The Middle Relief Duo [2017 Season Preview]

Clippard. (Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports)
(Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports)

The Yankees have had an elite bullpen most every year for what feels like an eternity at this point, owing largely to the incomparable Mariano Rivera, and the ability to churn out high-end relievers that would close for most teams (particularly David Robertson and Dellin Betances, who spent most of their time with the team pitching in the 7th or 8th inning). A willingness to open up the checkbook helps, too, as Rafael Soriano, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman all thrived. It isn’t just the 8th and 9th inning guys, though.

A sizable portion of the team’s success in building strong bullpens lay in its middle relief core. We’re all familiar with the Scranton Shuttle, and oftentimes discuss the top-heavy nature of the bullpen – but that’s not quite fair to the pitchers that handle the 6th and 7th, if only for a season or two. Joe Girardi loves having defined roles for his relievers, and having dependable arms to bridge the gap between the starter and Betances/Chapman will be vital this season (lest we forget that two of the five starters will essentially be rookies).

Luckily, the Yankees have two reliable arms to lean on in that role.

Tyler Clippard

Here’s your semi-regular reminder that the Yankees traded Clippard straight-up for Jonathan Albaladejo in 2007, who would go on to throw a grand total of 59.1 IP in parts of three season with the team, pitching to a 4.70 ERA (5.21 FIP).

Clippard has been a dominant reliever for the better part of a decade now, posting a 2.77 ERA (144 ERA+) in 587.2 IP out of the bullpen, while serving as a Bizarro World version of Michael Pineda. That is, his FIP in that time (3.59) is significantly higher than his ERA, which leads to his bWAR (12.3) being much stronger than his fWAR (7.1). He has accomplished this by maintaining consistently low BABIPs (.234 as a reliever), ridiculously high infield flyball rates (16.2%, against a league-average that tends to fall between 9.5% and 10%), and plenty of strikeouts (27.7 K%).

The 32-year-old was in the midst of what may have been his worst season prior to being acquired by the Yankees last year, which raises some red flags. There are reasonable explanations for that, though, including the sheer incompetence of the Arizona Diamondbacks; and not just in a general sense, either, as they may’ve asked Clippard to shelve his slider. It was far from his best offering (though, he had excellent results with it in 2015), as he’s always been a fastball/change-up pitcher – but not having that show-me pitch in his pocket could have led to hitters being better able to sit on straighter stuff. The increased use stands out quite a bit:

clippard-slider

It also bears noting that his fastball velocity dropped with the Diamondbacks, leading to less separation against his bread and butter change-up:

clippard-velocity

That increase, depending upon the tracker, is between 0.6 MPH and 0.8 MPH, which is noteworthy. As per PITCHf/x, Clippard’s fastball velocity was 90.8 with the Diamondbacks and 91.5 following the trade (which is close to his career velocity of 91.8). Combining the increased slider usage, increased velocity, and competent coaching staff, Clippard’s peripherals in his time with the Yankees were right in-line with his career norms.

Adam Warren

(Joel Auerbach/Getty Images North America)
(Joel Auerbach/Getty Images North America)

Calling Warren’s time with the Cubs a disaster might be putting it far too lightly. He posted a 5.91 ERA (5.83 FIP) in 35.0 IP with Chicago, posting career-worsts in K% (17.8), BB% (12.5), GB% (43.3), HR/FB (16.7%), ERA, and FIP, earning a trip to the minors in doing so. And the most frustrating part of it all may be that there’s nothing on the page that screams bad luck (his BABIP was a career-low .242, and that HR/FB wasn’t absurdly high), nor did his pitch selection or velocity change all that much. To wit:

(FanGraphs)
(FanGraphs)

The only thing that stands out here is the dip in the use of his slider, which has been an effective pitch throughout his career. It isn’t as though he stopped using the pitch, though, and the fact that he went deeper into counts more often than ever last year may have reduced his use of the pitch as he attempted to avoid walks.

