The Yankees have had a busy offseason to say the least, and there still may be some major moves made in the coming weeks. They've added one of the best catchers in the league along with two new outfielders, and they now have their sights set on Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka. With the team reportedly going "all-in" on Tanaka and the Alex Rodriguez decision imminent, the Yankees will surely be in the news again sometime soon.
One thing we haven't been hearing, however, is who is going to be in the Yankees bullpen come Opening Day. They made a minor move in signing Matt Thornton to a two-year deal, but they still have multiple holes to fill with the retirement of Mariano Rivera and departures of Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan. As of right now Thornton joins David Robertson, Shawn Kelley and David Phelps as the only relievers guaranteed a spot on the team, and depending on how things go with Tanaka, Phelps may find himself in the rotation come spring training.
If there's one thing the Yankees have done very well under Joe Girardi, it's that they've had one of the better bullpens in the league every year since 2008. The other notable thing is that, other than Rafael Soriano, they've managed to avoid bringing in high-priced arms on multi-year deals. They've done such a good job filling the bullpen internally with low-cost signings in the past that it's no surprise finding relief pitching is so low on the team's priority list. Still, assuming they go with the normal seven relievers on Opening Day, they have, at the very least, three more spots to fill.
Here are the general options on how to fill the holes:
Judging by what the team has done in the past few years, it feels like they'd look in their own system first to see if anybody is able to take that next step. The Yankees signed Matt Thornton to replace Boone Logan, though it's certainly possible the binder may want a second LOOGY (they did in 2012 with Logan and Clay Rapada). If they do, I'd be surprised if they looked any further than Cesar Cabral. The 24-year-old lefty got a cup of coffee with the Yankees in 2013 after having success against lefties in the minors, so I'd expect he'd have an opportunity to make the team as a specialist if the team feels there's a need.
The other that immediately comes to my mind is Dellin Betances, who has had a well-documented roller coaster career in the Yankees' minor league system. The man who was once an exciting starting pitching prospect lost all value when he was moved to the bullpen last season, and then something clicked. His ERA dropped from 6.00 as a starter to 2.06 as a reliever, and his strikeout and walk rates improved dramatically with the switch. Granted, he was pretty bad in limited appearances with the Yankees, but he's young enough and showed enough as a reliever last season to give himself a chance to win a spot.
Preston Claiborne should also be in the mix. He spent most of last season in the majors, but he fell off a cliff in the second half of the season after a very promising start.
There are still a few notable relievers on the market, mainly Grant Balfour and Fernando Rodney. The Yankees have shown little interest in either thus far, but that could change at any moment, especially if they find themselves over $189 million. Both of the guys mentioned above were closers last season, so they'd probably rather sign as a closer somewhere else than set up for David Robertson with the Yankees. If the Yankees sign one of these players with the intent of having them close over Robertson... well then I'll be unhappy. If they can get someone at a reasonable price to be a setup man, then it's worth considering.
A lot of what happens is related to whether or not the Yankees end up with Tanaka and how much they save with a Rodriguez suspension, but I think it's likely that we'll see guys like Cabral and Betances get bigger roles in the bullpen this season. If they end up over $189 million, then it certainly wouldn't surprise me to see a free agent signing or two either. And then there's always the possibility of some guy coming out of nowhere and having a major role (example: who saw Cory Wade coming in 2011).
The Yankees have become known for their strong bullpen in recent years. Of course, Mariano Rivera was usually a part of it, but hopefully life without him will still have similar results. Robertson has been the best reliever on the team for three seasons now and is more than ready to take on the closer role. It should only be a matter of how they will get him the ball.
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