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Just because teams can’t make moves with players who are on a 40-man roster doesn’t mean they can’t still make significant additions.
Last offseason, the Yankees signed Lucas Luetge to a minor league deal, and the left-hander ended up winning a job in spring training on his way to becoming a reliable arm in the bullpen.
And in this slow MLB lockout offseason, the Yankees have again taken some chances on potential bullpen depth.
Perhaps the most intriguing signing so far has been Jimmy Cordero, a 30-year-old right-hander who was most recently with the White Sox.
Cordero underwent Tommy John surgery last March and is expected back by midseason this year. He’s shown promising signs in the past, mostly in 2019, when he had a 0.972 WHIP in 36 innings over 30 appearances with Chicago.
But he faltered badly in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, with a 1.575 WHIP and a 6.08 ERA in 26 ²/₃ innings with the White Sox. After struggling last spring, Cordero underwent elbow surgery that sidelined him all season, but he should be healthy by June or so.
If that proves to be the case, he has featured a sinker that’s been effective, and the Yankees have had success with relievers that use that pitch well.
In addition to the little-heralded signing of Luetge last offseason, the Yankees also made small trades that ended up paying dividends in their bullpen last year, sending Mike Tauchman to the Giants in exchange for lefty Wandy Peralta and also shipping two minor leaguers to the Pirates in the deal that brought right-hander Clay Holmes to The Bronx.
And Joely Rodriguez, part of the Joey Gallo deal with Texas, also pitched well in relief for the Yankees.
Luetge hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2015 but spent the entire season in the majors last year, pitching 72 ¹/₃ innings in 57 games with a solid 1.134 WHIP. Peralta pitched better with the Yankees than he did with the Giants, as did Rodriguez following his arrival from Texas, thanks to improved command.
No one had a more drastic turnaround than Holmes, who had a WHIP of 1.429 in 44 appearances with the Pirates before his trade and a 0.786 in 25 games with the Yankees — also due to an ability to vastly reduce his number of walks.
They’ll look for a similar improvement from Cordero — who has pitched for five organizations over the last nine seasons — at some point in 2022 and also took a flier on right-hander Ryan Weber.
Weber, 31, has pitched poorly for most of his seven major league seasons.
Of course, the Yankees aren’t just planning on having depth in the bullpen.
They’ll need Aroldis Chapman to bounce back from the worst season of his career, and Zack Britton could be gone for the entire year after undergoing elbow surgery.
Jonathan Loaisiga emerged as a dominant right-hander, and they still have Chad Green. Michael King pitched well as a reliever, and if they add a starter, Nestor Cortes Jr. could move to a swing role, making spot starts and pitching out of the pen.