Close games and recent workload could make bullpen help a trade deadline priority

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Claiborne has gone from indispensable to a demotion candidate. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Outside of last season, when the Yankees lost Mariano Rivera to the knee injury in early-May, the team has always enjoyed a deep and productive bullpen during the Joe Girardi era. This year is no different, as New York’s relief corps has been solidly above-average with a 3.39 ERA and 3.61 FIP. Their 25.1% strikeout rate and 7.7% walk rate are the second and fifth best marks in baseball, respectively. Girardi’s bullpen has a whole has been very good this year yet again.

The weird thing about bullpen is that its usage depends largely on the game situation. The starting rotation is on a set schedule and while the lineup is tailored to the handedness of the opposing starter, it doesn’t really change throughout the course of a game. Which relievers are used on a given night depends entirely on the score, the inning, the opposing batter, basically everything you have no way of knowing going into the game. Bullpen usage is unpredictable on a day to day basis.

Because the Yankees don’t score many runs and are forced to play in close games night after night, Girardi has had to use David Robertson and Rivera probably more than he would like so far. Robertson is on pace for a career-high 71 appearances while Rivera is on pace for 67 appearances, which would be his most since 2007, the year before Girardi was hired. Both guys have appeared in five of the last eight games and ten of the last 20 games. That’s a lot of work.

Unless the Yankees magically start scoring a bunch more runs, they’re only going to continue playing close games as the division and playoff races get tighter in the second half. That means even more stressful innings for Robertson and Rivera. Shawn Kelley has emerged as a fine seventh inning option (2.05 ERA and 1.89 FIP in 22 innings since May 1st) and Adam Warren has pitched about as well as a long reliever can be expected to pitch, but Joba Chamberlain has been a disaster since coming off the DL and Preston Claiborne has hit a (really) rough path of late. The middle innings are a bit of a mess right now.

So while improving the offense needs to be priorities one, two, and the three leading up to the deadline, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Yankees to seek out a late-inning reliever type to partner with Robertson and Rivera, just to lighten the load down the stretch. The team’s internal options right now aren’t all that great:

  • RHP Mark Montgomery: Currently on the Triple-A DL with a shoulder problem. He was dealing with Kevin Whelan Syndrome when healthy anyway. Disappointing year.
  • RHP Chase Whitley: Has a 4.22 ERA and 3.20 FIP while repeating Triple-A. Middle reliever type more than a high-leverage guy.
  • RHP Matt Daley: Has a 1.57 ERA and 2.02 FIP across three minor league levels after missing most of 2011 and all of 2012 following shoulder surgery. Another middle reliever type.
  • RHP David Herndon: Rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and expected to be ready sometime later this month or early-August. Ken Rosenthal says Herndon has been up to 94 mph recently. He was a middle reliever with the Phillies.
  • RHP Dellin Betances: He’s been killing it as a reliever — 2.27 ERA and 1.93 FIP in 31.2 innings — since making the switch in early-May. Easily the best bullpen option at this very moment.

When Betances is your best internal option for a late-inning bullpen arm, it’s probably best to see what’s available on the trade market. I supposed the Yankees could stick either Phil Hughes or Michael Pineda in the bullpen (with the other staying in the rotation), but that seems very unlikely at this point.

Trading for bullpen help is a very risky proposition because of the volatility of the position, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil. The Yankees aren’t at that point yet. Finding a running mate for Robertson and Rivera is just something that is on the radar and not imperative at the moment. They should keep an ear to the bullpen market ground to see if a 2010 Kerry Wood-type (Matt Thornton?) becomes available in the coming weeks, but that’s something they do all the time anyway.

The Yankees aren’t desperate for bullpen help like some of their competitors — the Red Sox and Tigers, specifically — but I don’t think they should be completely comfortable with their reliever situation either. Joba seems likely to be traded before the end of the month and Kelley is a bit too homer prone to be fully trusted in the late innings of close games. No one knows what to expect from Claiborne. There’s some uncertainty there beyond Robertson and Rivera, which is a little scary given their recent workload and the sheer number of close games this team plays.


  1. trr says:

    Betances, eh? Certainly intriguing. A move to the bullpen has worked for many others in the past.

  2. Gonzo says:

    I am curious to see how the bullpen market shapes out this year. The early word was that there were going to be a lack of sellers in the market. That seems to be evening out, but I wonder what the pricetag is going to be on these guys.

