The Last Two Bullpen Spots

The RAB Radio Show: January 6, 2012
Yankees did not inquire on Darren Oliver
(Jim Commentucci / The Post-Standard)

Although just about all of the focus has been on the starting rotation this offseason, the Yankees still have a few spots in their bullpen to address. Five of the seven relief spots belong to Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Rafael Soriano, Boone Logan, and Cory Wade, but the last two spots are undecided. Unlike a number two starter, the Yankees have viable internal solutions for the sixth and seventh reliever.

One of those last two spots figures to go to a long man, someone capable of going the distance in extra innings or when the starter exits the game early. The Yankees have a small army of young pitchers capable of filling that role, including Adam Warren, David Phelps, Brad Meyers, and D.J. Mitchell. Hector Noesi did the job at times last year, but Brian Cashman ruled him out for it next year.

“I have no intention of Noesi doing that again,” said the GM at the Winter Meetings. “I just think Noesi is a starter, so one way or another, that’s where he needs to be. I don’t want to waste his time as a long man if we can avoid it.”

As a Rule 5 Draft pick, Meyers can’t be sent to the minors without first being offered back to his original team, the Nationals. He’s cut from a similar cloth as Phelps, Warren, and Mitchell, but the Rule 5 stuff doesn’t necessarily give him a leg up on the competition. It could serve as a tiebreaker though. George Kontos worked 2+ innings in 25 of his 40 relief appearances for Triple-A Scranton last year, but he’s considered more of a one-inning reliever long-term. Same with Kevin Whelan, though he’s a candidate to be taken off the 40-man roster.

The other unclaimed bullpen spot is a bit of a wildcard. The Yankees have made it no secret that they’d like a second left-hander for matchup situations, and you can be sure the trio of Hideki Okajima, Mike O’Connor, and Cesar Cabral will get a chance to compete for that spot. The first two are signed to minor league deals, but Cabral is another Rule 5 Draft pick. Since it’s his second time going through that process, he doesn’t have to be offered back to his original team (the Red Sox) to go to the minors, but he will have the option of electing free agency first. Since Logan is effective enough against righties, a true lefty specialist wouldn’t completely ruin any flexibility.

Last year we saw Luis Ayala basically come out of nowhere to sign a minor league deal and win the last bullpen job in Spring Training, which could easily happen again. Ayala himself is still unsigned, but I’m sure he’s looking for a big league contract after having a solid year. Matt Daley and the intriguing Adam Miller are signed to minor league deals, and someone like the still unsigned Michael Wuertz or Juan Cruz could fit the bill at the right price. MLBTR has a partial list of unsigned right-handed relievers (min. 20 IP in MLB in 2011) while Baseball America has all the minor leaguers. Peruse as your leisure. Maybe one of those guys pulls an Ayala and surprisingly makes the club.

As of today, a month and a half before Spring Training starts and three months before Opening Day, I’m guessing those last two bullpen spots will go to Meyers and Okajima. Meyers allows Warren, Phelps, and Mitchell to work as starters in the minors, where they’ll be waiting for the inevitable call-up. Okajima brings some serious veteran presents as a second lefty, and he’s also easily disposable. Ultimately, one of those spots will go to Joba Chamberlain once he’s healthy, and the other will be a revolving door with new bodies being shuffled in an out as needed.

The RAB Radio Show: January 6, 2012
Yankees did not inquire on Darren Oliver
  • Jesse

    Pure guess here, but I can see Adam Miller getting the long man role, and Hideki Okajima getting the second lefty role.

  • William

    Use Betances. His future with the Yanks is the bullpen guy.

    • pat

      Yeah, totes. End his career as a starter.

    • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

      ….but why did they ruin Joba….

      • RetroRob

        They did?

  • jsbrendog

    ooooo i love veteran presents!!!

    • Jesse

      I like presents too, especially on Christmas.

      • jsbrendog

        they’re even better when they’re unexpected

  • Reggie C.

    A total guess on my part but I won’t bet against DJ Mitchell just flat-out making the team with a very solid ST. Okajima was a quality reliever not too long ago. Maybe he’s still got something left in the tank. Of course, Joba is on deck and he’ll readily displace one of these two as Mike pointed out.

  • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

    My crystal balls say Kontos and Okajima.

