Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Yankees’ bullpen tinkering rolls on

The New York Yankees had one of the strongest bullpens in baseball in 2014, and if the trend continues in 2015, it will be with a markedly different looking set of players. With Monday’s trade of Shawn Kelley, the Yankees opened up another spot for a young reliever in 2015.

The Yankees seem to be set at the backend of the bullpen with Justin Wilson, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances set to tackle the latter innings. Esmil Rogers and Adam Warren are holdovers from last season, but it remains to be seen in what capacity they’ll serve manager Joe Girardi, as both can be stretched out or used as one-inning middle relievers.

From there, the Yankees would need to fill two slots. They could stay in-house or surely the Yankees could sign players to minor league deals with spring training invites. Looking at how this offseason has transpired to date, I’d expect them to stay within the franchise to fill the roles.

There are a slew of capable arms on the 40-man roster roster, both from the standpoint of potential starters like Bryan Mitchell, Manny Banuelos and Chase Whitley who could also serve as a swingman similar to the role that David Phelps once handled.

The Yankees also have prototypical relievers on the 40-man roster; namely righties Branden Pinder, Danny Burawa, Jose Ramirez and newly acquired Gonzalez Germen, each of whom could fill roles and could break camp with a major league role if they wow the coaching staff in Tampa.

Whitley and German have the most major league experience of the seven players (75.2 and 64.2 IP respectively), but are still learning their way.

There are some intriguing options on the Triple-A roster including highly regarded lefty Jacob Lindgren as well as righty Nick Rumbelow and southpaw Tyler Webb. Veteran righty Andrew Bailey also sits in the wings still recuperating from shoulder surgery.

With two lefties on the major league roster in Miller and Wilson, it would seem the possibility of another lefty entering the picture right away to be slight even though the aforementioned vets can handle righties effectively. That could change over time with injury, performance or if Miller and Wilson continue to handle right-handed hitters without issue.

In my view, either Mitchell and Banuelos seem to fit better as starters while Ivan Nova continues to heal from Tommy John surgery. The Yankees signed Chris Capuano to a one-year deal and dealt for Nathan Eovaldi. They'll be given the opportunity to secure the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation respectively, but with the uncertainty surrounding CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda, there cannot be enough depth at the ready. Mitchell and Banuelos would provide that.

If left as starters each player could head back to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and remain stretched out in an effort to allow them to garner as many innings as possible to assist in furthering their growth and making them long-term rotation options. Of course, with the multiple injury issues the Yankees could encounter, both Mitchell and Banuelos could see plenty of time assuming they're performing adequately.

That makes Warren, Whitley and Rogers swingman options, though I personally like Warren and Rogers in a one-inning role. If I was to venture a guess, with all things being equal and barring injury/trades/signings, either Mitchell or Banuelos will fill the fifth starter role. Whitley will claim the swingman spot and either Bailey or German will snag the last role in the bullpen.

The good news is the Yankees have plenty of viable relief options. The bullpen is still an area of strength and maintains significant and promising depth.

What are your thoughts? How do you think the bullpen will shape up with the current crop of players? Let me know in the comments below.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.