The Yankees had a very good bullpen in 2022. Thanks to the contributions of Clay Holmes, Wandy Peralta, and the rest, New York was able to weather a number of injuries to the relief corps. The Yankees also paid Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, and Chad Green roughly $34MM dollars to be on this roster for the 2022 season.
All of those statements are true. With little to no information, if you told someone that the three highest-paid players of a unit, would contribute next to nothing to the total success of said unit, it’d be more than reasonable to assume that the corp would struggle. However, that was not the case with this team.
It should be said that there was next to no expectation that Britton would be a contributor in any meaningful way this season, due to his many injury struggles, though there was always the possibly he would return by the end of the year. Green and Chapman, however, were meant to be crucial parts of a top bullpen.
All three are slated to hit free agency. Green is due after reaching six-plus years and service time. Britton and Chapman were in the final year of free-agent contracts that were signed several years ago, and the Yankee front office was probably resigned to getting a diminished production by the end of these deals, although it’s unlikely that they foresaw such a steep decline, injuries or not.
With this trio’s contracts expiring, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the team’s strategy, and how they must alter it going forward. The Yankees have established themselves in recent years as one of the best teams in finding diamonds in the rough and developing them to be elite, or even just productive, relief arms, both within and outside the organization.
Clay Holmes was not much more than just another struggling arm in Pittsburgh before coming over and mowing the down the AL, particularly in the first half of 2022. Lucas Luetge and Wandy Peralta have taken their game to a whole new level after joining the Yankees in low-profile moves. That’s not even going into the Michael King’s and Jonathan Loáisiga’s of the world, players the Yankees brought into their minor league program and developed into top-end.
This level of development has led to subsequent depth built up and down the active roster. Plucking soon-to-be-excellent major leaguers from opposing rosters, and keeping talented flamethrowers at the ready in the high minors, is what allows an organization to withstand something like its All-Star closer regressing into a below-league-average pitcher, or pitchers like King and Green going under the knife midseason.
You can’t look at the contracts of Chapman and Britton as 2022 decisions, but they certainly impacted everything that was done. After all, $30MM is a nontrivial chunk of payroll, particularly with Hal Steinbrenner tightening the purse strings year after year.
With the Yankees having flourished in developing bullpen depth and elite relief arms, they must not repeat the mistake of the past. They should trust their ability to keep the bullpen train rolling, and invest more money on other areas of the roster, particularly the offense.
This is not a statement that the Yankees’ offense is bad. After all, this team did lead the AL in runs, but it was clearly not without holes, and that showed in the postseason. When Aaron Judge struggles, who was really there to pick up the slack? Anthony Rizzo, and...
Ultimately, you want to have a deeper lineup, and that means legitimate co-stars to protect Judge in this offense. Now, Judge is also a free agent, and at this point, it must be acknowledged that he may not return, but in the end, even if he does, this team needs more thump, and the first step in that department is reinvesting those $30MM+ in the offense.
To use a more tangible example, Edwin Diaz is a free agent. Now this isn’t to say the front office shouldn’t look at Diaz, but if it came down to Diaz or a bat, the Yankees should absolutely bring in thump, all the while continuing stock the bullpen with quality arms from within.
The priority should be the offense. The fact that they’ve established the ability to keep the relief powerhouses flowing should make it that much easier to reinvest in the lineup.