Whatever the reason, be it the desire to wait for the A-Rod suspension verdict, Masahiro Tanaka taking top priority presently, a last gasp attempt to stay below the luxury tax threshold, or a combination of the 3, the slow pace with which the Yankees have gone about rebuilding their bullpen this offseason doesn’t feel right to me. For the most part, strong bullpens have been a staple of the last 15-20 years of Yankee teams. The 2013 edition was hit or miss, burned by a group inability to keep the ball in the ballpark and a soft middle relief underbelly that took its share of beatings before some games could even get to D-Rob and Mo. Mo is gone now, along with top lefty Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Chamberlain is a loss in manpower only, and nobody needs to be reminded that a pitcher like Mo can’t be replaced, but for a group that lost that many innings it seems like the Yanks would want to make an effort to replace more than just their LOOGY.
If the reason for the slow play isn’t any of the 3 I mentioned above, I certainly hope it’s not a case of the front office and coaching staff putting too much value in what they already have. A few weeks back, when asked about this coming season’s bullpen, Joe said the 3 guys he envisioned as definitely being a part of it were David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, and Preston Claiborne. D-Rob needs no explanation and would be the unquestioned closer if the season started tomorrow, but are Kelley and Claiborne as solid as Joe’s automatic inclusion of them would lead us to believe? Kelley did have a 13.1% HR rate and a 5.68 2nd half ERA last season, and Claiborne basically melted down after the All Star break (6.53/5.76 in 20.2 IP) after a strong 1st half (2.43/3.01).
Below those guys lie the rest of the internal bullpen collection that will be in the running for the other 4 available spots and presumably be penciled into those that aren’t taken up by any additional free agent signings. That group includes Adam Warren, who was impressive in a few appearances but ultimately turned in a very average 4.34 FIP and 0.0 fWAR in 69.0 relief innings in 2013. It includes Matt Thornton, whose peripherals have been trending in the wrong direction for a few years now. It includes David Huff, who was below-average in his 26.0 late season innings and could be off the roster before Opening Day, and it includes Dellin Betances, who has thrown 188 pitches in 7.2 career Major League innings and walked 8 batters in the process.
What it doesn’t include is someone like Grant Balfour or Joaquin Benoit or Jesse Crain, guys who have track records of success in key relief roles and the type of pitcher the Yankees said they were looking for. If that’s because the decision makers have confidence in their gaggle of internal arms, I’d question that logic. It’s not that some of these guys can’t be useful members of a strong bullpen. I think Warren can be good in a long man role and I’ll still admit that Betances could be a huge weapon if he ever learns to harness his control. But counting on them to all step up and pitch better than they have and pitch better than someone like Balfour or Crain could would be unwise and unrealistic given what they did in 2013.
The same thing that applies to the rotation applies here. I think we’d all feel better with 1 of the Phelps-Pineda-Warren-Nuno foursome in the rotation this year instead of 2, no? I know I’d feel better with 2 or 3 of the relievers mentioned above included in this year’s Opening Day bullpen instead of 4 or 5.