The Yankees’ offseason plans regarding their bullpen have developed at a slow rate, acting in the complete opposite direction of the rest of the offseason’s pace. The team didn’t negotiate strongly to keep Dellin Betances and subsequently lost him to the cross-town crowd in the Mets, and they haven’t been connected to any of the other notable free agent relievers.
There was noise early in the winter about talks of a Josh Hader trade, but we haven’t seen anything manifest from that so it’s safe to say nothing is imminent. In the meantime, the team has made some patchwork moves signing minor-league deals with some relievers, including familiar faces in Tyler Lyons and David Hale. The team also brought on Dan Otero, who is looking to rebound after a rough couple of seasons in Cleveland.
Spring training is drawing close and pitchers and catchers will report within a week, so the odds of any significant deal coming before the season starts is low. The Yankees could hand out another invite or two to camp, but the underlying strategy is already set up. New York has a host of pitching prospects with few opportunities to start immediately in the majors, and they’ll get a real chance to contribute out of the ‘pen.
The Yankees are currently carrying several pitchers on their 40-man roster that have either gotten major-league experience before or are nearly there. Jordan Montgomery, Jonathan Loaisiga and Michael King have all made their major-league debuts in pinstripes, and blue-chip prospects Albert Abreu and Deivi Garcia are closing in. Not everyone from that bunch will be able to stay on the 26-man roster, but with the bullpen currently only having the late-inning relievers locked in there’s the potential for two or three to get consistent innings this year.
The veterans that the Yankees brought in this winter can still play, and could fill in if injuries take their toll again, but these signings strike a close parallel to the backup catcher scenario. Kyle Higashioka has been developing in the minors for several years and is the presumptive favorite to break camp with the team, but Brian Cashman has brought in veterans like Erik Kratz and Josh Thole to compete during spring. These catchers could impart valuable insight and possibly stick around in case of injury, but they’re not being signed with the expectation of playing.
The Yankees are treating the bullpen in a similar fashion. Even though they lost a piece of the puzzle with Betances’ departure, the amount of talent ready or nearly ready to go in Scranton can be counted on to finish the image. Depending on how successful they are, they can even push some of the incumbents like Luis Cessa or Jonathan Holder to fill in the middle relief jobs. Cessa will be a bit more difficult to unseat since he is out of minor-league options, but in a championship chase sometimes performance has to outweigh longevity, and Cessa has had several chances to avoid this scenario.
Obviously, the Yankees have higher hopes for some of their pitching prospects than the bullpen. Garcia in particular was held onto at the trade deadline because the team sees a high ceiling for him, and he isn’t alone. The ‘pen will need a new wave of quality pitchers to support it however. The heavyweights carrying the back end are on expensive deals that will run their course over the next year or two, and players like Chad Green and Tommy Kahnle that make maneuvering multiple innings easier will be in line for big paydays soon. If the organization has the talent already and the need is there, don’t be surprised to see some young stars grow into a role of their own there this season.