2016 Statistics: 33 G, 34 IP, 3.18 ERA, 3.06 FIP, 6.09 K/9, 2.12 BB/9, 147 ERA+, 0.5 WAR
Age on Opening Day 2017: 30
Position: Right-handed relief pitcher
There isn’t a whole lot of talent out there on the free agent market this year, but the one thing the Yankees need a lot of is good pitching. The bullpen is currently empty and there are plenty of relievers available this offseason, so why not grab a few while they’re at it? The Yankees will try to sign a closer-type reliever first, but they could also try and improve the middle relief by adding Tommy Hunter to the mix.
Hunter should be remembered by Yankees fans for his time with the Orioles. After coming up with the Rangers as a starting pitcher, he was eventually moved to the bullpen during his time in Baltimore. Years of mediocrity ended as he seemed to turn things around in his new role. He pitched to a sub-3.00 ERA in 2013 and 2014 before an up-and-down 2015 season with the Orioles and Cubs brought everything to a halt. A 5.74 ERA over 15 innings in Chicago hurt Hunter’s value and forced him to take a pay cut on a one-year deal.
In 2016, his performance with Cleveland was a welcome return to effectiveness. Unfortunately, he missed much of July and August after a mishap at home left him with a fracture in his back. He returned late in the season and pitched well after another stint with the Orioles. It should be enough of a comeback that teams won’t be wary about offering the 30-year-old a long-term contract.
If we dig deeper, though, there’s reason to believe Hunter would be a pretty solid target for the Yankees. Since moving to the bullpen, the right-hander has seen his fastball average around 95-96 mph with multiple variations of the pitch being utilized. He’s also played with a cutter at different points in his career, a pitch the Yankees have had plenty of success with over the years. Most importantly, the changes have had a positive effect on the outcome of his pitches by invoking an increased amount of ground balls. He has also allowed fewer hits and home runs, dropped his walk rate, and improved his strikeout numbers ever since making the switch.
Hunter seems like an ideal candidate for the Yankees as another young pitcher who throws hard and throws strikes. It’s also important to remember that they nearly came to a multi-year agreement last offseason before negotiations fell apart. After the season their young pitching had, Hunter could offer the Yankees a reliable option in middle relief to be paired with Tyler Clippard. This move would also allow them to transition Adam Warren back to starting.
It’s hard to tell what kind of deal Hunter will end up with. He settled for a one-year contract last offseason, but he’ll be looking for a multi-year deal this time around. As gifted as he is, I wouldn’t give him more than two years because there’s no telling what a decent reliever can turn into down the road and it’s important to remember that Ben Heller and Jonathan Holder do still exist.