The Yankees are definitely looking at a renovation of the active roster, with some big-name signings this winter. With a little less fanfare, the Yankees have also begun to reform their bullpen. The way the Yankees are addressing the bullpen leaves some question marks, and introduces risks that may prove costly during the season. Nothing is more frustrating than losing late in the game, and the bullpen’s ability to shut down games is critical.
The retirement of future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera forced the issue, as the Yankees are still working out who will be the named closer for the team. With Joe Nathan signed to the Detroit Tigers and although Grant Balfour didn't sign in Baltimore due to a shoulder problem, read HERE, he's going to sign somewhere. There's no doubt, the closer market is drying up. If the Yankees take no action, the de facto closer would be David Robertson.
We love DRob, and he brings excitement to the 8th inning, where he has found a home for the past few years. The question is, can he handle the 9th inning. Yes, it is a question. While it is not fair to draw too many conclusions from his brief stint as closer in 2012, when Mariano Rivera was injured, he did not look as strong as we expected. On the upside, he entered the game last year 11 times in the 9th inning or later and looked impressive. Four of those times he held a tie, he converted all three save opportunities, and zero losses. He has the stuff to do the job, but without the experience of doing it over a long season, he is a little bit of a wildcard.
Middle relief has let two of its regulars go. Joba Chamberlain, who showed tremendous potential in 2007 and 2008, just flat-out tanked. He signed with the Detroit Tigers just over a week ago, and we wish him the best. Boone Logan, who has been the lefty specialist for the Yankees for the last seven years, signed with the Colorado Rockies. He certainly was erratic at times, but only four times out of 61 appearances did he blow a game or take a loss.
Matt Thornton signed a 2-year deal with the Yankees in recent days, which helps replace what Boone Logan brought to the Yankees. A 37-year old career lefty middle reliever, his veteran presence should bring some stability to the bullpen. That veteran presence may come in handy, given how the Yankees relief pitcher strategy is shaping up.
It is obvious that the Yankees want to grow the bullpen from their farm system, DRob and Thornton aside. The list of candidates will likely include Adam Warren, Shawn Kelley, and Preston Claiborne. Other kids coming up can include Dellin Betances and Cesar Cabral, who continue to show promise. All of these guys have potential, and our hope is that all of them mature to be strong reliable pitchers. However, it is impossible to look at a rookie and determine with any kind of certainty whether or not you are looking at the next Mariano Rivera or the next Joba Chamberlain. They all looked great at times. They all made rookie mistakes at other times.
That is where the rub is. I think you are going to find that the bullpen, as it stands now, will generate a lot of excitement. Nevertheless there will be times, especially when the pressure is on in a must-win scenario, where you are going to want that rock-solid veteran to slam the door on an opposing rally. Invariably we will see this kid crew falter from time to time. It is only a matter of how often, whether we can stomach it, and how well positioned we are to go to the market if things start to go down.