The Yankees invested heavily in creating a "super bullpen" for the 2018 season and the results were mixed. With two elite relievers -- David Robertson and Zach Britton -- heading to the free agent market, how will the Yankees seek to create a lockdown endgame relief crew for 2019?
The Yankees will return three of their five high-leverage relievers from 2018 to 2019, with Dellin Betances and Chad Green set to once again bridge the gap to closer Aroldis Chapman.
Betances overcame a rough start to the season and eventually slotted in as the Yankees best set-up man once the club stopped insisting on pitching him for more than three outs.
Green was nowhere near as dominant in 2018 as 2017, as hitters could hone in on one of Green's two offerings. Green allowed inherited runners to score more often, however toward the end of the season, as he reprised a role requiring extra outs, he prospered.
Chapman was in the midst of an illustrious season until he was injured. Through August 21, Chapman had converted 31 of 33 save opportunities while recording a 2.11 ERA, with 84 strikeouts in 47 innings (50 appearances). Chapman's velocity was down some upon his return, however over the course of the season, he virtually perfected a filthy slider that helped him to a 16.3 K/9 rate, his best since 2014.
Bring back familiar faces?
The Yankees will certainly engage in talks with Robertson (literally, as he will be representing himself) and Britton this winter. Financially speaking, the Yankees would be able to add at least one of the relievers if they desire, though signing both might be a bit out of the question considering the other areas the club is expected to spend.
Robertson is no longer the great "Houdini," but rather an aging escape artist that sometimes gets stuck inside the trick. Robertson still maintains a strong strikeout rate (11.8 K/9 in 2018), however his walk rate and home run rate both jumped in 2018.
Britton came to New York via trade while not completely up to speed from his return from a torn Achilles tendon. Britton pitched more like himself in September and began harnessing some bad command issues while generating ground balls at the clip he was expected.
It seems as if Robertson, who will be 34 next season, has a better chance to return because his price tag could be considerably lower than Britton's, who at 31 next season, might still be coveted by teams as a closer.
Free agent market
There are a slew of relief arms available in the free agent market this winter, though like Britton, the top arms will be seeking closer contracts and potentially removed as options.
The Yankees will likely be connected to Andrew Miller because of his time with the club from 2015-16, however the left-hander had a rough season on the injury front (just 34 innings thrown), which impacted his performance (4.24 ERA, diminished K-rate and increased walk rate). At 34 next season, the downward spiral that might be expected for Miller might only accelerate is he is not healthy, making him a risk at the salary he could still command.
Interestingly, two relievers that come to mind that fit the mold of a high-leverage middle innings reliever are former Yankees David Phelps and Adam Warren. Phelps has developed into a fine reliever since leaving the Yankees and while Warren was traded twice, the club does have a fondness for him.
Holdovers and tapping into system
The Yankees have some potential answers already on the roster and in the minor league system.
Right-hander Jonathan Holder, who turns 26 next June, was spectacular for a lengthy period this season after an early season demotion. Holder finished with a 3.14 ERA in 66 innings and strung together a 23-game streak without allowing an earned run (just one unearned run in span) at one stage this season.
Lefty Stephen Tarpley began 2018 in Double-A, reaching the big leagues at the end of the season, even finding a role on the ALDS roster. Tarpley was used as a LOOGY with the Yankees, but at 26 next season, he could be a reliever set to take the next step.
Tommy Kahnle was a huge disappointment in 2018. Kahnle's breakout 2017 season did not carry over, but there is dominant stuff in his repertoire (30 Ks in 23 1/3 MLB innings in 2018). If Kahnle can remedy his issues, he could certainly reprise an important role in the bullpen he played in 2017.
The Yankees could also seek to convert minor league starters into relievers, even if for a short period of time. Chance Adams has long been on the periphery of the starting rotation, but maybe he'd fare better in relief? Domingo German displayed some dominate material at times in 2018, which could play up as a reliever.
As the game evolves, relievers' roles continue to gain steam as key to a ball club's success. The Yankees have been at the forefront of the movement to create deep bullpens with a range of elite arms at the backend. We should expect nothing less in 2019.