The New York Yankees and reliever Javier Lopez have expressed a mutual interest in one another, Barry Meister, Lopez's agent, tells Andy McCullough of The Star-Ledger. McCullough also writes that the Yankees have made contact with free agent closers Grant Balfour and Joe Nathan.
According to Meister, Lopez and the Yankees will enter into more serious negotiations later this offseason, once the Yankees have addressed some of their bigger issues, including the possibility of star second baseman Robinson Cano signing elsewhere.
Meister tells McCullough that Lopez has expressed a desire to "play on a contending team," and that New York fits that role, calling the club a "perennial contender." The 2013 season marked just the second time in 19 years that the Yankees failed to make the postseason. Decimated by injuries this year, the club is expected to be better in 2014 with a return to health, however, the AL East is projected to be one of the most competitive divisions in baseball.
A 36-year-old two-time World Series champ, Lopez has spent the past three and a half seasons with the San Francisco Giants, where he has regularly been among the best left-handed relievers in baseball. Mostly relegated to a lefty-specialist role in 2013, Lopez had a 1.83 ERA in 69 appearances. Since 2010, Lopez has averaged roughly 7 strikeouts per 9 innings with a 3.5 BB/9 rate and a stellar 2.37 ERA.
Balfour and Nathan are considered by many to be two of the top relief options on the market, with the duo combining for 81 saves in 2013. They are expected to be highly sought after, with numerous teams already showing interest in the two right-handers.
Nathan, 38, had a 1.39 ERA in 64 innings for the Rangers last season, garnering his 6th career All-Star nod and 300th career save. His two home runs allowed on the season were the lowest of his career.
Balfour, also an All-Star in 2013, had a 2.59 ERA and 10.3 SO/9 rate in 62.2 innings last season. The soon to be 36-year-old has accrued a wins above replacement total of nearly 10.0 since emerging as a shutdown reliever with the Rays in 2008. He has pitched the past three seasons in Oakland, the last two of which were spent as the A's closer.
With Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan now free agents, and Mariano Rivera sailing off into the sunset, the Yankees' bullpen is extremely shallow, with David Robertson representing the only above-average relief option the team currently has under contract. Manager Joe Girardi has been reluctant to name Robertson the club's closer, making it all the more likely that the bullpen will be one of the top priorities this winter for a Yankees team that looks to right the ship in 2014.
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