Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and the Yankees’ Latest Pair of Elite Relievers [2015 Season Preview]

In each of the last four seasons and in five of the last six seasons overall, Joe Girardi had the luxury of having two top shelf relievers in his bullpen. The tandem has changed over the years — it was Mariano Rivera and Phil Hughes in 2009, Rivera and David Robertson in 2011, Rafael Soriano and Robertson in 2012, Rivera and Robertson in 2013, and Robertson and Dellin Betances in 2014 — though there were always two high-end relievers for Girardi to turn to in the late innings.

The tandem has again changed heading into 2015. Robertson was allowed to leave as a free agent and the Yankees signed ex-Red Sox southpaw Andrew Miller to a four-year, $36M contract to replace him. New York saved $2.5M per season by replacing Robertson with Miller and gained a supplemental first round draft pick in the process. Losing a stud homegrown Yankees sucks, like really sucks, but it was an understandable set of baseball moves.

Miller joins Betances to again give Girardi a pair of elite relievers, this time one righty and one lefty. Girardi has yet to name a closer with Opening Day two weeks away — he’s hinted at using co-closers but I think that’s unlikely — and my hunch is Betances will get the job heading into the season. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Both Betances and Miller are capable of closing and both will be counted on in the late innings of close games.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Dellin’s Dominance: So Good It’s Close To Impossible To Repeat

I’ve said this before and it’s worth repeating for no reason other than because it’s fun: Betances’ career path is eerily similar to Rivera’s. Both were good starting pitching prospects in the minors who shifted to the bullpen during their age 25 season, dominated as multi-inning setup men during their first full MLB season at age 26, then took over the ninth inning in their age 27 season after the Yankees let their veteran closer depart as a free agent. Well, we’re assuming Betances will take over as closer, but you catch my drift. Freakishly similar career paths.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Betances will be the next Rivera and we shouldn’t think about him that way either. It’s not fair to him. He’s not the next Rivera, he’s the first Betances. Dellin was by far the most exciting Yankees development last year, pitching to a 1.40 ERA (1.64 FIP) with an elite strikeout rate (13.5 K/9 and 39.6 K%) to go along with better than average walk (2.40 BB/9 and 7.0 BB%) and ground ball (46.6%) rates in 90 innings. Ninety innings! Betances was the best reliever in baseball in terms of bWAR (3.7) and fWAR (3.2) in 2014.

Dellin set the bar impossibly high last year. So high that I find it hard to believe he could do it again in 2015. Does that mean I expect him to stink? No! I fully expect Betances to dominate and again be one of the top bullpeners in the game in 2015. It just means I don’t think he’ll be that good again. Only 27 relievers in history have had a season with a sub-2.00 ERA and a sub-2.00 FIP while throwing at least 50 innings in baseball history. Only six have done it twice. (Rivera was not one of those six!) It’s hard to do what Dellin did once. It’s even harder to repeat it.

Betances has been out of sorts in Spring Training — his first two outings were typical Dellin but he’s allowed one run on two hits in each of his last two times out — but I’m not particularly concerned with that. His fastball has been mostly mid-90s rather than high-90s like we saw at the end of last year, but he was sitting mid-90s at the outset of last season as well (via Brooks Baseball):

Dellin Betances 2014 velocityDellin’s curveball … or slurve … or slider … or whatever the hell we’re calling it these days seems to have been giving him the most trouble. He simply hasn’t had much control over it, so hopefully he irons that out before the season starts in two days. Betances’ history as a prospect with basically zero control in the minors is always going to be in the back of my mind, but two Grapefruit League outings aren’t enough of a cause for concern to me.

