Building a bullpen without Mo

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!

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.

11 thoughts on “Building a bullpen without Mo

  1. I just posted this on the other blog here:
    Don't be surprised if the Yankees give Mark Montgomery the Yankees prospect a real hard look for the bullpen for the 2013 season. He's pitched absolutely great in Tampa and Trenton in a relief role.

    I can see the Yankees going with: Robertson, Joba, Aardsma, Rapada. Then possibly Eppley or Cabral. Also I can see Mark Montgomery as I mentioned above in the mix. They will need a long relief guy possibly Warren. Phelps could be the "swing" guy, long relief or spot starter.

    I do NOT see Logan coming back as he is a FA for the 2013 I don't see the Yankees investing dollars in what is primarily a LOOGY. Just my opinion.

  2. First and foremost, I really would like Mo to come back if for no other reason so we can show him the appreciation he so richly deserves. Of course, watching his machine like consistency would be worthwhile as well. However, looking from a practical standpoint, I've always thought Joba could handle the closer's role. He has the stuff and once he got his command back toward season's end he was actually quite reliable. With a specific and consistent role in the bullpen, his focus might improve to the point where he would be a solid option in the ninth inning. He will never be Mariano (and as good as Soriano was this year, he wasn't Mariano either), but if Joba can convert 85-90% of his save opportunities, I think we can live with that.

    • PUH-LEESE! Yankee Stadium would erupt into a chorus of BOOS if Joba was the closer and only converted 85% of the save opportunities………there'd be death threats, beers thrown at him…..

  3. I think they need to wait to see what Soriano does. I know he's a Boras client, which means he'll probably opt out, but if he thinks Sori is going to get 14 mil to close anywhere else he's seriously deluded. Might even be a good thing for the Yankees, in a perverted kind of way. If he shops Sori around, and discovers he's overpriced him, the Yankees might be able to sign him for less than his current contract. Yes, I know, that's probably fantasy, but as I always said to our kids, sometimes fantasy can turn into reality.

    • Either that, or Soriano opts out in the middle of the World Series, finds he has no takers, and the Steinbrenners give him $300 million over the next 10 years.

  4. Another name out of left field is Pedro Feliciano. I know the Yankees will probably decline the option they hold on him, but its another name to add to the bullpen list if they decide they want to try to get something out of him.