While a lot has gone right for the Yankees this year, one area where the team could improve in both the short-term and the long-term is in the bullpen. Clay Holmes has been elite as the Yankees closer and he's the most trustworthy high-leverage bullpen arm the Yankees have while the options behind him and Michael King (who seems to have gotten back on track after a rough May) leave a lot to be desired. Chad Green is out for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Loaisiga are still on the injured list and weren't exactly effective before hitting the shelf. As a result, lower leverage arms like Lucas Luetge, Wandy Peralta, Miguel Castro, and Ron Marinaccio have had to step up, which won't be sustainable come playoff time. After this year -- Chapman, Green, Castro, and Zack Britton are all free agents and probably won't be brought back on new deals. The good news for the Yankees is that under Matt Blake, most of the bullpen arms they've acquired from other teams like Holmes and Peralta have flourished, and the solution to the Yankees' immediate and future bullpen issues might be to trade for someone.
In terms of what type of bullpen arm the Yankees might target, Matt Blake's been kind enough to provide us with a pattern. With the exception of Aroldis Chapman and Chad Green, every Yankees reliever throws a sinker as their primary fastball, not a 4-seamer. In addition, any reliever the Yankees bring in should have at least one high-quality pitch in their arsenal. It can be the sinker like it is for Holmes, or it could be a changeup (Wandy), curveball (Luetge), etc. I also targeted pitchers whose xERA is higher than their actual ERA. With that in mind, here are 4 intriguing bullpen arms that the Yankees could target at or before the trade deadline:
1. Duane Underwood Jr, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates: The last relief pitcher the Yankees got from the Pirates worked out pretty well, so why not try again? Of the 4 pitchers in this fanpost, Underwood is probably my favorite. He actually has similar peripherals to Holmes compared to when the Yankees traded for him (2022 Underwood on the left, 2021 Holmes on the right).
Underwood's best attributes are that he hasn't given up a single home run this year, and he has 5 different pitches in his arsenal. He has a roughly even split of his changeup (his primary pitch), sinker (movement FB vs. RHH), 4-seamer, and he also added a cutter this season to better attack lefties, not to mention a curveball that he throws ~14% of the time mixed in as well. As such, Underwood can be deployed into any situation and be relatively effective.
Contract-wise, Underwood is in his last year of pre-arbitration and he's under team control through 2025 so he'd be here in the long-term if the Yankees were to trade for him.
2. Daniel Bard, RHP, Colorado Rockies: Daniel Bard was a nice story for the Rockies last year and wound up winning NL Comeback Player of the Year. For as good as he was last year, he's been even better this year. He essentially abandoned his standard 4-seam fastball in lieu of his sinker that averages at 98 MPH, resulting in an extreme increase in his ground ball rate and an even more substantial decrease in his line drive rate. While Bard's walk rate is in the 14th percentile, Matt Blake has had a history of fixing these types of issues (as evidenced by Clay Holmes and Miguel Castro) so it's not unreasonable to assume he can do it again with Bard.
Unlike Underwood or any of the other pitchers in this fanpost, Bard is a rental and he also would come with the biggest salary commitment (he's making $4.4M this year), which might make the Yankees less likely to pull the trigger on a potential deal. However, he'd also cost the least in terms of prospects and his high level of play even at age 36 would be worth it, and the Yankees can always sign him in free agency if the price is right.
3. Victor Arano, RHP, Washington Nationals: Arano would be higher on this list if it weren't for a lengthy injury history. He missed a lot of 2019 and all of 2020 after undergoing arthroscopic elbow surgery, and had shoulder issues which caused him to miss all of the 2021 season. He's currently shut down with a bone bruise in his knee and isn't expected to start throwing again for another week or so. However, when he has been healthy, he's been very good, culminating in a huge breakout season this year.
Like Daniel Bard, Arano's become an exclusive sinker/slider thrower to the tune of a 57% ground ball rate on the year. Arano has a 5.01 ERA on the year, but he has a 2.75 FIP, 2.57 xFIP, and 2.40 xERA which suggests he's been extremely unlucky this year in terms of results. He also has a 4.2% walk rate on the year, which is a plus.
4. Scott Effross, RHP, Chicago Cubs: Effross is probably the most unique pitcher on this list in terms of the way he uses his sinker and slider, providing a different dimension to the bullpen that could be intriguing. Unlike the pitchers in the Yankees bullpen, Effross is a soft-tossing righty. His sinker bears inside to RHH while his slider veers away, but both pitches lie on the same horizontal plane which results in a high chase rate (check out this PitchingNinja clip).
While Holmes can get strikeouts at a decent clip, the Yankees don't really have anyone in the bullpen that they can trust enough to get a strikeout when they need one, and Effross can do that.
The challenge with trading for Effross is that he has five years of team control left after this season, so the Cubs may not be inclined to trade him, but if the Yankees are willing to pay the prospect capital and the Cubs season continues to be a complete disaster it would be worth it.
Whether it's one of the pitchers in this fanpost or someone else, a high-leverage relief pitcher is a need for the Yankees, and based on the recent moves they've made with respect to the bullpen, it wouldn't be surprising if they made a trade for a bullpen arm before the Trade Deadline, both to replace Chad Green this year and as a potential long-term piece to replace mainstays like Chapman and Britton in the event they leave in free agency as expected.
* All pictures and stats from Baseball Savant/FanGraphs
* All stats as of 6/14/22 before games played