Regardless of whether he closes or sets up, Betances will be Girardi’s ace right-handed reliever this year and someone he relies on for huge outs. I don’t think we’ll see him make as many multi-inning appearances this summer simply because throwing 90 innings out of the bullpen year after year isn’t a thing that happens anymore, though Girardi can certainly use Dellin for six outs on occasion. Given the plan to win close games with pitching and defense, Betances is a crucial piece of the 2015 Yankees.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The New Guy: Not Just A Lefty Specialist

Aside from Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller was arguably the best left-handed reliever in baseball last season. He was outstanding, posting a 2.02 ERA (1.51 FIP) in 62.1 innings with a better strikeout rate than Betances (14.87 K/9 and 42.6 K%) and comparable walk (2.45 BB/9 and 7.0 BB%) and ground ball (46.9%) rates. It was the best season of Miller’s career but it would be a mistake to call it his only good year. To wit:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB%
2012 40.1 3.35 3.17 30.2% 11.8% 43.2%
2013 30.2 2.64 3.05 35.6% 12.6% 56.1%
2014 62.1 2.02 1.51 42.6% 7.0% 46.9%
2012-14 133.1 2.57 2.37 37.0% 9.9% 47.8%

Miller missed the start of the 2012 season with a hamstring injury and the end of the 2013 season with a ligament issue in his foot. (He didn’t pitch in the postseason that year.) He was healthy all of last year and those aren’t arm injuries, so they aren’t much of a concern going forward.

Anyway, Miller has consistently improved since moving into the bullpen full-time at Bobby Valentine’s behest in 2012. He was a high draft pick who never could get his mechanics right as a starter, but it’s clicked in the bullpen and his mid-90s fastball/mid-80s slider combo is lethal. Robertson, by the way, had a 2.59 ERA (2.59 FIP!) in 191.1 innings from 2012-14, so Miller was on par with New York’s ex-relief ace on a rate basis.

Left-handers have a way of getting pigeonholed into small roles in the bullpen, specifically left-on-left matchup guys. Miller is way too good for that though and I’m certain Girardi knows it. Miller is a late-inning reliever who can face righties and lefties just like Betances. He just so happens to throw left-handed. Here are his splits since moving into the bullpen:

IP K% BB% GB% FIP wOBA
vs. LHP 66.0 40.1% 7.6% 40.9% 1.90 .236
vs. RHP 67.1 34.2% 12.0% 54.2% 2.82 .258

It’s no surprise Miller has been better against lefties than righties these last three years — between his stuff and low-ish arm angle, lefty hitters have basically no chance against this guy, he’s the bullpen version of Randy Johnson — though he’s been better than good against batters of the opposite hand. A few too many walks against righties, sure, but lots of strikeouts and lots of grounders too. This isn’t someone Girardi will have the shelter against righties late in a close game. Miller’s someone Girardi should want to use in those spots.

There’s really no wrong answer for the eighth and ninth innings in close games. The only wrong answer is one that doesn’t involve Betances or Miller. Both are capable late-inning relievers and I assume one will close and one will setup. Co-closers is nice in theory but I’m going to have to see that one before believing the Yankees would actually do it. Betances and Miller are the best righty-lefty bullpen combination in the game, and like Rivera/Robertson in the past or Robertson/Betances last year, these two are going to log a lot of important inning in close games. That’s the 2015 recipe.

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Weekend Links: Jeter, Matsui, Betances, Game 162, Cuba, In-Market Streaming

(Shizuo Kambayashi/AP)
(AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

The Yankees are playing the Astros at 1:05pm ET this afternoon (Michael Pineda vs. Dallas Keuchel), but there will be no video broadcast of the game. No YES, no MLB.tv, no nothing. Lame. So, on this day with unwatchable Yankees baseball, here are some miscellaneous links to help you pass the time.

Jeter, Matsui To Participate In Home Run Derby For Charity

Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui will square off in a Home Run Derby at the Tokyo Dome tomorrow to help raise money to support children affected by the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the region in 2011, reports the Associated Press. There will be over 600 participants in the event, including a group of baseball players from the Tohoku region, which was hit hardest by the disaster.

