The Yankees are in the market for two relievers, and Kelvin Herrera could be an interesting buy-low candidate. Herrera is not necessarily the same dominant reliever he was when he was with the Kansas City Royals, but the right-hander will spend the entirety of the 2019 season at age-29 and still has a 2.82 career ERA. Should the Yankees sign David Robertson, Adam Ottavino, or Zach Britton, Herrera could be an interesting second option for the team.
Herrera came onto the scene as Wade Davis’ set-up man between 2014 and 2016. He was an All-Star in both 2015 and 2016, and cemented himself as one of the league’s best relievers. He struggled mightily in 2017, posting a 4.25 ERA and 4.30 FIP, but returned to being an effective reliever in 2018. In the first half of this season, Herrera had a 1.05 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 25.2 innings before Kansas City sent him to the Nationals for three minor leaguers, including the Nats’ 10th and 11th best prospects.
After landing in D.C., Herrera wasn’t quite the same pitcher. In 18.2 innings, he gave up 24 hits and only struck out 16, which was good for a 4.34 ERA and 5.68 FIP. For what it’s worth, Herrera was pitching hurt during this time. He spent a couple weeks on the disabled list for a right rotator cuff impingement and suffered a season-ending foot injury in late-August. While fielding a groundball, Herrera torn the Lisfranc ligament in his left foot, prematurely ending his season.
The surgery will certainly affect his earning potential this season. Most projections have him at a one year, $8-9 million deal for 2019. He is expected to be ready for spring training.
Still, there are some pretty glaring issues in Herrera’s game that might make him an unwise addition. In each of the past three seasons, his strikeout numbers have gone down. He had a 7.7 K/9 rate this season, which would put him comfortably in last place on the Yankees.
Homers have also become more of an issue. He gave up 1.2 HR/9 this season. Put those numbers on the Yankees and only Chasen Shreve and A.J. Cole were more homer-prone — not exactly great company.
Lastly, there’s been a slight dip in Herrera’s velocity in recent seasons. A fastball that used to sit between 98-100 mph now registers about 97-99 mph, which is not a huge drop-off, but a drop-off nonetheless.
Whether the Yankees should pursue Herrera is a rather complicated decision. He’s shown to be one of the more effective relievers in baseball the past five or so years, but the numbers do appear to be slipping. How he’ll perform in 2019 and beyond is very uncertain. Granted, the Yankees could likely sign him for cheaper than many others currently on the market, and Herrera wouldn’t need to be the go-to guy out of the Yankees ‘pen either.
Yes, the Yankees have holes in their bullpen, but the back end is still solid. Herrera likely wouldn’t need to be any more than a fifth or sixth inning guy. There are better options than Herrera, but there might not be a more cost-effective option.