“This is the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Station. The next stop is 161st Street, Yankee Stadium.”
The Scranton Shuttle has been part of Pinstripe Alley parlance for as long as I can remember. Looking through the site’s archives, it first appeared all the way back in 2007, at the time known as the Scranton/JFK shuttle and actually coined by a writer from DRays Bay. Back then, the term was used mostly derisively, referring to journeymen pitchers who filled out a bullpen that was, outside of Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberlain, not all that good.
Over the years, however, the Scranton Shuttle has evolved into a core part of the Yankees’ bullpen strategy. Aside from the core pieces at the back of the bullpen — the guys on big contracts like Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton, as well as elite pitchers like Chad Green and Michael King — the bullpen would primarily be filled with low-cast relievers who have minor league options. Whenever the Yankees needed fresh arms, they would send down whomever had pitched most recently, and bring somebody else up. Using this strategy, the Yankees have been able to maintain one of the league’s best bullpens, and over time, many shuttle riders forge consistent roles in major league bullpens.
At the start of the season, the Scranton Shuttle remained extremely active. Although the expanded rosters for April allowed the Yankees to carry a 15-man bullpen (and thus avoid the shuttle almost entirely, using it only to demote Ron Marinaccio and JP Sears at the end of the month), June saw Marinaccio, Sears, Clarke Schmidt, Luis Gil, David McKay, Ryan Weber, Shane Greene, and Manny Bañuelos ride at least once, although it must be noted that Sears and Gil were recalled for spot starts, not as bullpen depth.
Right now, though, the Scranton Shuttle is currently stuck in the station, unable to move, as the Yankees have backed themselves into a corner when building their bullpen.
While technically speaking, the Yankees have four relievers that have minor league options remaining, realistically, they have nobody who the team would be comfortable sending down. Although not in the bullpen’s inner circle, Wandy Peralta has been asked to get a decent chunk of high-leverage outs this season. The Yankees hope that Jonathan Loáisiga can recapture the form he had in 2021, when he was one of the most valuable relievers in the league. Neither of them are going anywhere.
Barring something drastic, the team’s two trade acquisitions, Scott Effross and Lou Trivino, won’t be ticketed to Scranton, either. After all, both pitchers were brought in to help stabilize a bullpen that was desperate for arms after Chad Green and Michael King both went down for the season. Something would have to go very wrong, very quickly to see them fall so far out of the circle of trust to the point of a demotion.
The other four relievers — Clay Holmes, Aroldis Chapman, Lucas Luetge, and Albert Abreu — are out of options, and as such cannot be sent down to Scranton without being first placed on waivers. This puts the Yankees in a bit of a predicament. Obviously, Holmes and Chapman aren’t going anywhere (even if many of us wish to never see Chapman pitch high-leverage situations ever again), but Luetge and Abreu are by no means irreplaceable.
Abreu, in fact, very rarely pitches in high-leverage situations; despite being oddly effective in them while in pinstripes, he’s faced only six batters in high-leverage spots since the start of July (he’s struck out three of them). Luetge gets the ball in these situations even less, having faced only four in the same time span. Instead, he’s been primarily filling in as a mid-game innings eater, the stereotypical long reliever role. While important roles, the Yankees have a small army of arms in Triple-A, such as Marinaccio, who could fill them just as well, if not better.
Of course, this being baseball, this sort of thing has a way of sorting itself out. It only takes one injury to a reliever for Marinaccio to get called back up, which opens the Scranton Shuttle right back up. And they’ll gain two extra roster spots on September 1st, although it’s likely the Yankees will use at least one for Britton. Nonetheless, for the time being, the Yankees have put themselves in a box of their own creation, at least when it comes to the bullpen.