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The Yankees front office should reconsider its philosophy for relief pitching prospects

The minor league bullpen depth the Yankees once had has considerably thinned this offseason.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday afternoon the Yankees agreed to trade Nick Goody to the Indians in exchange for cash considerations or a player to be named later, per Bryan Hoch. Goody was recently designated for assignment to make room for Aroldis Chapman on the 40-man roster. While seemingly a minor trade, the deal speaks to a larger story: the disintegration of the Scranton Shuttle relief corps and the volatility of bullpen arms.

The Scranton Shuttle refers to a group of homegrown relievers who split the 2015 and 2016 seasons between Triple-A and the big leagues. Joe Girardi and company used the last bullpen spot as a revolving door to ensure a fresh arm was available whenever needed. If a pitcher was unavailable after a long outing, he was sent back to Scranton and another arm came back up. The likes of Branden Pinder, Jacob Lindgren, James Pazos, Nick Rumbelow, and Goody comprised the list of shuttle relievers.

After the Goody trade, however, that list shrinks to one. Only Pinder remains in the organization, and he was outrighted off of the 40-man roster in November following Tommy John Surgery. Lindgren was was non-tendered and subsequently signed by the Atlanta Braves. Pazos was traded to Seattle early in the offseason. Rumbelow was released in late November. At one time considered future bullpen mainstays, they now are completely off of the Yankees’ radar.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Yankees were considered skillful at developing relievers. That idea seems foolish now in light of the shuttle breakup. Relief pitchers are exceptionally volatile. It’s tough to find consistency from year to year. A cursory glance of the top relievers according to fWAR five years ago highlights this.

Only Chapman, Jansen, and Herrera remained on that list in 2016. Even the best relievers have a limited shelf life. It’s significantly shorter when one isn’t elite.

The shuttle relievers aren’t the only prospect bullpen arms to either leave the organization or flame out. Left-handed pitcher Tyler Webb was recently selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Rule 5 Draft. He figured to be in the mix for a call up this season.

There’s also the case of Mark Montgomery. He projected to be the next great Yankees relief ace. In 2012 he owned a 1.61 ERA in 64.1 innings split between High-A and Double-A. Montgomery also had an MLB-ready slider that absolutely overpowered hitters.

His slider bordered on unhittable. It’s not out of the question to call it Andrew Miller-esque. Unfortunately things cratered for Montgomery from 2013 onward. He’s struggled mightily with injuries that robbed him of his command and velocity. The once future end-game reliever has essentially become a farmhand, despite his continued success. Such is the life of relief prospects.

There’s a saying around baseball that there is no such thing as a pitching prospect. That is especially true for relief prospects, which is why most of the game’s best relievers are failed starters. From a Yankees perspective, Mariano Rivera, Dellin Betances, and Tyler Clippard were all starting pitchers early in their careers. So were Andrew Miller, Wade Davis, and Zach Britton. It’s tough to project success when one is a reliever in the minor leagues.

While the series of moves surrounding the shuttle relievers seemed innocuous, they speak to a larger trend. The Yankees embarked on a strategy to have their minor league bullpen depth at the ready. It didn’t work out as planned, considering almost all pitch for different organizations now. Perhaps this will result in a change of philosophy for the Yankees’ development team. If not, it will certainly prompt some reevaluating in the front office.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.