As was the case with Clippard, however, Warren bounced back in the Bronx, with all of his peripherals gravitating to within spitting distance of his career norms, and his ERA dropping to 3.26 (4.30 FIP). It may be a simple matter of an extended slump coincidentally ending when he went back to the Bronx (he allowed 12 ER in his last five appearances with Chicago, and then reeled off nine straight scoreless outings with the Yankees), or it could be some combination of comfort and coaching. There may not be a genuine explanation, in short – but it’s comforting that the Yankees received the Warren of old.


When the season begins, I suspect that Clippard will serve as the designated 7th inning arm, with Warren acting as a fireman, of sorts. Girardi used Clippard to record more than three outs just once in 29 appearances, whereas Warren went more than an inning nine times (including four times in a row in late September). And given their ages and recent patterns of use, that makes sense.

As for what to expect statistically, the projection systems see Clippard essentially duplicating his 2016 season, and Warren splitting the difference between 2016 and his career norms. I think both will be better than that, due to Girardi’s ability to manage the bullpen (as well as my irrational attachment to both pitchers).

Adam Warren’s bullpen success will work against him in the rotation competition

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Grapefruit League season is less than one week old now, though the competition for the fourth and fifth starter’s spots is already well underway. Four of the five candidates (Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino, Adam Warren) have already pitched in an exhibition game, and the other, Chad Green, will get the ball later today. There’s still five weeks left in camp to sort this competition out.

Warren, 29, has by far the most big league experience among the five rotation candidates. He’s thrown more MLB innings (354.2) than the other four guys combined (315), and he’s had more success too. A 3.63 ERA (3.96 FIP) and +4.5 bWAR in 354.2 innings is nothing to gloss over. The problem? The vast majority of Warren’s big league time has come as a reliever, which works against him in the spring rotation competition.

“I have been around these coaches long enough that they know what I am capable of doing, what I can do in the rotation and in the bullpen,” said Warren to George King recently. “I was talking to Larry (Rothschild) the other day and he said it could hurt you (that’s you’ve had success) out of the bullpen and you are flexible. Maybe I can go out there and pitch good enough to make them put me in the rotation. I do know (bullpen success) is going to hurt me, but that is a good thing as well.”

Warren has had only one extended stint as a starter in the big leagues, with the Yankees in 2015. He threw 96 innings in 17 starts and had a 3.66 ERA (3.92 FIP). The Yankees moved him back to the bullpen when Ivan Nova returned from Tommy John surgery even though Warren a) had the lowest ERA among the team’s starters at the time, and b) had a 3.04 ERA in his previous nine starts. Not the best decision there, but what’s done is done.

That all said, the best time to try Warren in the rotation may already be in the rear-view mirror. The Yankees are going young, and while Warren is not old by any means, he does turn 30 in August and will be a free agent after next season. Cessa, Green, Mitchell, and Severino are all 25 or younger with long-term team control. At this point in time it makes the most sense for the Yankees to give the kids the chance to start before a veteran player.

Warren is a very useful super utility reliever — he’s basically the perfect fourth bullpen option behind Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, and Tyler Clippard — because he’s versatile and his arm is resilient. He bounces back well after pitching back-to-back days, throwing multiple inning, stuff like that. That’s really valuable with bullpens becoming so much more important. Warren would love to start and I understand why. Ultimately, it’s best for the Yankees to go with the kids.

The spring rotation competition could have a domino effect on the Opening Day bullpen

Luis and Luis. (Presswire)
Luis and Luis. (Presswire)

Over these next seven weeks or so, the Yankees are going to hold a massive rotation competition in Spring Training. They’ve held fake competitions in previous springs, we’ve seen plenty of those, but this one is legit. There are two spots open behind Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda, and no shortage of candidates. Here’s the approximate fourth and fifth starter pecking order:

  1. Luis Severino
  2. Luis Cessa
  3. Chad Green
  4. Bryan Mitchell
  5. Dietrich Enns
  6. Jordan Montgomery
  7. Chance Adams

The Yankees insist Adam Warren will compete for a rotation spot as well, though I have a hard time believing the soon-to-be 30-year-old Warren will be given a rotation spot over a kid in his mid-20s, especially since Warren is so valuable in relief. I suppose Ronald Herrera could be given the chance to win a rotation spot, though it seems unlikely. Generally speaking, that’s the pecking order.