“(Derek) will make an enormous contribution to this event. He is a tremendous human being and was a great teammate and I’m sure the kids will be thrilled to see someone of his stature,” said Matsui to the Associated Press. Jeter and Matsui will also hold a baseball clinic for kids. Some photos of Jeter at sumo matches made the rounds a few days ago and I figured he was just on vacation. Great work by Jeter and Matsui to get together for charity. Hopefully some video of the Home Run Derby pops up soon.

The Deception & Dominance Of Betances

Owen Watson put together a really great article looking at an underrated part of Dellin Betances‘ game: his deception. We all know he throws high-90s with a nasty breaking ball, but his release point and delivery is incredibly consistent for both pitches, so hitters don’t get any sort of hint of what’s coming. This GIF is pretty great:

That’s two pitches laid over one another. One pitch is a 98 mph fastball (taken), the other an 82 mph curveball (swing and miss). Dellin’s delivery and release point are the same and both pitches look identical out of his hand. It’s basically impossible to tell whether a fastball or breaking ball is coming before the hitter’s brain has to tell his body to swing or not, hence all those called strikes he was getting on curveballs last year. They look like high fastballs out of the zone and hitter gives up.

Yankees Hired New Nutritionist This Offseason

The search for a competitive advantage extends beyond the field of play these days, with teams looking for ways to keep their players healthier through improved diet and rest. The Yankees hired a new nutritionist this offseason named Cynthia Sass, according to David Waldstein, and her job is to provide the team with the best possible diet and persuade players to eat it. “We’re trying to build a more perfect beast,” said Brian Cashman to Waldstein.

Teams typically provide players with two meals per day — breakfast and lunch for day games, lunch and dinner for night games — but they can’t force players to eat them. Sass, who spent the last eight years with the Rays and had previously worked with the Phillies and New York Rangers, has added healthy alternatives to the daily menu and will educate players, then adjust the menu based on their preferences. “I’m not there to shove it down their throat,” she said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. The goal is to make the best foods for athletes always available. If they want more of it, we’ll provide it.”

The Yankees have had nutrionists over the years — every team has — but the goal this winter was the refocus their efforts in hope of gaining a competitive advantage. The team also hired former minor league pitcher John Kremer as their “high performance science director” to coordinate the nutritionist, food preparation, medical staff, trainers, coaches … basically everyone who impacts team performance. Teams haven’t necessarily ignored the diet of their players, they just haven’t done as much to optimize it as you’d think. Sass was hired to do that for the Yankees.

MLB Schedules Every Game 162 At Same Time

In an effort to boost the drama and excitement of the final day of the regular season, MLB has scheduled Game 162 for every team at the exact same time this year, writes Bill Shaikin. All 15 games on October 4th — yes, the season ends October 4th — will begin at 3pm ET. The Yankees will be in Baltimore playing the Orioles that day.

“If a game impacts another game, they’re all occurring at the same time, so no team would be put into a lame-duck situation because their fate already had been decided by an earlier result,” said MLB COO Tony Petitti to Shaikin. “If we do have games coming down to the wire, we want to make sure we maximize that day.”

Last year the NL Central and second AL Wild Card spot came down to Game 162. The Pirates lost to the Reds, giving the Cardinals the division title and allowing St. Louis to scratch Adam Wainwright later that afternoon so he could start him in Game 1 of the NLDS. That sort of situation won’t happen this year. I love this idea and as a baseball fan I hope the final day of the regular season is pure chaos. Hopefully the Yankees are involved somehow.

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

MLB Likely To Play Exhibition Game In Cuba In 2016

Commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed to Brian Costa the league is likely to play a Spring Training game in Cuba next season. MLB has been in talks with the government about returning to the island as the two countries work to rebuild their relationship. MLB last played a game in Cuba in 1999, when the Orioles played the Cuban National Team.

