By Chad Jennings
The picture above is from the early days of last year’s spring training. It was taken less than 12 months ago, just a shot of a bunch of guys trying to establish roles on the Yankees’ pitching staff. Right in the middle, you’ll find Chasen Shreve. With his shaved head looming above everyone else is Andrew Miller.
You know who else is in this picture?
Adam Warren, Justin Wilson, Esmil Rogers, Andrew Bailey, Jose Ramirez, and that might be David Carpenter hidden behind Shreve’s right shoulder. That’s a lot of guys who were worth out attention a year ago, who are no longer in the mix.
Sure, the Aroldis Chapman acquisition gets a lot of attention, and for good reason, but that’s hardly the only change to the Yankees’ bullpen. Only two of the seven relievers who broke camp with the Yankees last season are still in the organization, and the turnover is even more overwhelming if you go back to 2014 when 25 different pitchers made at least one relief appearance for the Yankees. Of those 25, only two are still in the organization: Dellin Betances and Bryan Mitchell.
This is a radically transformed group of relievers. Betances emerged, then Andrew Miller signed, then Chapman was acquired to complete the trio, but as K.D. wrote in this morning’s Pinch Hitter post, the Yankees’ bullpen is going to have to extend beyond those three big names. The team had three very effective late-inning relievers last year — and those three carried pretty heavy workloads — but those three only accounted for a little more than a third of the team’s total relief innings. The bullpen is going to have to extend beyond Betances, Miller and Chapman.
So how does this transformed group of relievers come together to form a complete bullpen? Well, I suppose it starts by sorting through a long list of options. Here are 21 names worth at least some bullpen consideration heading into spring training.
These three are obvious. The only thing that could keep them out of the Opening Day bullpen would be an injury or a suspension. The later concern is obviously focused on Chapman, who might have to miss some time because of a domestic assault accusation that the league is investigating. There does not seem to be a police investigation happening, but the league doesn’t need a legal conviction to issue its own punishment. As long as Chapman is active and healthy, he’ll be in charge of the ninth inning.
Hard to define
Ivan Nova, Bryan Mitchell, Chasen Shreve
What are the Yankees to make of these three? Do they need Nova in the rotation, and if not, can he be effective in a long relief role? Is Mitchell ready to take on a Warren-type role in the big leagues, or is he more valuable — and better suited — as a spot start candidate being stretched out in Triple-A? Did last year’s first five months make Shreve a natural favorite for a bullpen job this year, or did his final month raise enough red flags that he’s no higher on the pecking order than the other young relievers fighting for a job? These are three pretty different pitchers, but what they have in common is a sense of unpredictability in terms of role and performance. Beyond the late inning trio, these three could be seen as the bullpen front runners, but it’s also possible none of the three will actually break camp in a big league relief role.
Vinnie Pestano, Anthony Swarzak, Kirby Yates
With two minor league deals and one minor trade, the Yankees have added three relievers with big league experience and — at one point, anyway — a decent amount of big league success. Pestano is probably the biggest name of the bunch because as recently as 2014 he had a really good stretch as a late-inning setup man, and before that he had an excellent two-year stint with the Indians. He turns 31 next month and has strikeout potential. Swarzak might actually be a better fit than Pestano because he’s been a multi-inning reliever in his career, and the Yankees could use someone who can give two or three innings at a time (he might also be a candidate to provide a veteran presence in the Triple-A rotation). Yates is the youngest and least experienced of the bunch, but he did rack up a lot of strikeouts with the Rays in 2014. If the Yankees can get him to harness his fastball, Yates could be a factor. Think of him as kind of the Chris Martin of this spring training.
Aside from Barbato, everyone in this group shuttled back and forth from Triple-A last season. Moreno is now the long-shot of the group because he’s no longer on the 40-man roster (though his rotation experience last season could make him a long relief candidate). Of this group: Pinder got the most big league experience last season, Goody and Barbato had the best minor league numbers, and Rumbelow is probably the most highly touted prospect. Pretty hard to know going into spring training who might currently sit highest on the perceived depth chart. Chances are, a lot of these guys will bounce back and forth again, but the Yankees would love to have one or two really stand out and make a case for a lasting role.
Triple-A shuttle left-handers
James Pazos, Jacob Lindgren, Tyler Olson, Tyler Webb
Last season, the Yankees seemed perfectly comfortable carrying three or four lefties in their bullpen (I seem to remember they went as high as five lefties at one point, but that wasn’t quite as manageable). Seems safe to assume the Yankees would be willing to carry three or four lefties again this season. Pazos impressed as a September call-up, and Lindgren carries significant potential. Also, don’t forget about Shreve, who might be in a different situation but certainly factors into this discussion. Without a 40-man spot, Webb is probably a long shot. Hard to know what the Yankees think of Olson, who made the Mariners Opening Day roster last season and was recently acquired in a small trade.
Are they ready?
Luis Cessa, Vicente Campos, Brady Lail
Just to be clear, I’m including Campos only because he’s on the 40-man roster, so we know he’ll be in camp. We also know the Yankees have some faith in him, otherwise they wouldn’t have put him back on the 40-man following a statistically unimpressive season. Are the Yankees planning to move him into the bullpen, and if so, how quickly can he advance? Surely he’s not a big league candidate out of spring training, but perhaps by the end of the season he will be. Cessa and Lail might be more realistic options out of camp, but even those two are probably long shots given their relatively limited Triple-A experience. Most likely, the Yankees prefer to have Cessa and Lail stretched out as rotation insurance in Triple-A, but the team needs a long man and either Cessa or Lail looks sharp, would they be ready to handle a big league job?