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Building an all-homegrown Yankees bullpen

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Jim McIsaac

If it wasn't for Shawn Kelley and Boone Logan, the "prime" Yankees bullpen would have been entirely homegrown. Now Logan will be gone, so it all comes down to Kelley. Pretend he's not here for a second and imagine what the Yankees' bullpen would be like if they signed no free agents and just went with what their farm system produced.

David Robertson will be the closer in 2014 and he has the potential to be a tremendous closer. In his career, D-Rob has a 2.76 ERA with an identical 2.76 FIP, and a 10.45 K/9 and 2.44 BB/9. For those worried that he won't be clutch in high leverage situations, the man has the second lowest ERA (3.17) and fourth lowest FIP (2.31) in those situations since the 2010 season. He's going to be fine.

Given the severe lack of more experienced option, the Yankees could trust Mark Montgomery to take over the eighth inning role. The 2013 season was a disaster for him as poor conditioning caused multiple injuries to ruin his control, leading to a 5.63 BB/9 in Triple-A. He still managed an 11.03 K/9, so he might not be completely broken. He could provide late-inning strikeout power with a career rate of 13.6 strikeouts per nine innings. The ascension of Montgomery would go a long way in bringing depth to the back of the bullpen again now that Mariano Rivera is gone.

Dellin Betances underwent a vast transformation this season, moving to the bullpen and becoming lights out in Triple-A. He had a 2.06 ERA and compiled a 3.32 K/BB, which is a huge accomplishment for the wild Betances. His 2.69 FIP was the best he's posted since he was in High-A back in 2010. The little chance he got in 2013 didn't do him any justice, but there were a few moments where he looked utterly dominant. If he can bring that to the Yankees in 2014 as the seventh inning guy, he can easily bridge the gap into the later innings.

Chase Whitley is Rule 5 draft eligible and must be put on the 40-man roster to protect him. If the Yankees decide to keep him, they might as well put him in the big league bullpen too. In his second season of Triple-A, he 3.06 ERA with a nearly identical 3.05 FIP and an 8.25 K/9. He was even given a chance to start five games at the end of the season, but he's likely still destined for the bullpen. His job in this hypothetical bullpen would be to provide some distance when needed. Pitching somewhere between the sixth and seventh innings would help save the bullpen from being overworked.

An alternative to Whitley could be David Phelps, who might thrive in a role like that. He has a better ERA (3.55 vs. 4.39) and FIP (3.95 vs. 4.15) in the bullpen. He also has a 9.66 K/9 as a reliever, but only 7.83 K/9 as a starter. Phelps will most likely be used as a starter, so Whitley would be the better fit.

If Boone Logan leaves in free agency, Cesar Cabral will likely be the top candidate to fill the role of lefty specialist. Calling Cabral "homegrown" is a bit of a stretch, since he was a Rule 5 draft pick that the Yankees eventually purchased, but let's count him anyway. He finally recovered from a broken elbow this season and pitched in Double-A and Triple-A before getting a cup of coffee in September. He kept lefties to a .678 OPS in the minors and all six of his strikeouts came against lefties.

If you want to use a more "homegrown" pitcher, Francisco Rondon is probably the guy. He started off the season very poorly, but after being designated for assignment on May 25, he maintained a 1.31 ERA and kept opponents to a .493 OPS out of the bullpen. All season long he kept lefties to a .521 OPS and his .691 OPS against righties was almost as good as Cabral's numbers against lefties. Rondon might have to go through Triple-A first, so Cabral is more likely to break camp with the team.

Adam Warren did a good enough job as the long reliever that he can easily pick up where he left off. A majority of his innings were low-leverage mop work, so his mediocre numbers won't prove to be too big of a deal. In the first half of 2013, he had a 3.09 ERA and 3.83 FIP, but in the second half he struggled when his walk rate went from a 2.47 BB/9 to a heinous 4.86 BB/9. Hopefully he's more of the first half pitcher than the 3.78 ERA, 4.97 FIP pitcher he was in the second half.

Preston Claiborne could round out the bullpen as the last man out of the bullpen after his promising start ended in disappointment. He gave up one run in the first month of his career, but from June on he had a 5.55 ERA, though he had a sub-3.00 FIP in May and July. It could have been exhaustion or it could have been that he just isn't as good as we all hoped. Potential replacement could include Danny Burawa and Tommy Kahnle, though neither have reached Triple-A yet.

Who knows how good this bullpen would actually be, but it would be entirely homegrown and very cheap. Robertson would be the only one who is arbitration eligible, but and bad bullpen isn't worth the amount of money the Yankees would be saving. I think it's ok to mix some veterans and free agents in with the homegrown talent.

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