On Tuesday Brian Bruney will make his second return to the Yankees bullpen, this time hopefully for good. In limited action this year and last Bruney has been lights out, striking out 46 and allowing just 10 runs over 43.1 innings. The problem, of course, is that he’s been off the field more often than he’s been on. A healthy Bruney can make a world of difference in the Yankees bullpen.
When the Yankees activate Bruney tomorrow they will have to make a roster move. To some this move is obvious. The Yanks have a number of ineffective arms in the pen, and removing one of them would make the most sense, since it would be subtracting from where they add. There are a few other factors, though, which might make this decision a bit tougher. Here are the five moves the Yankees could make on Tuesday:
DFA Brett Tomko: The 36-year-old Tomko was never really good over his now-13-year career. He’s had two years with a league average ERA, and one of them came in his 1997 rookie campaign. His current 5.56 ERA is inflated due to his horrible performance on Friday, so he’s been decent in stints for the Yankees (including three innings of shutout ball against Texas two weeks ago). The question now is of whether Tomko can help this team going forward. Given his track record, it’s tough to expect it.
DFA Jose Veras: Fans have been clamoring for this move all season, and they might finally get their wish. It seems Veras walks the leadoff hitter every time out, which is one of the most frustrating things a relief pitcher can do. The Yankees don’t wan to give up on Veras because he has electric stuff, but at some point you have to consider the good of the team. His only saving grace right now, beyond his uncontrollable stuff, is his performance in multi-inning stints. When called upon for two or more innings, Veras has been much better: 5 G, 12.1 IP, 3 ER, 3 BB, 10 K. In outings of 1.2 innings or fewer, he’s pitched in 20 games, 13.1 IP, 14 ER, 11 BB, 8 K. So perhaps he’s just too amped up for the shorter outings — or perhaps this is yet another failing of a small sample.
DFA Angel Berroa: This would leave the Yanks with 13 pitchers yet again. It would represent a stay of execution for either Tomko or Veras, but not much more. With Xavier Nady due back in about two weeks, the Yanks could be waiting to DFA Berroa until then. Count me among those who would rather keep Berroa for two more weeks, if for no other reason than to give the infielders some time off in blowouts, than carry 13 pitchers again.
Option Ramiro Pena: This is probably the least likely move, but there’s a chance the Yankees want to get him some regular playing time in the minors. Again, this would be a more likely move upon Xavier Nady’s return. In any case, I’d much rather DFA Berroa, but the front office has a few more factors to consider than fan preference.
Option David Robertson: While optioning Pena would be the least likely, optioning Robertson would be the worst. D-Rob has been a solid option for the Yanks since his latest recall, though most of his innings have come in low leverage situations. Still, it seems Girardi will call on him more often. He was the de facto third option out of the pen over the past week or so, and will move into solid fourth option starting tomorrow. Since his return to the big league club in late May, Robertson has thrown 7.1 innings, striking out 11, walking three, and allowing just three hits and one run. It’s a teeny tiny sample, of course, but the results are there. Also encouraging is that he’s thrown 65 percent of his pitches for strikes in that span. The Yanks absolutely need guys in the bullpen who can throw strikes.
The best options, to me, are either the designation for assignment of Tomko or Veras. Tomko seems to make the most sense, since he’s old and hasn’t been very good throughout his career, while Veras is young and has electric stuff. We often preach playing for the long-term, but that’s not to the complete detriment of the short-term. Concerning the bullpen, the Yanks might want to make the short-term move here. That might be keeping Tomko around.
It sounds silly. I say it to myself and think, “you’re going to sound like an idiot for possibly advocating Tomko over Veras.” Maybe I will. I just don’t see that it’s clear that Veras can ever be trusted in a low-leverage situation. Then again, as the numbers indicate, perhaps he has fixable problems. At worst he can be a quasi-long man, going two and three innings at a clip. Maybe that pacing will get him back on track. If it does, he’d be a lot more help than Tomko.
After two paragraphs of stream-of-consciousness ramblings, I think I come down on the side of DFAing Tomko. He’s old, he’s never really been good, and chances are he won’t provide more than Veras for the rest of the season. I also think that the Yanks are too seduced by Veras to give up on him in order to keep a 36-year-old on the roster. We’ll find out tomorrow, but the more I ramble, the more clear the decision becomes.