In case you couldn’t figure it out, I’m pretty much done talking about the 2013 season. It’s been a long, disappointing, frustratingly repetitive season to write about, and with 6 games remaining and barely a whisper of a realistic playoff chance remaining I’m starting to turn my attention to next season. I know, I know, it’s probably not going to be much better next season. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. For now I can still hope.
Any discussion about the 2014 Yankees starts with the roster. The Yankees will be in the unenviable position of having to replace a lot of guys without the traditional means to do it. Their $189 million payroll goal will put the clamps on their usual way of spending on the free agent market, in a way that will probably make this past offseason look like Black Friday, and they’re extremely light on upper-level Minor League talent capable of stepping into everyday roles. The lineup and the rotation will each have serious issues to address, but what about the bullpen? The longstanding backbone of the Yankee roster every year is going to undergo a major overhaul and the Yankees aren’t exactly preparing themselves well for it down the stretch of this season.
With the team still mathematically in the Wild Card race, Joe has managed to win games this month and seriously cut down his bullpen rotation. In the last 2 weeks, Mariano Rivera and David Robertson have combined to make 12 appearances and pitch 12.1 innings. The rest of the bullpen regulars – Shawn Kelley, Preston Claiborne, Joba Chamberlain, Adam Warren, and David Phelps – have combined to make 12 appearances and pitch 9 innings in that same timeframe. It’s been the right strategy by Joe, at least it was up until this past weekend, but with all he stands to lose this offseason it might be time to give some other guys some more audition work.
Consider what he’s losing. Mo is retiring after this season ends, Joba will be a free agent and won’t be returning even if he offered to play for free, and the injured Boone Logan will also hit the open market. Varying degrees of effectiveness in that group, sure, but that’s still 167 appearances and 143.0 IP and counting that has to be replaced. Odds are the Yankees won’t entertain the idea of bringing Logan back, not after he’s had problems with his elbow all year that were bad enough late to get him a sitdown with Dr. James Andrews. Their history of going after big reliever fish in the free agent pond is checkered and again, 189 mil, so the rebuild has to start from within.
D-Rob will be back next year, presumably to assume the closer role that Mo is vacating. Kelley should also be back after proving to be another well-scouted, smart bullpen pickup by Cash. If the season were to start on January 1st, that would most likely be your closer/setup man tandem. After that it gets pretty thin. Claiborne should be back in the middle relief mix, although there’s clearly work for him to do after his second half regression. Phelps and Warren will still be around, but both should factor heavily into the competition to fill out the back end of next year’s rotation. When all is said and done, there could only be 1 of them available to fill the long man spot.
That still leaves 3 openings and a shortage of established arms to fill them. Dellin Betances has to be at the top of the list to take one of the spots, if for no other reason than he’s out of options after this year and would have to clear waivers if he didn’t make the Opening Day roster. He’s given up 4 runs and 6 hits in just 2 IP this season, but he’s also struck out 5 batters and showed flashes of brilliance. The same could be said for Cesar Cabral, last year’s Rule 5 pick who’s taken over Logan’s LOOGY job these past few weeks and handled it quite well. Of the 7 lefties he’s faced, he’s struck out 5 of them. He also plunked David Ortiz, something that surely warmed the cockles of many a Yankee fan’s heart.
So what about that last open spot? Guys like Chase Whitley or Mark Montgomery could be nice fits to soak up low-leverage innings on the back end and ease into life as Major Leaguer. Or maybe this is where Cash gets creative on the market and brings in a few under-the-radar arms to find another diamond in the rough. Or maybe the Yankees go off the board and plug a top prospect into the spot, someone like Jose Ramirez or Manny Banuelos. Both will be healthy again next year, both have lengthy injury histories as starters, and the Yankees need to start making a splash with some of these guys and seeing what they have. With the anticipated problems at the back end of the rotation, maybe one of those guys becomes next year’s version of Phelps.
Whatever the course of action ends up being, there’s some serious work to be done to fill out next year’s ‘pen and keep it up to the high competitive standards that have been set by recent Yankee bullpens. As Mo goes, so goes that gold standard of bullpen excellence with him. There are pieces to work with to get the rebuild started and it might not be a bad idea for Joe to start playing with some of those pieces in the final few games.