The Marlins made their signing of right-hander Anthony Bass official on Thursday morning. With a full 40-man roster, my best guess had been that Jeff Brigham would be designated for assignment in a corresponding move. Instead, the club squeezed off a pitcher who’s more than four years younger than Brigham with legitimate starting potential and a stronger connection to the current front office: Jordan Yamamoto.
Think about where we were seven months ago. The Marlins returned from MLB’s COVID-19 hiatus and began summer camp in preparation for the shortened 2020 season. Yamamoto was the leading candidate to earn the fifth rotation spot. And now they’re likely through with him. Life comes at you fast, huh?
Yamamoto arrived in Miami three years ago as the least-noteworthy of the four Brewers prospects included in the Christian Yelich blockbuster trade. Yet you could make the case that he’s been the most successful of them all. The Hawaiian right-hander carved up his minor league competition in 2018. Midway through his 2019 campaign with Double-A Jacksonville, the Marlins’ major league staff suffered a series of injuries that paved the way for his debut.
Yamamoto’s career stats as a Marlin are underwhelming (6.20 ERA, 5.44 FIP, 1.38 WHIP, 0.4 fWAR in 90.0 IP), but those are distorted by a disastrous 2020.
Elieser Hernandez edged out Yamamoto for an Opening Day job, with manager Don Mattingly expressing vague concerns about his conditioning. When a virus outbreak decimated the roster in late July/early August, the 24-year-old was an emergency call-up and we all quickly understood what had gone wrong. Yamamoto got humiliated in back-to-back-to-back outings due to a dip in his already-fringy fastball velocity and inconsistent command. The Marlins later recalled him in September where he “took one for the team” in a mop-up role, charged with allowing 13 of that night’s franchise-record 29 runs.
However, we should not discount the encouraging aspects of Yamamoto’s rookie year. He showed an interesting array of pitches with a particularly lethal slider, performing at a league-average level (0.9 fWAR in 78.2 IP). For what it’s worth, he was a fun interview and by all accounts, a good teammate. Yamamoto and his now-wife Madison bought a house in the Jupiter, FL area to be nearby the Marlins spring training complex.
From my recent 2021 Marlins pitching staff projection: “I doubt the Fish are overreacting to Yamamoto’s short-season nightmare as much as the public is.” That aged poorly!
Perhaps Yamamoto’s medical history played a role in the decision? He missed chunks of the 2018 and 2019 seasons with shoulder and forearm injuries, respectively. The Marlins have made huge investments in “undersized” starting pitchers like Sixto Sánchez and Max Meyer, trusting certain factors about their bodies and deliveries to keep them healthy. But not every six-foot-and-under hurler can be an exception to the norm.
Yamamoto made 18 total starts for the Marlins. The only current players on their roster with more experience in that department are Sandy Alcantara, Pablo López, Elieser Hernandez and Ross Detwiler.
Due to Yamamoto’s limited time on the active roster last summer, he still has six years of club control remaining. Combine that with his age, the flexibility to option him to the minor leagues and the fallback plan of converting him to short relief in an effort to boost his velocity, I would be shocked if he made it through waivers unclaimed. Frankly, it’d be disappointing if the Marlins are unable to facilitate a trade of some kind.
Yamamoto can remain in DFA limbo for up to seven days while the Marlins explore all their options.