Fan Confidence Poll: January 19th, 2015

2014 Record: 84-78 (633 RS, 664 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), did not qualify for postseason

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Even with bullpen depth, picking a closer an important decision for Yankees

(Getty)
(Getty)

After the 2013 season, Mariano Rivera retired and left the Yankees with a closer problem. Or at least a lot of people acted like they had a closer problem. It was weird. David Robertson was as qualified as any closer-in-waiting in the game and, sure enough, he handled the ninth inning last year just as well as he handled the eighth inning from 2011-13. It was a seamless transition.

The Yankees again have a closer problem this offseason, but only in the sense that they don’t have a set closer right now, more than five weeks before the start of Spring Training. They’ve spent the winter adding bullpen depth and have a number of closer candidates already in-house. Replacing Robertson — who the Yankees let walk as a free agent — is not a question of whether the Yankees have anyone who can do it, but who they will pick to do it.

The two primary closer candidates are Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, both of whom were among the four or five best relievers in baseball last season. They’re actually quite similar, at least in the sense that they are both former top prospects who fought command problems due in part to their height — did you know Miller is 6-foot-7? I had no idea until the Yankees signed him — earlier in their careers and didn’t figure things out until they moved into the bullpen full-time. Either guy could step in and close no questions asked.

The Yankees don’t have anyone with actual closer experience — among pitchers currently on the 40-man roster, Adam Warren and David Carpenter have the most career saves with four apiece — but their closer options go beyond Betances and Miller. They could go with Warren or Carpenter, or give Justin Wilson a try. Jacob Lindgren could be the closer of the future, or he could be the closer of the present. The Yankees have a clean slate and are free to pick their closer.

Having lots of options doesn’t lessen the important of picking a closer, however. Everyone in the bullpen seems to fall in line once the closer is set, and relievers do like to know their roles. Who can blame them? No one would like going to work everyday not knowing what you’ll be asked to do. Relievers like to know their role so they know how and when to prepare. Baseball players are creatures of habit, and bullpen roles fuel that habit. Here are things the Yankees will surely consider when picking their next ninth inning guy.

Saves Pay

If you’re a reliever, the easiest way to make money is to accumulate saves. They pay in arbitration and they still pay in free agency. Addison Reed, with his 101 saves and career 98 ERA+, is projected to get $3.8M during his first trip through arbitration this winter. Robertson went into his first arbitration year (2012) with two career saves and a 112 ERA+ and received only $1.6M. Saves do pay. It’s dumb but that’s the system.

Should Betances get the ninth inning and rack up, say, 30+ saves this year and next, his 2017 arbitration salary will be much higher than it would be if he remains setup man. That also carries into future years too — his salaries in 2018 and 2019 will be higher as well. The same is true with Carpenter, Warren, Wilson, whoever. This might not be such a big deal with Betances, but if someone like Carpenter or Warren closes, their salary could exceed their actual value in a hurry, making them non-tender candidates.

Miller, on the other hand, has a multi-year contract. He’s getting paid $9M in each of the next four seasons no matter what. The Yankees could opt to use Miller — who is more than qualified for the job, remember — as the closer and keep costs down with the rest of the bullpen. That’s not being cheap, that’s being smart. Miller’s making what he’s making. That’s already set. If Betances starts making big money as the closer too, then that’s less money the Yankees can use elsewhere.

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

Does Handedness Matter?

Right now, the only full-time left-handed closers in baseball are Aroldis Chapman, Sean Doolittle, Glen Perkins, and Zach Britton. Doolittle and Britton just got the job last year. Since 1990, nine lefties have saved 25+ games in multiple seasons while 88 righties have done so. The innings pitched split in baseball has historically been about 75/25 in favor of righties, but the closer split the last 25 years has been 90/10 or so. For whatever reason, there’s a bit of a bias against lefty closers.

Miller is no ordinary lefty, of course. He dominates both righties and lefties and is just as capable of pitching a full inning as any righty reliever in baseball. That isn’t the question. The question is whether the Yankees and Joe Girardi want a bullpen in which three of their six non-closers could be left-handed, with Wilson and either Lindgren or Chasen Shreve joining Miller. Betances, Warren, Carpenter or another righty would be closing in that scenario.

Personally, I don’t think the Yankees would care one bit about having three or four lefties in the bullpen if they are among the seven best bullpeners in the organization. If they were all matchup specialists in the mold of Clay Rapada, then yeah, it would be a problem. You can’t have three pitchers like that in one bullpen. But these guys aren’t Rapada types. They throw hard and don’t have platoon concerns. The Yankees have the luxury of having several quality relievers, and some of them just happen to throw left-handed. For New York, handedness is no concern right now.

Why Not Use Co-Closers?

The bullpen by committee idea just doesn’t work for whatever reason. A few teams have tried it — most notably the 2003 Red Sox — but it just doesn’t hasn’t worked. Things seem to fall apart once guys don’t have a set role and don’t know when they’ll pitch day after day. Having that one set guy in the ninth inning changes the entire bullpen dynamic for the better.

