The Yankees got their first taste of life without Mariano Rivera this year, after the greatest closer of all time tore his ACL in Kansas City in early May. That was supposed to be something they didn’t have to repeat in 2013, but yesterday we learned that Rivera is having “second thoughts” about a return to the mound, even going so far as to share those thoughts with Brian Cashman. Having Mo call it quits would definitely be an emotional and psychological gut-shot for Yankee fans, but would would it mean for the team’s bullpen? Maybe not as much as you’d think.
Now, to be clear, the Yankees are obviously better with Rivera than without him, and the difference between Mo and the guy who would take his roster spot is enormous. The Yankees should absolutely hope that Rivera returns for at least one more season, I’m just saying that it wouldn’t be a catastrophe for the unit as a whole if they don’t have Rivera anchoring them next season.
First, and most obviously, they’re likely to have most of the same players back from this year’s group. Rafael Soriano probably won’t be back, no matter what Mo does, if only because his salary likely isn’t going to comport with the team’s payroll plans for 2014 (indeed, I’ve long wondered what the Yankees would do if Mo himself decided he wanted a $15 million salary for 2014), but otherwise, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, Clay Rapada, and Cody Eppley should all return from this year’s group, and David Aardsma should be healthy enough to join them as well. That’s not quite as attractive a group as the one the Yankees ended 2012 with, and certainly not what it would be if Mo is able to return as, well, Mo next season, but it’s not a bad group of relievers by any means. Add in the possibility that there isn’t room in the starting rotation for David Phelps, and you could already have all seven Opening Day relievers already in house.
Plus, the Yankees have another intriguing option hanging out in their minor league system. Mark Montgomery has been catching eyes for a year now with his gaudy strikeout totals, and he’s only making himself look better after moving up the organizational ladder. After being promoted to Double-A over the summer, Montgomery posted a ridiculous 41.8% strikeout rate in 25 innings, pitching to a 1.33 FIP while walking just 6.6% of the batters he faced. To put that in perspective, imagine David Robertson’s 2011 season for the Yankees…only with 13% more strikeouts and half as many walks. Yes it’s in a much smaller sample size, but it was also his very first taste of the higher level of competition.
Montgomery is representing the Yankees in the offense heavy Arizona Fall League right now, and he continues to rack up the strikeouts. He’s got 11 of them in six innings, to be precise, buttressed by four walks and just a single run allowed in his five appearances. Given the way Montgomery just continues to mow down the competition wherever he goes, and the fact that he already has a legitimate knockout pitch in his plus-plus slider, he should absolutely be viewed as an option for the 2013 roster, and I wouldn’t even be surprised if he skipped Triple-A altogether if he has a strong Spring Training. He’s not going to step right in and be the best reliever in baseball, or anything, but he could certainly add depth to an already strong group.
The moral of the story: the Yankees’ bullpen will be fine whatever Rivera decides to do. That said: please come back Mo!