This rotation competition comes with two questions. One, who wins the two spots? That’s the obvious question. And two, what happens to the guys who don’t win the rotation spots? In cases of Adams, Enns, and Montgomery (and Herrera), the answer is clear. They’ll go to Triple-A Scranton to bide their time. Warren, if he is truly involved in this rotation competition, will slide back in to the bullpen.

The top four guys is where it gets murky. It’s easy to assume the two competition losers will go to Triple-A — all four of them have options remaining (Mitchell has one, the other three have two) — and simply wait their turn. The Yankees aren’t going to get through the season using only five starters, so it’s only a matter of time until the two competition losers wind up in the rotation. That’s baseball.

That said, the answer is never that simple. The Yankees also have two open bullpen spots at the moment, and we can’t rule out the two rotation competition losers winding up in the Opening Day bullpen. They’ve done this before. The Yankees did it in 2014 with Warren, David Phelps, and Vidal Nuno, and they did it last year with Cessa. They would have done it with Mitchell too last year had he not suffered that fluke toe injury at the end of camp.

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, Severino and Cessa win the fourth and fifth starter’s spots. Severino has the most upside of the rotation candidates and Cessa had the most success as a starter last year. Sound good? Doesn’t matter, really, it’s only a hypothetical. In that case, the Opening Day pitching staff could shake out like so:

Rotation: Tanaka, Sabathia, Pineda, Severino, Cessa
Bullpen: Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard, Tommy Layne, Warren, Green, Mitchell

If the Yankees believe Green and Mitchell give them a better chance to win than other bullpen candidates like, say, Jonathan Holder and Ben Heller, that very well could be the Opening Day pitching staff. I know I’m not alone in thinking the rotation competition losers could win up in the bullpen. Bryan Hoch suggested something similar recently as well.

Now, is this a good idea, using the sixth and seventh starters as relievers? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not sure there’s a correct answer. Montgomery, Enns, Adams, and Herrera give the Yankees some decent Triple-A pitching depth should they need an emergency spot starter. Also, as we saw with Cessa last year, the team could always send one of the starters they stick in the bullpen back down to Triple-A to get stretched out.

One thing to keep in mind: the Yankees are short on innings eaters. Last season AL starters averaged 5.69 innings per start. Tanaka averaged 6.43 innings per start, 12th highest in baseball. Sabathia was at 5.97 innings per start but noticeably lost effectiveness after 80-85 pitches or so. Pineda averaged 5.48 innings per start, third lowest among the 71 pitchers who qualified for the ERA title. Joe Girardi doesn’t trust him and had an increasingly short leash late in the season.

The two kids, whether it’s Severino and Cessa or Green and Mitchell, probably won’t be counted on to chew up innings and save the bullpen. We saw Girardi pull Cessa after five or six innings several times last season even though his pitch count was manageable, and there are reasons for that. He didn’t want him to go through the lineup a third time, because that’s usually when the opposing team does the most damage against the starter.

With Tanaka the only reliable source of innings, having multiple relievers who can throw multiple innings wouldn’t be such a bad idea. The Yankees don’t have to employ a true tandem starter system, though on the days the starter goes five and fly, it’ll be nice to have a reliever who can go three innings, if necessary. Putting the two rotation competition losers in the bullpen would give the team those multiple long men to help cover a rotation not known to pitch deep into games.

Opening Day is still nearly two months away (groan) and a lot can and will change between now and then. With any luck, everyone will get through camp healthy and the Yankees will be in position to decide whether to send their extraneous starters to Triple-A or use them in relief. That would be a nice problem to have. The rotation competition will be a big story this spring, and there’s a pretty good chance it will overlap with the bullpen competition as well.

