For the past four seasons the Yankees have had the luxury of a relatively young, cheap, and effective left-handed arm in the bullpen. That luxury went away when Boone Logan signed for more money and purpler pastures in Colorado during the off-season. To replace him, the Yankees have signed one-time All-Star Matt Thornton to be the go-to lefty in the bullpen. The problem is, Thornton is a pitcher who is clearly in decline. His average fastball velocity has decreased in each of the last four seasons and hitters are beginning to feast on him because of it. Last year he surrendered hits at the highest rate of his career and combined it with a career-low strikeout rate. It may not be long before he loses his billing as top lefty in the Yankee bullpen.
So, what are the Yanks to do if Thornton is a dud in 2014? Well, if Brian Cashman has proven one thing in his more recent tenure as Yankees GM, it's that he has a deep reservoir of talented relief arms that can contribute at the big league level if needed. Here's the list of in-house LOOGY candidates:
Cesar Cabral - A two-time Rule 5 draft pick, Cabral has bounced around the minor leagues since 2008. The Yankees acquired him in 2012, but due to injury he didn't appear in any games that year. He had a cup of coffee with the big boys last September and pitched well in eight brief appearances. Management will likely give him a good, long look this spring in Tampa.
Manny Banuelos - At one time he was the Yankees' top pitching prospect and was a top 50 prospect overall according to MLB.com in 2010. However, he missed all of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery. He's been a starter for his entire minor league career but there have been whispers that he could break camp as a big league bullpen arm. At just 22 years old though, the best, and most likely, scenario has him re-building his strength in the minor league rotation to start the year.
Vidal Nuno - Picked up off the scrap heap by the Yankees in 2011, he impressed in spring training last year and was called up to make three spot starts and a couple of relief appearances before being shut down for the year with a groin injury. The Yankees probably don't want him in a lefty specialist role since he may have more value as an emergency starter, but weirder things have happened.
Fred Lewis - A non-roster invitee who's been in the Yankees system since 2010. He got his first taste of AAA last year and has been groomed as a reliever his entire minor league career. He has proven his ability to strike batters out, but control has been an issue. His chances of breaking into the big leagues depend on his ability to tame his wild arm at AAA this year.
Francisco Rondon - Another non-roster invitee who has been groomed as a reliever since being signed by the Yankees. His strikeout and hit rates have impressed, but like Fred Lewis he also struggles with command of his stuff. However, having spent time in AAA over the past two seasons he might work his way onto the 40-man roster with an impressive spring. He's not off to a great start though--Joe Girardi said that Rondon is going to be shut down "for a couple weeks" due to a shoulder issue.
Nik Turley - As the third to last pick in the 2008 draft, Turley is a veteran of the Yankees minor league system. He crept his way into AAA last year with one appearance for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre so his logical progression takes him to the big club either this year or next. Like Nuno, his best value probably lies in an emergency starter role, but he's got a funky delivery and has struggled against right handed hitters, so a LOOGY role might be more realistic for him.
Who's your pick as next lefty up in the pen?