Is the Yankees’ bullpen overstocked?

Nevertheless, it did make me wonder if the Yankees aren’t saturated with bullpen talent and, if so, if it might not make some sense to shop some of those bullpen arms for a younger position player. Think about it, the Yankees opening day bullpen will definitely include Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Rafael Soriano, and Boone Logan as the lefty specialist, will probably include Cory Wade (who makes a heck of a last guy in the bullpen), and could see Phil Hughes added to the unit as well. And oh yeah, at some point next season Joba Chamberlain will returnto be thrown back into that mix too. That’s an abundance of riches to be sure, and even if Cameron is wrong about the value of middle relievers, it’s hard to see where the team will come up with meaningful innings to give to all of those guys.

With that in mind, I’m not sure it wouldn’t behoove Brian Cashman to shop David Robertson around to see what teams might be interested in giving up to acquire the Yankees’ strikeout happy set up man. Don’t get me wrong, I love D-Rob as much as the next guy and would be sad to see him go, but his value is probably as high as it will ever be right now, and he probably isn’t really as good as his 2011 numbers make him out to be. We all know he can generate strikeouts, of course, but he also continues to walk a lot of batters in the process(4.73 BB/9 last year), which is going to come back to bite him when his 0.14 HR/9 and 2.3 HR/FB% catch up to him. If Robertson’s numbers move closer to the 3.82 ERA and 3.58 FIP he registered in 2010 with much more normal peripherals, losing him wouldn’t hurt nearly so much if the return was sweet.

Ideally, the Yankees could swap some of their excess pitching for a talented young corner outfielder who is ready to play int he big leagues right now. This would fix their short term hole at the designated hitter position by allowing them to have Nick Swisher fill the role of primary DH and help them meet their 2014 payroll target by filling an open starting spot at tremendous value. If they get the right player in return, it’s basically a win-win for the short and long term.

The question, of course, is who this player might be. The name that springs to mind immediately is the Phillies’ Dominic Brown, and such an idea doesn’t seem as improbably to me as it should. The Phillies are in win-now mode to the extreme, given a) their aging roster b) the strain on the payroll Ryan Howard‘s contract is going to begin to create and c) the fact that Cole Hamels looks likely to become a free agent at the end of this season, they spent big on the bullpen by bringing Jonathan Papelbon to town (before which they were reportedly willing to spend big to keep Ryan Madson in town), and they might be enticed by the possibility of adding one of the best setup men in baseball from last season to the mix as well and, quite frankly, general manager Ruben Amaro just doesn’t seem to be a fan of the idea of letting Brown become a regular for the Phillies anytime this decade. The standard “my trade proposal sucks” disclaimer applies here, but I’ve got a hunch this might not be so crazy. And depending on what the ancillary pieces of the trade are, a Robertson-for-Brown swap could be a huge windfall for the Yankees.

Not that I’ll mind watching Robertson strike out the side wearing pinstripes when he doesn’t get traded this month by any means.

About Brien Jackson

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

80 thoughts on “Is the Yankees’ bullpen overstocked?

  1. I am not sure I get your point about expansion. In addition to dilution among pitchers, there is also dilution among hitters, so why wouldn't that cancel out?

      • Isn't there population growth as a whole to account for too? Not to mention an increase in foreign talent coming to the Big Leagues? Has anyone done a statistical examination of the overall talent level in the Major Leagues now versus however many years ago? Not that I could think of how that might be done.

        • That last part is the problem. Dan Rosenheck and I debated this last year (as part of a dispute about whether it was fair to compare Albert Pujols to potential pre-integration analogues). My position remains that comparisons across eras are near irrelevant because we cannot realistically estimate the size of the player pool. Many factors contribute to this – the inconsistent and inefficient opening of new markets, the accuracy of population data, changing approaches to identifying and evaluating talent, and, perhaps most of all, dramatic changes in the economic advantages of becoming a baseball player.

  2. I am too infatuated by such a strong bullpen to want to move any of them. Domonic Brown is an attractive add, I'll give you that. But other than acquiring such a talent, I love the idea of throwing three strong arms at you every night and being able to alternate nights so that nobody gets overworked.

  3. It seems that Dominic has been on the verge for a while. Why do people still feel that he is fair return for D Robb. Just curious. It is not like he has done anything at the ML level…

    • Well he's only gotten 280 career plate appearances at the MLB level over the last two seasons. It's hard to judge a 23 year old's talent when they aren't getting much of a chance to play regularly.

        • Is he really the Yankees' second best reliever, though? If his strikeout rate comes down a little bit and he posts a more normal home run rate (i.e. he looks a lot like he did in 2010), is he really as attractive as he is now?