“To the extent that we can play a role in helping the United States government effectuate a change in policy, that we’re following their lead and we’re acting in a way that’s consistent with what they want us to do, that’s an honor for us,” said Manfred to Costa. “The combination of their input and where we are in our calendar for 2015 makes the most likely point in time to be Spring Training of 2016. It’s not a three-day exercise to play a meaningful exhibition game in Cuba. You need a little lead time to get that done, to put everything together, to be able to broadcast it in the way that it deserves.”

It’s unclear right now if MLB would play a single exhibition game in Cuba or several. In the past the league has played two games when playing overseas, though traveling to Cuba is much easier than traveling to, say, Taiwan, like the Dodgers did in 2010. Anyway, the Yankees are baseball’s most recognizable and marketable team, so I suspect they will be given consideration for the game(s) in Cuba next spring. Imagine the Yankees vs. Yasiel Puig and the Dodgers or Jose Abreu and the White Sox with Orlando Hernandez throwing out the first pitch. That would be fun.

In-Market Streaming May Be On The Horizon

According to Josh Kosman, MLB will soon announce a deal allowing fans to stream games online in each team’s home market. So New Yorkers will be able to watch the Yankees and Mets on their iPad or laptop instead of sitting in front of a television. The particulars (cost, etc.) aren’t known yet, but Kosman says teams with their own networks will require fans to subscribe to the network to stream online. You won’t be able to simply purchase MLB.tv and watch the Yankees, you’ll have to subscribe to YES through their cable provider. That’s better than nothing, I guess.

Girardi hints at co-closer setup with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

With Spring Training one week away — pitchers and catchers report in one week, anyway — position battles will soon begin and the final roster spots will be sorted out. For the most part the Yankees’ 25-man roster is set — barring injury, of course — with the last bullpen spot and maybe the last bench spot up for grabs. That’s about it.

One position the Yankees have to figure out these next few weeks is the closer’s role. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller are the two favorites for obvious reasons but the team has no real shortage of candidates. I’m sure Adam Warren or David Carpenter could close no problem if needed. Finding a closer in Spring Training isn’t really the issue. Joe Girardi and his staff just need to actually pick someone to do it.

For what’s it’s worth, both Miller and Betances have said the right things when asked about the closer’s job this offseason. “I’ve never been a closer so it’s not like I’m building a resume. I’m not worried about that kind of thing,” said Miller on the MLB Trade Rumors podcast earlier this week. “I think we’ve all seen the value of relievers getting outs in those sixth, seventh and eighth innings now … I just want to be part of a good team and I think that flexibility opens more windows and more doors for me.”

Betances, meanwhile, recently told Mike Vorkunov he hasn’t really thought about being the closer and is just going to focus on getting outs. “At times I think the middle innings – the seventh, eighth inning – sometimes you come in to a tough situation, bases loaded, two guys on, when the game is on the line. Even if you pitch one inning, sometimes you face the two-three-four hitters, sometimes that’s harder at times,” he said. “I think the ninth inning you put pressure on yourself that’s where you tend to fail a little bit. But I’ve learned a lot from Mo and from what David Robertson did last year. It’s to take it one day at a time and to have a short memory.”

Miller and Betances are right, sometimes the seventh and eighth innings are tougher than the ninth, and that’s why Dellin was so valuable last year. He didn’t just dominate, he was able to dominate for two innings at a time if necessary. Betances got all the big outs in the middle innings. As long as Joe Girardi is able to balance winning games with keeping his righty relief ace rested and fresh — he threw 90 innings with a 1.28 average leverage index last year, which is a friggin’ ton of stressful innings — it would be awesome to see him in that role again.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

“I think guys like to know their roles, so I think if we can iron it out, I think it would be a good thing to do,” said Girardi to Bryan Hoch recently. “But I think you can also create an atmosphere where you say, ‘You know what, guys? I’ll prepare you every day in a sense of what I think is going to happen, and here are your matchups, the guys that I’m probably going to bring you in against.'”

