Friday, March 27, 2015

Who grabs Yankees’ final bullpen spots?

Now that Adam Warren is 99 percent of the way to being named the New York Yankees fifth starter, who is going to claim the last three bullpen spots?

The certainties in the bullpen are Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, David Carpenter and Justin Wilson. Earlier this week, we discussed why the setup guys are every bit as important as Betances and Miller.

Make no mistake; the final three spots are fairly crucial as well. The candidates on the 40-man roster are plentiful – right-handers Esmil Rogers, Chase Whitley, Chris Martin, Danny Burawa and Jose Ramirez with Chasen Shreve the lone lefty.

There will be at least two pitchers placed on the disabled list when the season begins; Chris Capuano and Ivan Nova, with the latter potentially hitting the 60-day DL which would open up one spot on the 40-man roster. Of that crop, the Yankees have Scott Baker, Andrew Bailey, Nick Rumbelow and Wilking Rodriguez from the right side and Jacob Lindgren, James Pazos and Tyler Webb from the left side.

So, the Yankees have a good deal of options. Rogers would seem like a lock for a role because he’s getting paid as such, and while I did not understand the signing to begin with, it is what it is. In my view, Rogers would be OK to get work in the fifth and sixth innings of close games and available later in games if Carpenter is scheduled for a day off. Trusting Rogers to much more is playing with fire.

That leaves two spots; a swingman and another one-inning guy or lefty specialist. Whitley has had a very good spring (11 IP and one run allowed) and has experience pitching out of the pen and filling in as a spot-starter when needed. It might make the most sense to give Whitley the swingman role and allow the minor league starters to do just that, start.

But, Whitley has options and maybe the Yankees want to keep him fully stretched out instead of handling mop-up duties? If that was the case they could give the swingman role to Baker. Or they could keep Martin, Burawa or Ramirez up with the big club and slide Rogers to the swingman role.

Either way that leaves one slot and Shreve seems to be the favorite for it, though he’s had a bit of an uneven spring (6.75 ERA, two homers allowed in eight innings). He would be the third left-hander in the bullpen, but it’s well-known that Miller and Wilson are far from lefty specialists.

Shreve could be used for short stints against tough lefties. Here’s the rub, there are not many “tough” lefties in the American League East this season, so how often would Shreve be called upon for such a situation? With Miller and Wilson, wouldn’t manager Joe Girardi still go to those guys against any good lefty hitters in late innings?

Could Shreve benefit from honing his skills in the minors allowing the Yankees to bring in another right-hander? Perhaps Bailey is given a shot to fulfill his comeback despite having thrown just three innings thus far this spring? Or again, see if Martin, Burawa or Ramirez can handle big league batters for an extended period? How long will the Yankees be able to keep Lindgren in Triple-A?

To further complicate things, Capuano is being paid $5 million (I still don’t get it) so he’ll have some sort of spot when he returns sometime in late April, as will Ivan Nova who is set to earn $3.3 million and he could be back sometime in June. It would seem those guys are getting roster spots back, at least to prove they belong. If somehow the Yankees are able to keep everyone else on the entire pitching staff healthy they’ll have some choices to make about whom to send down to the minors or designate for assignment.

The long and short of it is the Yankees have a host of options at their disposal. The benefit of having this kind of depth is that the cycle can be ever-changing. If Rogers falters, they designate him and bring up one of the many youngsters. If Whitley fails, they send him down and bring someone else up. Same goes with Shreve, Bailey, Baker or anyone else they initially slot in these final positions.

The Yankees purposely strengthened their reliever stable this offseason and have developed some key youngsters so that they can maneuver players through the inevitable maze of injuries that beset teams. The options are plentiful and could be a key to the Yankees surviving the long grueling season.

Photo of Brian McCann and Chase Whitley courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly column covering the closer/bullpen situations around Major League Baseball. 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.