Thanks to Bobby Valentine, Andrew Miller now set to play a big role for the Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

With David Robertson now a White Sox (Sock?), the Yankees bullpen will be anchored by Dellin Betances and the newly signed Andrew Miller not just this coming season, but hopefully the next four years as well. Miller was signed to replace Robertson — the Yankees actually signed Miller first then let Robertson walk — and gives the team an elite lefty to pair with their elite righty.

Betances, as you know, transformed himself from a starter with major command issues into a dominant reliever two years ago. Miller went through the same exact thing, except he did it all in MLB, not hidden away in the minors where no one could see. Miller’s shortcomings as a starter were on full display as a high draft pick (sixth overall in 2006) who was traded for Miguel Cabrera and later pitched with the Red Sox.

During his time with the Marlins, the 29-year-old Miller had a 5.89 ERA (4.49 FIP) with an ugly walk rate (5.1 BB/9 and 12.1 BB%) and an unimpressive strikeout rate (7.2 K/9 and 17.1 K%) in 220 innings. “I struggled. I didn’t play very well (with the Marlins) — kind of went backwards, developed some bad habits,” said Miller in a recent YES feature (video link). “Still, at the same time, in the long run I feel I’m better for it. I think maybe those struggles make me a better pitcher now.”

The Red Sox acquired Miller in a minor trade during the 2010-11 offseason and tried to make it work as a starter, but it wasn’t happening. Miller had a 5.54 ERA (5.12 FIP) in 65 innings during the 2011 season, most working out of the rotation. He was out of minor league options heading into the 2012 season, so the Red Sox were going to have to make a decision about his future with the team, but a Spring Training injury bought them some time.

“I got hurt in Spring Training. I pulled my hamstring — just a minor, fluky ‘what are you gonna do?’ thing,” said Miller to YES. “It put me behind (the other pitchers in camp) and they moved me to the bullpen. I think that was a real blessing in disguise. Ever since that happened, I’ve continually gotten better and better pitching out of the bullpen.”

Miller returned from the hamstring injury in May and, for the first time in his career, he was working out of the bullpen full-time. Then-manager Bobby Valentine urged him to pitch exclusively out of the stretch — “It was like watching two different guys out there. One look was when he came out of the windup. The other was out of the stretch, where he looked terrific, crisp and nearly unhittable,” said Valentine to Ron Chimelis in March 2012 — and pitching coach Bob McClure got Miller to realign his feet and stay more in-line towards the plate.

Moving to the bullpen and ditching the windup is hardly unique. Hundreds if not thousands of other pitchers have made the same transition at some point in their careers, including Betances two years ago. The transition doesn’t always work but for Miller it absolutely did. I guess it helps being a lanky 6-foot-7 with a fastball/slider combination that ranks as top 1% in baseball type of stuff, especially by lefty standards.

“In a lot of sense, my attitude changed from trying to hit the corners and inducing this kind of contact to do this or that to kind of ‘I’m going to come at you as hard as I can as quick as I can,'” said Miller while explaining the difference between starting and relieving to YES. “And whatever you had working that day, make it happen for you. You didn’t have to time to fiddle around and figure it out.”

Miller had an incredible 2014 season and that’s why the Yankees signed him, but it’s incorrect to say he’s only had one good year. From 2012-13, his first two years as a full-time reliever, Miller had a 3.04 ERA (3.12 FIP) with an excellent strikeout rate (12.5 K/9 and 32.6 K%) but a still too high walk rate (4.7 BB/9 and 12.2 BB%) in 71 innings. He made the jump from very good to elite in 2014 when he cut his walk rate to 2.5 BB/9 (7.0 BB%), much the same way Robertson cut his walk rate in half in the middle of 2012.

