Yankees suddenly have a stable of late-inning reliever options

OAKLAND, Calif. — In baseball “crisis” and “opportunity” can go hand in hand.

So as the Yankees’ ninth innings turned into a crisis the likes of which they hadn’t experienced in decades, opportunities arose.

Hence Aaron Boone’s bunch finds itself in this odd spot, riding a 13-game winning streak into the Oakland Coliseum on Saturday: They don’t feel great about their ninth innings. Yet their bullpen circle of trust has expanded considerably thanks to their travails.

“I do like where we are across the board,” Boone said Saturday morning. “Every guy down there has found themselves in some high-leverage situations, and I think you feel good about those guys in those situations. And part of that has been some struggles, some injuries we’ve had to work around, so it’s forced some guys into situations and we’ve seen guys step up and maybe develop or go to another level in their career.”

The bulk of the Yankees’ relief budget goes to Aroldis Chapman, who has lost his closer job once, spent time on the injured list and had failed to complete two of his previous four ninth-inning assignments heading into Saturday’s action, and Zack Britton, who is almost certainly out for the season with an ailing left elbow. The Yankees have compensated for such inefficiency via a combination of resources.

Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, Jonathan Loaisiga
Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, Jonathan Loaisiga
Jason Szenes/New York Post

There is veteran Chad Green, who must take his share of the blame for the ninth-inning woes, yet remains a compelling weapon. There is youngster Jonathan Loaisiga, who has enjoyed a breakout season and can make a strong case to close — except he might provide value as a multi-inning weapon against the heart of the opponent’s order a la Mariano Rivera in 1996.

There is southpaw Lucas Luetge, picked off the scrap heap and shining in his first major league action since 2015. Another left-hander, Wandy Peralta, has given the Yankees the win in the trade with the Giants that sent Mike Tauchman to San Francisco; the Giants designated Tauchman for assignment and outrighted him to Triple-A Sacramento. Right-hander Clay Homes, acquired from the Pirates last month, has dramatically improved his control to become a real weapon. Right-hander Albert Abreu, picked up from the Astros all the way back in 2016 for the now-retired Brian McCann, has pitched himself into the conversation, too, picking up some big outs.

Throw in the possibility of the rehabilitating Domingo German and Luis Severino rejoining the mix, and Andrew Heaney shifting from the starting rotation to the bullpen in order to make room for Corey Kluber, and the Yankees own an intriguing volume of late-game possibilities, with seven pitchers picking up saves so far, even as their end-game options stay fluid.

“I look down there and feel good about some of the options we have,” Boone said, “especially when we can shoot them at different points in the lineup where they line up well.”

Compare this smorgasbord to the options and attitude with which the Yankees entered last postseason. Their circle of trust featured Green, Britton and Chapman … and that was pretty much it. Veteran Adam Ottavino wasn’t quite right. Loaisiga wasn’t quite ready. Luis Cessa, Jonathan Holder, Michael King and Nick Nelson mopped up and not much else.

With another month to go before playoffs, plenty of time exists for these encouraging signs to quickly discourage. That’s how bullpens go. Yet the cloud of the Yankees’ ninth-inning agita has procured a real silver lining, which explains how they are where they are. For if that second tier of guys didn’t come through to bail out the big names, then this column would be about the Yankees’ crisis, rather than their opportunity to do something great.