Monday, January 20, 2014

We've spent so much time this offseason talking about who is going to play third and second base, and who the Yankees are going to sign with round out the starting rotation, that a lot of attention has seemingly been taken away from the bullpen.

For the first time almost 20 years, there is some uncertainty at the backend of the Yankees' bullpen entering the upcoming season.

David Robertson appears to be the favorite to over the closer role, while there has also been talk of the Yankees bringing in one of the free-agent closers instead.

However, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner came out and said this past week that Robertson will be their guy, saying, “We're going to rely on [David] Robertson. I'm sure he'll do a good job for us.”

Pressed whether he thought Robertson would be the team's closer, Steinbrenner said, "I think you'll have to ask [Joe] Girardi that, but that's my understanding. He's the number one candidate. Rightfully so."

But that still leaves us with the rest of the bullpen? Who will be doing what? Ans who will even be there in houston on Opening Day?

Starting with the setup man, Robertson had been in that role for the past few seasons, and now that he's likely going to be closing, Girardi is going to need someone to setup. Assuming the Yankees don't sign someone, I think that Shawn Kelley will go into spring training as the favorite to win that job.

He was a very reliable pitcher for the Yankees last working working in the 6th, 7th and sometimes the 8th inning. He's a pure strikeout guy, doesn't walk a whole lot of people, and could be the man in the 8th.

Following behind him will be Matt Thornton and Preston Claiborne, who Girardi counted as one of the only three sure-things in the bullpen this season -- Kelley and Robertson being the other two. Thornton will replace Boone Logan as the team's lefty-specialist after signing a two-year, $7 million deal with the Yankees this winter, and Claiborne will likely be more of a middle-inning reliever after being more of a mop-up man for Girardi last season.
No one has ever been able to take a picture
of Pineda in pinstripes

You can also look at someone like Dellin Betances, who could get a roster spot as a middle-reliever, maybe a late-inning guy -- like the Yankees are hoping he can be -- as the season goes on.

The Yankees will go into spring training with a handful of pitchers looking to win a job in the starting rotation -- David Phelps, Michael Pineda, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno and David Huff. Should the Yankees sign Masahiro Tanaka, only one of those guys are needed in the rotation, but two will likely get jobs if Tanaka isn't in pinstripes this year.

Either way, it'll likely be that two of those starters could end up in the bullpen as long-relievers. Warren was decent in that role last season, and might be there again in '14, and as much as I'd like to see Pineda win a starting job, it could also be very beneficial for him and the Yankees if he starts the year in the bullpen.

This kid hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2011, and it would be good for him to get some innings from the bullpen before jumping straight into the rotation.

Starting Pineda in the bullpen, Phelps would be the leading candidate for the 5th spot in the rotation. He spent most of his 2013 -- when he wasn't on the DL -- in the rotation. He mainly got his chance to start when Ivan Nova went down with injury, and pitched well enough to keep it when Nova was ready to come back.

Looking at who the Yankees could possibly add to the mix for competition this spring, they've already added Thornton, as mention, and also signed pitchers like Matt Daley, Robert Coello, Brian Gordon to minor league deals in the past couple of weeks.

A lot of the talk earlier in the offseason involving the Yankees possibly adding a closer involved the Joe Nathan, but he signed with the Detroit Tigers long ago, taking him off the board. A couple successful closers of the past couple of years, Grant Balfour and Fernando Rodney are still on the board.

Balfour is still out there because of some wrist and knee concerns that caused the Baltimore Orioles to back out of a deal with him. And Rodney is still a free-agent because he followed up a great 2012 season with a shaky year with the Tampa Bay Rays, causing him to lose some of his value as he heads into the final years of his career.

And speaking of Balfour, recent reports have the Washington Nationals being interested in the right-hander, leading them to the idea that trading Drew Storen would be something worth looking into. I think that making a trade for him was also be a good idea.

Brian Cashman drafted Storen in the 34th round of the 2007 draft, but couldn't get any deal done to sign him. If Cashman still likes his as a pitcher, it would almost be a no-brainer do at least make a call to Washington to gauge was the asking price is there.

If the Yankees can work something out to acquire him, Storen would give them a great late-inning are that they're looking for, and could possibly be the 8th inning setup man for Robertson.

There are also a few low-risk, high-reward players out there that the Yankees could take a look at, and it wouldn't hurt them at all to do so.

Joel Hanrahan was an all-star closer with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012, then got hurt after being traded to the Boston Red Sox last winter. He had to undergo Tommy John Surgery last season, and is expected to workout for teams in the spring, suggesting that he is ahead of schedule, and could be ready to get back in the majors early in the season.

If you ask me, it wouldn't do any harm to sign him on a minor league deal, let him spend some time in Triple-A Scranton while he gets his groove back, and hope that he comes back just as good as he was while in Pittsburgh.

The same can be said about Eric O'Flaherty, who also underwent Tommy John Surgery last season. Another very good reliever that could possible just as good as he was before he got hurt. Give him a minor league deal and let him work his way back into the Yankees' bullpen sometime mid-season.

I've also mentions this offseason a guy like Andrew Bailey, who was great while with the Oakland Athletics a few years ago before coming to Boston. Mitchell Boggs was a solid reliever with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012, but was a terrible 2014. Maybe you sign one of them and hope they bounce back under pitching coach Larry Rothschild.


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