Yankees need to avoid expensive free-agent reliever

mlb: colorado rockies at san diego padres, yankees, josh hader
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Rumors have emerged that the New York Yankees could build a supercharged bullpen if they fail to acquire another starting pitcher. They have interest in reuniting with Jordan Montgomery, but it depends on his price tag coming off of a World Series-winning campaign.

Montgomery is a good player and would certainly help the rotation going into the 2024 season, but his upside is limited and he’s 30 years old — in fact, there’s a higher chance he regresses than improves coming off his best season.

If the Yankees want to go toward more bullpen games and acquire a true star, they could look toward Josh Hader. However, they would be wise to avoid his services, given he’s looking for a contract bigger than Edwin Diaz’s, who signed a five-year, $102 million deal. According to Jim Bowden of The Athletic, Hader wants more than $20 million per season and the Yankees might be able to secure Montgomery for a similar price point.

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What Would Josh Hader Bring to the Yankees Theoretically

The 29-year-old bullpen piece is coming off an elite season with the San Diego Padres, posting two years over his last three with an ERA below 1.30.

In 2023, he hosted a 1.28 ERA, including 13.58 strikeouts per nine, an 88.8% left-on-base rate, and a 35.5% ground ball rate over 56.1 innings. There’s no questioning whether Hader is good, he’s a great relief pitcher who would bolster an already solid bullpen for the Yankees. The truth is, they find so much value in players that cost next to nothing, spending $20 million on a relief arm doesn’t seem efficient.

For example, Clay Holmes pitched 63 innings last season, recording a 2.86 ERA. That’s not even mentioning Ian Hamilton, who is only 28 years old and under control until 2029. Hamilton finished with a 2.64 ERA across 58 innings last year, with his stuff diving due to injury. Nonetheless, the Yankees find value where other teams failed to look, and overspending on a pitcher who hasn’t cracked 60 innings since 2019 would be a risk.

The Yankees aren’t an elite bullpen arm away from a championship, they are several starting pitchers and a lot of luck away. The Yanks should utilize available funds to sign Montgomery, if they’re going to spend it anyway, and try to trade for another starter, rounding out the rotation.

After general manager Brian Cashman moved a significant number of depth pieces and starter Michael King, the goal is to reinforce the pitching unit in general, but the rotation should take precedence over the bullpen for now.