    • RetroRob

      I’d liked what I saw from Kontos and I’d like to see him get a shot, but that means he’ll have to replace Cory Wade, but I wonder if they’ll be so willing to let Wade leave.

      • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

        Two open slots. Conventional wisdom says that Girardi will go with a long man, but perhaps he just goes with the six/seven best options instead. Kontos threw strikes from the first second, which I love.

        But, no, of course Wade over Kontos unless he turns into a pumpkin.

  • Tampa Yankee

    I’m guess whoever it is to start the year will not be the same guys it is at the end of the year!

    /goes out on a ledge with his prediction!

  • Bronx Byte

    Noesi as the No. 4 starter. Long relievers don’t usually pitch more than 3 innings. Burnett to the bullpen as the long reliever. He usually doesn’t fall apart until after 3 innings.

    • Kabiela

      Hmmm…u got me thinking….maybe Burnett SHOULD be in the bullpen. I’d rather him there than Hughes. Noesi needs more work to be a major league starter. His numbers werenr that great in the few times he went more than four innings this season. But I beliebe the remaining spots in the bullpen belong to Okajima and Kontos. I liked what Kontos did (shocked, but not surprised he wasnt on the postseason roster), & why waste money on a onxe-major-leaguer (Okajima)? We obviously got him for a reason, so why not use him if he can prove himself in Spring Training, while the younger guys are developing ?

  • Andrew

    I would much prefer that unless they truly think one of Phelps, Warren, Mitchell won’t be a starter in the bigs, that they allow them to keep making starts in Scranton (much like Noesi, assuming he doesn’t earn a spot in the rotation to start 2012) at least to start the season. They have enough arms to play with between Adam Miller, Brad Meyers and the 2nd left handed reliever candidates to where they shouldn’t sacrifice potential SP depth to fill a rarely-used spot in the bullpen. It didn’t make sense to have Noesi sitting on the pine for long stretches last year and stunting his stretched-out-edness and it still wouldn’t make sense to start 2012 like that when you can never predict what will happen in terms of injuries to starters.

    It’s overly cliche to say relievers are fungible, but I think it’s easier to see that they can be replaced from within or from waivers a lot easier than quality starters.

  • Josh S.

    Bring back Joba the starter!!! The Yankees could attempt to stretch him out while he’s rehabbing from TJ surgery just to see if he’s at least a viable option in the rotation. If it doesn’t work out then send him to the ‘pen. I would just hate it if they trade him and he excels as a starter somewhere else (unless of course he gets packaged in a deal for Clayton Kershaw or Felix Hernandez, but that isn’t happening).

  • Brian

    So who are the 5 AAA starters – ManBan, Betances, Warren, Adams, Mitchell….what about Cashman’s statement that Noesi will start? He’d make 6.

    • Plank

      I think you meant Phelps not Adams, and I would guess Mitchell would shift to the pen.

      • RetroRob

        Probably. Since there are many who believe that Mitchell would be a more effective reliever, perhaps he’s the guy who makes the Yankees out of camp pitching in the pen.

        There is a logjam developing. Good problem to have, but eventually the Yankees are going to have to either give these guys a shot, or begin packaging them in trades.

        • Plank

          If I were the Yankees I would do it because he seems like he’s the worst pitcher of the bunch. I would think he would be the worst RP of all of them, but I would rather mess with his development than the other pitchers at AAA.

  • Pat D

    Not to be overly negative, but there’s always a distinct possibility that Wade isn’t nearly as effective this year. Of course, Joba would likely slide into that spot.

    And Soriano will probably get hurt at some point.

    • Plank

      Yeah, asking next year’s bullpen to be as effective as last year’s is an unrealistically high standard.

      I don’t know if this has ever been said before on the internet or in real life, but reliever performance is volatile from year to year.

  • Nathan

    What is the status of Ayala? Do the Yankees have no interest in resigning him?

    • Plank

      I bet there is interest, but I bet he’ll get more money from one of the big market teams like the Rays or Marlins. The mid-market Yankees just can’t compete, it’s not fair.

      • Chen Meng Wang

        The Marlins are ruining baseball!!

      • dan gen

        we r going to sign mitre ,he sucks but he is cheap….remember r are a small team.

    • dan gen

      if he is cheap then we may want him,that is the number one question for the budget mined team that charges 10 plus to watch that scum pitch