Yankees are engaged in conversations with familiar free agent relievers

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Atlanta Braves
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Bullpen help continues to remain a focus for the Yankees, as they look to improve their pitching staff and make notable upgrades ahead of Spring Training. Brian Cashman mentioned on Jim Bowden’s radio show that the team remains active on the trade and free agent market, and reports about their interest across the bullpen market have been plenty. Bryan Hoch of MLB.com is reporting that the Yankees have remained engaged in conversations with both Wandy Peralta and Keynan Middleton, which Jack Curry mentioned on Hot Stove as well last week.

As the Yankees look to shore up their bullpen, they could look at one of these two relievers to bring back on a lower-cost deal and finish what’s been a strong winter.

Which Reliever Should the Yankees Reunite With?

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays
Aug 27, 2023; St. Petersburg, Florida, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Wandy Peralta (58) throws a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays in the sixth inning at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees acquired Wandy Peralta back in 2021 when they made a trade with the San Francisco Giants, parting ways with Mike Tauchman in the process, and it’s been one of their best deals in recent memory. Providing a 2.82 ERA across 153 innings in New York, the reliable left-hander has become a beloved part of the team’s bullpen since donning the pinstripes. He’s pitched in some huge situations for the team, and the team could use another lefty in the bullpen.

With the acquisition of Victor Gonzalez, it was unclear whether the Yankees would bring back Peralta, especially given some of the underlying data regressing. His walk rate nearly doubled and he allowed five more home runs than he did in 2022 in 2.1 fewer innings pitched. Entering his age-32 season, he could be on the decline, but nothing in terms of his velocity or movement would suggest he’s made any notable regressions.

It seems to be strictly a command issue, and perhaps the Yankees have confidence that he can regain the command he had in 2022 that allowed him to throw more strikes and prevent damage contact. Location is less sticky year-to-year than velocity or movement are, and it’s completely possible that fatigue or injuries threw off his effectiveness. Even with those underlying struggles, he still posted a 2.83 ERA and came up clutch in huge spots for the bullpen.

MLB: New York Yankees at Detroit Tigers
Aug 31, 2023; Detroit, Michigan, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Keynan Middleton (93) pitches in the sixth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Keynan Middleton on the other hand could be on the upswing, and while he would be another right-handed addition to the bullpen, he was stellar against left-handed hitters. They slashed just .205/.241/.361 with a 28.7% strikeout rate, and it’s thanks to an excellent four-seamer and changeup combination that established an excellent vertical tunnel. The Yankees were able to get Middleton to use his slider more against right-handed hitters, and he took off upon arrival.

When the Yankees acquired him at the deadline, it was overlooked since they decided to stand pat in the midst of a mind-numbing slide in the summer. In his 14.1 inning audition with the Bronx Bombers, the 30-year-old had a 1.88 ERA and 71% GB%, displaying all of the skills that you want in a high-leverage reliever. Middleton can toss multiple innings in an outing as well which could be valuable given some of their bullpen game strategies.

All three of his pitches registered a Whiff Rate north of 30% this past season, and there’s plenty to like about his projectability going forward. If the tweaks the Yankees made with his pitch usage stick, then we could see him flourish into one of the best relievers in their bullpen, although injuries have often limited Middleton from reaching his full potential.

However the Yankees decide to address their bullpen, both reunion options have plenty of value and could make a bullpen that finished first in ERA last year (3.34) even better.