The Yankees bullpen is still a work in progress, but it seems that we're getting closer and closer to figuring out which seven relievers will be with the team on Opening Day. Three spots have been filled by David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, and Matt Thornton, so we have another four spots to go.
While there are still 15 pitchers in camp looking for a job, we know that, by the way the Yankees operate, only those on the 40-man roster are really in contention for a roster spot. That would mean Matt Daley, Jim Miller, Yoshinori Tateyama, Danny Burawa, Fred Lewis, Chris Leroux, and David Herndon will be on the outside looking in come April. Shane Greene is on the 40, but he'll likely end up in the minors as well. That would leave seven pitchers in contention for five roster spots, one of which is the fifth starter. I will remove Michael Pineda from that group because he will likely either be in the rotation or in Triple-A.
The remaining six pitchers include David Phelps, Adam Warren, Dellin Betances, Preston Claiborne, Cesar Cabral, and Vidal Nuno. Of the four spots, at least one will go to Phelps or Warren to be the longman. Going by Joe Girardi's previous comments, Betances might be the closest to a guaranteed spot in the bullpen out of anyone left over. That would leave them with three possible bullpen scenarios:
It might not make sense to carry two long relievers because then you run the risk of having two potential replacement starters without the stamina to take on a full-time starting role. So if we cut out the first two options we're only left with one course of action, but is that really the best the Yankees can do?
Perhaps it's time to designate Preston Claiborne for assignment. After a really great start to his career, he was essentially useless after his first month. From June through September, he had a 5.55 ERA and a 5.76 FIP in the second half of the season. Now in spring training, he's given up three runs on 10 hits in just 5.2 innings. Obviously, you can say that spring training stats are meaningless, but he's not exactly performing better than any of his competition.
It might sound premature for a player who still has two seasons before he's even arbitration eligible, but the Yankees have plenty of options to replace him. The 2014 bullpen might not be as strong as it has been in recent years, but is there really any reason to hamstring it any more simply because of roster status? DFAing Claiborne could clear a spot for Daley or Miller, who have performed better, or even the recently cut Mark Montgomery, who has far more upside. The Yankees didn't hesitate to DFA Brett Marshall last year, so Claiborne should be no different. If he gets claimed off waivers, oh well, that's the nature of the nameless, faceless middle reliever. Preston Claiborne isn't exactly irreplaceable.