A few years ago though, the Braves used lefty Mike Gonzalez and righty Rafael Soriano as what were essentially co-closers. Gonzalez faced the tough lefties whenever they were due up, either in the eighth or ninth, while Soriano faced the tough righties and pitched the other inning. Gonzalez wound up with ten saves and Soriano with 27. The Yankees could try something similar with the lefty Miller and righty Betances.

In theory, the Yankees could use a similar co-closer system in 2015. They certainly have the right personnel to try it. But, Girardi has shown he very much likes to have a set closer and a set eighth inning guy, and will rarely deviate from that strategy. Would he be open to a platoon closer/setup man combination? Possibly, sure. But I’m going to bet against it. Girardi likes his relievers in set roles and that’s perfectly fine. He makes it work. Co-closers or a closer by committee can be chaotic.

Untuck Part II? (Mitchell Leff/Getty)
Untuck Part II? (Mitchell Leff/Getty)

Free Agents?

There are still some quality — and by quality I mean big name more than big production — closers on the market in Soriano, Francisco Rodriguez, and Casey Janssen. I wouldn’t ever rule out the Yankees signing a free agent, though I don’t expect it right now. They’ve accumulated a lot of bullpen arms this winter and the plans seems to be to use that depth. If they’re going to spend a decent amount of money on a player at this point, it’ll probably be someone who can help the rotation. A free agent closer signing is always possible. At this point it seems unlikely.

Dellin’s Destiny!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the eerily similar career paths of Betances and Rivera. Both guys were underwhelming minor league starters who moved into the bullpen and dominated as multi-inning setup men in their first MLB season at age 26, then, the next year, they took over as closer after the team’s incumbent ninth inning guy left as a free agent. This year it was Robertson. In 1997 it was John Wetteland. The parallels are freaky. Clearly it is Dellin’s destiny to take over as closer, right?

* * *

Okay, so let’s get back to reality. The Yankees will have to pick a closer at some point before the start of the regular season and this isn’t something they can determine with a Spring Training competition. They couldn’t send Miller and Betances out there in March and tell them the guy who performs best in his seven or eight Grapefruit League innings gets the glory of closing. That would be silly. The only way Spring Training should effect the closer situation is if someone gets hurt.

Girardi and his coaching staff and I’m sure the front office will get together to discuss the team’s closer for the upcoming season at some point That could have happened already for all we know, or they could mull it over until the very end of camp. The team’s bullpen depth is a great weapon but it doesn’t lessen the importance of the decision. Everyone else falls into place in the bullpen once the closer is picked. It’s not a decision that will make or break the season, but it isn’t one the Yankees should take lightly either. Closer is a position they want to get settled as soon as possible.

Who should be the closer?

Fan Confidence Poll: January 12th, 2015

2014 Record: 84-78 (633 RS, 664 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), did not qualify for postseason

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

The case for trading Dellin Betances

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

In terms of the sheer number of transactions — not necessarily the magnitude of the moves — this has been the busiest Yankees’ offseason in quite some time. The team has already made six trades, one more than they made during the 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-14 offseasons combined. They’ve also made two notable free agent signings in Andrew Miller and Chase Headley. It’s been a busy winter thus far.

All those trades have more or less exhausted New York’s big league trade chips, meaning the players on the projected 25-man roster with actual trade value. (So not Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira, for example). The most notable exception is Brett Gardner, who seems unlikely to be dealt at this point. The other exception is Dellin Betances, who has not been seriously discussed as a trade chip this winter. So why don’t we do that now?

The case against trading Betances is pretty straight forward: he’s one of the five or six best relievers in the world, he’s cheap, and he’s under team control for another five years. That’s a core player a team can build around, even as a reliever. In fact, the Yankees (re)built their bullpen around Betances this offseason the way they built it around Mariano Rivera all those years. He was that dominant last season.

The case for trading Betances is much more complicated even though we all know no player is ever truly untouchable. There’s always a price. Don’t you think the Angels would listen if the Giants offered Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey for Mike Trout? I think they would. They’d be foolish not to. There are several reasons — some more valid than others — for the Yankees to consider dealing Betances. Let’s run ‘em down.

Injury & (Lack of) Command History

The 2014 season was the first time Betances did not have any sort of injury and/or command issues since 2006, his draft year. He spent parts of eight years in the minors and there were a lot of walks and injuries along the way. Let’s review:

  • 2006: Healthy and 7.8% walk rate after signing.
  • 2007: Missed two months with elbow inflammation and had a 15.0% walk rate.
  • 2008: Missed six weeks with shoulder inflammation and had a 11.7% walk rate.
  • 2009: Had a 13.1% walk rate then missed three months following Tommy John surgery.
  • 2010: Missed two months rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and had a 6.6% walk rate thereafter.
  • 2011: Missed three weeks with an unknown injury and had a 12.6% walk rate.
  • 2012: Missed three weeks with shoulder inflammation and had a 15.7% walk rate.
  • 2013: Healthy, 12.2% walk rate.
  • 2014: Healthy, 7.0 walk rate.

