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The Yankees could target these free agent relievers

The talent pool of bullpen arms is deep this winter.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Watching the 2018 postseason unfold, we received daily affirmation that the Yankees did indeed possess the best bullpen in the majors. Once New York was eliminated, the starting rotation of the eventual champion Boston Red Sox was arguably the best bullpen still standing. That’s a testament to how difficult it is to put together a truly dominant ‘pen.

With Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Chad Green, and Jonathan Holder under contract for next year, the Bombers are well on their way to remaining the envy of the baseball world as far as bullpens are concerned. They’re not there yet, though, since important contributors David Robertson and Zach Britton are now free agents.

The Yankees could stand pat this winter, and go into spring training relying on internal options to step up and fill the vacancies. Stephen Tarpley, Justus Sheffield, Jonathan Loaisiga, Domingo German, and Luis Cessa are among the candidates. The latter two are out of minor league options, which greatly limits the club’s roster flexibility. The pair, along with Sheffield, Loaisiga and Chance Adams, also comprise the team’s current rotation depth.

I would rather that they tap into the deep pool of talent available on the free agent market in order to ensure that their bullpen remains a formidable weapon from top to bottom. There are many top relievers available this winter that the Yankees could target. MLB Trade Rumors just published its annual rankings of the top 50 free agents (along with 12 honorable mentions), and 18 of them are relievers.

Top free agent relievers: 2018 stats

Player/Age ERA FIP WHIP K/9 HR/9
Player/Age ERA FIP WHIP K/9 HR/9
Jeurys Familia (29) 3.12 2.65 1.22 10.4 0.4
Craig Kimbrel (31) 2.74 3.13 1.00 13.9 1.0
Adam Ottavino (33) 2.43 2.74 0.99 13.0 0.6
David Robertson (34) 3.23 2.97 1.03 11.8 0.9
Joakim Soria (35) 3.12 2.44 1.13 11.1 0.6
Zach Britton (31) 3.10 4.22 1.23 7.5 0.7
Andrew Miller (34) 4.24 3.51 1.38 11.9 0.8
Oliver Perez (37) 1.39 1.74 0.74 12.0 0.3
Tony Sipp (35) 1.86 2.41 1.03 9.8 0.2
Justin Wilson (31) 3.46 3.64 1.43 11.4 0.8
Stats courtesy of, table by Brett Borzelli

After going through MLBTR’s list, I continued on to look at the guys who weren’t on it, seeking top arms that could help the Bombers. Factors that have made New York’s bullpen so strong include high strikeout rates, along with low walk and home run percentages, so I sought relievers who fit that mold. I didn’t take into account potential contract size, because I think the Yankees should get the best players available regardless of cost. Besides, they are safely under the CBT threshold and currently have the ability to add payroll without putting them in danger of going over.

Most of the top relievers are closers, so there may be signability issues with some. The Yankees have given no indication that they intend to replace Chapman as closer, nor should they, since he returned to dominance last year. So the Yankees need to either target setup men or guys who are willing to serve in that role. We have no way of knowing for sure which closers are open to signing as setup men, so I simply included them all.

1. David Robertson

Robertson is a consummate Yankee. That along with his 2018 numbers earn him a place at the top of this list. One of the few remaining links to New York’s 2009 championship team, D-Rob showed an ability and willingness to pitch in any role after returning to the fold via trade. In 2018, Robertson logged the third highest strikeout per nine rate among free agent relievers who threw at least 60 innings. He also boasts the the third best OPS against. He’s an established team leader, and immediately took on leadership of the mostly young bullpen after re-joining the Yankees in 2017.

The veteran took the unusual step of announcing that he plans to represent himself during contract negotiations. Could this be because he wishes to rely on his established relationship with Brian Cashman to get a quick deal done? Let’s hope the two can do just that. I’d love to see him remain in pinstripes.

2. Adam Ottavino

Ottavino served as Colorado’s primary setup man. He’s a big reason the Rockies earned a Wild Card berth two years in a row amidst tough competition. The right-hander is the only free agent reliever available (60 innings minimum) to notch 13 strikeouts per nine while limiting opponents to fewer than one home run per nine. Ottavino would be a great pick up for the Yankees.

3. Craig Kimbrel

Kimbrel has been one of the top closers in the game for a while now, although his propensity to get into trouble throughout the postseason made me nervous. He received a qualifying offer from the Red Sox, and is expected to get a big contract. Despite these concerns, it would be very exciting to see a one-two punch of Chapman and Kimbrel at the end of games.

4. Joakim Soria

Soria closed for Texas before being dealt to the Brewers, where he served as the primary setup man. He excelled in both roles.

5. Jeurys Familia

Familia closed for the Mets before being dealt to Oakland, where he served as the primary setup man. He also excelled in both roles.

Other intriguing options:

Andrew Miller

Miller was limited to 34 innings in 2018 due to injury, but was just given a clean bill of health. He would be a great pickup if the Yankees feel he can return to dominance. Miller has proven effective in every bullpen role, he excelled in New York, and it would be great to reconvene the “no runs DMC” bullpen.

Zach Britton

Britton’s power has not fully returned. If the Yankees think it will, then they should consider re-signing the southpaw.

Tony Sipp

Sipp produced a career year in 2018. He was previously known for giving up a lot of home runs, so if the Yankees feel this problem is solved and last season wasn’t just a flash in the pan, then Sipp could be a good pickup.

Justin Wilson

Wilson’s trade to Detroit brought Cessa and Green to the Bronx. He pitched well for the Yankees, and excelled as a setup man for the Cubs last season, so a reunion could be good.

Oliver Perez

The Yankees signed Perez during spring training last year after the Reds waived him. He didn’t make New York’s roster and was cut loose. After Perez was picked up by the Indians, he produced eye-popping numbers serving as setup man in their patchwork bullpen. Perez might make a good low-risk, high-reward candidate.

Which free-agent relievers do you think the Yankees should target? Or do you think they should stick with internal options? Let us know in the comments section below.