Brad Ziegler has quietly been one of the better relievers in baseball for quite a few years now. Part of that could just be because he’s not one of the flashier bullpen guys, but it can also be attributed to where he’s played. Up until being traded to Boston at the deadline this past season, he spent three and a half years in Oakland and five years at in Arizona. Now he’s a free agent, and in a market where relievers are valued more than ever.
It’s no secret that the Yankees are far from a perfect ball club. They can stand to upgrade in many places, and the bullpen is one of them. Outside of the big names like Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Mark Melancon, Ziegler is one of the top available relief pitchers up for grabs this winter. And he makes perfect sense for the Yankees, whether or not they sign a big name reliever to their bullpen.
2016 statistics (ARI/BOS): 68 IP, 22 saves, 2.25 ERA, 3.10 FIP, 7.7 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 200 ERA+
Age on Opening Day 2017: 37
Position: Right-handed relief pitcher
Ziegler spent most of his career as a reliable bullpen option for the Diamondbacks until 2015, when he became the closer. He racked up 30 saves that year and had another 18 this year until he was dealt to the Red Sox. When he was traded, it was certain that Ziegler would not be the closing there, given Craig Kimbrel’s presence. He still showed that he could admirably handle any role. With the Red Sox, Ziegler pitched to a 1.52 ERA (2.71 FIP, 303 ERA+) in 29.2 innings pitched.
At 37, Ziegler is obviously no spring chicken, but he’s shown no signs of decline to date and doesn’t rely on speed to get outs. He mainly relies on his sinker, which averaged 83.9 mph and topped out at 86.8 mph in 2016, and pairs that with his changeup and curveball to get hitters out. Ziegler’s not really known as a strikeout machine, even though he whiffed over a batter per inning once he got to Boston. He is, however, a groundball machine which would of course play extremely well in the small confines of Yankee Stadium and the AL East.
If the Yankees make no other bullpen moves, he’d join Dellin Betances and Tyler Clippard (and possibly Adam Warren depending on if he makes it as a starter or not) as the main late-inning options in the Yankees’ bullpen. Betances would most definitely be the closer in that situation, while Clippard and Ziegler would be able to form a formidable 1-2 punch in the 7th and 8th innings, however Joe Girardi would decide to use them.
The Yankees had thus far been waiting for the new Collective Bargaining Agreement to make any free agency moves. The team wanted a better understanding of the future luxury tax limitations and pick compensations for free agents, and with that all squared away, the Yankees should begin making moves.
Of all the relievers on the market, the Yankees have consistently been linked to Chapman throughout the offseason. Even before the offseason when the Yankees traded him to the Cubs, it was widely known that they’d pursue a reunion this winter. But now with all potential penalties for teams with high payrolls that exceed the limit, it might be wise for the Yankees to look past Chapman and co. at other reliable, yet cheaper options.
Even if the Yankees do sign one of Chapman, Jansen, or Melancon, extra bullpen depth never hurt anybody. Given the uncertainty surrounding the Yankees’ rotation, it certainly wouldn’t be the worst thing if Girardi had enough reliable bullpen options that he could start using as early as the sixth inning. At his age, he can probably be signed on a two-year deal (three at most), and would probably come relatively cheap (MLB Trade Rumors predicts him signing for 2 years/$16 million) so there wouldn’t be that much of a commitment if he does falter.
He’s not going to strike people out at over 100 mph (or throw a 105 mph ball) but he’s going to come in and quietly get the job done. Almost any team can use him. What do you think? Should the Yankees pursue Ziegler or focus their energy elsewhere?
*Season statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs