The Yankees had one of the best bullpens in baseball, including an All-Star closer, during the regular season this past season.
But after injuries exposed it during the playoffs, the Yankees are on the hunt for reliever reinforcements this offseason.
“I’m looking to improve our bullpen,” general manager Brian Cashman said Thursday at the Covenant House Sleep Out, where he helped raise awareness and funds for homeless youth. “I believe we have a closer [Clay Holmes], but that doesn’t mean we can’t play on somebody who is a ‘closer,’ because ultimately, the more the merrier. We want as many high-leverage guys that you can collect as you possibly can. The bullpen’s an area we want to improve upon.”
Holmes emerged as the Yankees’ closer during the season, supplanting the injured and struggling Aroldis Chapman, recording 20 saves in 25 chances with a 2.54 ERA and 65 strikeouts across 63 ²/₃ innings. But he missed time in August with back tightness and then the end of the regular season with a shoulder strain that limited his usage in the playoffs, though he pitched well.
Cashman said that Holmes is fully healthy, but his presence would not keep the Yankees from adding another reliever that has closed games if they find the right opportunity.
“I feel really good about Clay Holmes being our closer, but that doesn’t preclude us from entertaining any outside players via trade or free agency if it makes us better,” Cashman said. “I’ve done that before. I remember I had Andrew Miller as our closer and then we traded for Aroldis Chapman. At the time, there was no perceived need for a closer, but there was an opportunity that presented itself. We’re always open-minded as we enter the process. So we’re here talking to clubs, talking to agents. Whatever shakes out of that over the course of time, we’ll see.”
After the Mets re-signed Edwin Diaz, the Astros re-signed Rafael Montero and the Padres re-signed Robert Suarez, the free-agent relief market is now headlined by veteran closer Kenley Jansen, followed by a mix of former or part-time closers including lefty Taylor Rogers, Craig Kimbrel, lefty Zack Britton (who has expressed some interest in re-signing with the Yankees) and Corey Knebel.
Besides Holmes, the Yankees have Jonathan Loaisiga and Wandy Peralta set to return as their top setup men. They would also benefit greatly from a healthy Michael King, who recently started a throwing program in Tampa after breaking his elbow in July. King, who was one of the best relievers in the game before he got hurt, appears to have avoided any ligament damage from the broken elbow and could be ready by Opening Day.
“That’s our hope,” Cashman said. “We’ll see how his throwing program goes. If it takes more time, so be it, but obviously he’s really, really good when he’s right. It would be a great gift to get him back healthy.”
The Yankees will have to make up for the loss of Scott Effross, the trade deadline addition who underwent Tommy John surgery in October that will knock him out for all of next season, and Chad Green, who also had Tommy John surgery in June and is now a free agent.
Their absences, plus that of Ron Marinaccio because of a shin injury, during the postseason hurt the Yankees. Aaron Boone’s circle of trust was limited to Holmes, Loaisiga and Peralta, forcing him to use Lou Trivino and Clarke Schmidt in some key spots, which did not work out well.