For the first time since the mid 1990s, the New York Yankees do not have a closer. Though people do not live forever, it always seemed Mariano Rivera would pitch into his 60s for the Yankees, throwing his cutters and breaking bats of players 1/3 his age.
Obviously, that is not the case, as Rivera retired this season, going out just as dominant as he ever was, and leaving the Yankees with yet another hole to fill, all with their self imposed $189 million salary cap for the 2014 season. Throw in the inevitable Alex Rodriguez suspension, the question mark that is Derek Jeter along with the potential departure of key players, such as Hiroki Kuroda and Curtis Granderson, and it goes without saying that these are not your father or even your grandfather’s Yankees.
No, for years, the Yankees have been known for big spending, bloated payrolls, and being the cream of the crop when it comes to organizational production and winning championships. They have been able to ride the same core of players out since the mid-90s, simply plugging in new faces at other positions of need. Now, Andy Pettite and Rivera have both retired, leaving Jeter as the only piece of that “core four” left in the Bronx, and with his balky ankle, there is no guarantee Jeter will not follow suit sooner rather than later.
With all these issues, penny-pinching could not come at a worse time for the Yankees, especially with the AL East being the best it has been in years. Nonetheless, the Yankees have to fill holes and do it as economically as possible. One of the more important holes will the ninth inning, and a name to look out for is Joe Nathan. Nathan has spent the last two seasons with the Texas Rangers after closing games for seven years with the Minnesota Twins. Nathan was solid for the Rangers this season, and overall, has gone 6-2 with a 1.39 ERA and saved 43 games in 2013 and a combined 9-7 with a 2.09 ERA and 80 saves in his tenure with the Rangers.
Nathan is an established closer, having saved 341 career games in his 13-year career, and could come relatively cheap. He is 38, had Tommy John surgery fairly recently, but will probably come with many suitors since many teams do not want to pay top dollar for a guy who pitches one inning and is certainly in the twilight of his career. Regardless, a 162-game average for Nathan is a 2.76 ERA and 31 saves, which any team would take in a heartbeat. Plus, Nathan brings a veteran presence to the Yankees bullpen, which could allow guys like David Robertson to really thrive. He could come cheap, and if he does, Nathan should be on the top of the Yankees winter checklist.