  3. LK says:

    Personally, it’s hard to imagine they’d find a better option than Betances without giving up anything of value. Plus he’s out of options next year so he’d need to be on the team from day one – it’s pretty imperative they let him at least get his feet wet this season.

    • Gonzo says:

      But is giving up something of value worth it to this team? Presumably, they’d get someone they could use in leverage situations, hopefully. I don’t think you could say the same about Betances right away.

      • Robinson Tilapia says:

        I would love it if a Kerry Wood fell on our laps again. I don’t think we can count on that, though.

        There’s imperfect options on the team. We’re talking about the 7th and potential spelling Mo and D-Rob. You can try and see if Presto recovers, If Kelley can be more K-elley than HR-Kelley, etc. Certainly guys with potential who may not be at their full potential yet.

        A lot of needs. Some will have to be addressed internally.

        • Gonzo says:

          I’m not expecting a Kerry Wood for Shive and Cusick deal. I meant dealing something more valuable than that.

          • Robinson Tilapia says:

            Probably a difficult hypothetical to answer, but who would/should be on the table for a 7th/8th inning type?

            Agreed that I’d probably be willing to go higher than two org guys, but how much prospect shine should be on the table?

            • Gonzo says:

              The way it’s worded by LK and myself, it’s really anything of value. I’m assuming that means anybody with a (fair?) shot at reaching the bigs.

              That is the question though. How much shine for what kind of a return. I was curious if LK meant to go with Betances regardless of what’s available.

      • LK says:

        In a vacuum, you might be right, but if they’re giving up value to acquire pieces it needs to be for the offense. Bullpen arms cost less than position players, but the current set of position players is so bad that I have to believe upgrades can be had cheaply.

        • Gonzo says:

          I can’t fault you for placing priority in the offense over the bullpen. As always, it will probably come down to the pricetag.

          • OhioYanks says:

            Agreed. There are some elite RPs who will cost you, but most RPs are really cheap at the deadline. I don’t know if there’s a cheap upgrade out there, but there certainly might be.

  4. SRB says:

    Joba, Nunez, and Hughes or Nova for a corner outfielder/right handed bat?

    • Wolfgang's Fault says:

      The only one of those four I’d consider dealing is Hughes & him only if it gave me a quality player who’d be useful immediately such as a catcher or if dealing him bought the club cap space to make a run at signing a big Int’l FA (read that Rafael Devers if the Bosox haven’t inked him yet). I wouldn’t start looking around for 7th inning relief help until I was sure Joba couldn’t do it, & unlike you & many others, that hasn’t been made clear to me at all. In fact, I still see Joba as the guy who steps up in the second half and reestablishes himself as a dominating arm that Girardi trusts in his bullpen rotation. I’d really hate to deal him for little or nothing just to see his career resurrected somewhere else when that could/should happen here. I’d rather have him as an option than any/all of Kelly/Claiborne/Betances.

      Nova just pitched his first complete game & this club is in need of young starting pitching w/upside. Nova is all that. He’s got a live arm that he can dial up to 95+, a nice assortment of secondary pitches & good movement on all of them. He also has a nice off-speed/changeup that he shows that looks like it could become a plus pitch for him. Most significantly, he looks like he’s getting comfortable & used to the idea of being a big leaguer & appears to be maturing as a pitcher. IMO, this guy has bigtime upside & could become a solid anchor type #2 or 3 pitcher on your staff for years to come. Unless I was overwhelmed, I’d hold on tight to him; he’s a keeper.

      Why deal Nunez when we don’t even know what we’ve got yet w/him? He’s had a lost first half due to getting drilled hard twice in the ribs, cold damp weather, & a bad injury, but hey, stuff happens. Nunez is talented enough to become a quality major league shortstop & solid right-handed hitter. The question is will he be all that in the Bronx? I believe he will be. It can’t be easy being a potential heir to Jeter at short. Too much to live up to & you’re constantly being compared to a future HOF’er. It probably takes a while to deal w/it. I’d hold onto him, let him play his way back into shape, & see what type of second half he puts together. Of course, w/Jeter & A-Rod getting close to being back, we’ll have to see how healthy they are & how that effects Nunez role w/the club. Lots of sub-plots after the A/S break.

  5. Robinson Tilapia says:

    I’d like to see what Pineda looks like in the majors before moving Hughes to the bullpen. Not that I’m joining the “YOU R DOING TEH RUIN 2 HIM” crowd or anything, but I’d really rather them just fucking start Pineda……for purely superstitious reasons. Yeah, that’s it.