          • I admit, Brien – his value likely won't increase. But if not DR, who do you trust when Boone or Wade or Ayala or whoever blows up? Soriano – maybe – if he comes back and fails to suck, remains healthy. Joba if he comes back. Hughes if he's in the pen and finds himself.

            Once you get past Mo, your embarrassment of riches has a lot of question marks. As does D-Rob himself. And, quadragenerian Mo, for that matter. It could be a shutdown bullpen. But of the returnees, Robertson and Mo had the best years last year – I'd hate to trade one of those two and hope someone else can pickup the slack, should Pineda, Nova, Burnett, Freddy, or Kuroda get shelled in the 5th inning.

            If we're talking trade, there should be plenty of time to work a trade later, after we've had a chance to see if the pen and rotation looks as good on the field as it does on paper.

          • I can't believe my Eyes Reading about trading RD This is why so many people HATE Yankee Fans I am for LIFE a Yankee Fan But Gratitude ????RD was great and should be Close to 2011 this year and Maybe better You May??? be looking at Mo's Replacement Go Yanks
            BTW all the talk about trading Hughes He will SHUT MANY MOUTHS this Year
            with a Excelent Year.

        • Nunez, Brown, Harper.

          Descending MLB experience. Ascending talent floors and project-ability.
          One is unanimously not an every day player on a contending team.

          The link here doesn't go anywhere, it seems.

  4. I hear what you are saying about DRob. In fact, I might agree that his value is higher than it has ever been, and he might make good trade bait. However, a trade for Domonic Brown makes absolutely no sense.

    David Robertson was an All Star caliber reliever last year. It makes sense to trade top prospects in order to receive top prospects (a la Pineda). However, you can't trade a reliever that struck out the entire MLB (not AAA) last year for someone who "might" be a very good player one day.

    I'd be interested in a better-than-average Major League bat for David Robertson, not a better-than-average Minor League one.

  5. Going back to 2008, the Yankees have been able to coax at least 30 league-average relief innings from a total of 15 different pitchers.

    It's not terribly difficult to find these guys, so I would be willing to trade just about any reliever in baseball for a quality starting position player.

  6. I would do this deal all day everyday. Potential young, cost controlled, impact bat for a reliever is something you do all day everyday, especially seeing as how volitile relievers are from year to year. Love D-Rob but this is a no brainer

  7. Say it with me; "You can never have to much pitching."
    Say it with me: "someone will get hurt this year, and miss significant time"

    • Starting* pitching. Competent relievers are entirely fungible, particularly when the team has a full fleet of #5 starters waiting in the wing known as SWB. The bullpen, in recent and successful years, has come together on the fly throughout the season.

      • Even then, with only a certain number of roster spots available, you certainly *can* have too much pitching.

  8. The kid is 26 years old, he had an amazing year last year, and I'm not so sure his peripherals are ever going to look more "normal" given his high swing and miss, strikeout and walk rates. He may just profile different than a normal reliever. I would probably give him up for someone that could be a starting position player, but given the success rate of free agent relief pitchers, I would love to keep D-Rob in town. He was actually one of my favorite Yankees to watch last year, so no doubt i'm a bit biased.

    • sorry for the double post, my browser timed out and told me there was an error….. I blame SNY, they're already screwing up the site!!! ;)

    • Maybe a 0.14 HR/9 and 2.3 HR/FB rate *is* D-Rob's true talent level, but I doubt it.

      • Has anyone ever looked at three true outcomes in regards to pitchers? So you have a guy like Swisher who will happily try to work a walk even if it means striking out. Is it possible that DRob's elevated BB/9 rate is due to slightly missing the same spots? Meaning he is comfortable walking someone if it also means increased strike outs or weak hits? I'd be curious what his heat map looks like between his Ks and BBs.

        I know this sounds a lot like "pitching to contact" and other silliness but there does seem to be a few pitchers who are successful despite a high level of BBs (Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson who was between 3 & 6(!) early in his career).

        • A high strikeout-high walk reliever isn't all that anomalous, per se, but it's the home run rate that made the difference last year. He went from pretty normal numbers in 2009 and 2010 to flat out ridiculous numbers in 2011. Those probably aren't sustainable, and if he climbs back to a more normal home run rate his ERA and FIP are going to go up as well.

          • Based on…. it looks like he did make a change last year. The regular fastball catchall dropped significantly while the cutter made up the difference. His average velocity went up at least 1 MPH as did his ground ball %. I'd say that gives some hope that his true HR/FB rate is better than the 8-9 he posted in 2009/2010.

  9. I think for a guy like Robertson, a trade is a no brainer, but for players like Chamberlain and Hughes, you shouldn't. Joba and Phil both have a low trade value, as opposed to Robertson's, whose value is at an all time high. No way just Robertson could get a guy like Domonic Brown, but he'd be a valuable trade chip.

