No matter what rumors we hear about the Yankees being out of money, evidence remains that the front office is still exploring the market. They may be set with their offense, opting to head into camp with Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge competing for the right field job, but pitching is still at the top of their list. If no starting pitching turns up, they could still look to the bullpen in order to add an inexpensive, incremental upgrade like Neftali Feliz.
After the complete failure of their homegrown group of relievers, the Yankees need to make sure they have some options and some upside. Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, and Tyler Clippard are a nice start, and Adam Warren, Luis Cessa, and Chad Green will be in the mix. Ben Heller and Jonathan Holder will surely see some time in the majors, but the organization has far too many interchangeable parts to make a trustworthy bullpen.
2016 Statistics: 62 G, 53.2 IP, 3.52 ERA, 4.52 FIP, 10.2 K/9, 3.5 BB/9
Age on Opening Day 2017: 28
Position: Right-handed relief pitcher
Feliz serves as a reminder that Tommy John surgery is never a sure thing, even though we take it for granted at this point. After a promising beginning to his career, injury struck and surgery happened. He missed the typical amount of time between 2012 and 2013, but he never really recovered. For the next two seasons after returning, Feliz regularly found himself on the disabled list and often struggled when he was active.
It wasn’t until 2016 that he finally remained healthy enough to turn things around and even surpass his old self. As a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, his fastball velocity jumped to 96 mph, a level he hadn’t averaged since 2011. This helped him strike out over a batter per inning, a career best over a full season of work. He also managed to contain his flyball tendencies, decreasing the amount of balls hit in the air off him to career lows. Unfortunately, he still gave up home runs at an all-time high, but there is a chance he could improve there this year.
You might think the Yankees are better off just letting the kids play, but the last two seasons have shown us just how difficult it is to find a reliever who can pitch to a sub-4.00 ERA. Neftali Feliz improved a lot this past season, but even in this market, he isn’t due for a multi-year deal. He only made $3.9 million last season and shouldn’t see much more than that in 2017. If the Yankees can’t afford his contract, what are we all even doing here? Give him a small base salary, add some incentives, and see what he can do.
2017 is the season we see if Feliz can be a high-leverage reliever again. Bring him in as a middle reliever, with no expectations, and see what he can do. Maybe the Yankees strike gold and trade him at the deadline if he’s good, or benefit from his resurgence all year. At worst, he’s a few million dollars of a sunk cost paid in order to find an alternative to the trash they have been sending out there recently.