Rebuilding the Bullpen on a Budget

With the possible exception of the rumors revolving around Brian McCann, the most pressing matter on the Yankees off-season agenda is the bullpen. Or, more specifically, the back of the bullpen, where the team appears ready to make serious runs at at least one of Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Mark Melancon. And that makes sense, given the league's increasing reliance on high-leverage relievers and the Yankees bullpen struggles after the trade deadline But it made me wonder - do they really need to invest that much money over four-plus years to build a dominant bullpen (Melancon appears to be the cheapest option, with FanGraphs predicting 4-years, $47 MM, and MLBTR going with 4-years, $52 MM)? 

The answer is probably no. Before delving into a few other options, though, it's important to keep in mind that several of these players may be looking for that sweet, guaranteed closer's role - and I'm mostly okay with that. Dellin Betances is fantastic in most any role, and I'd much rather see him used as a fireman than a paint-by-numbers closer, which is the role he filled for the first two-plus months of 2016. 

The Yankees may well be able to sign two above-average or better relievers for something close to the $18 MM yearly salary that most are predicting for Chapman, and receive similar overall results (albeit without the flashy strikeout rates and jaw-dropping velocity). Let's take a look at the options:

Joaquin Benoit, RHP

If it seems as though Benoit has been around forever ... well ... that's because he has. The 39-year-old debuted way back in 2001, and has been a full-time reliever since 2006. And he's been mostly great in that time, pitching to a 2.95 ERA in 743.2 IP out of the bullpen. His walk rate has ballooned these last two years, but he still managed a 150 ERA+ in 48.0 IP last season, striking out 52 in 48 IP (and he's been a FIP-beater since his 2010 resurgence with the Rays).

Joe Blanton, RHP

Blanton was something resembling a league-average starting pitcher for a decade, before retiring abruptly in 2014. He came back as a reliever in 2015, featuring a rejiggered slider, and has been borderline dominant for two seasons now. Between 2015 and 2016, Blanton pitched to the following line - 156 IP, 124 H, 42 BB, 159 K, 2.65 ERA, 150 ERA+, 3.13 FIP. That's pretty good.

Brett Cecil, LHP

Cecil is coming off of his worst season as a reliever, in terms of run prevention and dealing with RHH (he didn't have much of a platoon split from 2013 through 2015), but the 30-year-old still managed to put up excellent BB and K rates, despite dealing with a torn lat muscle for most of the Spring. Even with his mediocre 2016, Cecil was a top-ten reliever by several measures over the last four years, and he is accustomed to pitching in the AL East.

Neftali Feliz, RHP

The days of Feliz as a stud prospect are long gone, and he has struggled to stay on the field at times - but there are too many positives to draw from 2016 to not be willing to take a chance here. He regained the velocity that he seemed to lose from 2012 through 2015 (his fastball averaged 96 MPH per PITCHf/x), he struck out 10.23 per nine, and he was healthy for the majority of the season (his early shutdown was largely precautionary). A 119 ERA+ may not jump off the page, but Feliz is just 28-years-old, and the stuff is still there.

Greg Holland, RHP

Several teams have been in hot pursuit of Holland, as he works his way back from Tommy John Surgery, and for good reason - he was one of the best relievers in baseball for about five years (and possibly the best in 2013 and 2014). He's a lottery ticket, pure and simple, but the upside is ridiculous.

Boone Logan, LHP

Logan is essentially the same pitcher that he was for the Yankees, thought Coors Field helped to inflate his ERA over the last three seasons (particularly in 2015 and 2016). He's best-suited as a LOOGY nowadays, but that's a role that Girardi has been desperate to fill for some time now.

Jonathan Papelbon, RHP

Yes - this makes me feel a bit dirty. And, yes, Papelbon did not look good with the Nationals this year. However, he was still quite good in 2015, showcasing elite control even as his stuff backed-up, and he has experience pitching in high-leverage and in hitter's parks. And, as an added bonus, it would chap some folks' backsides if he came back to the AL East and shoved it.

Sergio Romo, RHP

Let's get this out of the way - this gentleman somehow succeeds throwing 85 MPH fastballs. That's scary. However, he has had success away from the friendly environs of AT&T Park, and has been fairly consistent throughout his career. He, like Papelbon, probably has his best days in the rear-view mirror, but his peripherals were still strong last season, and has a great deal of high-leverage experience.

Koji Uehara, RHP

Uehara's velocity has been slipping for a couple of seasons now, but the results and the peripherals are still there (mostly on the strength of his still-ridiculous splitter). It's always a risk to bet on a pitcher that'll be 42 on Opening Day - but his resume is ideal otherwise.

Brad Ziegler, RHP

I talked about Ziegler in our most recent podcast, and those arguments still stand. The 37-year-old boosted his strikeout rate last year, while maintaining his typically elite groundball rate, and has the profile of a pitcher that will age well. His strikeout, walk, and groundball rate actually improved following his trade to the Red Sox, and he has experience in both set-up and closer roles.

None of these pitchers are projected to receive more than two guaranteed years or $9 MM AAV by MLBTR or FanGraphs, which could free the Yankees up to invest elsewhere (be it through free agency, or trading for a player with a higher salary). While none are necessarily on-par with the Closer Trinity, the team doesn't necessarily need that to have a shutdown bullpen. They've had strong bullpens every year under Girardi, and I have faith in him to get the most out of the talent available. 

For whatever it's worth, I am most interested in a potential trio of Cecil, Feliz, and Ziegler, which offers a nice combination of match-up capabilities, upside, and reliability.