We're less than 4 weeks from pitchers and catchers reporting to Tampa for the start of Spring Training 2015. When they do, the question marks and problems in the rotation will become all too real. Every picture of Masahiro Tanaka or CC Sabathia throwing long toss is going to be a reminder that each of them may be 1 pitch away from major elbow and knee injuries at all times, and a reminder of how little depth the Yankees have behind them to fill in if/when injuries strike.
The Yanks continue to stand pat on diving into the free agent bargain bin to add an arm. As much as some of us might want them to do that, the smarter way to upgrade the pitching staff might be to go back to the free agent reliever pool and lock up somebody to work as a traditional 1-inning closer. The bullpen is already shaping up to be one of the deepest and best in baseball. Adding a dedicated 9th-inning guy lengthens that depth even more and gives the Yankees more quality arms to cover their rotation.
The trickle down effect from this move could be pretty big. A true "closer" in the 9th frees up Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances to roam the 6th-8th innings as game situations and workload dictate. David Carpenter, Justin Wilson, Adam Warren, and Chasen Shreve (or whoever ends up getting the last spot) would team up to be the second tier of middle relievers, all capable of getting more than 3 outs, all capable of soaking up innings if that's all that needs to be done, and all capable of stepping into high-leverage situations if needed.
That kind of depth would give Joe plenty of options to use in almost any scenario, most importantly in the 5th, 6th, or 7th innings of games where his starter is either tiring or not pitching great. If 5+ innings of 3 or 4-run ball is all he can get from Sabathia or Chris Capuano on any given day, he can quick hook them and use his bevy of middle relief guys to try and hold the opponent where they are. If Michael Pineda pitches a really good 6 innings but throws 104 pitches to do it, Joe can call it a day for him and go to his 'pen. If the offense generates enough to give the team the lead in games like that, now Joe's got his top notch setup duo and closer in place to hold the lead and secure the W.
If 1 or 2 guys aren't available, surely another 2 or 3 will be to cover for them. if the closer gets hurt, Miller and Betances are already there as suitable replacements and the team can dip into its incredibly deep well of Triple-A relief depth to backfill the 7th man spot. The Yankees could even use the acquisition of a traditional closer to push Adam Warren back into a starter's role. It was reported earlier in offseason that Cash told Warren and David Phelps to prepare to work as starters in spring camp. Assuming Warren has been doing that, the team might as well give him a chance to earn a rotation spot. If nothing else, him being stretched out to pitch as a starter can come in handy if a few of the injury-risky arms penciled into the rotation go down early.
The Yankees could probably let Warren work as a starter and absorb that loss in the bullpen with ease as presently constructed. Signing someone to be the official closer and lengthening the rest of the middle relief corps would only make that transition easier, and if it doesn't work out Warren can settle back into the 'pen somewhere. It's a potential win-win for the rotation and the bullpen that has almost no downside.
They're presumably going to take it easy on Tanaka and CC early in the season, and Capuano has proven to be good for only 5-6 innings at a time. Nathan Eovaldi could have some growing pains adjusting to life in the American League. The rotation is short on a lot of things and the Yankees don't appear to be in a rush to add another starter to alleviate those shortcomings. In light of that, the best way to help the rotation may be to continue to help the bullpen, and I would be ecstatic to see old Sour Puss Soriano back in pinstripes. He's still out there, K-Rod is still out there. Why not sign one of them to a 1-year deal and use that monster 'pen as some extended rotation depth?