The Yankees could use some relief


Three David Phelps photos in one day? Madness. (Jared Wickerham/Getty)

After yet another close game (though thankfully, last night’s was of the winning variety), the collective blood pressure of the Yankee fanbase is once again a little higher than optimal.  While the Yankees were able to jump ahead of the Red Sox in the early going, the inability to accomplish the mythical shutdown inning allowed the Red Sox to stay within striking distance for the majority of the game.  This has been a problem for much of the recent stretch of subpar play.

While David Robertson and Rafael Soriano have individually had very strong seasons, the Yankee bullpen, and these two stalwarts in particular, have shown mortality at particularly inconvenient times.  Robertson’s fastball velocity is down slightly from last season, and his reduction in the use of his curveball in favor of the cutter is a little puzzling.  Several recent Yankee losses can directly be tied to blowups by one or both of the Yankees’ top relievers.  While Joba Chamberlain has impressed in his recent outings, he is probably still not at the point of being relied upon to be a consistent shutdown presence in the 7th inning.  The Clay Rapada/Cody Eppley/Boone Logan trio have performed adequately, though none of them (possibly excepting Logan) really are useful against opposite-handed batters.

As the Yankees battle through the last few weeks of the season and hopefully into October, it is evident that they could use another bullpen arm with the ability to retire hitters from both sides of the plate.  Presumably, a trade is incredibly unlikely at this juncture, so whatever help the Yankees are going to find will have to come from within.  With several players on track to return from injury, the Yankees will have a few options as they shuffle their rotation to accommodate the returnees.  Here are some of the ways they can proceed, and variables to consider.

Ivan Nova

Nova should be back from injury relatively soon, but his uneven 2012 season raises questions about how he can be most effectively deployed.  He’s currently in line to replace Freddy Garcia in the rotation, but given his propensity to surrender extra-base hits, there’s no guarantee that he will be a significant upgrade.  While Freddy’s repertoire doesn’t really translate well to a short relief role (though he could be an effective long man), Nova could be an effective option for shorter stints, allowing him to focus on his fastball and slider and not worry about his other pitches.

David Phelps

Andy Pettitte is also on his way back, though his timeline for returning to the rotation is unclear at the moment.  The Yankees are currently planning to let Pettitte build his innings back up on the Major League roster, which will likely entail him making piggyback starts with one of Nova, Garcia, or Phelps. If Nova and Pettitte both make it back into the rotation, Phelps likely gets bumped back into a relief role.  Phelps has been very impressive when used as a reliever this season (albeit in a small sample), so he could be an intriguing option to add more depth to the Yankee bullpen.

Cory Wade

Yes, Wade has been incredibly disappointing in the majors this year, but he has handled himself fairly well since being demoted to AAA (2.27 ERA).  That said, his strikeout rate is down compared to 2011 and his walk rate is elevated, and both trends continued when he was sent down to the Scranton traveling road show.  Even though Wade is not pitching as well as he did last season (or early this year), it could be worth giving him some innings to see if he can get his confidence and stuff back.

Mark Montgomery (obligatory)

I know the Yankees have said that they will not call up Montgomery this season, but I think it is an option worth considering.  He has continued to dominate his minor league opposition, and I’m not sure if there is a serious developmental case to be made for keeping him in the minors much longer.  AA hitters simply have no answer for his slider, and he is striking them out in droves.  While there is some obvious risk inherent in calling up a minor leaguer to contribute to a playoff chase (some may fear that getting hit around could ruin him forever, a la Mark Melancon), Montgomery has the talent and upside to be a shutdown guy right away.  I trust that the Yankees know better than me regarding his big league readiness, but the possibility that Montgomery could be a shot in the arm to the Yankee bullpen (a la rookie Joba Chamberlain or Francisco Rodriguez back in the day) is hard to ignore.  Considering the Yankees’ recent bullpen struggles, it seems worthwhile to reconsider the calculus of whether keeping Montgomery down is really the best option.

While a Montgomery callup doesn’t seem forthcoming (though I will continue to dream), returning Phelps to the bullpen could give the Yankees the reliable middle-inning arm that they have been missing since Cory Wade began to struggle.  While Montgomery has the highest upside, Phelps is the safest bet.  Phelps has excelled in the role when called upon this season, and since the Yankees may not want to overwork Chamberlain and Robertson, it makes sense to have another reliable middle relief arm who can pitch to both righties and lefties.  It would be hard to expect much out of Nova or Wade if they were given a relief role, and they would definitely have to impress in their few opportunities to earn their spot.

