If there’s one thing the Yankees can be counted on, it’s an annual shoring up of bullpen depth. The last time the club did not trade for a reliever at the deadline was 2019, when the eventual AL East winners mostly stood pat and waited for a then-historic injured list to get back on the field. The relief unit is the best in baseball by ERA, but a relatively low strikeout rate and potential home run regression indicates the team could use one more elite arm.
The big bullpen splash this year is Pirates reliever David Bednar, and while the cost of acquiring him would be steep, you can’t really beat what he brings to the table both on the field and with his outstanding team control years.
2023 Stats: 38 G, 39 IP, 1.15 ERA (390 ERA+), 1.98 FIP, 10.85 K/9, 2.08 BB/9, 0.23 HR/9, 0.949 WHIP, 1.7 fWAR
Contract Status: Arb 1 eligible in 2024, free agent 2027
Yeah, trading for Bednar means you employ his services for the next three seasons, plus whatever postseason pursuit the Yankees manage in 2023. That likely makes him the most expensive reliever on the market, and there’s much pressure on the Pirates to deal him. In a way he’s the pitching version of Bryan Reynolds — someone that could be available every year, but it would take an awful lot for his club to be interested.
It’s easy to see why Bednar’s worth so much. He pumps a 97-mph fastball with shape and rise that mirrors Gerrit Cole’s, pairing it with a looping curveball and splitter that should probably be used a little more. The fastball is the real workhorse of the pitch mix, generating a 36 percent whiff rate and 24.8 percent putaway, better than Cole’s all-world heater in both metrics.
One of the funny little things about the Yankee relief corps is a relatively low strikeout rate. Bednar would immediately be the squad leader with a 30.3 percent K rate, and the team overall ranks 17th in baseball in both K/9 and actual percentage of batters faced. The Yankees have seen guys with relatively low strikeout totals have success, but adding a reliever with such swing-and-miss stuff just gives you another look in the bullpen, making the work of navigating the late innings a little harder on hitters.
So that’s what we know about David Bednar, but one of the crucial elements in a potential deal for him is something we don’t know —how does Pittsburgh feel about being a trading partner with the Yankees yet again? More than one trade in the Brian Cashman era has been a lopsided win for New York, and you wonder if there reaches a certain point where an organization begins to question what they’re doing wrong with their own players. Bednar’s development since being acquired from the Padres has been a success story for a franchise without a great track record of pitching dev, and the thought of him going off to the Bronx just like Clay Holmes could introduce a chilling effect on any kind of deal.
Bednar would be an improvement to the Yankees’ relief corps, the same way he would be to just about any team in baseball. However, the steep price to get him, along with the offense being a much bigger concern than the bullpen, makes him an unlikely acquisition — at least this season.