Signing Aroldis Chapman makes your bullpen better by a lot. We know this. Chapman and Betances will be a formidable combination in the late innings in 2017 that will make a comeback difficult for any opposing team.
However, to make this bullpen a true dominant force, a third arm needs to step up so these two electric arms don’t fade out by August.
Chapman made his thoughts clear on being overused when he commented in displeasure about the way Joe Maddon used him during the Cubs’ historic World Series run. Chapman was used heavily during the postseason, as the Cubs found themselves in a number of close games, and Maddon felt the best way to stay in the game was to turn to the best arm he had in the bullpen.
Meanwhile, All-Star Dellin Betances has had trouble closing out seasons on a high note, 2016 certainly being no exception. Betances was asked to carry a heavy work load in 2016 after Chapman and Andrew Miller were dealt at the trade deadline, and Joe Girardi found his team surprisingly still in the thick of the playoff hunt through a portion of September. Betances struggled in the final month of the season as the Yanks fell out of the playoff race, largely due to a four-game sweep at the hands of the Red Sox thanks to several blown leads in late innings.
Had Chapman still been in pinstripes, one or two of those games likely go in the Yankees’ favor. Still, given the outlook of the team heading into 2017, it is highly unlikely that this will be a team slugging their way to big leads, or relying on a starting rotation to blow opponents away. If the Yankees are going to build leads next season, the majority of them will be close games that require the bullpen to help them reach the finish line. Betances and Chapman will not be able to do it every time. Who can step up?
Adam Warren and Tyler Clippard both improved slightly in terms of ERA upon their return to the Bronx midway through the 2016 season, but neither showed clear evidence of returning to the form that made them so effective in years past. Can they bounce back with a full year in pinstripes? Does Chasen Shreve figure himself out and get back to early 2015 form? The answer isn’t clear who steps up to lighten the burden on Betances and Chapman, but it is clear that somebody needs to.
Girardi can’t ask Betances to consistently handle the seventh and eighth innings when the Yankees have a lead. He will only continue to fade down the stretch, and the decline will likely begin earlier with each passing year. Chapman has shown his own struggles with a heavy volume of innings, as fatigue especially hurts a pitcher who relies on a 100+ mph fastball to earn saves. That velocity drops a notch when fatigue sets in. Chapman knows it, hence last week’s comments about Maddon’s use of him. Since the Yankees have him under contract for the next five years, it is in their best interest to preserve him.
Luis Severino should continue his climb back to a starter’s role. The Yankees will desperately need help in the rotation this season. However, if he cannot develop a strong changeup and things don’t work out, then he could be a great fit in the pen to relieve the stress on Betances and Chapman. The Yankees have a few options that may or may not prove reliable, but for the sake of their two most valuable bullpen arms, one of those options better work out.