David Huff said the Yankees pitchers "were shocked" to find out that Matt Thornton was claimed off waivers yesterday by the Nationals. But in Joe Girardi's estimation, the move was almost inevitable -- and through no fault of Thornton's.
Thornton, a lefthanded specialist, had done well in his role, but the performance and promise of young lefties Tyler Webb, James Pazos and Jacob Lindgren in the farm system made him expendable.
Thornton, 37, was in the first season of a two-year, $7-million contract so his exit, general manager Brian Cashman said, "creates some flexibility" -- financially and with the roster. Rich Hill, a lefthanded journeyman, was called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre yesterday to fill the roster spot, but that move is likely a stopgap.
The deal was made, Girardi said, in large part because of "the emergence of some of the minor-leaguers we have that are coming up really fast."
Thornton had a 2.55 ERA in 46 games but pitched only 242/3 innings. Because of the number of unproven starters in the Yankees' reshuffled rotation, Girardi said, "multiple-inning guys are extremely important." The Yankees don't intend to continue carrying 13 pitchers.
"We've had a ton of injuries," Cashman said. "From our perspective as we move forward, we thought there would be a lot more value in the flexibility . . . And in the long term, as we enter next year, with a lot of the choices we feel are starting to knock on the door. Some of those you might see this year."
Cashman, in particular, named Webb, Pazos and Lindgren as the standouts who soon could be called up to the majors. Lindgren was the Yankees' top pick in the June draft (in the second round). But Webb, Cashman said, "is right now the closest of those young guns knocking at the door." He also mentioned Double-A starter Manny Banuelos for a potential conversion to the bullpen, but considered it "a long shot."
Webb, a 10th-round pick in 2013, has zipped through the farm system, advancing from Class-A to Triple-A this year. He is 6-6 with an array of pitches, including a sharp curveball, and has fanned 13 batters in 82/3 innings since being promoted to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Webb pitched two-thirds of an inning in relief of the rehabbing Michael Pineda on Sunday, entering in the fourth and stranding a runner at third.
Pazos was promoted to Double-A Trenton this season and in 19 games (27 innings), he has a 1.33 ERA and 1.11 WHIP with 28 strikeouts. Pazos, 23, was drafted by the Yankees in the 13th round in 2012. According to scouting reports, his fastball approaches the mid-90s.
Lindgren has, perhaps, the most upside. The 21-year-old starred at Mississippi State and reportedly has a 95-mph fastball. He has pitched only 131/3 innings at Single-A, but has a 0.68 ERA with 17 strikeouts. His early success, Cashman said, "isn't unexpected. When we made that pick, we thought he was someone in the near term who could help in the major leagues, whether in 2014 or 2015."
"No, they don't have the experience that a Matt Thornton does," Girardi said, "but David Robertson didn't have the experience that Mariano Rivera did and he's done a very good job. Dellin Betances didn't have the experience of David Robertson and he's done a great job."
With Anthony Rieber