The New York Yankees didn’t bring back Aroldis Chapman, the man who served as their closer for over five years, over the offseason, a decision that was probably set in stone the minute the lefty decided not to show up to a pre-postseason workout in October. Chapman was a top-tier closer for much of his tenure in New York, but his last season in pinstripes was full of struggles, allowing Clay Holmes to take over as a closer. Holmes’ performance was excellent for the most part, with his first half in particular being other-worldly.
However, Holmes’ sudden collapse after the All-Star break cast some doubt over whether he was the most reliable option at the backend of the bullpen, and we saw other relievers fill in as the closer while Holmes worked to figure things out. Thus, the Yankees' closer position has been relatively fluid, a situation which remains for the 2023 season. There are plenty of candidates for the position, which means only good things for the Yankees in case injuries hit or something else goes wrong. Ultimately, manager Aaron Boone may be happy to not have a capital ‘C’ closer, allowing the skipper to priortize matchups or riding the hot hand when deciding who closes things out on a night-to-night basis.
The names after Holmes, should the right-hander not fully reclaim his closer title, are numerous. Wandy Peralta, Jonathon Loásiga, Michael King, and even Lou Trivino, who has experience as the clsoer in Oakland, could all profile as ninth-inning guys, giving Boone a whole lot to think about with every game in 2023.
Peralta and Loásiga will likely be first in line to take over if something happens to Holmes. They’re both veterans, and have experience in high-leverage late-game situations and in save situations. Each has a lethal pitch mix, that allows to them to perform against hitters of either handedness. Indeed, the fact that Peralta is a lefty and Loásiga righty could lead Boone to play a closer-by-committee type game, using whichever top-end option matches up best with the platoon splits of the opposing hitters coming up in the order at the end of games.
King’s performance last yaer indicates he too could excel in a closer role, though he feels more likely to be used in a more versatile fashion, perhaps as an opener, a swing starter, or multi-inning fireman. Regardless, his stuff is deadly, and it feels as if it doesn’t matter where or when he pitches; he will make an impact.
Trivino was the Athletics’ primary closer in 2021, when he managed a strong 130 ERA+ though he surrendered the role in 2022 after a miserable start to the season with Oakland. He looked excellent after the Yankee coaching staff got their hands on him, however, and looks like he could a rock-solid option to close games should the need arise, and if he can maintain his form from season’s end.
Overall, it feels likely that Aaron Boone will give Holmes the majority of the save opportunities at the outset, but also likely that Boone will have to get creative at some point during the season. As good as Holmes was at his peak last year, he’s not the most consistent option, and of course, injuries can happen as well.
It all adds up to a situation where it doesn’t seem as though the Yankees need a true closer like Chapman was to them. They have multiple pitchers available to fill whatever role Boone needs of them at the moment. It’s possible Boone and his staff are salivating at the possibility of a bullpen with less than rigid roles, filled with talented arms that can pitch in various roles. It’s probably for the team's betterment that the coaching staff won’t feel obligated to have just one person in the closer spot for the entirety of the season. It might test Boone’s bullpen management capabilities, but a flexible relief corps could be a boon after years of Chapman at the back.