Of all the problems facing the Yankees this season, the bullpen is probably the least of them.  That said, it has contributed directly to several losses, and the Yankees do have several decent options available that could improve the situation.  I assume when Pettitte and Nova are back, we will start to see some pieces in motion, as the Yankees look to fortify the middle innings.

Categories : Death by Bullpen


  1. blake says:

    Cashman fail by not adding some relief help at the deadline.

    • Ro says:

      I hate these types of comments, the one’s that put the blame on Cashman when he’s done nothing, but give this team all the tools to work with. Futhermore, no one but me wants to point this out, but the whole reason the bullpen is burnt out is because of the offense. In fact, the rotation and bullpen has overall been pretty solid. Every Yankee starter has more wins than loses, which is odd since they are only 18 games above .500. The bullpen hasn’t been terrible. I mean Robertson is like 1-6. Frankly, this team has lost an inordinate amount of 1 run games this year. Almost a bit of an freak thing going back and looking season to season. The Yanks could easily be 90-52 at the moment or more realistically, 85-57. These extra loses are not because the Yanks blew 10-2 leads from a horrific bullpen. It’s because they’ve played almost an impossible amount of 1 runs games that have gone more than 4 or 5 innings. You can’t ask even the best bullpen to go 4-5 innings what almost seems like every day. No. It’s been the offense not being able to push that extra run across. How many games have we seen were the Yanks could have been up 4-1 or 5-0 or better by the 2nd inning but fail to get the runs across. Again, this isn’t Cashman’s fault. The players are there. It’s just been a freakish season where your 1-4 are producing and 2 and 3 are not. Then 2 and 3 start getting hot and 4, 5, 6 can’t hit a watermelon.

      • Rich in NJ says:

        Cashman has not maximized his significant payroll advantage; he has done a terrible job of trading for top of the rotation starting pitchers over the last ten years; and he has not done of good job of overseeing mL development so that it provides a pipeline of quality ML options since he assumed more power in 2006.

        He has, however, been good at getting bullpen options.

        To me, that’s not nearly enough.

        • Jim Is Bored says:

          He’s also been handcuffed by contracts that may have not been his idea.

          • Rich in NJ says:

            That’s true about A-Rod’s contract, but another was Soriano’s, and that contract has saved the season.

            Either way, he still has a ton of money to work with relative to virtually every other GM.

            • Jim Is Bored says:

              Minus the Dodgers, Angels, Rangers and Red Sox.

              I just don’t know what people expected him to do. What front line starter was available for a reasonable trade?

              What big free agent should we have signed that we had room for?

              I’m no Cashman fanboy, but I think he takes an unnecessary amount of flak from people. We’ve missed the playoffs once since the Wild Card era began, and we’re still in the drivers seat for a spot this year. The goal should be get to the playoffs, because once you’re there, shit happens.

        • Ro says:

          How many pitchers (starters) have truly worked out for the receiving team in recent years. Pitchers that could have fit the Yankee mold? Gio Gonzalez is the only one that comes to mind that in hindsight, Cashman could have put something on the table. However, going back to last season, virtually every single person in baseball praised Cashman for the Montero – Pineda trade. Rated it possibly the best deal of the offseason. These things just don’t work out a lot of times. You can’t fault Cashman for not pulling the trigger on a Santana or Jimenez. His restraint will only benefit us. I will however agree with you that I think the Yank organization really needs to look at their pitching teams down in the minors. AAA or AA managers, coaches, etc, because something is going on when you have some highly praised arms and they continue to flame out.

          • Rich in NJ says:

            If baseball people liked the Pineda trade, that’s their problem (I hated it).

            More importantly, the thought process behind the trade was deeply flawed.

            They traded their only ML ready bat with impact potential, despite having an aging lineup with hitters like A-Rod and Teixeira who have been declining (in Tex’s case v. RHP) for a couple of seasons, yet Cashman went into the offseason saying he was willing to trade offense for pitching. That made no sense.

            Young pitchers under the age of 26 are in the so-called injury matrix because they are more vulnerable to injury. In addition, Pineda had had a prior injury, and his spike in FB velo was fairly recent. That made him especially risky.

            I didn’t want Santana or Jimenez either. The point is that if there are no good options available, stand pat or bolster your offense.

            Pitching is way too fragile to leverage most of your money or player personnel assets for.

            • Jim Is Bored says:

              “Pitching is way too fragile to leverage most of your money or player personnel assets for.”

              “he has done a terrible job of trading for top of the rotation starting pitchers over the last ten years”

              Which one is it? You can’t get top of the rotation starting pitchers without leveraging most of your money and/or player personnel.