The best thing Bobby Valentine did for the Red Sox was save Miller’s career by sticking him in the bullpen full-time and getting him to ditch his windup. McClure, his pitching coach, helped as well. They helped Miller go from this guy with complicated mechanics in 2011 …

Andrew Miller 2011

… to this guy with a much simpler, less arm-and-leggy delivery in 2014 …

Andrew Miller 2014

… and the results have been pretty staggering. Like Betances, Miller went from a guy who appeared to have no big league future as a starter to a dominant, lights out reliever in a relatively short period of time. Like most others, Miller moved to the bullpen as a last resort to try to hang on. And, because he always had Grade-A stuff, he’s thrived in his new role and is set to play a big role for the Yankees going forward.

“I know I’m not going to be perfect. I know I’m going to walk somebody this year,” said Miller to Gordon Edes in February 2012, a statement that holds true in 2015. “It’s a matter of getting ahead in counts and putting myself in position to limit base-runners, but I’ll take my chances with my stuff if I throw the ball in the zone.”

Sorting out the projected 2015 Triple-A Scranton roster

Sanchez will be the top prospect in Triple-A in 2015. (Presswire)
Sanchez will be the top prospect in Triple-A in 2015. (Presswire)

As we’ve seen firsthand the last few seasons, these days it takes way more than 25 players to get through a 162-game season. It usually takes more than the 40 guys on the 40-man roster as well. Players get hurt and/or underperform, and reinforcements are needed. The Yankees used a franchise record 58 different players last season and over the last five seasons they’ve averaged 50 players per year.

Needless to say, the Triple-A affiliate is very important. Many clubs use it as a taxi squad for their extra players, calling up fresh arms for the bullpen as needed or an extra right-handed bat if they’re slated to see a lot of lefty starters that week. Stuff like that. Triple-A is a place to stash spare players, the important depth pieces each team needs throughout the season.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at the projected Triple-A Scranton roster for the upcoming season. Keep in mind that it is only the middle of January and a lot can and will change between now and Opening Day. This is just a snapshot in time. Let’s get to it.

Position Players

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Utility
Gary Sanchez* Kyle Roller Eury Perez* Jose Pirela*
Austin Romine* Nick Noonan Tyler Austin* Adonis Garcia
Juan Graterol Rob Refsnyder Ramon Flores* Jonathan Galvez
Francisco Arcia Cole Figueroa Taylor Dugas Ali Castillo
Rob Segedin Ben Gamel

Players on the 40-man roster are denoted with an asterisk. Aside from putting the 40-man guys at the top, there’s no particular reason why the players are listed in that order, so don’t read anything into it.

Sanchez, who seems to be a little underrated at the moment, will serve as the RailRiders’ regular catcher after spending a year and a half in Double-A. Romine is the most obvious candidate to back Sanchez up, though he is out of minor league options, so sending him down will require a trip through waivers. I suppose Romine could back up Brian McCann with John Ryan Murphy in Triple-A, but that seems highly unlikely. If Romine does get lost on waivers, Arcia and minor league free agent pickup Graterol are the backup candidates. I’d bet on Arcia backing up Sanchez in that case with Graterol either in Double-A or on the phantom DL.

Refsnyder. (Scranton Times-Tribune)
Refsnyder. (Scranton Times-Tribune)

The first of two locks on the infield is Refsnyder, who will play second and probably bat third if he doesn’t slip onto the big league roster somehow. That would require an injury in Spring Training, most likely. Roller at first base is the other lock and he’ll probably bat cleanup behind Refnsyder. He mashed last summer. Segedin spent some time in Triple-A last year and it didn’t go well (2 wRC+!), though he’ll likely get another shot this year and play his usual third base. Noonan and Figueroa were signed as minor league free agents and are candidates to play short.

The outfield is a little crowded, though I expect Perez to be designated for assignment to clear a 40-man spot for Stephen Drew. (No, the Drew signing still isn’t official. They’re taking their time with that one.) Assuming Perez goes, Dugas and Garcia will share center field duty like they did at times in 2014. Flores and Austin are natural fits in left and right field, respectively, and Pirela will probably wind up playing a different position everyday, like he did last season. He’ll be the rover. That’s assuming he doesn’t win a big league bench job somehow.