That’s a pretty interesting answer from Girardi, who seems to suggest he’s open to trying some sort of co-closer situation, presumably with Miller facing the tough lefties and Betances facing the tough righties in whatever inning that may be. I floated the idea of a co-closer setup last month when discussing the ninth inning and noted Girardi likes to have defined roles. He’s shown that since he was hired back in 2008. Perhaps now he’s softened on that stance.

The only team to even try a co-closer setup in the last decade or so was the 2009 Braves, who had lefty Mike Gonzalez and righty Rafael Soriano. With Miller and Betances, the Yankees clearly have the righty personnel to try something similar. I love the idea, it’s outside the box and puts everyone in the best position to succeed, but something like this isn’t as easy to put into practice as it may seem. Hopefully the Yankees and Girardi can pull it off.

Ranking the 40-Man Roster: Nos. 3-5

Over these next two weeks we’re going to subjectively rank and analyze every player on the Yankees’ 40-man roster — based on their short and long-term importance to the team — and you’ll inevitably disagree with our rankings. We’ve already covered Nos. 6-10, 11-14, 15-16, 17-19, 20-25, 26-31, and 32-40.

Dellin. (Elsa/Getty)
Dellin. (Elsa/Getty)

We are now in the home stretch of our 40-man roster rankings and about to enter the top five. These guys are the cream of the crop. The impact players for both today and tomorrow. The guys who will hopefully be at the center of the next great Yankees team. Simply put, these are the players the Yankees need to excel to get back to being contenders.

Today we’re going to cover players three, four, and five. Two pitchers and an everyday up-the-middle player. The weird thing is we don’t quite know what to expect from two of the three just yet because one has injury concerns and the other hasn’t even played a game in pinstripes yet. So let’s get on with it. Here is the next batch of players in our 40-man rankings.

No. 5: Dellin Betances

2015 Role: High-leverage reliever. Betances emerged as one of the top relievers in the world last season and the Yankees are asking him to do it again. Well, I’m sure they understand he might not be that good again, but they are counting on Betances to dominate late in the game, and for multiple innings on occasion. I don’t think he’ll throw another 90 innings in 2015 — the two-inning appearances might not come as often only to keep him fresh and healthy.

Long-Term Role: Closer, and it could happen as soon as next year. It seems obvious to me Betances is being groomed for the ninth inning, and all the bullpen depth they added this winter means it’ll be easier for Joe Girardi & Co. to navigate the seventh and eighth innings without Dellin. There is a question of whether Betances is best used as a setup man or being pigeon-holed into the ninth inning, but teams tend to use their best relievers in the ninth inning, and Betances is the team’s best reliever even after the addition of Andrew Miller.

Although it feels like he’s been around forever, Betances is still under team control for five more years, the next two as a dirt cheap pre-arbitration player. He’s not all that young anymore — he’ll turn 27 in March — so by the end of his five years, he’ll already be 31 and heading into his age 32 season. That’s too far away to think about though. Betances earned a lot of responsibility last season and it’s only a matter of time until he gets the glory of the ninth inning.

Didi. (Presswire)
Didi. (Presswire)

No. 4: Didi Gregorius

2015 Role: Starting shortstop. The Yankees have discussed platooning Gregorius with Brendan Ryan but that seems sort of silly. Ryan has hit lefties worse than Didi these last two years (31 vs. 25 wRC+). I do think the team will sit Gregorius against tough lefties, the David Prices and Chris Sales of the world, but I think he’ll get a chance to sink or swim against guys like Mark Buehrle and Wei-Yin Chen, the non-overpowering lefties.

As the starting shortstop, Gregorius’ first responsibility comes in the field on defense. He is a massive upgrade over Derek Jeter defensively and the team is trying to compensate for their lack of offense with great defense, so catching the ball at short is imperative. Didi is a standout gloveman with a knack for highlight plays and that’s what the Yankees want to see. Anything he contributes at the plate is a bonus, though it is worth noting he’s a left-handed hitter with a career .262/.332/.411 (102 wRC+) line against righties. He could help more than expected offensively, especially in Yankee Stadium.

