Thursday, June 11, 2015

Yankees’ bullpen might look completely different when Andrew Miller returns

When the New York Yankees announced that closer Andrew Miller was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a forearm strain it might have begun a chain reaction of events which could completely change the complexion of the bullpen upon his return.

Andrew Miller
Photo Credit: Arturo Pardavilla III via Flickr
Miller’s injury is about as good as it could be where it concerns the elbow, as his MRI showed no structural damage to his ulnar collateral ligament, thus no Tommy John talk for now. Miller is not expected to pick up a ball for about two weeks, putting the earliest guess on a return at about one month.

For the sake of the following exercise, assume that there are no further injuries to the members of the entire pitching staff. Yes, there is a good chance someone else goes down, but this speculative piece is being written in a vacuum. Let’s take a look at the potential chain reaction of Miller’s injury.

Will Miller come back as the closer?

I’m actually going to say no. If there was a question about Miller in the closer’s role, it was whether he would be able to handle the number of innings required combined with the added stress of nailing down games. Remember, before this season, Miller was used predominantly in high-leverage lefty versus lefty situations.

Dellin Betances
Photo Credit: Keith Allison via Flickr
Yes, he began to be used more and more against right-handed batters, but the number of innings required of him had not approached that of a pitcher in the closer role. His season-high since being converted to a full-time reliever is 62 innings which he reached last season. Miller is already at 26.2 innings this season.

I’m not necessarily saying Miller cannot compile the number of innings needed; rather I believe Dellin Betances is better suited to take on the wear and tear of the job and to perform to the level required at the same time. Betances tossed 90 innings in 2014.

Of course, if Betances is a total bust while Miller is gone, this would change. But, there is absolutely nothing that suggests Betances will not thrive in the role.

Shifts in middle relief crew

The Yankees had been working with five lefties and two righties since they designated David Carpenter for assignment last week. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman suggested the day after Carpenter was removed from the roster that he would be looking for right-handed relief help.

I claimed that there was (and still is) plenty of depth in the system for the Yankees to make any changes they deem necessary to balance the handedness of the relievers manning the bullpen. Since there will not be much trade action this early on, I will not interject players from outside the organization into this account.

Right-hander Chris Martin is returning Friday when the Yankees visit Baltimore. That gives the Yanks three righties (Betances, Martin and Esmil Rogers) and four lefties (Justin Wilson, Chasen Shreve, Jacob Lindgren and Chris Capuano).

Ivan Nova might be back after his next rehab start, which will likely (and maybe unjustly) send Adam Warren to the bullpen. Warren has been fantastic of late, but his move to the bullpen could be a blessing in disguise.

The club has had a rough time carrying leads from the sixth and seventh innings to the eighth and Warren will be able help Wilson with the bridge to Betances in the ninth. Warren will be able to take on more than three outs at a time in crucial moments and because he has four pitches he’ll be difficult to hit. He’d generate a boost in velocity to his fastball as we have seen in the last two seasons when he worked exclusively out of the bullpen.

Warren’s move to the bullpen would force the Yankees to designate either Rogers or Capuano for assignment. Rogers would be my call (I’ve been clamoring for it since he was signed). Having Capuano as the long man and a potential fill-in starter makes the most sense at this time.

Upon Miller’s return another roster move would be in order and whoever between Martin, Shreve or Lindgren is performing the worst would likely take the heat.

Remain southpaw heavy?

Miller’s return would still leave a lefty heavy bullpen (four/three if Martin and either Shreve or Lindgren is kept) and the Yankees could address the balance at the same time Miller comes back.

They could demote both Shreve and Lindgren and bring up any of a handful of righty relievers – Danny Burawa, Branden Pinder and Jose Ramirez are on the 40-man roster; or the Yanks could add Nick Rumbelow, Diego Moreno or the newly acquired Sergio Santos to the roster. Such a move would shift the balance to four right-handers and three southpaws.

Luis Severino
Photo Credit: "slgckgc" via Flickr
There is one intriguing option the Yankees could move on if Capuano is faltering. That is promoting their number one prospect according to, Luis Severino.

Severino has made three starts at Triple-A and has fared well – 16.2 IP, 2.70 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. He owns a combined line between Double-A and Triple-A this season of 54.2 IP, 3.13 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 56 K and 15 BB. Having Severino get some action in the big leagues in non-stress situations could go a long way for next season when the club surely anticipates his being a part of the rotation. It would also provide a way for the Yankees to maximize Severino’s value and limit his total number of innings worked.

Severino is a dynamic pitcher, one who could potentially earn time in high-leverage situations as the season wore on. A bullpen with Betances, Miller, Warren, Wilson and Severino at the top of the pecking order with the last two spots filled by Martin, Shreve, Lindgren or any of the minor league righties mentioned would be top-notch.

The reality

As mentioned early on, these are vacuum speculations. The chances of injuries occurring are certainly there, but the same names should come up when and if a pitcher was to go down. What we can take from the exercise here is that the Yankees have a number of viable options right in front of them. They do not necessarily need to make trades for high-end relievers. In fact, I would argue that they should not consider making bullpen trades unless Betances or Miller suffer a season-ending injury.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports 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.