Update: 2017 Salary Arbitration Filing Day Signings

Didi gonna get paid. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)
Didi gonna get paid. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)

Original Post (Friday, 12pm ET): Today is a significant day on the offseason calendar. The deadline for teams and their arbitration-eligible players to file salary figures for the 2017 season is 1pm ET. The team submits the salary they believe the player deserves while the player submits the salary he feels he deserves. Simple, right?

The Yankees have seven arbitration-eligible players on the roster right now. They started the offseason with nine, but Nathan Eovaldi and Dustin Ackley were released when 40-man roster space was needed back in November. Here are the seven arbitration-eligible players and their projected 2017 salaries, per MLB Trade Rumors:

Most arbitration-eligible players around the league will sign a new contract prior to the filing deadline. Last year the Yankees signed Pineda and Ackley before the deadline, but ended up filing figures with Gregorius, Eovaldi, Ivan Nova, and Aroldis Chapman. It was the first time they failed to sign an eligible player before the filing deadline in several years.

It’s important to note exchanging figures today doesn’t mean the two sides have to go to an arbitration hearing. They can still hammer out a contract of any size at any point. In fact, the Yankees were able to sign Gregorius, Eovaldi, Nova, and Chapman not too long after the filing deadline last year. New York hasn’t been to an arbitration hearing since beating Chien-Ming Wang during the 2007-08 offseason.

We’re going to keep track of today’s Yankee-related arbitration news right here, assuming nothing crazy like a long-term extension happens. I’m not counting on it. Make sure you check back for updates often. The deadline is 1pm ET, but the news tends to trickle in all throughout the afternoon.

Update (Friday, 11:39am ET): The Yankees and Gregorius have agreed to a one-year contract worth $5.1M, reports Jon Heyman. Exactly as MLBTR projected. Gregorius made $2.425M last season, which was his first of four years of arbitration-eligibility as a Super Two. A long-term extension was always a long shot. Didi can’t become a free agent until after the 2019 season.

Update (Friday, 12:27pm ET): Romine and the Yankees have an $805,000 agreement in place, says Heyman. Quite a bit below MLBTR’s projection, relatively speaking. Romine made made $556,000 last season. This was his first trip through arbitration.

Update (Friday, 4:52pm ET): Pineda and the Yankees have agreed to a one-year contract worth $7.4M, per Heyman. That’s up from his $4.3M salary in 2016. It pays to be a (middling) starting pitcher. Pineda came in just under his MLBTR projected salary.

Update (Friday, 4:55pm ET): The Yankees have a $2.29M agreement with Warren, according to Josh Norris. Almost exactly what MLBTR projected. He made $1.7M a year ago. Warren will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2018 as well.

Update (Friday, 5:30pm ET): The Yankees announced they have agreements in place with both Hicks and Layne. They’re one-year contracts. No word on the money yet though. That leaves Betances as the only unsigned arbitration-eligible player. I’m not surprised. Contract talks weren’t smooth last year.

Update (Friday, 7:13pm ET): Betances filed for $5M and the Yankees countered with $3M, according to Heyman. That’s a pretty significant gap. They might end up going to a hearing. Then again, I said the same thing about Chapman last year, and they hammered out a deal. Get that paper, Dellin.

Update (Friday, 7:56pm ET): Layne received $1.075M, so says Bryan Hoch. He was arbitration-eligible for the first of four times as a Super Two this offseason, so he’s under team control through 2020. Then again, Layne is already 32 and he’s been in four organizations the last five years, so yeah.

Update (Tuesday, 6:00pm ET): The Yankees and Hicks agreed to a $1.35M salary for 2017, reports Ronald Blum. Just a touch below MLBTR’s projection. Hicks made $574,000 last season. He will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2019.

Thoughts on the ZiPS projections for the 2017 Yankees

2017 WAR projections.
2017 WAR projections.

Earlier this week, Dan Szymborski and FanGraphs released ZiPS projections for the 2017 Yankees. There are a ton of projection systems out there these days, possibly too many at this point, and ZiPS is my personal favorite. It’s been pretty accurate relative to the other systems, historically. ZiPS is my preference. You’re welcome to feel differently.