            • Ro says:

              Rich, you’re making a few fair points here and there, but you’re taking the feasibility of acquiring these pitchers for granted. I was wary about Pineda (not the trade, which I loved, if that makes sense) too, I’ll admit, but Montero was worth nothing to the Yanks this coming season. In fact, they could done exactly as Seattle has, which is shit and I’d argue his value has gone down since. Could Cashman have used Montero for another arm, sure, we can debate that, but saying that the move overall was terrible is very wrong. Montero would have been a 3 day a week player. You don’t really extract value from the #3 prospect in baseball like that.

            • Jim Is Bored says:

              And for the record, I agree, I was against the Montero-Pineda trade. I don’t think Cash is perfect.

              • Robinson Tilapia says:

                So many of the naysayers here automatically assume that we all were for that trade. I’ll never forget my face when the Montero/Pineda trade popped up on my phone.

  2. Better off Eddard says:

    Joba IS the answer and why can’t he be trusted in the 7th inning? Who do you trust more – Joba, Nova, Phelps or Wade? I’ll take Joba. Wade won’t throw a postseason inning. It’ll be interesting to see how they use Nova and Phelps in the pen if they make the postseason. I think Joe only uses Soriano, Robertson, Joba and Logan in close postseason games. With Andy back, 3 of the starters can be trusted over any middle reliever which will shorten the game.

  3. viridiana says:

    Eppley was a nice surprise for awhile. But he’s been awful for some time. I’d guess he’s played a part in threee, four or more losses. Yet Girardi, creature of habit and mindless devotee of experience (even when combined with incompetence), keeps calling his number.
    I agree that Montgomery should get a call. Stakes are high enough and this team desperately needs young blood. Yanks have become almost pathologically cautious in advancing and trusting youngsters.

    • JohnC says:

      Montgomery hasn’t pitched above Double A. What makes you think he’s ready for the pressure of a MLB pennant race?

      • viridiana says:

        He has been totally dominant at every level, fanning over 1.5 batters per inning. It is not unprecedented for players to be promoted out of AA though Yanks only very rarely do it. One example: Albert Belle.

        • Ted Nelson says:

          That something has happened before is not a rational argument it will happen again. Montgomery is not Albert Belle. He is not Melancon. He needs to be analyzed on his own merits

  4. Brian S. says:

    Weakest part of the team IMO

  5. JohnC says:

    Problem with guys like Eppley and Rapada is that they’ve been used far more than expected. That work load is finally catching up with them.

    • Ro says:

      Exactly. And Girardi is not to blame for that either. If you have 87 straight games that are 3-3 in the 8th and 9th, well, what are you supposed to do. This is more on the offense than the bullpen.

  6. Jose M. Vazquez says:

    In the the old days when most pitchers used to complete their games with three days of rest one used to say you could win with good pitching and even poor hitting. Today you might say that you can still win with good pitching but that has to include the middle, late and closer roles. You can still win with all of the latter and poor hitting or average hitting. What you cannot do is win with good hitting and no pitching. I don’t know what Girardi will do for the rest of the season since both Kuroda and Sabbathia have looked tired in their last few starts. However, a fresh Andy Pettitte and Ivan Nova should help to ease the pain.

    • Jose M. Vazquez says:

      May I add that Robertson and Logan have been overworked which does not bode well for the rest of the season. Now it’s up to Joba and Cory to contribute heavily in this enormous effort to get us to the postseason.

      • Ro says:

        All I hope for is that they don’t do any irreversible damage to Robertson. The others, I could care less. D-Rob needs to be that guy setting up the closer going well into the future.

  7. Rich in NJ says:

    They should give Montgomery, Joseph, and Adams a chance. Watching Jones and Ibanez is nauseating.

  8. Gio says:

    4 Phelps pics.

  9. Robert says:

    Call up the kids look at the lift Machado is giving the O’s,Baseball is baseball,call up and play these kids,believe me they will have more expierence going against the rookies Toronto Boston and Minnesota will throw against us in the last weeks of the season than Ibanez and Andrew Jones does!!!!!!

    • Ro says:

      I’ve been saying this for years. That’s my only gripe with the Yanks. They are always too cautious with their young ones. Shit, I would have jammed Banuelos or Betances on this team much sooner. So what, they get crushed. Send them back down for more work. But the whirling around in the minors for 3 years has a far greater impact on their development than “getting their feelings hurt” from have a bad start or two in the majors.

      • Jose M. Vazquez says:

        I agree wholeheartedly with your view.

