The Future of the Bullpen

Prospect Profile: Rafael DePaula
Yankees to field second Gulf Coast League affiliate in 2013
(Rob Carr/Getty)

Much has been made of the 2014 payroll plan, specifically how the Yankees will plug numerous rotation and lineup holes in the next 14 months or so while trimming payroll. The combination of one-year contracts signed this winter and impending free agencies mean the team could be looking to fill as many as three rotation spots and six everyday lineup spots. It’s a daunting task, and yet we all seem to be overlooking the bullpen.

Right now, the Yankees are projected to open 2013 with four relievers who will qualify for free agency after the season: Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, and David Aardsma. That leaves David Robertson (due to hit free agency after 2014), Clay Rapada, and the long-man (Ivan Nova? David Phelps?) as the hold-overs heading into 2014. Cody Eppley deserves a mention here as well. Standard disclaimer: bullpens have a very high turnover rate and the club’s relief corps will look very different 12 weeks from now, nevermind 12 months.

The Yankees do have some nice relief depth scheduled to open the season in Triple-A, guys we figure to see next year at some point. Right-hander David Herndon, who spent the last few seasons with the Phillies, signed a minor league contract and is due to return from Tommy John surgery at midseason. Right-hander Chase Whitley (3.25 ERA and 3.70 FIP) threw 80.1 innings in Triple-A this past season and figures to be among the first called up whenever an arm is needed. Adam Warren will start the year in the Triple-A rotation but is likely to wind up in the bullpen long-term. The same is probably true for Dellin Betances as well. Left-hander and 2011 Rule 5 Draft pick Cesar Cabral will get a long look in Spring Training next year and could carve out a role with the team.

A little further down is right-hander Mark Montgomery, the team’s very best relief prospect. He’s a strikeout machine (career 14.6 K/9 and 40.0 K%) who will open the year in Double-A and earn a promotion before long. Left-hander Francisco Rondon was added to the 40-man roster after the season, so the team obviously thinks he can help them sooner rather than later. Non-40-man right-hander Graham Stoneburner could work his way into the mix as well. Right-handers Branden Pinder and Tommy Kahnle will start the year in Double-A with a chance to pitch there way into big league consideration down the line. Danny Burawa is coming off a lost season (rib injury) and the team liked him enough to invite him to big league camp this past year.

Prospects, especially bullpen prospects, have a high rate of attrition. Not all of these guys are going to work out, and in fact I’d be thrilled if three of them turned into legitimate big league options for New York. Some will be traded, some will get hurt, some will stink for no apparent reason. It happens. The Yankees do have plenty of inventory though, which is pretty much the only thing the team can control. They’ve also been aggressive with scrap heap pickups in recent years, plucking guys off waivers or signing them to minor league contracts, and that doesn’t figure to change. Outside of Rivera and Rafael Soriano, the club has had fielding a cheap and effective bullpen during the Joe Girardi era.

Despite that, I wouldn’t expect the Yankees to replace Mo, Joba, Logan, and Aardsma with only prospects or scrap heap pickups next year. If things play out like that and there are four bullpen holes to be filled, you can bet they’ll venture out into the free agent market for an arm or two. Here’s the list of free agents for next winter, and right now guys like Grant Balfour, Matt Belisle, and Eric O’Flaherty jump out as potential targets. Again, a whole lot can and will change before next offseason rolls around. I’m just looking ahead and thinking out loud here.

The rotation and lineup holes are going to draw a lot of attention (and posts) heading into 2014 given the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold, but we shouldn’t forget about the bullpen. The Yankees could have a lot of holes to fill beyond the right-center field wall as well, though the difference is that their internal relief solutions are far better (and more plentiful) than their in-house rotation and position player options right now. Given the inherent volatility of relievers, having depth and plenty of options to sort through is the best and most cost effective way to build a bullpen unit. The same can’t be said for starters and position players.

Prospect Profile: Rafael DePaula
Yankees to field second Gulf Coast League affiliate in 2013
  • Yankees Insider

    Montgomery will come up if someone gets injured or when they release David Aardsma because they’ll realize he had two solid 30 save seasons but the missing fact is he had 17 blown saves during that span. Also I would’ve liked to hear more about KAHNLE because I know he can hit 100 MPH easily and can go higher at times.

    • Captain

      well its a good thing Aardsma isn’t expected to be the closer for this team huh?

    • MannyGeee

      you know who else threw the ball really really hard? Kyle Farnsworth. Don’t let the lights from the radar gun cloud your judgement.

      I’ll take the results that Aardsma might provide as a 7th inning guy, thanks.

      • Ted Nelson

        If Kahnle is as successful as Farnsworth, that would be a huge win for the Yankees.

    • Laz

      Are we talking about the same player?

      according to this link he has had only 14 blown saves in his entire career. It is actually only 9 bs in the 2 year span, only 2 more than Mariano in the same years.