Long-Term Role: Gregorius will turn 25 next month and the long-term shortstop position is his for the taking. The Yankees clearly like Didi, they’ve been trying to get him since at least the 2013 Winter Meetings and they traded away a valuable young player in Shane Greene to get him, so I fully expect him to get an extended opportunity at the position this summer. Five-hundred something at-bats. They want him to be their shortstop of the future.

Gregorius has five years of team control remaining. He’ll make something near the minimum this season and will be arbitration-eligible four times as a Super Two. The Yankees want him to spend all five of those years reeling in balls at short and contributing at the plate from the bottom of the lineup. Gregorius is not Jeter, neither he nor anyone else ever will be, though he has a chance to be a shortstop in this league for a very long time, and the team wants him to have that career in pinstripes. I have no doubt about it.

No. 3: Michael Pineda

Big Mike. (Presswire)
Big Mike. (Presswire)

2015 Role: Ace. Ace-ish, really. Pineda finally made it to the mound for the Yankees last year and the little bit of time he did spend in the rotation was dominant: 1.89 ERA (2.71 FIP) in 13 starts and 76.1 innings. He was the team’s best starter last season on a rate basis and the Yankees want to see more of the same this coming season. Lots more. When he’s healthy, Big Mike showed he can be a difference-maker.

Pineda’s battled shoulder trouble since coming over to New York in the January 2012 trade with the Mariners, and last year he missed more than three months with a muscle strain in his shoulder. Durability is a major concern for Pineda. You can’t realistically expect him to maintain his 2014 performance over a full season, but the Yankees would happily take something like a 3.50-ish ERA in 2015 if it meant getting 180+ innings out Pineda.

Long-Term Role: Ace! Pineda is No. 3 on this list for a reason: because he is capable of domination and ace-caliber performance. The health concerns are never really going to go away — guys who have shoulder surgery tend to continue having on-and-off problems in their careers — but they can be alleviated somewhat with a healthy year in 2015.

Maybe Pineda’s long-term outlook is Al Leiter? Leiter had major shoulder surgery at age 23 — the same age as Pineda — and threw only nine big league innings from 1990-92 before finally settling in as a workhorse starter with occasional ace-level domination in his late 20s. Pineda turned 26 less than two weeks ago and will soon be three full years out from shoulder surgery.

Either way, the Yankees have Pineda for another three seasons as an arbitration-eligible player. At the time of the trade, they were hoping he would have risen to the top of rotation by now, but that didn’t happen. That’s baseball. We saw last year that Pineda is still capable of being excellent and it was encouraging. Now that he’s beyond the shoulder surgery, the goal is keeping him healthy and seeing more of that top of the rotation ability.

Coming Thursday: No. 2. The two-way threat with the most remaining guaranteed contract years on the roster.

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?

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?

Weekend Mailbag and Open Thread

We’ve been getting a ton of submissions through our new mailbag form, which you can find in the right sidebar. Keep ’em coming. The more questions, the more mailbag features we’ll do. They’re pretty fun for everyone, aren’t they?

Again, we open with a couple of housekeeping items:

1. Remember, when you’re buying Yankees stuff this holiday season, click through the RAB Shop links. It’s a huge boost for us. We have some items displayed on that page, too — like a Jeter replica jersey that doesn’t have his name on the back. You don’t see those every day.

2. The first RAB Daily Digest will hit mailboxes on Monday morning. You can read about the RAB Daily Digest, or sign up using the form below. We’re at 850 subscribers right now, and would love to have this hit 1,000 inboxes for the inaugural run.



And now…

Zac asks: At first glance, the A’s seemed to get an uninspiring haul for Donaldson. What would the comparable package of Yankees players/prospects have been?

CanGuest asks: With regards to the Donaldson/Lawrie trade, it doesn’t seem like the Jays gave up too much in the way of prospects. Do you think we could have made a similar deal to get Donaldson, and how surprising is it that he was traded? Was he on anybody’s radar at all?