That brings us to 12 position players assuming Perez loses his roster spot to Drew. The 13th position player spot will go to one of Gamel, Castillo, or Galvez, and I think Galvez is the obvious choice, mostly because he’s spent the last two years in Triple-A. Gamel (80 wRC+) and Castillo (81 wRC+) weren’t particularly good with Double-A Trenton in 2014. Galvez was another minor league free agent signing and his 101 wRC+ at Triple-A the last two years suggests he will be there again in 2015. He might even start at third over Segedin.

Alright, so after all of that, the position player portion of the RailRiders roster figures to look something like this:

C Sanchez
1B Roller
2B Refsnyder
SS Noonan or Figueroa
3B Segedin
LF Flores
CF Dugas or Garcia
RF Austin
DH Pirela

Bench: Romine/Graterol/Arcia, Noonan or Figueroa, Dugas or Garcia, Galvez

If you want to play around with the batting order, I’d go with Pirela at leadoff, then Flores, Refsnyder, Roller, Sanchez, Austin, Segedin, Dugas or Garcia, then Noonan or Figueroa in the ninth spot. More importantly, Pirela is likely to be the first player called up whenever help is needed simply because he’s already on the 40-man and can play almost anywhere. Not well, mind you, but he can do it. Versatility works in his favor.

Austin, Sanchez, and Flores are all on the 40-man and I think all three will make their MLB debuts this season, even if it’s nothing more than a September call-up. Flores played 63 games around an ankle injury in Triple-A last summer and will probably get the call before Austin if an outfielder is needed. Sanchez isn’t ready to catch in MLB so an awful lot would have to go wrong for him to get called up at midseason. Someone like Noonan or Figueroa could get a random call-up at some point if necessary. We’ll see. For the most part, this is the crop of position players I expect to head to Scranton at the end of Spring Training.

Pitchers

Starters RH Relievers LH Relievers
Jose DePaula* Jose Ramirez* Chasen Shreve*
Bryan Mitchell* Branden Pinder* Jacob Lindgren
Chase Whitley* Danny Burawa* Tyler Webb
Zach Nuding Chris Martin* James Pazos
Matt Tracy Mark Montgomery Fred Lewis
Caleb Cotham Diego Moreno
Joel De La Cruz

Update: I totally forgot about RHP Nick Rumbelow, who ended last season in Triple-A. He’ll be in the bullpen mix this year as well. My bad.

Again, don’t read anything into the order of the players in the table. I just listed them as they came to mind. Also, I’m not actually sure if De La Cruz is with the organization any more. He re-signed with the Yankees as a minor league free agent last offseason and I don’t know if he did so again this year.

Anyway, the Triple-A rotation is very much up in the air depending on the needs of the big league team. If the Yankees need to dip into this group of players before Opening Day, Mitchell would presumably get the first shot at the rotation. Whitley made some starts last season and was actually pretty good for a while, but the wheels eventually came off and I don’t think anyone’s looking forward to seeing him in the rotation again anytime soon. I do think he’ll start for the RailRiders just to stay stretched out as an emergency option though.

DePaula’s interesting. The Yankees liked him enough to give him a Major League contract and a 40-man roster spot a few weeks ago, though he’s thrown only 131 innings over the last three years due to injury (51.1 in 2014). He’s a starter and an easy call for the Triple-A rotation. Nuding, Tracy, Cotham and De La Cruz all spent part of last season with the RailRiders and I think I’d put them in that order on a depth chart. Meaning if everyone in the MLB rotation stays healthy, I think the Triple-A rotation would include Mitchell, DePaula, Whitley, Nuding, and Tracy with Cotham and De La Cruz stuck back in Double-A. Assuming De La Cruz is still in the system, of course.

