Bullpen depth should be a high priority during remainder of offseason

Fan Confidence Poll: December 16th, 2013
Scouting the Free Agent Market: Jesse Crain
Kelley is going to have a much bigger role in 2014. (Jared Wickerham/Getty)
Kelley is going to have a much bigger role in 2014. (Jared Wickerham/Getty)

The Yankees have spent more than $300M so far this offseason, but only a small part (roughly 5%) of that money has gone towards the pitching staff. Specifically, it went to Hiroki Kuroda‘s new $16M deal. That’s it. The other $285M or so has gone towards improving the offense for pretty obvious reasons.

Finding another starting pitcher remains atop the winter agenda at this point, but the Yankees also have to start digging around for reliable bullpen help. The bullpen was pretty average this past season (3.66 ERA and 3.91 FIP), and that was before Mariano Rivera retired and the generally reliable Boone Logan left via free agency. There’s a lot of uncertainty beyond the right-center field wall right now.

“Oh, I [think so],” said Joe Girardi at the Winter Meetings when asked if there are any givens in the bullpen aside from David Robertson. “I think (Shawn) Kelley’s going to be in the bullpen. I think, obviously, (Preston) Claiborne’s going to be in our bullpen. Then you have a mixture of (David) Phelps or (Adam) Warren, depending on if they’re in the rotation, those type of guys. So some of the guys that possibly are competing for rotation spots, the ones that don’t make it are probably going to slide to the bullpen. That’s why it’s hard to tell where everyone’s going to be.”

That’s the bullpen right now. Robertson and Kelley, maybe Claiborne, and whoever doesn’t win a rotation spot. Not exactly promising. Sure, someone like Dellin Betances or Cesar Cabral or Jose Ramirez could emerge as a bullpen force, but a team that just spend $300M+ shouldn’t go into the season counting on those guys to be a factor. Girardi has a skeleton crew behind Robertson at the moment.

“In terms of the bullpen, we need to improve all the options,” said Brian Cashman at the Winter Meetings. “So when people compete in Spring Training for slots in the bullpen, hopefully it’ll be pretty obvious who slots where. There’s nobody I’m anointing as our closer. Let’s put it that way … We’d like to improve if we can. I’m looking to improve our bullpen. I’m looking for guys to come in and compete for that spot.”

Last week we heard the Yankees were in on Joaquin Benoit, who has yet to sign but appears headed to the Indians or Padres. Jen Royle reports Grant Balfour is seeking a three-year deal worth $8M annually (plus a vesting option), which seems very reasonable considering how reliable he’s been the last four or five years. The Yankees were said to have interest in him at one point a few weeks ago. The list of unsigned free agent relievers includes Jose Veras, Scott Downs, Jesse Crain, and Francisco Rodriguez, among others.

Relievers are the riskiest investment in baseball because they’re so very unpredictable, but the Yankees are stuck in a position now where they have to spend some money on bullpen help. The farm system hasn’t provided much help and outside of Kelley, the haven’t really traded for many bullpen arms in recent years. Thanks to the Rivera-Robertson tandem, the team was always able to roll the dice a bit in the middle innings because they knew the final two were locked down.

Unless the Yankees surprise everyone and add two quality starters in the next two months, they’re going to head into next season with a whole lotta question marks in the rotation. That makes the bullpen, especially the middle innings, even more important. The pitching staff as a whole is weakness right now and the bullpen stands out as something that could really derail the team next season if not addressed. The Yankees spent a ton of money to improve the club this winter, but they still have to spend a little more to upgrade the relief corps.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 16th, 2013
Scouting the Free Agent Market: Jesse Crain
  • Theonewhoknocks

    Very interested in Crain and Madson on 1 year pillow deals if they show a clean bill of health.
    Not thrilled about going to 3 years for guys like Rodney/Balfour etc just cause I don’t want to give out long term deals for non elite relievers. But if we can’t get the SP we need then reinforcing the bullpen may be worth an overpay of that nature.

    I think this season the Yankees will lean a lot on AAA arms to gobble pen innings. They have a lot of SP ready for AAA at the moment and at least 3-4 of these guys will end up seeing time in the big league pen this year I think.
    Guys like Phelps, Warren, Nuno, Betances and also Maybe depaula, Banuelos or Mitchell. Time will tell on who steps up but I think the Yankees will end up needing someone to step up, and someone will answer the bell.

  • Aims

    always loved Balfour, he’s a little pricey for a reliever but I would still love to see him in pinstripes

  • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

    I’m against signing a closer for more than one year because I think that forces Robertson into free agency to get a closer’s job somewhere else.

    I’d be much happier with a decent arm, a random arm, and the money used to sign Reynolds to be the 3B/backup 1B.

    • TWTR

      I am against signing a closer because I don’t think it’s a prudent use of what appears to be (relatively) limited ($189m) resources.

