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Five realistic relief pitching targets for the New York Yankees in 2021

It's clear the New York Yankees need bullpen help this offseason. Which specific relievers should they target to help close out games in 2021?

Five realistic relief pitching targets for the New York Yankees in 2021
Sep 20, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Brad Hand (33) during the game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Blake Treinen to a two-year, $17.5 million contract with an $8 million club option for 2023, other relievers will likely start flying off the MLB free agent market. The New York Yankees should be looking for bullpen help because, as we’ve covered before, it’s high up on their offseason priorities list.

The Yanks recently added old friend Adam Warren, but that isn’t enough. They only have three trustworthy relievers on the roster: Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, and Chad Green. The rest of the bullpen is filled with uncertainty.

Given that New York apparently doesn’t want to spend too much this offseason, the club must seek out potential bargains. Here are five relievers they should be looking at, of varying price ranges:

5 relievers who make sense for the New York Yankees

Kirby Yates: The highest-upside option for the Yankees

MLB free agents: Kirby Yates
Aug 3, 2020; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres relief pitcher Kirby Yates (39) pitches during the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Already on the wrong side of 30 (he is 33 years old) and with a worrisome elbow injury that required season-ending surgery in August, Yates’ stock has suffered and is not the same as in 2019, when he was fresh off throwing 60.2 frames of a 1.19 ERA and a 3.4 fWAR (Fangraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement).

The surgery, however, was to remove bone chips from his right elbow, and he will enter Spring Training with a clean bill of health. According to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Yates is looking for an incentive-laden one-year deal worth around $5 million.

If that report is true, the most likely scenario is that Yates’ market value will dip at least a little. For the Yankees, it could be a modest investment in exchange for, potentially, one of the most dominant relievers in the game. Yes, he had a 12.46 ERA in 2020, but he was hurt. In 2019, he had an absurd 14.98 punchouts per nine innings (K/9,) and was also excellent in 2017 and 2018.

Archie Bradley: A reliable and consistent reliever the Yankees should consider

Sep 5, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Archie Bradley (23) reacts after defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Cincinnati won 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Since becoming a full-time reliever in 2017, Bradley has alternated good seasons with great ones while playing for Arizona and Cincinnati. As the Reds enter into cost-cutting mode, they surprisingly decided not to pay Bradley’s reasonable, projected salary in arbitration (between $4.3 million and $5.7 million) and non-tendered the talented reliever.

If he were to sign a contract around that kind of money, Bradley would be the Yankees’ fourth-highest paid reliever. It’s a more than manageable gamble for a guy that hasn’t had a 4.00 ERA or FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) season as a reliever.

In 2020, Bradley had a 2.95 ERA and a 2.59 FIP, with a career-low 1.47 BB/9 (bases on balls per nine innings.) He misses bats, he doesn’t walk too many people, and he is consistent.

Brad Hand: The best lefty available for the Yanks

Sep 24, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Brad Hand (33) throws a pitch against the Chicago White Sox during the ninth inning at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Of the relievers listed here, Hand would be the most expensive option for the Yankees. He is arguably the best left-handed reliever available. However, chances are that he will cost less than $10 million per season, since no team claimed his contract once the Cleveland Baseball Team placed him on outright waivers.

Hand is good (2.96 ERA in 386.2 innings as a reliever, with a 30.9 K% and a 8.5 BB%) and still in his prime, at 30 years old. He is coming of a stellar 2020 season that saw him finish with a 1.37 FIP and 16 saves in 16 opportunities.

He had a meltdown in Game 2 of the Wild Card series against the Yanks, but one bad appearance won’t erase his overall body of work. Several teams are circling him, including the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox. If the Bombers want to bring an elite southpaw for their bullpen, Hand is the man.

Justin Wilson: An old friend of the Yankees

New York Yankees: Justin Wilson
Sep 22, 2020; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets relief pitcher Justin Wilson (38) pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the seventh inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

If the Yankees want some certainty, they could bring Justin Wilson, a familiar face that already knows how to pitch in the Bronx. The lefty dominated out of the Yankees’ bullpen in 2015, posting a 3.10 ERA and a 2.69 FIP in 61.0 innings.

He has a 3.27 ERA and a 3.34 FIP in his career, with almost 10 strikeouts per every nine frames. He is experienced, he is talented, and he can get both lefties and righties out.

In 2019, Wilson pitched well for the Mets (3.66 ERA, 3.04 FIP in 19.2 innings). Even at 33 years old, he remains a reliable reliever that shouldn’t cost more than $5 million per season and probably won’t require a long, multi-year commitment.

Jake McGee: Another affordable lefty reliever for New York

Oct 13, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Jake McGee (41) pitches during the sixth inning against the Atlanta Braves in game two of the 2020 NLCS at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

McGee, a 34-year-old left-hander, had six very good years in Tampa to start his career. However, everything went south when he joined the Colorado Rockies in 2016. He pitched poorly in three out of four seasons there but joined the Dodgers just a few days before the start of the shortened 2020 campaign. And what a performance he had.

With a 2.66 ERA and a 1.67 FIP in 20.1 innings, not to mention 14.61 strikeouts per nine frames, McGee regained the form that made him one of the top lefties in MLB in the early 2010s.

Of course, we are talking about only 20.1 innings, but wow. Although the Yanks have Britton and Chapman, it wouldn’t hurt to add McGee, who shouldn’t be too expensive despite his big year.