In case you missed it last night, the A’s traded 3B Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays for 3B Brett Lawrie and a trio of prospects: RHP Kendall Graveman, LHP Sean Nolin, and SS Franklin Barreto.

It does not seem as though the Jays gave up much. Donaldson is not only light years better than Lawrie, but he also has less service time — he’s eligible for free agency after the 2018 season, while Lawrie will be free after 2017. The move seems even stranger coming on the heels of the A’s signing Billy Butler, a seemingly win-now move. Why sign Butler and then trade your best hitter?

Getting back Barreto is nice for Oakland, since they traded away their top shortstop prospect, but he’s just 18 and so has years before reaching the bigs. Billy Beane has to be banking to a decent degree on Lawrie delivering more on his considerable promise. He’s been perfectly average since a breakout performance in 2011, and has missed 100 games in the last two seasons due to injury.

That said, Beane clearly isn’t done. There are already rumblings of a Jeff Samardzija trade with the White Sox (which would be huge for them), and Brandon Moss could be next. This clearly isn’t a rebuild, but, as one reporter put it (can’t find the link), Beane is reworking the entire team. I wouldn’t be surprised to see John Jaso and Josh Reddick traded as well this off-season.

Was this a surprise? Sure, in that most of Beane’s moves are surprises. I don’t think anyone really saw him giving up Addison Russell for Samardzija, nor did we see him trading Cespedes for Lester. So, surprising, but kinda not since Beane never operates in a way we expect.

In terms of comparable Yankees prospects, there’s really not much there. They don’t have anyone like Lawrie, a cost-controlled MLB player the A’s can plug into Donaldson’s old position, or perhaps 2B. Martin Prado fits that bill, but he’s older, more expensive, and has fewer years remaining of team control.

Looking at the top 30 prospects, you have to think Clarkin would be in there. Jagielo? Torrens? I’m not sure. It’s tough to piece these things together from another team’s perspective. Sometimes a GM will have his eyes on a few prospects from one team, and that’s the end of that.

Ken asks: Would it make more sense for the Yankees to let Robertson go and hope that Betances’s 2014 was not a fluke (as opposed to what they saw from him previously) and go for a veteran to handle the eighth or ninth inning and sign/trade for a “marquee” shortstop or to go four years with Robertson and go for a lesser shortstop?

Tom asks: Any idea on potential arbitration savings on Betances (2016-2019) by signing a closer who racks up the saves (which pays in arbitration).

I’m not sure trading for a “marquee” shortstop is in the cards (there are none on the FA market) regardless of what they do with Robertson. I picked this question, because there is an obvious parallel in recent Yankee history: letting John Wetteland walk to make Mariano Rivera closer after the 1996 season.

Plenty is different in that scenario, mainly the success of the team at the time. Rivera’s 1996 and Betances’s 2014 were very similar. While that doesn’t make Betances the next Rivera, it is an encouraging sign, perhaps one that will allow the Yankees to save some bucks on Robertson, which they can allocate to offense. Because they need offense.

As for signing a closer to keep down Betances’s arbitration costs, that’s going to cost money, too. Even then, the market is full of question marks. The Yanks have reportedly talked about making Jason Grilli an offer, but he’s not exactly reliable. Francisco Rodriguez has declined, as has Rafael Soriano. Maybe they try to get one of them on a sweetheart deal and move Betances into the closer role if they falter.

(I do not think they’re signing Robertson, for what it’s worth.)

James asks: Could A-Rod be the hitting coach?

It might sound like a silly question, but the man does know the game. I remember him talking about specific things he works on with hitting coaches. Younger players also seem to love him. It’ll never happen, not in a million years, but I do think A-Rod could help out kids at the plate.

Rich asks: How good a chance does Severino have make the opening day rotation?

Zero. Negative, possibly. The kid has potential, but certainly isn’t on tap for the majors quite yet. Give him time. Maybe he slots in later in the season. But realistically we’re talking 2016 at the very earliest.