There is still time for the Yankees to complete one last free agent signing for their bullpen. They don’t necessarily have to, but adding another veteran, proven arm to a talented group can make them an even better team.
During the offseason, they already added right-handed Darren O’Day. Despite the presence of fellow lefties Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton, it would make sense to sign Tony Watson if the asking price is low enough to fit in the Yankees’ self-imposed limit for luxury tax purposes. Since Watson played under a $3.5 million contract in 2019 and a $2.5 million deal in 2020, it’s clear that he would fit in nicely. Would the Yankees be interested? Well, they should at least explore the possibility of bringing him into the fold.
Watson is a left-handed relief pitcher with plenty of big league experience — he has ten years already under his belt. He will turn 36 during the season, and a one-year commitment should be enough to lure him.
Watson won’t put himself in trouble with walks. His career 2.38 BB/9 and 6.5 BB% are evidence of this, and has resulted in a very good 1.09 WHIP. Of course, he is not a big strikeout pitcher either. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be talking about the possibility of the Yankees adding him on a cheap one-year deal, would we? Watson gets out without much fanfare. During his career, he has excellent run-prevention stats: a 2.80 ERA, a 3.61 FIP, and a 3.82 xFIP in 591 innings. He also holds a career 3.47 SIERA, which considers the type of contact allowed.
His average fastball velocity checked in at 89.9 mph in 2020, in the 11th percentile. However, that’s not his primary weapon. Watson uses an effective changeup roughly 45 percent of the time. The pitch had a .264 wOBA last season, and coupled with his sinker and slider, helped him thrive in the San Francisco Giants bullpen.
Watson had a 2.50 ERA in 2020, albeit with a 4.36 FIP and a 4.12 xFIP, in 18 frames. In typical fashion, he didn’t miss too many bats (7.50 K/9) but only handed out 1.50 walks per nine frames while getting grounders 50 percent of the time. Last year, Watson got a little lucky with batted balls in play, earning a .196 BABIP. That’s something to keep an eye on, but with his guile, ability to get grounders, and control/command, he can help the Yankees’ bullpen in 2021.
It would also be a good thing to have another type of relief pitcher in the Yankees’ bullpen, to give opposing batters a different look. The risk of bringing Watson is minimal, and the upside is having another reliable arm to add to a talented collection of relievers.
The Yankees have lots of good arms in the bullpen as things stand right now, but only a few of them are truly reliable. Watson doesn’t have any notable platoon splits and knows how to get outs without a blazing fastball. For the Yankees’ current plans and luxury tax limitations, Watson is the perfect target, as he is inexpensive and good.