Yankees could be shifting priorities to bullpen additions in free agency

MLB: General Manager's Meetings
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees brought in Marcus Stroman and Luke Weaver last week to add to their rotation depth, but it seems as if their interest has now shifted toward the reliever market. With the asking price for Blake Snell remaining north of $200 million and the trade market requiring the Yankees to part ways with multiple top prospects to land an impact starter, they’re focusing on shoring up a unit that finished at the top of the league in ERA (3.34) and has consistently been a reliable source of production for the franchise.

Interest in Hector Neris and Wandy Peralta has floated over the last 24 hours, with the Yankees having interest in Jordan Hicks as well before his signing with the San Francisco Giants. Jim Bowden has seconded this interest, adding on MLB Radio that he believes Hector Neris and Wandy Peralta could be in play and are looking for multiple additions for their bullpen.

Yankees Quickly Involving Themselves in Reliever Market

MLB: New York Yankees at Miami Marlins
Aug 13, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Wandy Peralta (58) looks on as he leaves the game against the Miami Marlins during the eighth inning at loanDepot Park. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

While the Yankees are known for turning low-cost relievers into high-leverage weapons, sometimes you need to open your wallet to deepen your bullpen instead. The Yankees could look to bring back LHP Wandy Peralta, who has been one of the team’s most reliable relievers since being acquired in a trade with the Giants back in 2021. Across 165 games with New York, Peralta has a 2.82 ERA and 133 strikeouts, relying on his excellent changeup to keep the ball on the ground and prevent damage contact.

This past season Peralta posted a 2.83 ERA but his underlying metrics suggest that he’s due for a heavy regression, as his walk rate nearly doubled from 2022, and his ability to prevent damage contact worsened as well. After allowing just two home runs all season, Peralta allowed seven, and he ended the season with a tricep injury that could raise some red flags for the Bronx Bombers.

He still has the velocity and movement profiles to be an excellent high-leverage reliever, but it did get dicey at times for Wandy Peralta last season with the worsened command. Location is subject to more variance than stuff, and relievers work under incredibly small sample sizes, so this could be a blip in the radar that Peralta corrects heading into the 2024 season.

MLB: Houston Astros at New York Yankees
Oct 23, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; Houston Astros relief pitcher Hector Neris (50) pitches in the sixth inning against the New York Yankees during game four of the ALCS for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Another name who has become of interest to the team is Hector Neris, who has spent the last two seasons with the Houston Astros and has remained one of the most durable relievers in baseball. Neris posted a 1.71 ERA across 68.1 innings in 2023 and dating back to 2021, he has the fifth-most innings pitched out of the bullpen (208) and the third-most appearances (215), which could greatly benefit the Yankees with their injury woes.

He has an excellent four-seamer and splitter combination that allows him to generate over 17 inches of vertical separation for swings and misses and weak contact in the air. With the Astros, we’ve seen Hector Neris increase the ride on his fastball, as it’s gone from a pitch with roughly 15-16 inches of Induced Vertical Break to 17-18, a jump that has made the pitch harder to crush for opposing batters.

This improvement in pitch quality gave him a mere 28% Hard Hit Rate, which ranks in the 98th Percentile and has allowed him to limit his home run issues. With the Phillies, Neris had a 1.30 HR/9, and with the Astros, it’s gone down to 0.67, and he’s flourished in big spots for them. His experience as a closer as well could make him a versatile weapon for the Yankees, and this could be a signing that increases both the floor and ceiling of the bullpen with his excellent numbers and durability.

It’s evident that the Yankees are trying to be active on this market, but they’ll have to clear up spots on their 40-man roster as they continue to make additions, with two spots needing to be cleared before they can formally announce that Marcus Stroman and Luke Weaver have been signed.