While the cross-town rival Mets are busy signing free agents and making high-profile trade acquisitions, the Yankees are managing themselves in a different way this offseason after spending big bucks on Gerrit Cole last year. That means they seem unlikely to sign a Trevor Bauer, a Liam Hendriks, or even a Brad Hand.
They do, however, need to address a bullpen that was middle-of-the-pack and far from the deep and talented units from 2017-19. One could argue that the Yankees were even worse than they appeared, as their relievers had the 11th-worst FIP among all 30 teams at 4.69. If they don’t want to enter a bidding war for the likes of Hand, Hendriks, or even Archie Bradley, they could look to bring back Justin Wilson.
Wilson, who pitched with the Yankees five years ago, has very good career numbers. In 429 1⁄3 innings, he has a great 9.94 K/9, 3.27 ERA, and 3.34 FIP. More importantly, as a left-handed reliever, he can get batters of both hands out: righties have a career .284 wOBA against him, and lefties have a .291 mark. Having no platoon issues is a big trait in a bullpen arm these days.
Wilson was stellar in 2015 with the Yankees, notching a 3.10 ERA and a 2.69 FIP in 61 frames. His 9.74 K/9 and a 2.95 BB/9 were proofs of his dominance that year. The Yankees parlayed his fine season into an offseason deal with Detroit Tigers that netted them Chad Green and Luis Cessa. (Not bad, Cash.)
After a good season and a half in Detroit, Wilson was sent to the Chicago Cubs at the 2017 trade deadline, where he encountered troubles finding the strike zone. Although he had a poor 5.43 BB/9, his 12.41 K/9 helped him finish with a 3.41 ERA. Wilson hasn’t been able to issue fewer than four walks per every nine innings since then. However, his ability to strike people out has helped him stay afloat as a solid reliever.
Wilson spent his 2020 in Queens, where he was generally good. He had a 3.66 ERA and a much better 3.04 FIP in 19 2⁄3 frames. Wilson will have a few blips with his control, but more often than not, he is able to overcome them.
Any bullpen would value relievers who have no issues retiring both righties and lefties, and those who haven’t posted an ERA or FIP higher than 4.00 since 2016. Wilson checks all boxes and would be a welcome addition to the Yankees’ bullpen corps. As we have stated in previous articles, the team just can’t pretend to advance deep in the postseason with only three reliable relievers. Green, Zack Britton, and Aroldis Chapman can’t do the job on their own.
Of course, with the current payroll/luxury tax situation, it would be far-fetched to imagine the Yankees spending big on relievers this time. It just isn’t feasible if Hal Steinbrenner has issued a mandate to stay under a self-imposed payroll number. Regardless, something has to be done to address the mediocre Yankees bullpen, and Wilson should be a target.
In theory, Wilson should be cheaper than Hendriks, Hand, Bradley, Kirby Yates, Mark Melancon, Alex Colomé, and many others. He’s not the biggest name on the market, but he would provide much-needed middle relief for the Yankees and is probably one of the most easily attainable relief pitching targets.
Could the Yankees set up a reunion with the 33-year old?