One rotation candidate who is not listed is top pitching prospect Luis Severino, who the Yankees have clearly put on the fast track. I don’t think Severino will start the year with Triple-A Scranton — he made six starts with Trenton at the end of last season — because right now it appears the RailRiders have enough bodies for the rotation. More than enough, really. Plus he’s an actual prospect, not just someone to soak up innings. A few more starts in Double-A won’t be the end of the world. Severino will be up in Triple-A before you know it.

The bullpen is where it really gets a little tight. The Yankees have one open spot in the big league bullpen right now and that spot will go to one of those eleven guys listed in the table above. I fully expect a) there to be a Spring Training competition for that last bullpen spot, and b) that last spot to be a revolving door all year. It always is. Whoever wins the roster spot in camp doesn’t automatically get to keep it all year either. If that player isn’t doing the job, the Yankees will be quick to make a change because they have plenty of options.

Lewis and Moreno have Triple-A time but are non-prospects and low priority players, so they’ll be on the short end of the roster stick come decision time. They could start the year in Double-A or be flat out released if there’s no room. Montgomery, who isn’t much of a prospect anymore because he lost a ton of velocity following his 2013 shoulder injury, was demoted from Triple-A to Double-A last year. I think he’ll get another shot at Triple-A this year. Pazos had a 1.50 ERA (2.78 FIP) in 42 innings from Trenton last season and could wind up back there because of the numbers crunch.

Ramirez. (Presswire)
Ramirez. (Presswire)

Assuming Lewis, Moreno, and Pazos don’t make the RailRiders roster — and the extra starters (Cotham and De La Cruz) are sent to Double-A instead of the bullpen — we’re down to eight relievers for eight roster spots — the last spot in MLB and seven in Triple-A. Who gets that MLB spot will be determined in camp and I honestly think it’ll go to whoever looks the best during Grapefruit League play. If it’s Ramirez, it’s Ramirez. If it’s Shreve, it’s Shreve. If Martin surprises and wins the last bullpen spot, great. I think that race is wide open.

So, based on all of that, I think the Triple-A rotation will be Mitchell, DePaula, Whitley, Nuding, and Tracy with an eight-man bullpen pool of Shreve, Lindgren, Webb, Ramirez, Pinder, Burawa, Martin, and Montgomery. One of those eight gets to start the year in the show as the last reliever and 25th man on the roster. Guessing which pitcher will be the first to get called up is a fool’s errand. That depends on rest and availability as much as it does performance. The 40-man guys are always a safe bet to get the call first.

It goes without saying this all subject to change. We’re still five weeks from the start of the Spring Training, meaning there is plenty of time for trades and DFAs and injuries and all sorts of other stuff before the start of the regular season. This is just a best guess based on the personnel available right now. The Yankees have built up quite a bit of depth this winter, particularly pitching depth, and that carries over into the minors. Guys like Cotham, Lewis, and Pazos would have been locks for Triple-A in part years, but now it appears they’ll have to return to Double-A until there’s an injury. One way or another, expect to see many of these guys in the Bronx this summer.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

It looks like we have our first new guy uniform number of the year. Didi Gregorius was at Yankee Stadium today and, according to a picture posted by the Yankees on Twitter, he is going to be wearing No. 18. That was Hiroki Kuroda‘s number the last three years and Johnny Damon‘s number a few years before that. Gregorius wore No. 1 with the Diamondbacks the last two seasons but that wasn’t happening in pinstripes. No. 1 is retired for Billy Martin. We’re still waiting on uniform numbers for Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Miller, Justin Wilson, and David Carpenter, among others.

This is your open thread for the evening. The Nets and Devils are both playing and there’s the usual slate of college basketball games on as well. Talk about those games, Didi’s new numbers, other potential new numbers, or anything else right here.

(I have no idea what’s up with the random deflating homer in the Dellin Betances video. Someone messed up.)

