It doesn’t seem obvious, but the Yankees could use some bullpen help.
Yes, it seems an oddly specific need for the team with the best record in baseball, not to mention one that ranks fourth in baseball with a 2.97 bullpen ERA. And general manager Brian Cashman has always done well building his team’s relief pitching staff from scratch.
But 2022 is different. The Yankees’ bullpen is banged up. So much that Clay Holmes is closing games with ease in place of the injured and streaky Aroldis Chapman. High-leverage strikeout artist Chad Green is also out with Tommy John surgery. Even as the team keeps winning, manager Aaron Boone and bullpen coach Mike Harkey have still had to get creative.
The fact that Holmes was asked (and sadly failed) to get a five-out save on Monday is all the proof we need. The Yankees’ top priority for the Aug. 2 trade deadline needs to be more bullpen help.
Let’s take a look at some arms they can and should pursue:
Michael Fulmer, Tigers. Fulmer was the 2016 American League Rookie of the Year after pitching well as a starter, but arm injuries derailed him. Now, he’s in the bullpen and reliable again. Fulmer doesn’t strike out a lot of hitters, but uses his crafty slider to induce 23% soft contact. Having a 2.16 ERA this year with the Tigers also helps.
Like any reliever, walks can be a problem for Fulmer. He’s also a fly ball pitcher, which isn’t ideal for Yankee Stadium. Even so, his whiff rate and expected batting average (xBA) are in the 92nd and 98th percentiles. Blake can work with that easily.
Mychal Givens, Cubs. Givens has struggled to a 4.21 ERA with the Cubs this year, but this could be an easy fix. He’s throwing his slider more and his changeup less, and maybe Blake can encourage that. Moreover, Givens belongs on the Yankees simply because of how well he knows the AL East.
The sidearming righty hasn’t pitched well at Yankee Stadium, but owns a 3.45 ERA against the AL East for his career. Givens also still knows how to spin his fastball in the face of diminished velocity, and can still strike guys out on his best day.
Daniel Bard, Rockies. Years after the yips drummed him out of the league, Bard has resurfaced in Colorado and been a boon for the Rockies. The man turns 37 on Saturday and yet has an astounding 1.98 ERA on the year, and with the Rockies! His 11.52 strikeouts per nine innings on the year are a career high. Bard is also throwing harder than ever, his average fastball velocity near 98 mph.
At this rate, he might make his first All-Star game. Even better is Bard’s contract is up at the end of the season. This means, best of all, Cashman can probably acquire his services for little to nothing in return.
Kenley Jansen, Braves. It isn’t at all uncommon for the Yankees to acquire closers and shift them to setup roles. Just ask Zack Britton or Rafael Soriano. It thus only makes sense for them to pursue Jansen, who has 18 saves for the Braves this year and 368 for his career.
This largely depends on where Atlanta stands in the playoff race this time next month. Jansen is playing on a one-year, $16 million deal and will be a trade chip if the Braves cool off and lose ground in the division. He’s still pitching at a high level too, so New York would be wise to keep tabs on him.
David Robertson, Cubs. As Bon Jovi once said, who says you can’t go home? Robertson, who came up with the Yankees and was on the 2009 World Series team, has had two tours in the Bronx and last pitched for New York in 2018. A few years of injury woes later, he’s resurfaced with the Cubs and has a 1.82 ERA with eight saves.
Robertson also owns a 2.75 ERA and 53 saves as a Yankee and can serve various roles in the bullpen. He’s 37, pitching his first full season in three years, and performing at a high level. If he’s available, a third stint in Yankee Stadium would be a great idea for both Robertson and the Bronx Bombers.
Stand pat? There is one more option for the Yankees: avoid the trade market and rebuild with in-house options. Remember, Jonathan Loaisiga is working his way back from a bum shoulder. Britton is also eyeing a September return from Tommy John surgery. Deivi Garcia could be an option if he keeps struggling as a starter in the minors.
For all we know, Chapman will come back and be lights-out the rest of the way.
Being the best team in baseball means the Yankees can stand pat for a while. This time next month, however, the story may be different — even if they keep winning.