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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Alex Colomé

The veteran righty is coming off his best season, but there are some underlying concerns. Should the Yankees be interested?

Chicago Cubs v Chicago White Sox Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images

Christmas has come and gone and 2021 approaches. The Yankees did not wake up to any gifts under the tree, but perhaps they enter the new year with resolutions to improve the team from its current state. One area that is due for substantial repairs is the bullpen, and luckily for the Yankees there are a plethora of impact arms available on the free agent reliever market.

The Yankees could target a top-of-the-line closer type in Liam Hendriks, although his price may be too steep for their appetite. They could move a level down, where already quality arms such as Brad Hand and Archie Bradley were deemed too expensive for their respective former teams. This tier includes an impressive assortment of former closers who can still give you many innings of high-leverage relief, from Kirby Yates to Blake Treinen to Trevor Rosenthal. And among that group they will find former Rays and White Sox closer Alex Colomé.

Colomé is coming off arguably the best season of his career from a rate stat perspective, small sample size caveat and all. He pitched to a 0.81 ERA, 2.97 FIP and 4.26 xFIP as the White Sox closer, notching 12 saves, 16 strikeouts, and no home runs in 22.1 innings, while allowing less than a baserunner per inning for the first time in his career. He also posted personal bests in groundball rate (53.1%), flyball rate (9.4%), barrel rate (3.1%) and expected slugging (.301), the final two of which placed him in the 90th percentile or better in he league.

The veteran righty is almost exclusively a two-pitch pitcher, featuring a four-seamer that hovers around 94-96 mph and a cutter that tops out at 91 mph. Although he has operated as a full time closer in four out of the last five seasons, Colomé is still capable of eating up innings, averaging over sixty frames in each of the last four full seasons, and even exceeded 100 innings in 2015 (a season in which he made 13 starts).

If Colomé’s name rings a bell, you may remember him terrorizing the Yankees in the final innings of close games as a Ray. In his career, he owns a 2.61 ERA, 34 strikeouts, and a .646 OPS against when facing the Yankees. At the very least, signing Colomé would ensure he no longer torments the Yankees coming out of the opposition’s bullpen.

In case you were wondering, Colomé’s cutter is just as filthy four years later:

It is precisely this cutter that may intrigue the Yankees to look him up this offseason. It is his bread-and-butter pitch when he needs to steal a strike and his go-to put-away pitch when looking for a whiff. That being said, it appeared he lost the feel for his best pitch for a three year stretch.

For the first few years of his career, Colomé’s cutter featured some of the most horizontal movement of any cutter in the league, averaging over five inches of break at its best. But then from 2017-2019, the cutter only averaged 1.2 inches of horizontal break, placing it well below standard in the league. Luckily for Colomé and his suitors this offseason, it looks like he rediscovered his magic with the pitch, as it exhibited four inches of break in 2020.

Colomé is by no means a perfect pitcher, and there are a handful of areas of concern. The first is that his FIP is routinely a half-run higher than his ERA, while his xFIP is about a full run higher. The elevated FIP is down to Colomé not being an overpowering strikeout pitcher — he averages just north of eight strikeouts per nine in his career — while the inflated xFIP is due to his propensity for inducing fly balls.

He also yields walks at only slightly better than league average, and maintains a BABIP and HR/FB rate well below league average, suggesting he has benefitted from a mixture of luck and pitcher-friendly ballparks at different stages in his career. So an inquiring team will rightly be wary of a pitcher who doesn’t strike out a ton of guys, doesn’t particularly limit walks, and gets hit in the air. However, that he was so successful this past season despite these various flags — having upped his groundball rate and reduced his fly ball rate — speaks to his pitchability.

FanGraphs and MLB Trade Rumors vary wildly on their projections for the deal Colomé might sign. The former predicts a two year, $16 million deal while the latter pegs him at one year, $6 million. Given the recent deal handed out to Trevor May by the Mets, I would expect Colomé’s next contract to more closely resemble FanGraphs’ prediction. Still, at that price, Colomé can more than pay off the value of his contract for a Yankees team in need of bullpen reinforcements.