On his Touching Base blog, the Daily News’s Jesse Spector takes a look at the free agent class of setup men. With the possibility that both Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes start the season in the rotation, the Yanks are going to need someone to pitch the late innings. Judging by Spector’s list, which goes into the arbitration status of each player, the Yanks will probably favor internal candidates. There aren’t any truly elite setup men in the class (or else they’d probably market themselves as closer), but their 2009 salaries were a bit more than you’d want to pay for a middle reliever.
Spector lists five players among those whose teams will likely offer them arbitration. Those include Type A’s Darren Oliver, Rafael Betancourt, and John Grabow. Of them, only Betancourt seems remotely worth the money, and his value is likely overrated now because of his stellar second half in Colorado. He’s had great seasons beofre, but he’s also turned in clunkers — most recently in 2008, when he posted a 5.07 ERA over 71 innings. With the contract he’ll want, plus the first-round pick he’ll cost, I think the Yanks will stay away.
Among the players who will likely not cost a compensation pick (i.e., their teams will not offer them arbitration in all likelihood), there still aren’t any standout names. Octavio Dotel and LaTroy Hawkins top the list, and we all know how each of their stints in pinstripes went. Otherwise, none of the listed pitchers will be worth the salary, especially when there are comparable options in the system.
Given the dearth of relief pitching on the market, and given the volatile nature of relieving in general, I think the Yanks will do best to stick with the options in the system. This might mean that Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain pitches out of the bullpen for a portion of 2010. Readers know that I don’t favor such a solution, but I’d rather do that for a year than sign a free agent to set up. Obviously, the ideal solution is for the guys already on the roster — mostly Robertson, but also Melancon and Bruney — to step up and take the late innings. They’re the Yanks best shot.