The Indians’ improbable run to the World Series is clearly a testament to their remarkable bullpen performance, spearheaded by former Yankees reliever Andrew Miller. Manager Terry Francona blew past the Red Sox and Blue Jays without two of his three best starters due to brilliant managing and the ability to get the ball to his bullpen early and often.
Sure, Corey Kluber is an elite ace who had a lot to do with Cleveland’s October success, and was lights-out even when utilized on short rest. Despite not scoring a bunch of runs (just 12 in five games of the ALCS), the Tribe still found themselves in the Fall Classic for the first time since 1997.
So what can the Yankees take from all of this? Well, while the starting rotation certainly is a problem for 2017, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the area that the team burns the bulk of their available resources on. The market for starting pitching this offseason is noticeably weak, so why spend on a mediocre starter who will likely cost more than his worth due to the rest of the available crop?
The Yankees don’t have to be counter productive to their 2016 deadline moves and unleash a load of talent for big name relievers. Other teams who went deep into the playoffs this year proved that to be true. A signing like Kenley Jansen to couple with Dellin Betances would be a huge step towards creating a formidable bullpen. They could fill the other roles with serviceable arms who don’t have high asking prices attached to them.
The Yanks are already on the right track. Betances is electric but needs help to alleviate his workload. Tyler Clippard showed improvement after coming to New York, as did Adam Warren in his return to the Bronx. There are other young arms who were effective in the bullpen this year should they not pan out as starters in 2017. Perhaps the Yankees can take a page out of Francona’s book and lighten the load on their starters, who are mostly shaky outside of Masahiro Tanaka.
Kluber is not the only Indians starter performing on short rest in the playoffs. Josh Tomlin also has stepped up for Francona, but it is important to note that the reason they can be effective in this manner is because of the bullpen. Francona can rely on his relievers and turn the game over after just five effective innings from Tomlin, thus keeping him strong enough for his next start should it be on shorter rest.
Of course this is the postseason, where there is a means to an end and it’s all hands on deck throughout the roster. Francona’s approach would be tougher to emulate through a 162 game season. Still, given the availability of pitchers this offseason, it is not a bad blueprint to follow. It is also a blueprint that would not require emptying wallets or farm systems. It is a cost-efficient approach that could alleviate the stress of a rotation sure to be littered with unknowns.
Starting pitching is imperative to a team’s success. The Indians starting rotation has been banged up, but they have still received tremendous performances from those still standing. Francona has been magnificent in maximizing what he has in the rotation by having a fully loaded bullpen ready to enter at the first sign of trouble, which is what the Yankees will need next season.
The Yankees should look to reload the bullpen rather than pick at straws to revamp the rotation. There is not enough out there to make a major difference, but the bullpen serves as an area to conservatively improve and take pressure off of the starters. It seemed to work this fall in Northeast Ohio.