Tribe Claims Pitcher Cole on Waivers from Yankees
Bob Toth | On 13, Jan 2019
The Cleveland Indians added to their thin bullpen depth on Friday afternoon, claiming pitcher A.J. Cole on waivers from the New York Yankees.
The recently turned 27-year-old right-hander spent last season with the Washington Nationals and the Yankees, working in all but two of his 32 appearances in relief. The Yankees designated Cole for assignment on January 4 to make room on their roster for shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
Once touted as a future starting rotation option on a loaded Nationals club, Cole failed to stick in limited opportunities over the last four seasons. A fourth round pick in the 2010 draft out of Oviedo High School in Florida, the 6’5” righty lasted just over a year in Washington’s farm system before he was traded to the Oakland Athletics in the six-player swap revolving around left-hander Gio Gonzalez in December of 2011.
His stay on the west coast was short, as after a season in the minors for Oakland, he was dealt back to Washington in January of 2013 with Blake Treinen and Ian Krol as part of a five-player, three-team swap that included the Seattle Mariners. He made his Major League debut in 2015, making one start and two relief appearances. He got longer looks over the next two seasons, making eight starts in each of those seasons and three more relief appearances in 2017 with mixed results. Elevated walk rates in each of those seasons slowed him down in those campaigns as he averaged nearly a strikeout per inning pitched.
Cole began 2018 with Washington, winning the fifth spot in the rotation out of spring training, but struggled in all facets of the game. He went 1-1 in two starts and two relief appearances, lasting just ten and one-third innings while allowing 15 runs (13.06 ERA), 16 hits (six homers), and six walks (an average of 5.2 per nine innings). Ten of those runs came in his season opening start against Atlanta, when he lasted just three and two-thirds innings. His spot was in jeopardy early, as the Nationals signed free agent Jeremy Hellickson late in spring, and once he was ready to contribute for Washington, Cole’s spot was no longer guaranteed.
Out of options, the Nationals designated Cole for assignment on April 20 and traded him to the Yankees on April 24 for cash considerations, reportedly $75,000 according to USA Today.
He served the Yankees initially as a multi-inning arm out of the ‘pen, working 16 such times for New York in his 28 overall appearances. His use fluctuated under first time manager Aaron Boone, who seemingly forgot Cole’s early success when he kept him off of the mound for a three-week period from the end of May to mid-June. His return to the mound in June (two perfect innings of relief with three strikeouts) led to a two-week stay on the 10-day disabled list with a neck strain. He pitched more frequently in July and August, but he was off of the big league mound for another two and a half weeks in September.
He went 3-1 with the Yankees with a 4.26 ERA, a 1.45 WHIP, and a career-best 11.6 K/9 rate. While his walk and homer rates were still a little high, he brought down his hit rate to just under his career average. His time with the Yankees brought some highs and lows, providing some hope for the future that he could contribute something to a big league bullpen. In his first six appearances for the Yankees, he allowed just one run over eleven innings. He posted a 2.70 ERA in ten innings in July, but those numbers jumped badly over the last two months of the season, when he posted a 5.56 mark in nine games and eleven and one-third innings in August and a 17.18 ERA in five September appearances over three and two-thirds innings.
In 54 career MLB appearances (19 starts), Cole is 8-9 with a 5.05 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP. He has been significantly more effective against right-handed hitters than lefties, limiting the former to a .222/.293/.406 slash in 327 plate appearances as compared to a .317/.394/.580 line in 335 plate appearances against the latter. He has also seen more success when working in relief, owning a 4-1 mark in 35 games with a 4.31 ERA, a 1.34 WHIP, and a 10.1 K/9 rate compared to a 4-8 record in 19 games with a 5.48 ERA, a 1.58 WHIP, and an 8.6 K/9 as a starter. During his time in the minors (161 games over nine seasons), Cole has worked almost exclusively as a starter (155 times) with a 50-45 record, a 3.94 ERA, and a 1.31 WHIP.
Cole figures to be a relief candidate for the Tribe as they hope for a fourth straight season that a former member of the Yankees organization can slot in to fix the bullpen woes in Cleveland. Most notably, the Tribe acquired left-hander Andrew Miller at the trade deadline in 2016, with his acquisition helping to cement a dangerous relief corps during the team’s run seven games deep into the World Series. The Indians acquired Nick Goody following the 2016 season and he pitched well for the club in 2017 before injury cut short his season a year ago. Southpaw Oliver Perez was snagged last June after being released from the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate and his presence helped spearhead a much-needed turnaround in the results from the Cleveland bullpen.
With the addition of Cole, the Indians’ 40-man roster is now at 39 players.
Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images