As a reminder, projections are not predictions. They’re not trying to tell you the future. Projections like ZiPS are an estimate of the player’s current talent level. Robinson Cano hit .306 in 2007, .271 in 2008, and .320 in 2009. Did his talent level change? Nah. That’s just baseball being baseball. It would be boring if it were predictable. Anyway, I have some thoughts on the ZiPS projections. They made for good talking points.

1. Sanchez is very unique. Last year Gary Sanchez came up in August and smashed 20 home runs in his final 52 games of the season. No one had ever done that before, especially not as a full-time catcher. Because of that, Sanchez is super unique as a player and projecting him is damn near impossible. That’s why ZiPS spit out Chris Hoiles (Chris Hoiles!) as Sanchez’s top statistical comp at age 24. Hoiles played six games in his age 24 season. He played 23 games in his age 25 season. It wasn’t until his age 26 season that he broke into the show full-time. And yet, ZiPS determined Hoiles was the best statistical comp for Sanchez at this age because Hoiles could really hit. The guy retired as a career .262/.366/.467 (122 wRC+) hitter who averaged 24 homers per 140 games played. Point is, Sanchez’s career path is incredibly unique. Few catchers show this much power this early. ZiPS spit out Hoiles because he had power too even though he didn’t stick for good until age 26.

2. How about that youthful power? The Yankees’ top six projected 2017 home run hitters according to ZiPS are Aaron Judge (30 dingers), Sanchez (27), Clint Frazier (22), Tyler Austin (18), Greg Bird (18), and Starlin Castro (18). Castro is the grizzled veteran of the group and he’s still only 26. Again, ZiPS is not a prediction. The system is estimating the talent level of each player at that homer total. I’ll take the under on Judge and the over on Bird, assuming his shoulder holds up, but the point is the Yankees have multiple young power bats on the roster for the first time in a long time. Last year they had three players age 26 or younger hit 18+ homers (Sanchez, Castro, Didi Gregorius). They had three total from 2002-15 (Alfonso Soriano, Cano twice). Prior to last season, the last time the Yankees had multiple players age 26 or younger hit 18+ homers was 1991, when Roberto Kelly and Kevin Maas did it. Sanchez, Judge, and Bird are all serious threats to do it in 2017. Maybe Austin too if he gets enough playing time. (Castro turns 27 in Spring Training.) That is pretty awesome and exciting. Hooray for not counting on the veterans to hit the ball out of the park.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

3. The Bird projection is a good reality check. I love Greg Bird. I love his plate discipline, I love his calm at the plate, and I love his ability to hit the ball in the air with authority. We also have to remember the kid is coming back from major surgery though, and there are other flaws in his game as well. He’s not a good defender and lefties have given him trouble in the past. The ZiPS projection reflects those realities. It pegs Bird as a true talent .234/.307/.449 (108 OPS+) hitter right now, which is good in a vacuum but not great in the world of first basemen. (First basemen hit .259/.338/.453 in 2016. That’s a 114 OPS+.) Add in the lack of defense — ZiPS has Bird saving zero runs in the field, which might be generous — and you get a +0.8 WAR player. That’s disappointing to see for 2017. But you know what? ZiPS drops Mo Vaughn on Bird as the top statistical comp at age 24, and Vaughn was a monster from ages 25-30. Remember, this coming season will be Bird’s first full season in the show. There will inevitably be bumps along the way, especially following surgery. Hopefully 2017 is a stepping stone to bigger and better things in the future.