Like I said, lots of walks and lots of injuries. Arm injuries too. Betances has been healthy these last two years, plus his walk rate has been manageable since he moved into the bullpen full-time, though there’s too much ugly history here to ignore. One truly elite season doesn’t wipe this all away. Baseball history is littered with guys with bad command who figure it out for a season or three before falling apart. Look at Daniel Bard or Derrick Turnbow, for example.

He Can’t Possibly Be That Good Again, Right?

Here’s the list of full-time relievers with a sub-2.00 ERA, a sub-2.00 FIP, and 60+ innings in multiple seasons: Craig Kimbrel (2012-14), Greg Holland (2013-14), Eric Gagne (2002-03), and Dennis Eckersley (1990 and 1992). That’s it. Mariano Rivera never did it and David Robertson did it once (2011). Twenty-two others have done it in one season, including Betances last year, but only those four have done it multiple times.

If Betances repeats his 2014 dominance in 2015, he will buck a lot of history and join a very exclusive club. That isn’t to say Betances won’t be excellent in the future, I have no reason to believe he won’t be very good going forward, but it’s very likely he just had his career year. Robertson had a 1.08 ERA (1.84 FIP) in 66.2 innings during his age 26 season — the season Dellin just completed — and you know what? That was his career year. Robertson was very good during his age 27-29 season, but he never did repeat his age 26 performance.

“Selling high” isn’t really a thing — at least not in the sense that teams don’t see through superficial performance and know who is likely to decline going forward — because clubs make trades based on their own internal evaluations, not public opinion or FanGraphs stat pages, though Betances will have less trade value next winter. Even if he repeats his otherworldly performance — I suppose he could improve on it, but that’s damn near impossible — he’ll be one year closer to free agency and that matters.

Bullpen Depth

The Yankees have acquired a lot of bullpen depth not just this offseason, but over the last several years. They’ve done it through the draft (Betances, Adam Warren, Danny Burawa, Jacob Lindgren, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, etc.), through trades (Justin Wilson, Gonzalez Germen, Johnny Barbato, Chasen Shreve, David Carpenter), and via the scrap heap (Jose DePaula, Esmil Rogers). That’s not even all the upper level bullpen arms. Just most of them.

Although someone of Betances’ caliber is irreplaceable, the Yankees do have a small army of bullpen arms ready to step in and do the job. The drop off from Betances to the guy replacing him — meaning the last guy in the bullpen, not the guy who takes over the late-innings — isn’t as big as it would have been last year. It’s big, don’t get me wrong, just not as big as it would have been before this bullpen-heavy offseason. The Yankees have a ton of bullpen depth and are in position to deal from that depth to improve other parts of the roster. Betances has, by far, the most trade value among these bullpen arms.

Now, just to be clear, I am not advocated trading Betances. I think the Yankees should keep him as the bullpen cornerstone in the post-Mariano and post-Robertson years. That said, Brian Cashman & Co. wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t at least entertain the idea of improving the team by trading Betances. They’ve acquired all this bullpen depth for a reason. Betances’ trade value is tough to gauge because elite relievers with five years of team control are never traded, but he could be part of the package to get an ace like Cole Hamels or a young position player like Addison Russell, for example. (Just spitballing here.)

The Yankees have changed course and built up a decent group of young players heading into the 2015 season, especially up the middle and on the mound. Betances is a huge piece of that. There is still more rebuilding work to be done (lots of it, really), and using Betances as a trade chip could be the quickest way to complete that process. His injury history, his lack of command history, the general volatility of relievers, and the team’s bullpen depth are all reasons dealing Dellin makes some sense.

Trade Betances?

Fan Confidence Poll: January 5th, 2015

2014 Record: 84-78 (633 RS, 664 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), did not qualify for postseason

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Fan Confidence Poll: December 29th, 2014

2014 Record: 84-78 (633 RS, 664 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), did not qualify for postseason

Top stories from last week:

  • Hiroki Kuroda will return to the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in Japan for the 2015 season. He spent the last several weeks — and the last several offseasons, really — deciding his future.
  • The Yankees lost Preston Claiborne off waivers to the Marlins. The team touched base with the Rockies about Troy Tulowitzki two weeks ago and they are not on Cole Hamels’ no-trade list.
  • Brian Cashman confirmed the club’s search for a new hitting coach and first base coach is on hold until after the holidays. Jeff Pentland is under consideration for the hitting coach job.
  • The Yankees were hit with an $18.3M luxury tax bill for the 2014 season.

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Fan Confidence Poll: December 22nd, 2014

2014 Record: 84-78 (633 RS, 664 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), did not qualify for postseason

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?