Should the Yankees extend All-Star closer before free agency?

MLB: New York Yankees at Kansas City Royals
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The Yankees are going to have a plethora of reliable relievers hit free agency after the 2024 season, as Jonathan Loaisiga, Tommy Kahnle, and Clay Holmes are all in their final year of arbitration. Clay Holmes is one of the best relievers in baseball, and the team has used him as their primary closer over the past few seasons. This past season, he had a 2.86 ERA across 63 innings, converting 24 of his 27 save opportunities, and with his ability to prevent home runs, he has become an excellent high-leverage reliever.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post floated the idea that the Yankees could potentially extend Clay Holmes to a long-term deal, anchoring their bullpen down for the next few seasons. While spending on the bullpen has been a no-go for the Yankees in recent years, he could give the team a long-term closer.

What the Yankees Could Look To Offer Clay Holmes

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Clay Holmes has consistently been one of the best relievers in baseball since being acquired by the Yankees before the 2021 trade deadline when they swiped him from the Pittsburgh Pirates. He’s seventh in fWAR (3.5) and third in SIERA (2.55) out of the bullpen, and the Yankees have netted top-10 reliever value while only parting ways with infielders who haven’t carved out MLB roles. He’s incredible at generating groundballs, with the second-best groundball rate in baseball over that aforementioned period (69.1%).

His excellent sinker is a huge reason for his success, as he releases it from a higher slot while generating an excellent amount of drop on the pitch. Hitters struggle to pick up his steep release, as he has a -7.2 Vertical Approach Angle on the pitch, and it makes the pitch nearly impossible to elevate. He has a +18.1 Run-Value on his sinker since being dealt to the Yankees, with just a 1.7% Barrel Rate allowed against that pitch.

The Yankees also helped him develop a sweeping slider that’s been elite against right-handed hitters, with a Whiff Rate above 40% and a .171 wOBA. He hasn’t allowed a single barrel against the pitch, and it was developed alongside a gyro slider that has firmer velocity and shape. Left-handed hitters have presented issues for Clay Holmes at times, so he’s maintained some reliance on the gyro slider for those matchups.

As for what a potential deal for Clay Holmes could look like, he’s entering his age-31 season and would hit free agency entering his age-32 season. Raisel Iglesias and Robert Suarez both signed multi-year deals in their age-31 seasons at $58 million and $46 million, respectively, and they could serve as comparisons for a potential contract. Finding a medium between Iglesias and Suarez would make sense, and a five-year deal at $10 million a year would give Holmes the third-most guaranteed money for a reliever in MLB history.

For those wondering if it makes sense to trust Clay Holmes as a frontline closer, since joining the Yankees, he has a +4.04 Win Probability Added, which is the 15th-best mark in baseball over that stretch. It’s above relievers such as Josh Hader, Emmanuel Clase, and Kenley Jansen, and the ability to limit home runs makes Holmes an excellent option with runners on base. Something that the Yankees could help Holmes with to have a more consistent 2024 is better sequencing with his sliders to platoon them better against right-handed and left-handed hitters.

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One of the biggest questions the Yankees will have to answer is whether it makes sense to pay another player above the age of 30 a contract north of $10 million a year, given their current payroll obligations. From DJ LeMahieu to Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees have a lot of aging players on expensive contracts, and Clay Holmes isn’t guaranteed to hold up over the next four or five seasons.

The Yankees aren’t unfamiliar with player extensions, handing out deals to Luis Severino and Aaron Hicks before the 2020 season. It’s unclear if they’d be willing to do so with a pitcher entering free agency next year, especially given how often they develop strong relievers out of thin air. In 2023, they led baseball in bullpen ERA (3.34), and players like Ian Hamilton have become high-leverage options at a younger age and at a cheaper cost.

In an almost ironic fashion, the reason the Yankees were able to get Clay Holmes to break out would be the same reason why the Yankees would justify letting him walk when his contract is up. We’ll have to wait and see what the Yankees value Clay Holmes at and what he asks for, but he could be up for an extension to become their long-term closer. We know that they’ll be shopping for relievers in the coming weeks, but we may see that money spent internally as well.

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