Yankees sign Ivan Nova to one-year, $3.3M contract, avoiding arbitration

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Yankees have signed Ivan Nova to a non-guaranteed one-year contract, avoiding arbitration, the team announced. Non-guaranteed contracts are standard for arbitration-eligible players. Joel Sherman hears Nova will earn $3.3M this coming the season, the same as last year. MLBTR projected a $3.3M salary as well.

Nova, who turned 28 on Monday, didn’t receive a raise this offseason because he only made four starts last year before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Those four starts were really bad too — he had a 8.27 ERA (6.91 FIP) with 40 base-runners allowed in 20.2 innings. Nova had his elbow rebuilt in late-April and isn’t expected to return until May or June of this coming season.

Friday is the deadline for teams and players to submit salary figures for arbitration, but the Yankees rarely let it get that far. They tend to sign their players before figures are exchanged. With Nova and Esmil Rogers both signed, the team’s only remaining arbitration-eligible players are Nathan Eovaldi (projected for $3.1M), Michael Pineda ($2.1M), and David Carpenter ($1.1M).

Johan Santana worth a shot on minor league deal; Yankees will “keep an eye on him” during winter ball

Can't picture him without the goatee. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Can’t picture him without the goatee. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Left-hander Johan Santana, who hasn’t pitched in a big league game since August 2012, is planning to attempt a comeback and the Yankees will “keep an eye on him” during his winter ball stint these next few weeks, reports Joel Sherman. Johan is pitching in his native Venezuela and the Yankees had someone at his first start last night.

Santana, who turns 36 in March, threw 18 pitches and retired all six batters he faced last night. His fastball hit 90 mph according to Jon Heyman. Here’s video of his first inning of work, which includes cameos by ex-Yankee Yangervis Solarte and current Yankees farmhand Ramon Flores:

Injuries have limited Santana to only 21 starts and 117 innings — all with the Mets in 2012 — over the last four seasons. He missed 2011 because of a torn shoulder capsule, two months in 2012 with an ankle sprain and lower back inflammation, all of 2013 with another torn shoulder capsule, and all of 2014 with the second torn capsule and a ruptured Achilles tendon. Ouch.

Shoulder capsule tears are usually the kiss of death and Santana has now torn his twice. He returned from the first tear to post a 4.85 ERA (4.09 FIP) back in 2012 — he had a 2.76 ERA (3.40 FIP) throughout his first 16 starts and a 15.63 ERA (7.62 FIP) in his last five starts after his ankle and back started acting up — and coming back from a second tear is going to be even more difficult.

I do think it’s worth noting Santana’s shoulder has been healthy for at least six months. The Orioles signed him last offseason and he was pitching in minor league games when he was hit by a line drive in an Extended Spring Training outing in June, then tore his Achilles when he slipped while going after the ball. Baltimore had actually added him to the 40-man roster days before the injury to prevent him from opting out of his minor league contract.

“He was pitching well,” said Orioles GM Dan Duquette to the Associated Press after the injury. “The last time out he had his velocity and he was able to back-door his slider. I think he had eight strikeouts and no walks, so he was right on schedule. After (the ExST game), he was going to come up and join the Major League team and we were going to continue the rehab in (Double-A) … The skills are there. He’s been able to rehab his arm, but now he’s got another challenge.”

Obviously the torn Achilles is a very severe injury as well. We shouldn’t forget that. The second torn shoulder capsule is the more career-threatening injury, however, and the Achilles injury might have actually been beneficial to the health of Santana’s shoulder because it gave him more time to rehab. That make some sense? Johan was very aggressive with his rehab while with the Mets — he and the team were very publicly butting heads over his timetable — and I’m sure that was the case last year. The Achilles injury forced him to slow down.

I can’t say I’m all that confident in Santana being able to return to MLB and be an effective pitcher, but the Yankees could use some rotation depth, and a minor league contract carries zero risk. They could bring him to Spring Training, see what he looks like, and if it’s not good, they can walk away no string attached. If he looks good, maybe Santana can give them some decent starts until Ivan Nova returns or a better option comes along.