    Local boy flags fly forever. Dellin to teh 7th!

  6. ExitCashman says:

    The Cardinals just released Ty Wigginton. As tempting as it will be for our FO to add another piece to the dung pile:
    He’s done, toast, caput, finished. And Michael Young is not far away.

    • Robinson Tilapia says:

      You somehow just gave a backhanded endorsement of Wigginton by mentioning Young, though.

      All Wigginton would have to be is an upgrade over Ishakawa and cost less than Young.

      • ExitCashman says:

        No, they all suck, along with your reading comprehension skills.

      • trr says:

        Still…Young is the way to go.
        Still SMH over Travis Ishikawa.

        • Robinson Tilapia says:

          I asked you this in another thread, but probably too late for you to read, but why are you this upset over picking someone off the scrap heap? There’s no risk involved and it doesn’t stop the team from pursuing other players.

          • LK says:

            Not trr, but I tend to take issue with the notion that there’s “no risk” in a move. There’s always risk, even if the guy was technically free to acquire and doesn’t block future moves. The risk is that the guy sucks so bad he actively loses you games.

            By the way, this was just a philosophical reply. I’m fine with Ishikawa given the current (lack of) position player talent on the 25-man.

            • Robinson Tilapia says:

              We can say “low risk.” That’s fine.

              At the end of the day, and I say this without having an answer myself, what wound up being the impact of Ben Francisco?

              • LK says:

                Hard to say without knowing what they would’ve done if they never carried Francisco. I will say this though – it would be difficult for it to be worse, whatever it is.

        • Shittyshittybangbang says:

          Travis looked “glazed” like a donut. Felt bad for the dude. Doubt he gets another shot. Years later – “hey ishi, heard you played for Yankees, how long and what were your numbers ?” Eyes get watery, puts head down and mutters, “don’t wanna fucking talk about it !” “No worries, I’ll just look it up” – “do, and I’ll remove your spleen !”

  7. Brian S. says:

    lol at giving up assets for a relief pitcher. The Yankees have quality relievers up the ass; hard to improve upon Logan and Clairborne’s low 2 ERAs and Kelley has been well above average since May.

    • Brian S. says:

      If anything they should see what they can get for Logan, Joba, and Robertson since they aren’t competing this year anyways.

      • Robinson Tilapia says:

        Oh, come on. You know better than that.

        I’ll playing along, though: If someone wants to treat Robertson like they’re acquiring an elite closer, they can make an offer. Otherwise, he’s a rather important part of this team this season and, hopefully, for the next ten.

        • LK says:

          I love Robertson, but if they can get a good bat for him, they need to be all over that. They probably can’t, though.

        • Brian S. says:

          I truly do believe that the Yankees can compete without Robertson and CC next year. I guess I’m the only one though.

          • Robinson Tilapia says:

            I was more referring to your saying they’re not competing this year. Look at the standings. They’re competing right now. Think what you will about the future, and you’re entitled to your opinion, but they’re in a tight division where worst could be first before it’s all said and done.

            I don’t think what you’re saying isn’t plausible. It would just take extreme best case scenarios for the haul they’d get for either, and how that haul would perform next year…..along with using available money well. I wouldn’t put money on it. Would you?

    • Crime Dog says:

      I REALLY don’t think that the club is looking at giving up assets for a reliever. I think its more of the thinking that if one came along cheaply who would add value, they would jump. I still think its priority number 3 or 4.

  8. Brian S. says:

    I didn’t even know that we had Matt Daley and David Herndon. Cashman is doing a good job acquiring and drafting relief pitchers so that we don’t have to spend big money on them ever again.

  9. lee says:

    Claiborne’s problem would seem to be more in the way Girardi is using/not using him. all three of his bad outings (2+ runs allowed) have been on 4+ days off. when he’s used with 0-3 days rest, his ERA is 0.75. and as the “7th inning guy” his ERA is 0.00.

    • Robinson Tilapia says:

      That’s the life of a middle reliever, though. He’s going to have to get used to that.

      • lee says:

        well, that depends on how Girardi chooses to use him. go back and look at David Robertson’s game log from his first year — much of his 5.34 ERA was due to sporadic use. next year he was used much more consistently, rarely with more than 3 days off, and his ERA dropped to 3.30. and it’s been dropping ever since.

        my point is simply let’s not be too quick to write off Claiborne because of how he does when not used regularly.