4. ZiPS hasn’t given up on Severino as a starter. More than a few folks would like to see the Yankees keep Luis Severino in the bullpen, where he was so dominant last year, and I get it. I do. Brian Cashman indicated they’re going to stick with him as a starter for now, even if it means sending him to Triple-A in 2017, and that’s the right move in my opinion. Severino is still only 22 and I’d hate to give up on him as a starter at that age, especially with the Yankees in need of long-term rotation help. Development isn’t always linear. There are obstacles to overcome along the way. Anyway, ZiPS is still on the “Severino should start” bandwagon, projected him for a 4.20 ERA (3.94 FIP) in 152 innings this coming season. That’s in 26 starts too. (And yeah, seven relief appearances.) His top statistical comp is Mike Witt, who also hot hammered as a starter and pitched well as a reliever at age 22. Witt went on to have a lot of success as a starter from age 23-28. Severino ain’t alone. He’s not the only guy who’s gone through this.

5. The other young starters don’t look so hot. Along with Severino, the Yankees figure to use some combination of Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Bryan Mitchell at the back of the rotation in 2017. Chances are we’ll see all three of those guys at some point this summer, plus others. ZiPS likes Green the most among those three guys, and the system only projects him as a +0.8 WAR player in 2017.

IP ERA FIP WAR
Cessa 126.2 5.33 5.08 -0.2
Green 128.2 4.67 4.47 +0.8
Mitchell 80 5.74 5.36 -0.6

Eek. I like Cessa more than most, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he were replacement level with a 5.00+ ERA next season. Not if he doesn’t do a better job keeping the ball in the park and/or start missing more bats. Other young arms like Jordan Montgomery (+0.5 WAR) and Chance Adams (-0.2 WAR) don’t project a whole lot better in 2017. These guys might be pretty good down the line! But, for this coming season, they carry an awful lot of risk, and ZiPS reflects that.

6. The Yankees need to figure out the rest of the bullpen. The Yankees are set in the eighth and ninth innings with Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman, both of whom have been excellent in recent years and project to be excellent again next season. The rest of the bullpen is a little dicey. Veteran stalwarts Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren project to be average by reliever standards, which I don’t think is unreasonable at this point of their careers. The best of the young relievers, per ZiPS, are Jonathan Holder and Gio Gallegos, who have basically zero combined time in the big leagues. (Holder threw 8.1 sporadic innings in September.) The minor leagues are littered with relievers who have great strikeout and walk rates, they’re everywhere, and not too many of those relievers are able to carry their success over to the big leagues. ZiPS projects Holder and Gallegos for a combined +0.9 WAR in nearly 140 innings in 2017. Eh. No other young reliever projects to be even replacement level. There’s some figuring out to be done in the bullpen.

Piecing Pitching Together

Comeback Player of the Year? (Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

When the Yankees signed Aroldis Chapman earlier in the week, it more or less solidified their bullpen. Set up now with Chapman closing and Dellin Betances and Tyler Clippard behind him, the team has its coveted trio of relievers. And while I’m not a big fan of the Chapman signing — my thoughts are very similar to the ones Mike laid out in the aftermath — it does give the Yankees a more than formidable end of game crutch on which to lean. That crutch will come in handy considering the relatively weak state the rotation will likely be in.

With the obvious caveat that it’s still early, the Yankee rotation is, once again, heading into the new season with a ton of uncertainty. The only starter who can be reliably counted upon is Masahiro Tanaka. Beyond that, there are question marks. Was CC Sabathia‘s bounceback for real? Is Michael Pineda ever going to turn that corner? Will Luis Severino fall flat on his face again? Who the hell’s going to be the fifth starter? There are plenty of options for that spot, whether internal or external, but unless the Yankees swing a trade for an impact pitcher, it’s unlikely that this rotation is strong enough in general. That’s where Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell come into account.

Adam loves it. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Warren will spend the winter preparing as a starter, but if history repeats itself, he’ll likely end up ticketed for the bullpen, where he’s shown he can flourish as a reliever. Mitchell was slated for a big role with the Yankees in 2016, but a toe injury in Spring Training derailed that; perhaps he can get back on track by joining Warren as tandem swingmen in 2017.