Whenever there’s a veteran, former ace-caliber starter like this recovering from a serious injury and looking for an opportunity, I can’t help but think back to Bartolo Colon in 2011. He was more or less out of baseball due to arm problems, the Yankees plucked him out of winter ball, we all had a good laugh about it, then he went out and pitched well during the regular season. Heck, it’s 2015 and Colon is still pitching.

Given the injury risk in the Yankees rotation right now, I think it’s worth the minor league contract to see if Johan comes back and has a 2011 Colon type of effort in him. He was never a pitcher who lived and died with velocity, and he’s always been a top notch competitor/leave it all out on the field type. That seems like the kind of guy who can make this comeback attempt work.

Prospect Profile: Miguel Andujar

(Charleston River Dogs)
(Charleston River Dogs)

Miguel Andujar | 3B

Background
Considered one of the top players available during the 2011-12 international signing period, the Yankees signed Andujar as a 16-year-old out of San Cristobal, Dominican Republic in July 2011. He received a $750,000 bonus. It was the second largest bonus they gave out during the signing period, behind only the $2.5M (originally $4M) they gave Cuban lefty Omar Luis.

Pro Career
The Yankees were very aggressive with Andujar. They skipped him right over the Dominican Summer League and had him make his pro debut in the rookie level Gulf Coast League as a 17-year-old in 2012. Andujar predictably struggled, hitting .232/.288/.299 (80 wRC+) with one homer in 50 games. The Yankees sent him back to the GCL in 2013 and Andujar was much better the second time around, putting up a .323/.368/.496 (152 wRC+) line with four homers in 34 games.

Last season, the Yankees bumped Andujar up to Low-A Charleston, where he played the entire season at 19. He started out very slow, hitting .212/.267/.335 (67 wRC+) with ten doubles, five homers, 16 walks, and 46 strikeouts in his first 63 games. The second half was much better — Andujar put up a .319/.367/.456 (129 wRC+) line with 15 doubles, five homers, 19 walks, and 37 strikeouts in his final 64 games. The end result was a .267/.318/.397 (99 wRC+) batting line with 25 doubles, ten homers, a 15.7% strikeout rate, and a 6.6% walk rate in 127 games.

Scouting Report
Listed at 6-foot-0 and 175 lbs., Andujar is a right-handed hitter with good bat speed and above-average power potential. He’s aggressive but not a hacker — Andujar can wait back on breaking balls but doesn’t hesitate to punish a fastball in the zone. It’s more of a low walk, low strikeout offensive profile than a low walk, high strikeout profile. Here’s some video (there’s more at MiLB.com):

Andujar is a good athlete whose best defensive tool is his arm, which is plenty strong for third base. His footwork needs to improve and he needs to add experience at the hot corner in general. Andujar’s worst tool is his speed. He’s not someone who adds much value on the bases, not now and not in the future either.

Like just about all 19-year-olds, Andujar is more potential than “now” skills. He projects to hit for average, hit for some power, and play a strong third base, but getting from here to there is going to take a lot of time and work.

2015 Outlook
Andujar will jump to High-A Tampa this coming season after his strong finish with the River Dogs last year. He’s going to be very young for the level — Andujar was the tenth youngest player on a Low-A South Atlantic League Opening Day roster last year — and I expect him to stay in Tampa all season. There’s no reason to fast track him whatsoever.

My Take
I really like Andujar, especially because he’s struggled initially at each level and shown the ability to adjust and improve. It happened with the GCL Yanks (across 2012-13) and again with Low-A Charleston (in 2014). Andujar has jumped over 2013 first rounder Eric Jagielo as the best third base prospect in the system in my opinion, and he has some of the best pure upside among the team’s prospects as well. The Yankees haven’t had much success developing raw young prospects into big leaguers these last few years, and I really hope Andujar is the exception.

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?