To Keep or Not to Keep: Luis Cessa
by Ethan Semendinger
July 2nd, 2021
Over the next month as we begin to approach the 2021 Trade Deadline season, Ethan will be taking you through most of the Yankees MLB talent (including those on the IL) and his give opinions on what he would do if he ran the team and on what the Yankees will likely do.
Today we’ll be discussing Luis Cessa.
MLB Postseason/Division/WS Odds for the New York Yankees (2021): Preseason: Fangraphs – 91.3%/71.0%/17.5% BBRef – 84.0%/63.1%/11.8% 538 – 83%/60%/14% On June 14th: Fangraphs – 44.5%/14.4%/5.7% BBRef – 19.3%/0.9%/0.8% 538 – 37%/8%/3%#Yankees #StartSpreadingtheNews — Start Spreading The News (@NYY_Report) June 14, 2021
Understanding This Series:
At the beginning of this series, the Yankees currently sit with a 33-32 record, are 4th in the AL East (8.5 GB of the Rays), and are 6th in the AL Wild Card race (4 GB of the Astros). If they want to win 93 games this season (what they’d likely need for a wild card spot) they’ll have to play .618 baseball, a winning percentage of which just 2 teams (Rays and White Sox) are currently playing at. In this series we’re not believing that the Yankees, under their current roster construction and self-inflicted restrictions, have a shot at the playoffs. Thus, we’re looking at the 2021 Trade Deadline as a place to sell and to look towards 2022 and the future for this team.
Luis Cessa Background:
Coming over to the Yankees in December of 2015 from the Detroit Tigers (along with Chad Green) in a deal for Justin Wilson, at the time the Yankees were hoping that one of the two players they picked up would be a back-end starter. But, while it didn’t work out that way, the Yankees did still get a solid player in Luis Cessa (and also Chad Green, but we already talked about him on Tuesday).
In 2016 the Yankees tried Cessa as a long-reliever/spot starter in which went okay (4.35 ERA, 99 ERA+), though as they continued the experiment in 2017 and 2018 it started not to work as well (4.75 ERA and 5.24 ERA, respectively) as batters started to figure him out. However, when the Yankees decided to let him air it out in the bullpen as a multi-inning reliever in 2019 they started to see improvements (4.11 ERA). This continued through 2020 (3.32 ERA) and currently also in 2021 (3.31 ERA) as Luis Cessa has made himself into a solid bullpen option for the team.
The past three years as a reliever Cessa has been solidly above average with the following line:
3.79 ERA (4.38 FIP; 118 ERA+), 85 Games (33 Finished), 135.1 Innings, a WHIP of 1.315, 121 Strikeouts (8.0 K/9), and 53 Walks (3.5 BB/9).
Cessa was a failed experiment in the starting rotation (as are many Yankees pitching prospects) but he did show the Yankees know how to build a bullpen. While his appearances seem to be often found in medium-leverage situations, he has shown over the past 3 seasons- and rightfully proven- that he is a dependable arm who can slot in for multiple innings at a time.
What I’d Do and What the Yankees Will Do:
Cessa is under contract through the end of 2023, though as a Super-Two player he has 4 years of arbitration with his 3rd and 4th years of arbitration incoming. This is a huge benefit to the Yankees both in terms of keeping around a solid bullpen if they decide to sell and/or giving them more leverage for teams trying to buy reliever at the trade deadline. Cessa would be a player that most teams would covet.
However, while I believe the Yankees are destined to miss the playoffs this year, with a player that has 2.5 years remaining on his contract that would allow the Yankees to keep him around for their next attempt at building a team to compete again. Especially given the 2.5 years (2019-2021) of sustained above-average play from Cessa that we have seen recently.
And, while Cessa would be a hot commodity as a solid reliever at the end of the month, there is also less incentive to trade relievers with longer service time leashes. Because solid relievers are always available at the trade deadline, the price of them does not dramatically increase (in terms of prospects returning) as would an above-average starting pitcher. What this does is it puts risk on the Yankees hands that Cessa continues his above-average performance in case they desire to sell again in the future.
I can’t see a scenario where the Yankees sell on Cessa. Nor would I want them too. He has just enough contract length to keep around and see if he can handle a bigger/higher-leverage spot if they decide to follow my advice and sell off some other relievers. If not, he’ll still have value come the offseason.