Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Yankees must resist signing free-agent reliever

One week into the regular season and the New York Yankees are without their newly appointed closer David Robertson. It is the second time that Robertson was elevated to the role before quickly suffering an injury forcing him to the disabled list. The Yankees will automatically be linked to any number of free-agent relievers looking for a roster spot. They should avoid the temptation of “experience,” turn their attention toward their own roster and let their talent blossom.

First, Robertson’s injury is not all that serious. He suffered a grade-one strain of the groin and anticipates the minimum time served on the DL. The concern for some is not just about the immediate future, but this bullpen was considered suspect prior to Robertson’s ailment. The Yankees should not make decisions based on the chance that the experiment could fail, certainly not eight games into the season.

Behind Robertson is righty Shawn Kelley, who had a productive 2013 season, grabbing the seventh-inning setup duties from former Yankee Joba Chamberlain early in the season. Kelley will likely be the first option for the Yankees to close out games with Robertson on the shelf. He earned his first career save in Monday’s win over the Baltimore Orioles, tossing a 1-2-3 frame.

During the offseason, the Yankees signed Matt Thornton to a two-year, yet inexpensive deal, to be the lead lefty in the pen. Thornton is no longer as dominant as he was in his Chicago White Sox days, but could certainly garner a couple of opportunities to close if the matchups dictate.

The rest of the bullpen is made up of young and inexperienced relievers. David Phelps, Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren all vied for the final rotation spot and lost out to Michael Pineda. Phelps and Warren saw plenty of action in 2013, but mostly as a swing-man and long-man respectively. Nuno made a couple of spot starts.

Phelps has allowed three homers in three appearances thus far and Nuno got shellacked Tuesday against the Orioles (8 H, 7 R, 2 BB, 2 HR in 3.1 IP). Jumping to the conclusion that this is what to expect of these guys is somewhat premature. The Yankees should not panic. And here’s why.

They’ve got some value and upside brewing elsewhere. Warren (shown below) has been thrust into a setup role and has been dominant. He’s been able to ratchet up his fastball (95-mph range) because he knows he’s in there for just one inning. His ancillary pitches have been solid thus far as well.

The Yankees also have Dellin Betances looking to work his way up the pecking order in the bullpen. He has two effective appearances and one ineffective outing in the early going after looking incredible during spring training.

The Yankees need to take approach of allowing these players to develop. This was the mindset when they decided against signing expensive relievers in the offseason, using their cash to fill in voids by inking Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka. The Yankees must resist the urge to delve into the scrap heap for a reliever readying for a hypothetical chance that things might go wrong with their current crop in the bullpen.

None of the players available come without their own set of issues. Joel Hanrahan is recuperating from Tommy John surgery and will be conducting a showcase soon. While it could be expected that Hanrahan might be had for a low cost and short term deal, bringing him aboard would only disrupt the valuable experience the current relievers would get, whether Robertson is on or off the roster.

Ditto the sentiment for taking a flyer on Ryan Madson, Francisco Cordero or any other free agent relievers looking for work. There is little sense to it because Robertson should not be gone long and the Yankees are better off sticking with guys who are doing their job right now, as well as those trying to right the ship.

Further, the Yankees actually showed to have some relief depth in the minors during spring training. Cesar Cabral (called up Tuesday), Mark Montgomery, Fred Lewis, Matt Daley, Danny Burawa, Jim Miller and David Herndon all had positive results and could fill voids just as well as anyone on the market. The Yankees also have Preston Claiborne awaiting another chance in New York after success in early 2013. Claiborne suffered an unfortunate decline in the latter part of the season which sprinkled into his spring performance.

In the end, the allure of an experienced arm that has the potential for more issues (faltering or reoccurring injury) should be less welcomed than internal development. Building a firm bridge with the guys already in the Bronx (or in the farm system) and providing them with confidence building innings is the way to go right now.

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Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.