a long reliever in a similar mold to Luke Weaver, who they signed to a one-year $2 million deal this past offseason to fill a spot starter and long reliever role for them out of the bullpen. It seems that they could be leaning toward the hybrid strategy as they try to get innings with a rotation full of injury concerns.

They used the likes of Jhony Brito and Randy Vasquez in that kind of role last season, and Clayton Beeter could be a pitcher they have as a hybrid starter and reliever as well. The Yankees are an innovative organization when it comes to developing arms, and JT Brubaker’s sinker-slider combination lay a strong foundation for someone who could prove to be better than the ERA suggests.

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