        • Robinson Tilapia says:

          How much of D-Rob’s improvement do we feel as due to simply developing as a young pitcher, though and, therefore, how much was his increased role the following season related to his earning it through performance?

          I remember Robertson riding the Scranton Shuttle a lot his first season.

          I get the logic behind your point, and am not saying you are wrong in the least, but low-leverage guys pitch less frequently, and young relievers often enter the majors as low-leverage guys until they earn a bigger role.

        • Preston says:

          Let’s definitely not write off Claiborne, even if he doesn’t continue on as the 7th inning guy the rest of the season he’s going to be in the mix next season and going forward.

          • Robinson Tilapia says:

            Absolutely, and I certainly wasn’t trying to write him off there. I hope he continues to improve and makes the adjustments he needs to make. It’s never easy.

  10. YankeeGrunt says:

    Whitley was coming back from an early-season injury. His last three outings have been scoreless multi-inning appearances, 2 H in 7 combined IP. Yeah he’s more of a 6th or 7th inning guy than a setup man or closer type but he’s better than his season stats.

    • LK says:

      There’s also the fact that all they really need is a 6th or 7th inning guy.

    • Tom K says:

      Yep – and “repeating Triple-A” is only relevant if you are doing so because of ineffectiveness. That isn’t the case with Whitley, who pitched very well in Triple-A last year. Whitley would probably be in a major league bullpen right now if not for his injury (and if the organization he played for wasn’t so deep in right-handed relievers)

      Oh, and I really do not like going after relief pitchers on the trade market.

  11. Crime Dog says:

    I’m all for trying Warren in some semi-high leverage spots. He’s looked pretty good this year, and he can at least clean up in some of those games where the team is down a couple runs instead of only fulfilling the strict “long reliever” role. Unless a reliever is an addition in a trade for a bat, I don’t see the team going after a reliever. Phelps could be some help out there as well if he returns from the DL healthy.

  12. Andy says:

    Where have u gone Martin colon ibanez

  13. Robinson Tilapia says:

    The very prolific Mike Axisa today.

  14. Mikhel says:

    Isn’t JoeG’s teams underperformance in batting and overusage in pitching kind of like their trademark?

    2000-2006: Once had an OBP below 0.353; twice below 0.270 AVG; once a wOBA below 0.350

    2007-2013: 5 times had an OBP below 0.353; twice ABOVE 0.270 AVG (the last three below 0.270 AVG); twice a wOBA above 0.350.

    2000-2006: Once in 7 full their pitching staff worked 600+ games (counting the 162 starts).

    2007-2012: Once in 6 full seasons their pitching staff worked LESS than 600 games (592 in 2010).

    • Preston says:

      Offense is down league wide, that has nothing to do with Girardi (and it was Joe T not Joe G managing in 2007). And I think that the games stat actually means the opposite of what you think it means. There are the same number of innings pitched (roughly) every season. More pitchers making appearances in those innings means relievers are throwing fewer innings per appearance.

  15. mick taylor says:

    ty wiggington was released today. he has to be a better option than ishikawa. why not sign him

  16. Preston says:

    I think the bullpen is fine as is. We can bring up some young guys to try and plug in the middle relief. But honestly who would we be looking for that has more talent and a better track record than Joba? Let him get some rest at the ASB and come back and see if he can put together a better second half. Betances seems big league ready now, and hopefully Montgomery comes back and could be a nice addition as well. And honestly if we make the post-season we get to throw one of Phelps/Hughes out of the pen, and possibly Pineda too.

    • OhioYanks says:

      I agree it’s not a priority, but it’s always possible that some cheap upgrade is out there when it comes to RPs.

      More as a September call-up than stretch-run impact guy, but Ramirez is another guy who could give them a few innings from the pen.

      • Preston says:

        I’m always down to pick up the Clay Rapada, Cody Eppley marginal upgrade types. I just don’t want to trade for a set-up/closer type guy in order to get a “shutdown” 7th inning guy.

      • Preston says:

        And moving Jose Ramirez to the pen would irreprably damage his development and cause years of ongoing debate about how the Yankees ruined him as a starter. Or is that just Joba?

  17. Dicka24 says:

    I’d say Phelps will go to the pen should he return from the DL. That will certainly be a boost should it happen.

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