  • rogue

    Crain is my fave. Low risk, great reward.

    Outside of Crain, I’d rather see the team go with cheap, unproven youth as opposed to spending money on the next Kyle Farnsworth.

  • SouthPaw429

    I agree with this post 100%.. Let Nunez play 2B exclusively….he did come on at the end of last season. Johnson can play 3B. If we are still shooting for 189, then focus all the remaining money on pitching.
    Ellsbury, Gardner and Nunez causing havoc on the basepaths might be what this team needs.

    • FLYER7

      Want no part of Noonie in the starting 9 let alone on my 25 man roster…

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      I’d rather just play Ellsbury and Gardner extremely shallow and forfeit that side of the infield, other than Jeter.

      What this has to do with the bullpen is beyond me, though.

  • Andrew Brotherton

    I’d go Crain and Veras, I think you could get both for less than Balfour gets for one season. I also think we should take a chance on Joel Hanrahan. Those three have a lot of upside and not a lot of cost

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/roadgeek/ Roadgeek Adam

      Veras seems likely back to Houston if you ask me.

      I would definitely be on the list for Joel Hanrahan (hell it would annoy the Red Sox if he does well for us.)

  • vin

    Question marks in the bullpen. Question marks in the rotation. Question marks at 2B and 3B. Cashman is like me… waits till the last possible minute to do his shopping.

    • I’m One

      As long as I get the present I like, I’m fine with that.

  • Oops I Crapped My Pants

    I have been reading a few trade propsals from around the league. One that kind of intrigued me was trading Gardner for Chapman of the Reds.

    It certainly has its ups and downs but he just might be made available and he is under team control for 2 more years.

    What do you think? Would you consider this?

    • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

      I love Grit, but I’d take that in a cocaine heartbeat.

      Of course, I really don’t know shit about baseball, and my opinion is probably worse less than what you paid for it.

      But hell yeah I’d do it.

    • qwerty

      I’d do this deal in a millisecond, and then convert Chapman back into a starter.

  • Medical Quackery
    • Oops I Crapped My Pants

      Say what you like about PEDs, but damn watching Barry Bonds hit was fun. Who else could make 55,000 fans rise in unison with one crack of the bat with such an amazing homerun. DAMN I love watching that swing.

      thanks for posting

    • Yankeefan91

      That was a bomb.

    • handtius

      roids may have helped him, but damn could barry swing a bat. such a thing of beauty.

      • Medical Quackery

        plenty of guys were on the juice…few of them went 30 rows deep in the THIRD DECK at YS2 on a LINE DRIVE

      • RetroRob

        Bonds always had that beautiful swing, and he was the best overall player I’ve seen in 30+ years of watching baseball before he ever took PEDs.

        What happens when you take a maniacally driven, insecure, chip-on-his shoulder, all-time great player and put him on the most advanced PED regimen available during an offensive period? Barry Bonds.

  • Guns

    Absofreakinlutely. Then I’d stick his ass in the starting rotation.

    A+ handle by the way. Top shelf.

    • Guns

      Meant to reply to Oops I Crapped My Pants

  • vin

    Maybe if they threw in Latos.

  • Yankee Parrothead

    I’d like to see us take a shot on Scott Downs. He has been a reliable lefty in the past and he probably wouldnt cost much.

  • Eselquetodolosabe

    Robertson makes me slightly un-easy in the 9th. He was shaky at times, when forced into that role. I know, I know, you guys don’t agree, but just not completely sold on him as a closer. Doesn’t help that he’s following the best closer ever. NY will rely heavily on internal/minor league options for the pen, but they should seriously consider signing a closer type……, just in case.

    • TWTR

      it is possible that every reliever/closer in MLB would be affected by following Rivera. At least Robertson has been here and fully understands what he will face.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    I’m all for some veteran help, especially in establishing a bridge to DRob. I’m more confident in DRob than those of us who are, somewhat understandably, post-Mo-afraid. I’d like for Shawn Kelley to take that next step forward and become the 8th inning guy, but there’s very little track record there, which leads me to fear that he could just as easily take a step back. That’s where a quality reliever willing to pitch the 8th and, yes, that may be able to do even more in case of a DRob explosion, comes into play. It doesn’t have to be a Balfour, or someone exclusively looking for a closer gig. It could be the unexpainably-Astro-lovestricken Jose Veras, for instance.

    I love a good cheap bullpen, but a vet added to the mix would certainly help mitigate some risk.

    • qwerty

      I don’t even think the yankees have enough money left for Tanaka, much less a veteran closer. They’ll have to go with Kelley and Robertson, which is a much weakened bullpen than what they had before, and that’s only if Robertson doesn’t completely implode as a closer. The Ellsbury signing really did them in.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        Why would they not have enough money, other than the 189 plan they’ve basically told the world they’ll scrap for the right player?

