Bullpen beginning to take shape in final days of Spring Training

Yankees announce new amenities and concessions at Yankee Stadium
Spring Training Game Thread: Tune-Up
Numero Nuno. (Presswire)
Numero Nuno. (Presswire)

At the outset of Spring Training, only three spots in the bullpen were truly set. David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, and Matt Thornton were not just locks to make the team, but locks to be Joe Girardi‘s primary late-inning trio at the start of the regular season. Penciling David Phelps or Adam Warren into a spot was a safe bet, but far from a sure thing. We had no idea what Michael Pineda would look like in camp and a trade to address the infield was always possible.

Fast forward a few weeks to today and the bullpen picture is much clearer. Pineda looks healthy and he pitched well during Grapefruit League play, earning the fifth starter spot. That pushed both Phelps and Warren into the bullpen after Girardi confirmed they were all but guaranteed to make the team in some capacity. They will not necessarily be pigeonholed into a long relief role either. Both guys could serve as one-inning setup relievers if their performance warrants the responsibility.

Dellin Betances really seemed to find himself after being moved to the bullpen with Triple-A Scranton last year and he’s carried his success over into Spring Training. Based on how willing he’s been to use his curveball in any count, he also seems to have more faith in his breaking ball than ever before. Betances has all but locked up a bullpen job. Preston Claiborne, on the other hand, has pitched himself out of Opening Day roster consideration. He wasn’t particularly good in the second half last year and he’s been dreadful this spring.

So, just like that, six of the seven bullpen spots are full. Well, it’s not official yet, but c’mon. Vidal Nuno and five veteran non-roster players — Chris Leroux, Matt Daley, Jim Miller, David Herndon, Yoshinori Tateyama — have pitched very well in camp, though my hunch is Tateyama (a trick pitch righty specialist) has no chance of making the club. Fred Lewis generated some buzz but seven of the 18 lefties he’s faced in camp have reached base. That’s probably not going to win him a spot. I think he’s this year’s Claiborne in the sense that he put himself in position for a midseason callup. That’s all. For what it’s worth, a second lefty is a priority but not a necessity.

“I mean, we always want to have two lefties,” said Brian Cashman to Brendan Kuty. “No question about that. So our manager, especially, likes to do the match ups. So I think the way he runs the late-inning situations, two lefties are in theory a mandatory interest for us. It might not work out that way, but it’s something we will definitely shoot to have.”


We’ve reached the point of the spring where the regular relievers are pitching on back-to-back days in preparation for the season, and so far Daley is the only one of the non-roster veterans to do that. This late in camp, that is kinda telling. Herndon can reportedly opt out of his contract on Sunday and while that could influence the bullpen decision, I doubt it would be the deciding factor. Leroux has been impressive and he is reportedly working with a new two-seamer, so there might be some tangible evidence for that success. Miller is said to be working on a new slider as well, so the same applies to him.

Actions speak louder than words and the Yankees used have Daley differently than their other bullpen candidates. To be fair, Nuno has not had a chance to work like a normal reliever because he’s been been competing for a rotation spot, but compared to guys like Herndon and Leroux, Daley is getting preferential treatment. He’s worked back-to-back games and he’s seen more action against big league caliber competition according to Baseball Reference’s opponent quality numbers. That’s how a team handles a pitcher they are leaning towards carrying when the regular season begins.

Girardi said the final bullpen announcement will come either today or tomorrow at the latest — “These guys do have to pack for a road trip on Saturday. Probably help them if we could make it by Friday,” he said to Chad Jennings — so we’ll have an answer soon enough. Robertson, Kelley, Thornton, Phelps, Warren, and Betances are locked into place and I would be surprised if someone other than Daley or Nuno got the final spot. Since Nuno is stretched out, he could wind up in Triple-A as the sixth starter. Either way, that last bullpen spot figures to be a revolving door this summer. It always is. For now, the Opening Day relief unit appears to be set.

Update: Lewis. Leroux, Claiborne, Miller, Herndon, Tateyama, and Danny Burawa were all sent to minor league camp this morning, the team announced. The competition for the final two bullpen spots is officially down to Betances, Nuno, Daley, Shane Greene, and Cesar Cabral.

Yankees announce new amenities and concessions at Yankee Stadium
Spring Training Game Thread: Tune-Up
  • Need Pitching & Hitting

    Are Burawa and Greene still in camp?

    Not that either is very likely to make it.

  • MB923

    My guess is Betances is 1 and the other one would be Cabral or Nuno (could use another lefty in the pen)

    • jsbrendog

      i’d like to finally see cabral get a shot if he is healthy.

      it makes no sense ot put your 6tha nd 7th starter both in the pen though so i dont see nuno making it.

      • mitch

        I actually like that both Phelps and Warren are in the pen. Having a couple different guys capable of pitching multiple innings makes it a little easier to carry a specialist like Cabral.

        • jsbrendog

          well warren prob wouldnt be the 7th starter i would guess. wouldnt he be behind nuno so he would be in the pen from the start anyway?

          so i meant it makes little to no sense to have both nuno and phelps in the pen. who starts then when someone gets hurt or a double header or a rainout etc?

          • Bruce “Someone Got Hurt” Billings


    • RetroRob

      Oddly, if they have a belief and an interest in Nuno, they’ll send him down to AAA. They are going to need a 6th starter, and the bullpen arms are never stretched out enough to fill those roles, plus it takes them out of action for four of five days. The sixth starter should be in AAA with an all-you-can-use bus pass from Scranton to the Bronx!

