No extension yet for Clay Holmes unveils Yankees strategic hiatus

Yankees closer Clay Holmes at Tampa spring training camp on February 18, 2024.
Jeremiah Dobbs
Tuesday February 20, 2024

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TAMPA —  Clay Holmes will soon finish his contract with the Yankees, but they haven’t discussed renewing it with him. It is understandable why, though because the team often finds less expensive options for relief pitchers.

Well, when the Yankees traded for Clay Holmes, he had a 5.57 ERA while playing for the Pirates.  The Yankees have a knack for spotting relievers who might struggle but show promise. Take Clay Holmes, for example. Even though he wasn’t performing well with the Pirates, the Yankees recognized his potential and helped him improve his game. Now, they’re likely to follow a similar strategy when it comes to finding a replacement for him once his contract ends. Instead of splurging on expensive closers as they’ve done before, they’ve learned their lesson and will likely seek out more affordable options, just as they did with Ian Hamilton.

Are the Yankees wary of committing for a longer term to relievers?

They might mention that committing to long contracts with top-dollar relievers like Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman didn’t pay off in the end. Once again, they don’t feel the need to splurge on star players or empty their wallets for them. Just last year, Ian Hamilton was barely known and wasn’t even on the team’s official roster. But after an impressive performance in 2023, he’s now a crucial part of the bullpen. The Yankees are confident that among other promising players like Nick Burdi, Yerry De Los Santos, Joey Gerber, Dennis Santana, and Art Warren, they’ll discover and develop another affordable yet impactful option this season.

Clay Holmes of the New York Yankees in August 2021 at Yankee Stadium.
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They might predict that they’ll have to make some tough financial decisions in the future, especially with commitments to players like Juan Soto. They may also need to consider adding another starting pitcher, especially if they can get someone like Blake Snell at a good price. So, they’re looking to save money wherever they can, and the bullpen seems like the most practical place to do that.

It is understood now. It seems like a smart plan.

However, here is the catch: It is believed the Yankees should prioritize players who have proven to thrive on the team both on and off the field. For instance, while Wandy Peralta’s performance slightly declined in 2023 compared to his first two seasons with the Yankees, he exhibited fearlessness. He appeared to relish being part of the Yankees and embraced all that it entailed. Additionally, he made significant contributions to the clubhouse atmosphere.

It’s possible that left-handed pitchers Caleb Ferguson and Victor Gonzalez, who have previously played for the high-profile Dodgers, might already have a good understanding of what it takes to thrive in New York. However, unless the medical, scouting, and analytical teams unanimously agreed that Wandy Peralta’s performance decline was irreversible or that his injury risk had significantly increased, I would have advocated for re-signing him if I were a decision-maker for the Yankees. The true test of whether a player can handle the pressures of being a Yankee is only evident when they play for the team. And Peralta demonstrated that he could handle it.

Clay Holmes’ case is different

Likewise, Clay Holmes has shown the potential to succeed in the same environment.

Clay Holmes expressed his desire to win, stating that he enjoys the team environment and thrives under high expectations. He mentioned that while not every outing may be successful, he appreciates the pressure and the shared goal of winning a championship. He emphasized his commitment to supporting his teammates in achieving this goal and expressed enjoyment in being part of the team.

Clay Holmes isn’t consistently flawless like Mariano Rivera was. Sometimes, over his two-plus years with the Yankees, his sinker loses its effectiveness, leading to a few rough outings with lots of walks before he fixes it. Holmes himself mentioned that this year, he aims to identify the pitching adjustments sooner to regain control of his sinker while relying more on his slider and sweeper to avoid prolonged struggles.

Clay Holmes has emerged as a key piece of the Yankees bullpen.

However, despite occasional setbacks, Clay Holmes has been one of the top relievers in baseball since joining the Yankees. He’s durable, composed, and successful. Among the four trades the Yankees made at the 2021 deadline, Clay Holmes’ acquisition received the least attention, trailing behind players like Joey Gallo, Anthony Rizzo, and Andrew Heaney. Yet, it turned out to be the most impactful.

Since his first game with the Yankees on July 29, 2021, Clay Holmes ranks among the top 20 relievers in games played, innings pitched, ERA, and is eighth in Fangraphs WAR. He also boasts the second-highest ground-ball rate and holds opponents to a .201 batting average while striking out 27.2 percent of hitters. This level of performance is considered elite.

Clay Holmes will turn 31 just before the March 28 season opener in Houston. Predicting free agency a year ahead, especially for relievers, is challenging due to its volatility. However, among those in their primes or close to it, I’d rate Holmes as the top bullpen option entering his walk year, surpassing players like Texas’ Jose Leclerc and Atlanta’s A.J. Minter. Additionally, it’s worth noting that not only Clay Holmes but also Ferguson, Tommy Kahnle, and Jonathan Loaisiga from the Yankees bullpen are in their walk year.

The Yankees have consistently produced capable bullpen options under Aaron Boone’s management. However, when it comes to entrusting someone with the ninth inning, especially for the Yankees, there’s a higher level of scrutiny. The Yankees aren’t obligated to make a decision now; they can wait and assess Clay Holmes’ performance throughout the season. If he continues to excel and stays healthy, they can consider retaining him afterward. For now, Holmes belongs exclusively to the Yankees.

Clay Holmes mentioned that he hadn’t devoted much consideration to it because there hadn’t been any discussions regarding negotiations. He expressed excitement about the opportunity to compete for a World Series title with the Yankees, which has been his focus since joining the team. The closer emphasized that his primary concern at the moment is contributing to the team’s efforts to win a championship this year. However, he acknowledged that if circumstances change, he would be open to discussing other possibilities.

Yankees expect big from Ron Marinaccio

The Yankees have discussed the improved offseason preparations of several pitchers heading into spring training. Ron Marinaccio has particularly taken this advice to heart.

Yankees pitcher Ron Marinaccio at Yankee Stadium in May 2023.

During the latter part of the 2022 season, Marinaccio experienced a stress reaction in his shin, which hampered his offseason training leading into 2023, causing a setback from his promising rookie year.

However, this offseason, Marinaccio managed to complete all of his lower-body strength training, providing him with a stronger foundation. The Yankees are optimistic that this improved preparation will aid Marinaccio in rebounding as a valuable bullpen asset in 2024.

Pitching coach Matt Blake commented on Saturday that he believed the player didn’t have a solid foundation when he entered training camp last year due to insufficient lower-body strength training and power development. Blake opined that the player started last year’s camp at a disadvantage, which eventually led to a series of setbacks for him.

Following some opportunities in higher-pressure situations early in the 2023 season, Marinaccio had recorded a 4.08 ERA with 27 walks across 47 ¹/₃ innings by July 31, prompting the Yankees to demote him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. During this time, his pitching mechanics became inconsistent, which was particularly detrimental for a pitcher whose success relies on misdirection.

Unfortunately, Marinaccio’s performance did not improve upon his move to Triple-A, as he struggled to a disappointing 8.80 ERA with 18 walks over 15 ¹/₃ innings. Having completed a full offseason of training and feeling more confident in his lower body strength, Marinaccio now has an opportunity to earn back a place in the Yankees bullpen, particularly with Scott Effross beginning the year on the 60-day injured list.

Blake mentioned that Marinaccio would be a factor for the team if they could maintain his health and position him correctly behind the ball.

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

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