The New York Yankees let David Robertson get away once. That cannot happen again.
The New York Yankees can’t lose David Robertson to free agency again. It’s just a reality. The team’s bullpen is one of its greatest strengths and he is a big reason why. Though only 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, Robertson is one of baseball’s best relief pitchers and can do everything from getting out of tough jams to closing games.
Bullpen depth may be easy to find in the right places, especially in the Yankees’ deep minor league system, but Robertson should still be re-signed. He is just too important in his current role to let walk again, regardless of price.
Coming up and throwing fire
Robertson debuted with New York in 2008 and appeared in 25 games. Sure, his 5.34 ERA wasn’t pretty, but that can be traced to issuing 15 walks in 30.1 innings. He still went 4-0 out of the bullpen and struck out 36 hitters. One way or another, an intriguing bullpen option was now on the team.
The lanky righty made the team in 2009 and though he still struggled with walks (23 in 43.2 innings), the 63 strikeouts made up for it. Robertson also lowered his ERA to 3.30 and was officially part of the bridge to closer Mariano Rivera.
But 2011 was when Robertson really started to make his mark. Thanks to increasing his average fastball velocity to 93.1 mph from 91.9 the year before, he got his walks under control and upped his strikeouts. He appeared in a career-high 70 games and struck out 100 hitters in 66.2 innings. His ERA was an eye-popping 1.08 as he made his first All-Star Game and finished 11th in AL Cy Young voting.
The rest, as they say, is history. Robertson’s knack for stranding runners in high-pressure situations earned him the nickname “Houdini” and he was rewarded accordingly. In 2014, one year after future Hall-of-Famer Mariano Rivera’s retirement, Robertson became the Yankees closer and saved 39 games.
Sadly, the celebration was short-lived. Robertson hit free agency and the Yankees opted to sign lefty Andrew Miller to a four-year, $36 million deal. Robertson, with New York’s bullpen set, then signed a four-year, $46 million deal with the Chicago White Sox.
A happy return
Robertson recorded 84 saves in a White Sox uniform in two-and-a-half seasons before the unexpected happened. The Yankees, looking to add some pop to their lineup last year, worked out a deal with Chicago for third baseman Todd Frazier. To help shore up a tired bullpen, the White Sox also threw in Tommy Kahnle and a returning Robertson.
The Alabama native came back and it was as though he never left. He went 5-0 with a 1.03 ERA in 30 games for New York last year and struck out 51 hitters in 35 innings. This year was no different as he posted a 3.23 ERA with 91 strikeouts in 69.2 frames, and also went 8-3 out of the bullpen. Robertson also recorded five saves.
And that’s just during the regular season. In the playoffs, Robertson owns a 3.48 ERA across 30 appearances.
Under any and all circumstances, the man can pitch.
There’s no other way to think of it, Yankees fans. David Robertson has to be brought back on a multiyear contract. He’s just too important as a reliever and can work out of the bullpen in so many ways. He can be a closer. He can be a setup man. In some cases, he can open mop-up duty in a blowout.
Also, consider this. Regular closer Aroldis Chapman has dealt with injuries each of the past two seasons. It was his shoulder, hamstring, and a World Series hangover in 2017, and 2018 saw him deal with a balky knee. Sure, the Cuban Missile can throw upwards of 100 mph sometimes, but fragility is fragility. If I’m manager Aaron Boone, I want a reliever who can step up and save games without issue if my closer is suddenly the guy from Operation.
A crowded field
Now, let’s talk about guys who could step up next year if Chapman does indeed get hurt again. The first name that comes to mind is Dellin Betances, but I covered exactly why he shouldn’t be New York’s closer. Short version, his ERA in the ninth inning is 3.69 compared to 2.18 in the eighth and 1.78 in the seventh. There’s just something about him which makes him struggle in save situations.
New York also acquired Zach Britton at the trade deadline, and he had 139 career saves with the Baltimore Orioles. Britton has already said he would “love to be back” with the Yankees in 2019, but let’s be realistic. There are plenty of closer-needy teams out there who would love to have Britton and his career groundball rate of 65.4 percent. Is he really going to take a discount from the Yankees to be a setup man when he could get closer money elsewhere? I don’t think so.
Chad Green is another intriguing option, but he doesn’t quite have enough experience to be “the guy” if Chapman goes down. Sure, he has a 0.00 ERA in 11 career ninth-inning appearances, but that sample size is small. He also has a 3.82 career ERA in the eighth frame, so the 27-year-old needs just a tad more seasoning.
That leaves David Robertson, who has experience being a Yankees closer and can handle the pressure of New York. He needs to be re-signed, even if he wants the same amount per year he got from Chicago.
If the Yankees let David Robertson walk in free agency again, the bullpen will have a void very hard to fill. He may not look intimidating, but his fastball and cutter give opposing hitters fits. Deception is a key tool of a fine relief pitcher and Robertson has that in spades.
The man has a career K/9 of 11.97. His career strand rate is 78.8 percent. Sure, he still struggles with walks at times and his hard contact rate rose to 33.1 percent from 25 percent last year, but that doesn’t matter.
Robertson has ice water in his veins almost on the same level Rivera did. Even though he won’t be the primary closer, he can still provide value as a setup man who can shut rallies down. He can change an opposing team’s momentum on a dime.
Thus, for a deal paying him $30 million over three years, Robertson should have no problem continuing the latter stage of his career where it all began.