  10. He's a favourite when he strikes out the side, but when he starts giving up key runs, people will have a different view of him. This is New York after all, you can't have an off year and get away with it.

  11. I'm surprised by this reaction in the comments. I think the problem is reverse — it's not giving up too much by the Yanks but giving up too little. D-Rob is too light a return for a prospect of Brown's caliber. I don't see why the Phils would do this. That said, if they would agree, I think you have to laugh all the way to the bank if you're the Yankees. Love DRob as much as the next guy, but he's a reliever, who are by definition crazy volatile and often have a short shelf life.

    • His dominant swing and miss repertoire is awesome. Especially his fastball that naturally cuts. An objective GM would realize Brown is worth far more than Robertson. Amaro is even more unlikely to approve this trade, as someone who just signed four years of a reliever for $50M. Amaro is even more likely to approve this trade, as someone who just signed four years of a reliever for $50M.

      Sweet name, by the way.

    • The better balanced trade is Blanton and Brown for DRob and the choice of one of Romine, Campos or Chamberlain.

  12. I agree with Brien's premise that Robertson's value will never be higher. I also agree that if anybody might be duped into "buying high and selling low," it's probably the Phillies, but I think even they balk at the suggested trade. The fact is, a reliever who's already getting pretty sizable arbitration awards is going to have a really hard time producing as much value over the life of his contract as a rookie outfielder, especially one with Brown's skill set. I think it's unrealistic to expect to get an elite prospect for D-Rob.

    • One thought: What if, heaven forbid, this is Mo’s last year. Doesn’t DRob profile nicely for the heir apparent? Or, do you want MFIKY or some other equally priced FA closer to fill that void?

      And if it’s not next year, the year after. Or the year after that, whenever the ‘borg decides he wants to stop breaking bats.

      • Isn't that why Rafael Soriano is making $14 Million in 2013? (snickering)

        Of course, I agree. Robertson has closer stuff and should give the Yanks two or three years of relatively modestly-priced production in that role.

      • Only Mo can forbid and foretell his career. Lolz. That out of the way:

        Any above average reliever can be his 'heir'. I don't buy into the prerequisite closer mentality to pitch in the last inning of the game.

        Considering the nature of the article, the Yankees shouldn't have an issue finding arms to throw innings. Though, I'm all for holding onto the guy and putting him into the role if it prevents the team from another horrible multi-year reliever contract.

        Please no more multi-year reliever deals :(

    • I agree, D-Rob learned his added pitch from Riviera last year. He will perfect how to use it and apparently he'll be the future closer.

  13. There's something no one seems to have considered. Rivera is 42. He's already said this might be his last year. Even if it isn't, how much longer can we expect him to pitch, particularly at the high level we've come to expect? Robertson would seem to be a excellent candidate to replace him. Soriano has already had arm trouble, and I don't see anyone else in the organization being able to take on the closer role.

    I think trading Robertson would be a huge mistake.

  14. It would be TOTAL insanity to trade Robertson, whose talent and upside is INCREDIBLE. Plus, being around Mariano for so long has no doubt helped his mental makeup. Dominic Brown has a HUGE hole in his swing that may never be corrected. This would be a HORRIBLE trade for the Yankees.

    • Robertson doesn't have much if any upside other than what he showed on the field last year, which was a great year, but less than a 3 WAR player. That's the absolute best case scenario going forward. The best case scenario going forward for Brown is what, 5/6 WAR per season for a while?

      • Yeah, if you want to be really pedantic, Robertson has basically *no* upside beyond what he did in 2011. Maybe a few more innings, but performance wise he's highly unlikely to do any better thanhe did last year.

        • OK – but based on that logic, shouldn't we also trade Mo? I'm pretty sure he doesn't have much upside either; doubt if he's going to KEEP improving as he ages. (saying that, since otherwise you were likely to point out that his numbers were better in '11 than in '10)


          • The better question would be, if you were presented with an offer to trade Mariano Rivera for Andruw Jones or Vladimir Guerrero straight up before the 1997 season, would you make that deal?

          • If this was 1997 with what was known then: Yes.
            If this is 2012 with what we know: Its a toss up on business sense, Vlad has actually been worth slightly more in terms of WAR since 1997. And thats with him not having put up a 2.5+ WAR season since 2007. However for sentimental reasons, I wouldn't make the trade as I'm sure no Yankee fan would.

            I love Mo and he is easily the greatest relief pitcher in history but doesn't this just show how fungible relievers are? The greatest reliever in history has a career WAR similar to Vlad Guerreo whom has a hall of fame case but may not be a slam dunk.

          • So now Dominic Brown is Vlad Guerrero?

