Yankees have massive hole to fill with top relief arm not expected back until end of 2022 season

New York Yankees, Zach Britton
Aug 30, 2018; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka (66) greets pitcher Zach Britton (53) after retiring the side in the eighth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees project to have a solid bullpen in 2022, but they are still dealing with a few injuries that could impact the unit’s efficiency. Notable relief pitcher Zack Britton underwent Tommy John surgery last season, ruling him out entirely after recording just 18.1 innings of action.

Britton has only pitched 37 innings over the past two years combined, after signing a three-year, $39 million extension in 2020. He is headed into the final year of the contract, and since the Yankees already accepted the 2022 club option several years ago, they are on the hook for a $14 million salary.

Losing Britton is significant, especially after he recorded a 1.91 ERA in 2019 over 60.1 innings, his largest sample size since 2016 with the Baltimore Orioles.

Britton is still confident he can make an impact next season despite his struggles remaining healthy, even if it comes at the end of the year during playoff contention.

“My goal is to play at some point toward the end of this season and hopefully into the playoffs,” Britton wrote this week in an email to The Post. “Obviously, there is a lot of time between now and then, but that is the ultimate goal.”

With Britton all but ruled out for the majority of the regular season, the Yankees will have to lean on others for support. One name that comes to mind is Jonathan Loáisiga, who experienced his best season to date in 2021. Loáisiga earned a 2.17 ERA over 70.2 innings, recording a 79.1% left on base rate and 60.9% ground ball rate.

The 27-year-old right-handed relief pitcher also posted a 3.01 SIERA and 3.15 xFIP. The expectation is that management will lean heavily on him to feature as a prominent bullpen arm, which is a lot of pressure for a pitcher who has just one outstanding season under his belt.

Nonetheless, Nestor Cortes can return to a relief role, and the Yankees have a few up-and-coming arms, including Luis Gil and the return of Luis Severino, who could be called upon in the bullpen to start the year. I would be remiss to ignore Chad Green and Clay Holmes. The latter looked great at the end of the 2021 season.

Holmes recorded a 1.61 ERA with the Yankees over 25 games. He pitched 44 games with Pittsburgh after being traded at the deadline, earning a 4.93 ERA. Holmes looked like an entirely different pitcher wearing pinstripes. He threw his fastball/sinker 73.2% of the time compared to 51.2% with Pittsburgh earlier this last season. He also averaged 96.6 mph compared to 95.7, a significant increase in New York. Essentially, the Yankees asked Holmes to stop throwing his curveball, focusing predominantly on his fastball/sinker and slider.

Given the Yankees managed to extract so much value from their bullpen last year, the expectation is they will once again be a strong unit, but they will have to work around some deficiencies. If Loáisiga can continue to play at a high level and the youngsters provide a bit more consistency, the starting rotation will be the only concern regarding their pitching efficiency.