Yankees showing interest in high-upside reliever, according to insider

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays
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With the Yankees pivoting towards their bullpen after acquiring Marcus Stroman on a two-year $37 million deal, Robert Stephenson has become a name of interest for the team according to Brendan Kuty of The Athletic. The right-hander had an excellent year in 2023, breaking out with the Tampa Bay Rays and looking like one of the best relievers in the entire sport. He debuted a brand-new cutter that generated plenty of whiffs, and as a result, led all of baseball in Swinging Strike Rate (24.5%).

As the team looks to fortify their bullpen, Stephenson could be a high-leverage weapon for them with the upside to outperform his current market value.

Could the Yankees Land Robert Stephenson?

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays
Aug 27, 2023; St. Petersburg, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Robert Stephenson (26) throws a pitch against the New York Yankees in the eighth inning at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

This past season, Robert Stephenson found himself traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Tampa Bay Rays in an early-season trade. He struggled in Pittsburgh, posting an ugly 5.14 ERA in 18 outings and struggling with allowing loud contact and home runs. Upon his arrival to Tampa Bay, they tweaked his cutter to generate more strikeout potential, and he would heavily rely on the pitch the rest of the way, pitching to a 2.35 ERA over his final 42 outings with the Rays. His strikeout rate was astonishing, jumping to 42.5% as a result of a cutter that had a 59.5% Whiff Rate against.

Stephenson got off to a slow start with the Rays as he learned how to utilize the pitch, posting a 5.87 ERA and 2.35 HR/9 allowed in his first eight outings, but the swing-and-miss numbers suggested he would get better; and he certainly did good on those peripheral metrics. The 30-year-old would up his cutter usage to 72.5% and as a result, posted a 1.38 ERA and 44.4% K-BB% across his final 26 innings with the team, as that nasty pitch carved up batters and held them to a .103 average.

With the Yankees searching for an upgrade for a bullpen that finished first in ERA last season (3.34), adding a pitcher with the elite potential that Robert Stephenson possesses could prove advantageous. If the Yankees were able to pair Stephenson with Clay Holmes at the top of their reliever trust tree, they could have a dynamic duo that stifles any offense late in games, and virtually make the team unbeatable when they hold a late-game lead.

MLB: New York Yankees at Kansas City Royals
Sep 30, 2023; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Clay Holmes (35) pitches during the ninth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

FanGraphs projects Stephenson to land a two-year $10 million deal, but he’s expected to exceed that by a significant margin and could get $10 million a year in the open market. If the Yankees were able to land him on a three-year $30 million contract it would be good value for a pitcher who could become the closer if Clay Holmes departs in free agency next season. They’ll have to prepare to lose somebody, as Jonathan Loaisiga and Tommy Kahnle are also set to hit the market after 2024 as well.

The Yankees could assemble the best bullpen in baseball if they land Robert Stephenson, and given how well they develop relievers, they might be able to sign him and dangle a reliever in a potential deal for depth in other areas where they sorely need it. They could also trade a reliever to clear out space on their 40-man roster, and packaging one with somebody like Oswald Peraza to add more rotation depth in Triple-A could prove to be the right call with their injury concerns.

Whichever way the Yankees choose to play it, Robert Stephenson would be an excellent addition to their bullpen, and he could be the final piece for baseball’s best bullpen in 2024.

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