Aside from Tanaka and sometimes Sabathia, the Yankee rotation doesn’t have pitchers that are likely to go deep into games. That limits the effectiveness that the trio of Clippard, Betances, and Chapman can have. To alleviate this problem, it might be wise for the Yankees to use Warren and Mitchell as more flexible relievers, ready to go multiple innings to bridge between the starter and the closing trio or to spell one of those pitchers when he needs a day off.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Both pitchers are borderline starters and exposing them to one turn through the batting order — at most — might help their effectiveness, as might the artificial boost in stuff the bullpen gives. Given the Yankees’ shaky rotation outlook and lack of experience beyond their three big relievers, getting creative with the pitching staff may be the team’s best bet for pitching success in 2017.

Hal indicates two rotation spots will be up for grabs in Spring Training

Mitchell. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Mitchell. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

At this very moment, with pitchers and catchers still eleven weeks away from reporting to Spring Training, the Yankees have three rotation spots accounted for. Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda will occupy the top three spots in whatever order. The other two spots? Those are up in the air right now, and Hal Steinbrenner indicated both could go to young pitchers.

“There’s going to be competition in the starting rotation (in the spring), we know that,” said Hal during a recent YES Network interview (video link). “We’ve got (Adam) Warren. We’ve got (Chad) Green, (Luis) Cessa, (Luis) Severino, (Bryan) Mitchell. We’ve got good options for two spots. That’s going to be pretty fun to watch, I think.”

The Yankees are going young wherever possible, so much so that they’ve been trading productive veterans for prospects since the trade deadline. The Brian McCann trade is the most recent reminder. Going young in the rotation is slightly different than going young in the lineup because of innings limits and things like that, but it is doable. Anyway, I have a few thoughts on this.

1. Hal is probably just posturing. The Yankees would say they’re planning to go young in the rotation even if they were dead set on acquiring another starter. There’s nothing to be gained from broadcasting your free agent and trade intentions. The Yankees have been connected to a few free agent starters this year, most notably Rich Hill and Jason Hammel, and I don’t think Hal’s statement changes anything. The fact the team has gone young and put their money where their mouth is these last few months makes what Hal said even more believable, and that’s good. It’s never good to appear desperate during free and trade talks.

Severino. (Elsa/Getty)
Severino. (Elsa/Getty)

2. Severino isn’t locked into a spot. Steinbrenner mentioned Luis Severino among the pitchers set to compete for a rotation spot and that’s reassuring. I don’t think Severino should be considered a lock for the 2017 rotation by any means. Not after what happened this year. Let Severino come to Spring Training and earn a rotation spot by showing he has faith in his changeup and can consistently locate his secondary pitches. And if he does that, great. Put him in the rotation. If not, send him to Triple-A to keep working on things. Severino would be far more valuable to the Yankees in relief than in Triple-A, but this is about the big picture here, and the team shouldn’t give up on him as a starter yet. Patience, yo.

3. The competition isn’t limited to Spring Training. Spring Training competitions are overblown. They happen every year in every camp, so they are worth following, but the competition doesn’t end on Opening Day. Whoever wins the roster spot — in this case two rotation spots — has to perform well to keep the job, otherwise someone else will get a chance. The Yankees have some nice rotation depth at the moment — in addition to guys Hal listed, there will also be Chance Adams, Dietrich Enns, and Jordan Montgomery in Triple-A — so if they give someone a few starts and he’s not cutting it, they can make a change quickly. You don’t win a roster spot in Spring Training and automatically get to keep it all season. The competition never ends.

4. How will the 26th roster spot come into play? Reports indicate MLB will adopt the full-time 26th roster spot with the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement, which will change how teams build their roster at least somewhat. My guess is most teams, including the Yankees, will use that roster spot on an extra pitcher. Teams would much rather run out of position players than run out of pitchers.

The extra roster spot would give the Yankees the flexibility to do something unconventional like, say, a six-man rotation or tandem fifth starters. They could have their fifth starter go through the lineup twice, then the tandem reliever comes in to go through the lineup twice as well. That’s an entire post for another time, but the 26th roster spot could definitely impact the way the Yankees build their rotation. Heck, maybe Hal meant they’re going to use a six-man rotation, sign a starter, then let the kids compete for the fifth and sixth spots. Who knows?