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The Yankees bullpen is in a vulnerable state heading into the offseason

While starting pitching is the focus, the Yankees can’t take their eyes off the bullpen.

Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

When the Yankees season ended much earlier than expected, I wrote that their focus this offseason has to be improving their starting pitching. That still remains true. Brian Cashman needs to bring in at least two new starting pitchers this offseason, either by trade, free agency, or even resorting to performing a starting pitcher dance.

Starting pitching is the focal point of the winter because that was the weakest link of the team this past season. While the offense could definitely be improved upon and stands to be less frustrating, it was still one of the best in the league. And the bullpen was one of the best corps of relief arms ever assembled, so it’s easy to emphasize on the rotation.

While the focus is on the rotation, the bullpen cannot be overlooked. The Yankees bullpen is in a vulnerable state heading into the offseason. If they don’t address the bullpen, a team strength could become a liability in 2019.

Most teams don’t have four or five closer-quality arms on their roster, but most teams aren’t the Yankees. Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Zach Britton, Chad Green, and of course David Robertson make up this great collection of high-leverage talent on one team. Add Jonathan Holder to the mix, and there wasn’t anything the bullpen couldn’t handle.

David Robertson and Zach Britton both are set to become free agents this winter and there’s a chance the Yankees re-sign neither of them. (Side note: I will cry if I have to go through D-Rob signing with another team for a SECOND time.) Having Chapman, Betances, and Green would still make this a very good bullpen, in theory, but it would still be a big blow.

Both last year and this year, the team had to deal with Chapman battling injury and inconsistency. After a couple roller coaster years, Betances finally bounced back to his elite form in 2018, but who knows if that’ll stay the same next year. If the Yankees lose both D-Rob and Britton, they may end up in worse position if Chapman’s injury issues remain persistent or Betances’ command issues reemerge.

If both Chapman and Betances are at the top of their game next year, it’s great but also again potentially devastating as both could be free agents next year. Betances will be a free agent for the first time, and Chapman could opt out of his current deal. Thanks to the wonderful and curiously still-employed Randy Levine, who knows if Betances would actually consider coming back to the Yankees. There’s a non-zero chance they could lose four of their top relievers over the course of two years.

It’s a scary thought. But the Yankees can do a lot to squash those fears. Other priorities can’t let them lose sight of maintaining one of their core strengths. In addition to Robertson and Britton, there are quite a few intriguing relief arms on the free agent market this year. Adam Ottavino, Craig Kimbrel, Brad Brach, and Andrew Miller are just some of the pitchers who will be available this winter, though a reunion with Miller isn’t as enticing as it would’ve been a year or two ago. Thanks for breaking him, Francona!

If the Yankees want to contend for the next few years, they need to make sure all areas of their game stay the same or get better. Obviously the rotation needs to improve and the offense could use some help, but the bullpen at the very least needs to stay where it’s at right now. It’s been a strength of the team’s for a few years now and that shouldn’t change.

Bolstering the rotation is the number one goal this offseason, but they definitely need to address the bullpen as well. And of course, at the very least they should re-sign David Robertson—30 years, $30 million per year seems like a good starting point to me.