      • Ted Nelson says:

        Do you follow the Yankees? Do the names Hughes, Joba, Kennedy, Robertson, Melky, Montero… Mean anything to you? They have several of the youngest players at their levels in the whole minors. Development is not abouttreating everyone the same, though. There’s little value in putting most kids in positions you know they’re not ready for, especially when it negatively impacts your bottom line.

    • Billy says:

      Comparing any potential Yankee callup to Machado is ludicrous. Machado was drafted at the top of the draft and has been looked at as a can’t miss prospect ever since. There is a Yankee prospect that can have that kind of impact or even remotely close this year.

    • Ted Nelson says:

      AA basebal and MLB baseball are the same? That is really, seriously the basis of your argument?

  10. DJ4K&Monterowasdinero says:

    Call up the kids? Nah. Mo with the EPIC return!!!

    BTW, is Joba getting wider or are his arms getting shorter? or both?

  11. Better off Eddard says:

    We’re only 3 innings away from getting what we want in the Os-Rays series. We wanted Os 2/3 and the Rays are leading 1-0 in the 7th. We then need to take care of business, win tonight and take 2/3 in the Rays series.

    • Jim Is Bored says:

      At this point I’d be totally OK with the O’s helping to drive a dagger into the Rays. I’m much happier with the wildcard being locked up and fighting for the division rather than fighting for both.

      • Kramerica Industries says:

        Fully agree. I want the O’s to win this game, even if it means the Yankees wake up tomorrow in 2nd place.

        Yankees have to take care of their own business to make it worthwhile.

        • Ro says:

          The O’s have to get on a plane to head west for 6 games. Advantage Yankees for the next 7 games. Btw playing the Rays at home and the O’s on the road out west, this is the week to take their lead back. I’d like to see the Yanks be 3 up by this time next week and it’s certainly realistic.

      • Better off Eddard says:

        And the Os have taken a 2-1 lead on a basehit by Teagarden. Why can’t our backup catcher do that?

      • JLC 776 says:

        I’d rather we drive the dagger ourselves this weekend… I really don’t like the idea of the Orioles sweeping a series against a close rival and building even more momentum.

        Fuck it, on second thought, I don’t care what the Orioles do. We just need to win our games and nothing else. Scoreboard watching will drive you crazy!

    • Kevin says:

      Regardless of who wins, extra innings and taxed bullpens definitely helps the Yankees…..

  12. Hall and Nokes says:

    You can go ahead and start the 2-run homer alert in Baltimore.

  13. Kramerica Industries says:

    Taylor Teagarden.

    Where the hell are these guys coming from?

  14. NYCSPORTZFAN says:

    Hey, i said a million times we shoulden’t keep our season invested in scrap heap pitchers becuase u never know when there gonna resort back to what they have shown to be, which is bad pitchers.. I’m talking about the epply’s, rapadas, garcia’s, logan’s..etc I wanted to get brandoeen n league, and now it looks like he’d of been a big additon. Cashman dosen’t know when to say “we got what we could outta this guy”.. Hes horrible at the “got rid of em a day late instead of a day early senarios”. When u get big rewards outta guys like Andruw Jones, Freddy Garcia, Corey Wade…etc, u don’t keep em untill it becomes a “why’d u bring him back scenario”.. U gotta be smart enough to realize these guys didn’t find the baseball cure, and become studs all of a sudden. We just happened to either get lucky with em or squeeze the last little juice outta em…

  15. Robinson Tilapia says:

    I agree with Mike that this will work itself out once Andy is back and if Nova is ready to go. That Cory Wade looks more like Cory Wade again is of immense help. We’ll see on Joba. I’m hopeful, but I still think anything you get out of him in 2012 is gravy.

    In all seriousness on Montgomery, of course I have nothing against adding him to the 40-man and bringing him up. I just do not believe this is the time to do anything other than get his feet wet, if that.

  16. Hall and Nokes says:

    Remind me why Hellickson came out of this game after 5? Did he have some kind of crazy pitch count?

  17. Tom Zig says:

    Mark Montgomery a.k.a. Monty or maybe Marky(?)…baptism by fire. Let’s do it.

  18. Ted Nelson says:

    Montgomery? Seriously? Not just throw a roster spot at him (which is probably unwise in and of itself, but count on him as a high leverage guy right away coming off a few weeks in AA? This stretch seems to be really getting to you…

    • Ted Nelson says:

      Sorry, thought it was written by Mike, following a run of pretty dark, pessimistic articles. Guess the pennant chase is making everyone a little desperate…

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