        It’s the New York Yankees. If they think you’re worth it, they’ve got the money to pay you.

        • qwerty

          You have heard about the 189 cap right? Look at their current spending pattern. They couldn’t even afford to get Mark Ellis.

  • FLYER7

    Take a flyer on Aceves?

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      We can do better than that.

  • Tim B

    They should work out some guys who are either retired or guys in the minor leagues not associated with MLB or MiLB such as Danny Herrera, Brad Thompson, Zach Braddock & Brad Halsey. Maybe sign these guys to minor league deals for depth. Wouldnt want another injury filled year. That way management can call up some guys with big league experience.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      There will always be depth guys brought in.

  • Marashliani

    What about Eric O’Flaherty? He did some nasty things for Atlanta before his injury. And was extremely overshadowed by Venters and Kimbrel.

    • Frank

      I was about to write the same suggestion. he’s rehabing and due to return to action in May or June. Plus, he’s one of McCann’s closest friends. I’d also suggest Bailey, whose from NJ.

      • Marashliani

        I didn’t even think about the McCann thing. But now that I am, I remember that is why he chose the number 34. You could essentially increase the morale of McCann too by having him around. But, that is one of those non-statistical things. I mean being a yankee is a morale booster in itself, but bring your best friend in and WHAMMY!

    • YankeeParrothead

      Love that idea. O’Flaherty is a stud if healthy. What about a flyer on Jeff Karstens. He could be a 4th starter or a long guy in the pen if needed.

      • qwerty

        Karstens will make big money if he remains a starter in the NL. Why would he take a major pay cut in order to pitch in the bullpen for the yankees?

    • qwerty

      I think he’s re-signing with the Braves.

  • TopChuckie

    I’d give Mark Montgomery a chance in ST. He was once considered the closer of the future, he has the talent. He didn’t pitch badly last season at AAA, just not as great as he had been in years previous. Relief pitching is such a small sample size thing, you never know who will catch lightning in a bottle for a season. Get off to a good start, gain confidence, ride it through 50 innings, one inning at a time.

    • Frank

      Funny how last off season and into ST, Montgomery was all you heard about. And now- cricketts.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      If he’s healthy and looks back to form, he’ll get a shot.

      My hunch, and I have nothing to base this on other than I tend to think of relievers this way, is that he was probably a bit overrated by us going into 2013, and that injury certainly didn’t help things one bit. We shall see.

  • OldYanksFan

    The Yanks are caught between a rock and a hard place and a rock.
    Between ARod’s pending suspension and the $189m cap, the Yanks could go in many different directions… but right NOW, we are stuck at a fork in the road. And on top of that, even if money were no object, there are very few FAs left that are difference makers. As of now, assuming ARod is suspended the entire season, we have around $13m left to get under the cap.

    Scenerio #1) ARod IS suspended the entire season and the Yanks shoot for the $189m
    My guess is all remaining funds go to SP. If they trade Ichiro and pay $3m of his salary, that gives us $16m+, and an outside shot at Tanaka. If we can’t get Tanaka, we probably get one SP and one RP with our remaining funds.

    Scenerio #2) ARod IS suspended 100 games:
    Well, then ARod costs us $10.5 (against the AAV). If the Yanks shoot for the $189m, we are basically done. We could have $2.5m – $5.5m (if Ichiro is traded) to pick up some dregs.

    Scenerio #3) ARod IS suspended 85 games: ARod costs us $13+m and the Yanks will dance around and just squeeze under $189m.

    Scenerio #4) ARod IS suspended less than 85 games:
    Short of trading a non-Ichiro player, the $189m is blown.
    However, even with money to spend, if the Yanks go all out, there is not enough talent left on the FA market to give us a sure-fire top 5 AL team.

    And look at it this way….
    Nobody would be too surprised if Teix bounced back and was a 3.5 – 4 WAR guy.
    Nobody would be too surprised if Teix continued his decline and was a 1.5 – 2 WAR guy.
    Nobody would be too surprised if Jeter bounced back and was a 1.5 – 2 WAR guy.
    Nobody would be too surprised if Jeter was done and was a 0 WAR guy.
    Nobody would be too surprised if Beltran, like last year, was a 2.5 – 3 WAR guy.
    Nobody would be too surprised if Beltran hit the age wall and was a 1 – 1.5 WAR guy.

    So just between good Teix/Jeter/Beltran and bad Teix/Jeter/Beltran, we have a 5 Win swing.

    The bottom line is even with an open checkbook, we still may have an 85 Win team.

    So to my mind, I hope they don’t do anything this year, that compromises the future.
    By next winter, we will know where we stand with ARod, Jeter is probably off the books, Cano is a distant memory, our farm is one year more mature, and there may actually be some tasty SPs on the FA market. 2015 MIGHT produce a strong team… if we don’t fuck it up this year.