Life without Aroldis Chapman has had its rough moments for the Yankees.
None of the issues have revolved around Dellin Betances, Chapman's replacement while the left-hander has been on the shelf. However, the efforts of others during the stretch, namely Tyler Clippard, who was bumped to Betances' eighth-inning role, exemplifies a glaring need for a team with a legitimate postseason run ahead of them.
The playoff push might not have been foreseen by outsiders, or maybe even the Yankees for that matter, but here we are. The Yankees own a four-game lead in the loss column over the Boston Red Sox in the middle of June. The offense is strong, the rotation has been mostly solid, but the middle relief situation has been sketchy at times.
The Yankees did not expect to be a major player in the buyer's market, but it is not unreasonable to believe that they will make a play for a reliever to strengthen the bridge to Betances and Chapman. The question of course is how much will the Yankees be willing to part with as the reliever markets have exploded of late. The Yankees know this firsthand, having generated significant hauls for Andrew Miller and Chapman during last season's trade deadline period.
The Yankees don't need a closer, which immediately diminishes the price of the players they might to seek in a deal. Ideally, the Yankees will search for a player set to hit the free agent market after this season in another effort to keep the prospect costs down, though they won't exclude discussing relievers with team control beyond this season. The pickings are not exactly plentiful if staying away from relievers that will be sought after by other clubs to become their closer. The Yankees do not seem to be a team willing to get into a bidding war for a reliever who will be asked to hold leads in the sixth and seventh innings.
Let's review some options.
Hand, a southpaw, is having a fine season for the Padres. Hand, 27, has been used in various high-leverage roles, evening notching two saves in 2017. Hand was traditionally tough on left-handed hitters, but interestingly he's turned in reverse splits this season (.576 OPS versus RHB and .729 OPS versus LHB). Hand owns a 3.12 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and a spectacular 11.9 K/9. This is Hand's second straight strong season as a reliever and he comes with two years of control, which would take him through his age-29 season. Hand is earning $1.38M this season, so that and the control could push the prospect cost up for the acquiring team.
The 32-year-old righty has reinvented himself as a reliever for the Angels, locking down 11 saves in the absence of the expected endgame relievers in Los Angeles. Norris has pitched to a 2.59 ERA (3.24 FIP) and 1.14 WHIP with 40 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings. Norris does walk a few too many batters (3.7 BB/9), but he's been able to keep the ball in the park this season. Norris is in the middle of a one-year $1.75M deal and because I suspect other teams will see him as a setup choice in trades, the Yankees could have some interest.
Yes, Smith currently pitches for division rival Toronto, but sometimes these kind of deals can still happen. Smith, 33, has been quite good for the Blue Jays, who have some ground to make up after a poor opening month. Smith is making $3 million this year and set to hit the free agent market at the end of the season. Smith has a spiffy 2.64 ERA (1.74 FIP), 1.04 WHIP and an impressive 13.4 K/9 in 30 2/3 innings of work. Smith has pitched well enough this season to become the setup reliever bridging the gap to Toronto's closer Roberto Osuna.
Soria's teammate, Kelvin Herrera, will be heavily sought after at the trade deadline, but his price might be higher than the Yankees want to go despite being able to control him in his final arbitration season in 2018. Soria, who is earning $8 million this season and $9 million next, would require an investment of cash, but if the Yankees take on all or a majority of it, the prospect cost could come down considerably. Soria, 33, is pitching to a 3.81 ERA (1.81 FIP), 1.50 WHIP (courtesy of a whopping 4.2 BB/) and a 12.2 K/9 in 26 innings. Soria, who has not allowed a home run this season, is a former closer (203 career saves), so he can navigate high-leverage innings.
The Yankees have one thing going for them; they have some time to test in-house relievers in the slot that Clippard was expected to handle this season before Chapman's injury. Specifically, the Yankees might be wise to try Chad Green in leverage situations as he has the out pitches necessary for such circumstances. Others like Giovanny Gallegos and Ben Heller have shown shutdown abilities at Triple-A, but whether they translate to a high-leverage reliever at the major league level as quick as would be necessary is questionable.
The point is, the Yankees have a chance to see if they need to go outside the organization. If they decide that is the best option - and I suspect they will - expect them to look for relievers that won't cost a lot in prospects, but those with recent evidence that they can provide a boost to the backend of the bullpen sorely lacking at this stage in the season.