      • Yankee$

        I agree with you buddy. I like Nuno stretched out in AAA. I also think, even though he’s 27, more time in AAA wouldn’t hurt. I think they may have tipped off that they are going to DFA Claiborne the other day when Cashman said something like his stuff is not the same as last year. They are probably just waiting to see if any options (minor trades) manifest but I believe they will DFA Claiborne and carry Daley.

  • CountryClub

    Per Jennings, Burawa just got sent down too.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    So it’s basically Daley, Cabral, and Nuno for the last spot. I don’t think there’s a chance in hell Greene gets in there. They’re not going to jump him over all these guys to be the last guy in the bullpen. Their energies on him are much best spent elsewhere.

    Heart is torn between Stairs and Daley. Head says Cabral, unless they find a good way to open up a 40-man for Daley. Nuno’s better off stretched out in AAA as your defacto sixth starter.

    • I’m One

      I’m thinking just slightly differently than you, in that my head says it’s Daley (due to experience) and my heart says Cabral. I think the Yankees will find a way to open a 40-man slot for him.

      • lightSABR

        There’s not a ton of reason right now to let Claiborne keep a 40-man spot, so a DFA there could solve the problem quickly.

        Which is too bad. I like the guy, and his streak of walk-less innings last summer was pretty cool, but what evidence do we have that he can put it back together at this point? And even if he did, it’s not like we don’t have other pitchers around with equal or better upside who are performing better right now.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          The question is whether the franchise has lost enough faith in him where allowing him to be claimed by another team is something they’re fine with. I believe he gets scooped up pretty quickly if placed on waivers. Still young. Some small success. Someone will have an opening and be sufficiently intrigued by his stuff. He’s someone’s Cody Eppley.

          I honestly don’t think I’d DFA him. I’m much more fine with optioning him down and seeing what can be fixed.

          • TWTR

            Unless they think his stuff is irreclaimable, I wouldn’t DFA him either.

            • Jorge Steinbrenner

              Hard to think they’d believe that, but who knows. Maybe they find him to be really fungible, and he may be in the end. Still feels slightly premature.

          • lightSABR

            Well, he’s 26. I guess that counts as young for the Yankees.

            Otherwise, point taken. It’d be nice to see a couple more months of work out of him in AAA before deciding whether to DFA. What to do with the roster spot problem, then? Keep praying for an Ichiro salary relief trade?

            • Bruce “Someone Got Hurt” Billings

              Turley 60-day DL seems like the best possibility for anyone not named Nik Turley.

              I wouldn’t cut Flores or Cabral either just to make Daley fit. Don’t even think I’d cut Anna with our infield situation the way it is. In the end, we’re better off leaving The Man Who Relieved Mo to wait his turn in Scranton, which probably involves Brian Roberts in the next 20 seconds.

              I guess there’s a catcher or Ichiro trade out there but, again, I really like Matt Daley, but he’s Matt Daley.

              • Jorge Steinbrenner

                Screen name fail. :)

              • lightSABR

                Wait – Turley’s a 60-day DL candidate? I had no idea his injury was that bad.

                Maybe Cabral just gets the spot, and then we don’t have a 40-man issue.

  • DERP

    I really hope am hoping that Betances has figured this out and is able to contribute this year.

    Also, it looks like Tommy Kahnle has a decent shot to make the pen in Colorado. Good for him.

    • The Great Gonzo

      BOLD PREDICTION: Betances works himself into the set-up man role by July.

      • http://www.draftstreet.com/register.aspx?r=Jedile Jedile

        I like this prediction, and I second it. I was just thinking Betances and Drob secure the 8th and 9th! Maybe they can be like Wetteland and Rivera!

        • I’m One

          You mean the Yankees are going to let DRob walk after the season and Bentances will become our closer next season followed by 15+ additional HOF years? I’d take that. :-)

          • RetroRob

            No, no. That will be Jose Ramirez!

      • Jorge Steinbrenner



        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          That’s not a knock on Shawn Kelley. It’s an endorsement of Dellin Betances.

          • lightSABR

            He’s been a lot of fun to watch this spring. I hope he keeps it up.

            • The Great Gonzo

              Extremely valid. Its a good spring when you spend $150M+ on a potential ace, and his progression is being overshadowed (to a certain extent) by a stud reliever and a stud 5th starter in Pineda.

              Not a knock on Tanaka, but its a good problem to have.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      He still has to stay in their pen all year, though, in order to fully stick there.

  • Pinedamaybegreata (formerly Monterowasdinero)

    If Tanaka could only teach that split finger to one of our bullpen righties….

    • Wilson

      “that’s like asking Pavarotti to teach me to sing like him”
      – George Costanza

  • Kosmo

    Daley, Cabral or Nuno. My money is on Daley although it would require a roster cut.
    The Angels cut Blanton who is owed 8.5 million this season would the Yanks be tempted to do the same with Ichiro?

    This could turn out to be a fun 2 days of roster cuts and possible trades. Or not.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      You can hide Ichiro much better than you can hide Blanton. There’s very little reason to do that.

    • jsbrendog

      i was actually shocked by this. my guess is he ends up in atlanta within 2 days haha

      • The Great Gonzo

        Nope, he’s on the first train to Seattle, watch…

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          If you can piss off Randy Wolf to the point that he no longer wants to be part of your organization, what will they do to Blanton?

          Robbie’s probably oblivious to all this while getting blown by strippers while trying to figure his away about Seattle while wondering what that big pointy tower is.

          • OB/GYN Kenobi, bushmaster

            Also, umbrellas.