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Meet the Yankees’ 2017 bullpen candidates

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Yankees bullpen spots for next season are up for grabs, and there are plenty of intriguing arms to compete.

MLB: New York Yankees at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Despite falling short of the playoffs, the Yankees’ 2016 season will stick in the minds of fans for several memorable reasons, particularly the pre-deadline Super Bullpen. The front office poured resources into building one of the best bullpens baseball has ever seen. The Yankees both had impressive young depth—the Scranton Shuttle was often active for good reason—while boasting a top three in the ‘pen among the most dominant of all-time: the untouchable Andrew Miller, the flamethrowing Aroldis Chapman, and the electric Dellin Betances.

While it looked like that era was over for the Yankees after both Miller and Chapman were traded late last season, the Yankees have managed to rebuild their bullpen into what should be another very good one. Maybe 2017’s relief corps won’t be quite as dominant as Yankees fans are used to, but it should still be very, very good.

How effective it will be, though, is impossible to say, given the many questions yet to be settled. The Yankees have the arms for a good bullpen, but which of those arms will be used, and where they’ll slot in, is still up for debate. Here’s a look at the Yankees’ many options for the ‘pen, aside from the locks (Betances, Chapman, and Tyler Clippard) and those caught between starting and relief (Adam Warren, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino, Chad Green, and Luis Cessa), who should also find a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Chasen Shreve

Well, Shreve was good at one point. Unfortunately, after two seasons with the Yankees, it’s starting to look like his outstanding first half of 2015 (2.02 ERA in 35.2 innings) was a fluke, and the rest of his work with the club (4.98 ERA in 56 innings) is the real Shreve. His best pitch, a splitter, lost almost two inches of drop last season, and his low-nineties fastball remains unspectacular, at best.

While the slider did look good last season, it was his only effective offering. Add in shaky command and a serious home run problem (2.18 HR/9), and you aren’t looking at a very good reliever. Shreve’s major league experience may net him a spot on the 25-man roster to start the season, but it’s hard to expect much from him at this point.

Johnny Barbato

Acquired in the 2014 offseason for Shawn Kelley, Barbato had an excellent start to his Yankees career with zero runs and just four baserunners (two walks and two hits) allowed in his first 15 innings with the club. The 24-year-old then imploded, giving up eight runs in his next seven innings before being banished to Triple-A until August. After a 2.61 ERA in 48.1 innings in the minors, Barbato was called back up... and gave up three runs without recording an out.

There’s still some upside in this arm—he features two great pitches in his mid-nineties fastball and blazing slider—but he hit a wall last year with the Yankees and is a complete unknown next season. He could take on a middle relief role with a solid spring, but whatever happens after that is up in the air. Barbato could be an average reliever, or he could spend much of 2017 in Triple-A. (I know, hard-hitting analysis.)

Richard Bleier

Bleier’s notable for his story—a 29-year-old rookie with three straight seasons of a K/9 under four in the minor leagues managed to throw 23 innings of 1.96 ERA ball last season for the Yankees—but that’s about the only notable thing about him. The lefty barely tops out at 90 mph on the radar gun and rarely gets whiffs, so it’s hard to see him building on a surprisingly good 2016. Then again, Bleier is a southpaw and was poison against lefties last season, so perhaps there’s a place in the Yankees’ bullpen next season. It’s hard to see him sticking long term, though, especially given the presence of the next pitcher in this article.

Tommy Layne

One of Brian Cashman’s savvy waiver claims last season, Layne—another lefty—was quite solid for the Yankees down the stretch last season. While his control sometimes wavered, Layne struck out 7.31 per nine to go with a 3.38 ERA in 16 innings. In an ideal situation, Layne would be exclusively used as a LOOGY, though he wasn’t awful against righties last season with the Yankees. He’s probably a better choice than Bleier to be the lefty specialist for New York next season, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see him end up on the Opening Day roster.

Ben Heller

Heller was part of 2016’s Andrew Miller/Clint Frazier trade at the deadline and quickly made an impact in the Bronx. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good impact, per se, with five runs allowed in seven innings. Still, Heller is major-league ready and is one of the Yankees’ higher-upside relief arms. Armed with a high-nineties fastball that features heavy arm-side run and a good slider, the righty has the makings of a good middle reliever with an even higher ceiling. Heller may not reach that projection in 2017, but a good spring audition could easily land him a role in the bullpen—one that could rapidly grow.

Jonathan Holder

The other main Yankees relief prospect to make his debut in 2016, Holder was converted from starter to reliever last season and hasn’t looked back. He had an outstanding 12.95 K/9 and 2.20 ERA (41 innings) in Double-A before shutting down Triple-A batters to the tune of a 15.49 K/9 and 0.89 ERA (20.1 innings), earning a promotion to the Bronx in September.

The 35-to-0 strikeout to walk ratio in Triple-A should stand out, as should a mid-nineties fastball with plus command and a great curveball. Holder also features a solid slider, which, combined with the other two plus offerings, should form a high-strikeout reliever who can man the late innings for the Yankees one day. That day may not come in 2017, but Holder has a ton of upside and could make a surprisingly positive impact for New York next season.