Yankees should be looking for bullpen upgrades sooner rather than later

The YankeesBullpen is currently two of the best relievers in the entire game and six question marks.

While Clay Holmes and Michael King have been beyond fantastic, injuries have decimated the rest of the bullpen. Relief pitching and left field are the only real weaknesses on this team, and with an extremely top-heavy American League landscape, the Yankees have a good chance of playing well into October with the right additions.

With this year’s trading deadline set at August 2, there is still plenty of time for moves throughout the competition. But the Yankees have no reason to wait. Given their recent battle against the Astros (who came into play on Monday just five games behind the Yankees in the loss column), the Yankees front office can’t afford to get complacent. A spot in the playoffs is certain, but if they’re not careful, the Astros could top them for the AL’s best record, forcing a potential ALCS Game 7 to be played at the Yankees’ terror home in Houston.

Like most teams, the Yankees like to have eight relievers on their active roster. If they stick to that plan for the postseason—the alternative would be nine relievers and a three-man bench—it would be wise to add a few more reliable arms to that group. Holmes and King need not worry just yet, and Wandy Peralta and Lucas Luetge have both excelled in their roles, with batting averages of under 200.

Then there are four spots left. Aroldis Chapman will lead one of them, but at this point in the 34-year-old’s career it’s hard to know for sure what you’re going to get from him. His 5.14 ERA, career-low 21.7% strikeout rate and three-walk, two-run performance in his recent return from the injured list doesn’t inspire much confidence

When he returns, it’s also hard to predict what kind of finish Jonathan Loaisiga will have in his tumultuous season. Loaisiga hasn’t pitched at any level since May 22, when he was shot by the White Sox and placed on the IL shortly after with a shoulder infection. The Yankees desperately need last season’s Loaisiga to reappear if they want internal bullpen improvement. With Ron Marinaccio landing on the IL with his own shoulder issues, and the team trading little-used lefty Manny Banuelos to Pittsburgh, the bullpen has no real depth at this point.

That could all soon change when the team picks up the phone and lights the seasonally hot stove. Yes, they will get Loaisiga back at some point and put Domingo German in the bullpen as well when he is back to full health. But those days are coming and injured players don’t help a team win today. Right now, the Yankees are counting on a lot of guys with numbers in the 80s and 90s to secure big outs at the end of the games. With the ever looming possibility of Holmes and King falling back to their typical numbers at some point, it makes sense that the Yankees would turn to other teams for help.

Playing the classic game of identifying good players in bad teams with expiring contracts, we find some logical trading goals for Hal Steinbrenner. Michael Fulmer of the Tigers and Alex Colome of the Rockies are both enjoying good seasons, as is Colome’s teammate Daniel Bard. Fulmer, the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year, was phenomenal in his first year as a full-time reliever. While he struggles with walks, the 29-year-old opponents maintain a batting average of 0.157. Moving to the bullpen allowed him to lean more on his slider, a throw he now rolls over 60% of the time and produces a slugging percentage of 0.153.

Colome’s strikeout percentage has fallen, but his 54.6% ground ball percentage would be a good fit for the Yankees’ auxiliary corps, which already lead Major League Baseball in inducing grounders† For what it’s worth, Colome is also familiar with the trading process over a season. He went from Tampa to Seattle in 2018 when the Mariners were chasing a playoff spot. Bard, the former Red Sox phenom who overcame a serious case of the yips to return to the big leagues after a seven-year absence, is the Rockies’ leader in rescue. With a 2.05 ERA in 29.1 innings, plus a disgusting slider and strikeout rate in the 88th percentile, Bard could be more than just a feel-good story for these Yankees.

Of those three, Bard is the only one to have pitched in a post-season game in a packed stadium (Colome appeared in the 2020 playoffs before fans were admitted), and that was all the way back in 2009. If post-season experience is anything what the Yankees want to prioritize, they could give old friend David Robertson a shout. Robertson is posting his best numbers since 2017, a year in which he happened to be traded from Chicago to the Yankees in July.

In that case, it was the White Sox who let him go. This year, it would be the Cubs, who saw Robertson throw to a 1.72 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 251 ERA+, meaning he was a whopping 151% better than the average reliever. The Cubs have been an abomination this year and have no reason to keep Robertson, who, at age 37 with only a few months left on his contract, could probably be mistaken for a minor league filler.

The Cubs’ Mychal Givens and Detroit’s Andrew Chafin are semi-intriguing options, but both are also under contract for next season, the same situation that left the Yankees stuck on the Joey Gallo takeover, the 2021 deadline.

However, the time to get started is now as other teams in the league will be chasing these guys too, including the team on the other side of town. Taking a lead would not only prevent the Yankees from having to use unproven relievers to protect their July leads, it also increases their chances of going all the way through.

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