Ever since the retirement of Mariano Rivera it has long been assumed that David Robertson would get the first crack at trying to replace him. However, Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com, has reported that the Yankees are interested in the market for a veteran replacement for Rivera.
The $189 million budget will certainly come into play here. If the Yankees sign Brian McCann, Masahiro Tanaka or Carlos Beltran in addition to Robinson Cano then they may not have enough to pay a veteran closer.
The fact that the Yankees are interested in a closer may not be a referendum on Robertson as it is on the rest of the bullpen. Currently, Robertson would be the closer and Shawn Kelley would be the eighth inning man. Ideally, you would want to add another back end of the bullpen arm and keep Kelly in his middle relief role that he excelled in last season.
I do think Robertson would be a solid closer despite some people having questions about him in that role. While Robertson struck out fewer batters this year (10.45 K/9) he was a much more efficient pitcher, which was a big complaint about him as a potential closer.
Robertson averaged 15.94 pitches per inning and 2.44 BB/9 last season, which are both big improvements over previous seasons. From 2009-2011 Robertson averaged 4.76 BB/9 before turning it around in 2012 and 2013. He compensated for striking out less batters by having a career high 50.95% GB rate. With Robertson being more economical and getting more grounders it will help keep him fresher for the grind of being a closer.
Another reason that Robertson would make a good closer is that he does not get flustered in any situation. He has stranded 86.26% of base runners over the last three seasons and earned his nickname “Houdini” for finding ways out of bases loaded jams.
While I do think that Robertson would be a good closer, signing a veteran would be a good idea. Bullpen depth is just so important over the course of a long season and especially in the playoffs as the Detroit Tigers proved.
Here are some veteran closer options for the Yankees:
Nathan had an outstanding year for Texas at age of 38. He had 43 saves in 46 chances, a 1.39 ERA (2.26 FIP) and a .897 WHIP. Nathan has had a fantastic career, but there are a few issues with him. According to Marchand, Nathan is seeking a three-year deal, which is a lot for a guy turning 39 on Nov. 22. Nathan is a fly ball pitcher, as he has a 43.9% career fly ball rate, and that may not play well in Yankee Stadium. Also, Nathan has a 9.00 career ERA in the postseason, albeit in only nine career innings. Yankee fans are very familiar with some of his career postseason failures.
According to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Yankees have already reached out to Balfour expressing interest. Balfour was excellent for Oakland last year saving 38 games in 41 chances and pitching to 2.59 ERA (3.49 FIP). Like Nathan, Balfour is also a fly ball pitcher (43.6% career fly ball rate), which is a cause for concern at Yankee Stadium. Balfour is still a hard thrower for being age 36, as his fastball averaged 93.4 MPH, and he struck out 10.34 batters per nine innings. He would be a very nice fit.
It would be worth it for the Yankees just to sign Wilson to see him shave his beard, but he would also be a real solid closer for them. Wilson signed with the Dodgers last season after Tommy John surgery in 2012 and looked pretty much like his former self. His stuff was electric and he pitched to a .66 ERA (2.02 FIP) and a .878 WHIP. Wilson’s bizarre personality could be a distraction in a media market like New York.
Benoit saved 24 games for Detroit last year after the Tigers could find nobody else to take over the closer role. Benoit was very good in the regular season, as he pitched to a 2.01 ERA (2.87 FIP) and a 1.03 WHIP. He is mostly a fastball and changeup pitcher, as he threw his changeup 27.8% of the time. Benoit struggled in the postseason and has mostly been a setup man in his career, so he may be better suited for that role.