    • DC


    • LK

      Can we please not evaluate relievers based on saves and blown saves?

  • dan


    You seem pretty confident that Montgomery will start the year in double-A, and I’m wondering why that is. I don’t think he has a whole lot of learning to do, might as well put him in AAA so he can help the big league team by mid-season. Do you think relief prospects need more than 30 innings at any level if they’ve shown they can thoroughly dominate that level? I really don’t think so.

    What I’m saying is…if they put him back in double-A, he’ll probably have like 15 k/9, 2.5 bb/9, and not learn anything about getting more advanced hitters out.

    • Mike Axisa

      I think 40 or so innings at a level is appropriate for a relief arm. Half a season or so.

  • entonces

    Extend Joba.

    • turd surfer

      Joba has a choice in the matter too.

    • Matt DiBari

      After six (gonna be seven) years of mediocrity, disappointment, injury and fat, I’m so ready to finally turn the page on the Hughes and Chamberlain era. Quite a fall from two front line starters.

      • MannyGeee

        bold statement. They can’t all be Strasburg, you know.

        • Matt DiBari

          One is a right handed middle reliever and the other is homer happy innings eater that doesn’t really eat all that many innings.

          I mean yeah, I’m sure I’m over stating it, but you would have hoped at least one of them would have taken a step forward in six years.

          • Scardino

            Hughes can be/is a solid 4,5 on an elite team with only 2 full seasons of starting at the big league level. Joba is a back end reliever with monster stuff who could be the future relief ace of this team when MO leaves. Neither will reach the potential that we thought they had, it’s too late for that, but i’ll be happy with two solid big leaguers who can contribute for a long time.

          • Ted Nelson

            The majority of prospects aren’t going to make it, especially Ps.

      • Mike HC

        I definitely get what you are saying. But it is also possible that the Yanks would have put up with all the growing pains of learning how to be a professional only to have another team reap the all benefits. Either way, hopefully both of them put together career years next season.

    • MannyGeee

      You mean, Joba to teh rotation, right? eliminates the logjam!

      • dan

        But then they have nobody to be the 6th and 7th inning matchup guy. No team has ever one the world series without a dominant matchup guy.

        • Laz

          That’s a pretty bold statement.

  • OldYanksFan

    The Yankees have 4 players signed for 2014, at a cost of $75.125m (which includes $3m for Jeter).
    They have up to 8 players due ARB raises.
    The only FAs they might resign are Cano, Hughes and Joba.
    They have under $100m for 21 players.
    If they resign Cano, they will have under $80m for 20 players.

    Filling out the roster will be easy, because regardless of what they do, the will not field a PS team. So they presure is off.

    I’m fine with thm rebuilding.
    I am more concerned with 2015 and beyond, they 2014.

    • Scardino

      Well that’s fair to Jeter,MO, and Pettitte…We’ve got these guys for 2, maybe 3 years – they’ve all contributed to the one of the most dominant runs in the history of the game, let them go try and get one more ring for the other hand.

      • OldYanksFan

        Mo and Andy are playing in 2014?
        And it’s not a question of fair, it’s a question of reality.
        I’m not sure we can field a winner this year, with over $200m to spend. In 2014, we don’t have any position players on the farm who will really be ready to play, Grandy is gone, Cano may be gone, I’m assuming Mo, Andy and Kuroda are gone, Gritner and DRob will be in for big raises, and ARod, Teix and Jeter are another year older.

        I mean, I hope they can compete in 2014 (within the $189 budget)…. I just don’t see how.

        • Need Pitching & Hitting

          It’s possible, but a whole lot of things would have to go right for it to happen.

    • Ted Nelson

      “Filling out the roster will be easy, because regardless of what they do, the will not field a PS team. So they presure is off.”


  • Ted Nelson

    Trying to figure out the 2014 roster now is pretty pointless, IMO. Some spots that appear to be holes now will probably be filled by then, and some spots that appear to be solid will probably become holes. I know the off-season impatience and lust for big names starts at the top on this blog, but we still don’t know what the 2013 team will even look like. We don’t know what in-season moves will be made. And we don’t know how the season will go for various players and prospects. With the rotation, for example, they might have 5 holes if CC were to get hurt and Nova and Phelps were to struggle. Or they might have one hole with several options to fill it if Nova bounces back, Phelps is solid, and Pineda moves towards a successful comeback (internally Banuelos, Warren, Marshall, Betances, maybe Turley could be options for the last spot).

    If they’re serious about $189, I think the Yankees have to be very price-conscious in the BP. And with a combination of smarts and luck, I think they can do that and put together a solid pen. As you point out, there are tons of internal options. And you never know when you’ll find the next Wade, Logan, Eppley, or Rapada.