            That's an interesting hypothetical on its own merits (and you have to keep Mo there, right?), but not sure it really moves the ball forward in this discussion. Unless you have some insight about how Mo and Vlad/Jones were regarded before the 1997 season as prospects (and maybe you do; I sure don't), you're basically just evaluating that in retrospect. I don't think anyone thinks DRob is the next Mo or that Brown has flashed Vlad type power potential, do they?

          • "So now Dominic Brown is Vlad Guerrero? "

            Well Brown was the 4th best prospect in baseball last year according to BA with 70 MLB plate appearances (and some mighty tough competition in front of him as well), while Jones and Vlad were the top two prospects in baseball prior to the 1997 season. Seems like a pretty fair comparison to me.

          • True – so we should learn from the past and keep Robinson, right? Since conventional wisdom would have been to swap the skinny reliever for Jones or Vlad. Looking back, regardless of WAR, I think Mo won more games for the Yankees than either of the bats would have…

            Using that, I'd say take the chance again, and keep D-Rob. And hope he turns into Mo2.

          • Well, do you think Robertson will become the greatest reliever of all-time? Heck, given the short shelf-life of most relief pitchers,how much are you even willing to bet on him still being an All-Star caliber player in 5 years?

          • But you're not getting their whole careers–just their pre free agency years. Andruw Jones and Vlad Guerrero were worth more in those years than Rivera was, and it's not even close.

          • Additionally who knows how good Vlad would have been if Olympic Stadium didn't wreck his legs.

  15. I cannot believe the feedback on this page about that theoretical trade. If the Phillies somehow accepted just Robertson for Brown, I'll drive him to Philly myself. You do that trade 10 out of 10 times if you're the Yankees. Look at what other elite setup guys have gotten in trades lately. David Hernandez of the Orioles fetched Mark freakin Reynolds when he was traded and he was very good. Elite relievers for top prospects just don't happen.

  16. How many Times Last year Did RD come in with the Game on the LINE Two or Three men on Base
    and Get out of the Inning, as we went on the Wine the Game?? HOW MANY TIMES?? Answer?

    MANY TIMES How quickly we Forget I would never trade this year Before seeing How Hughes Pitches.

    Think of what it would look like, If Mo. had Problems It will Happen Eventually but if this year
    WE Have RD, and Soriano, To take us to the finish Line, and if Mo is Mo as I Pray he will be,
    We can Shorten Games and Give the YOUNG Guns Time to Establish themselves , Backed by a Lights Out Bull Pen. Yankee For EVER.

    • Don't know who RD is but DR loaded the bases himself more than once with his shaky control. He got out of it pretty much every time, with a bit of luck, and had s really enjoyable season. Not likely to be so lucky for ever.

      Honestly, Brien, I don't know why you hide behind these pseudonyms.

    • How many times did Robertson work himself into that jam into the first place? How many of those games blow up in his face if his home run rate triples next season?

  17. Tell me: How many teams failed to make the playoffs because they just had too much pitching????? This is and idiotic idea. Trade Burnett for anything and eat the contract. Otherwise, trade for MORE pitching for God's sake!!!!

    • Well quite. Seven starters is nowhere near enough, even with two more ready in AAA and at least two more potential high-ceiling guys ready in about 12months. And where could we possibly find another guy to pitch 66 innings a year? For goodness sake, get more pitching now, Cashman you idiot.

    • Honestly? I think a reasonable claim could be made that Anaheim would have done well for themselves if they could have swapped, say, Santana for some additional offense.

  18. We,s could trade Rafael Soriano-p to P .Phillies for of Ddominic Brown & another minor league player. The Yankees will not be tradeing David Robertson or Phil Hughes

  19. Mo's heir apparent is being read into too much. Rivera is the greatest reliever of all time, do you really expect anybody who replaces him is going to be nearly as good? Just because D-Rob had a good season doesn't mean he is the obvious choice to take over. Hughes, Chamberlain, Soriano, and maybe even Betances or Banuelos could take him spot. I think you trade the guy whose value is at it's highest and that's obviously D-Rob.

  20. Bad article !!! Highest gonna be in the rotation . N you can't have enough guys in the bullpen example joba situation

  21. To those saying you could never have too much pitching, the Yankees lost last season because of a lack of offense. Just saying, it they could have pushed 2 more runs against the Tigers that series, they would have won it.

  22. Dumb. This assumes Brown is a top bat. Which even Philly doesn’t think he is. Y take a strength n make it a weakness? Some people over think everything

    • Well, I guess you've got me there. Clearly it's unthinkable that a bullpen consisting of merely Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, maybe Phil Hughes, Cory Wade…could be good enough to win a lot of games paired with one of the better lineups and starting rotations in all of baseball. Clearly, the ~65 innings pitched they get from David Robertson will be what puts this club over the top.