MLB: AL Wild Card Game-Houston Astros at New York Yankees

Solving the Yankees’ bullpen conundrum

The Yankees’ bullpen was the subject of much chatter last fall. A small, effective cluster of relievers was suddenly pegged as overachieving, and serious doubt was cast on its future. For a month or two following the trade deadline, many questioned Brian Cashman’s inability to score a big-time arm to help secure games, and ultimately, their bullpen cost them wins down the stretch. That’s not to say a good bullpen would have won the AL East—it would not have—but the team would have entered the playoff fight a much stronger group.

With Chasen Shreve dying after 52 innings, Adam Warren being moved back into the rotation due to injuries, and Bryan Mitchell catching a line drive off the face, things came apart rather quickly. That forced Joe Girardi to lean on Dellin Betances, and he faded in the season’s final two months with an icy 2.08 SO/BB.

The easy way to solve this would be to spend some of that money that the Yankees have. Their revenue was $508 million in 2014, according to Forbes, and their payroll is about to shrink with Teixeira and Beltran coming off the books after 2016. However, that’s not going to be easy this offseason.

For the Yankees, there are limited options for a big splash in a shallow free agent pool. I will be having none of the Tony Sipp (sorry, Tony Sipp nation), 35-year-old Ryan Madson is a risk and a half, and Antonio Bastardo is sort of just another Justin Wilson. This leaves bearded Joakim Soria, who has seemed to calm down after a strange mid-career crisis, old friend Tyler Clippard, and the notorious O.D.A.Y. (that’s Darren O’Day).

In terms of game-changing relievers, that’s really it.

Should the Yankees dig a bit deeper, they’ll find names like Mark Lowe, Shawn Kelley, Jason Motte, Ross Detwiler, Trevor Cahill, Jonathan Broxton and Country Joe Blanton. Not exactly a lineup that would live up to the standards of a DJ Khaled record.

So, what should they do?

It seems the Yankees are OK with lefties in the pen; they should have two capable relievers if they get the same season out of Justin Wilson, and they’re able to limit Shreve’s role and keep him fresh (his release speed on his slider and splitter faded as the season went on). With that said, Bastardo could be a fit, if Cashman decides the team absolutely must get lefties out, and Shreve can’t be trusted. His BAA when facing lefties is .138, which could be of use at Yankee Stadium. He’s better at getting lefties out than Wilson (.236) is.

If they decide that they want a righthander, Soria seems like a safe call on a short-term deal; after injuries and a very tumultuous tenure in Detroit, he settled in with the Pirates last year in 26 2/3 innings, with a 3.5 SO/BB which, while not Soria-in-his-prime quality, was certainly a step in the right direction. He’ll be 32 in May, and won’t provide Craig Kimbrel-like services, but could be a nice fit as the No. 3 or No. 4 guy behind Andrew Miller and Betances. Soria will likely be the most cost-effective option, and it doesn’t seem like Darren O’Day is in the cards.

Perhaps the most attractive signing, though, might be Mark Lowe. Like Soria, he had a really strange mid-career crisis; after proving to be a sturdy bullpen option in Seattle in 2009 and 2010, he faded in Texas, and absolutely disintegrated with the Angels. He went back to Seattle last year, regained his form, and naturally was acquired by the Blue Jays, because who wasn’t?

He was paid $390,241 last season. That’s a friendly price! He’ll probably command more, but you could do a lot worse than Lowe as your No. 5 or No. 6 in the bullpen on a cheap deal. Best-case scenario, he posts somewhere remotely close to the 5.08 SO/BB and 198 ERA+ he had last season. Worst-case, he’s David Carpenter, except he cost you a lot less.

This isn’t to say Soria and Lowe are the only two relievers the Yankees should target this offseason, but the feeling is that they’re not going to be inclined to spend up. The two of them could return a solid value, and help keep some already-talented arms fresh. If they want to wait until Teixeira and Beltran peace, but patch up some holes, this might be the way to do it.

(Photo: Adam Hunger-USA Today Sports)

Related Articles

2 comments on “Solving the Yankees’ bullpen conundrum”

Mike B

Don’t forget, we’ve got 7 starters for 5 slots next year. ;)


Yankees have become one of the most spending averse — OK, cheap — teams in baseball. Little reason to think they’ll do much though Lowe might5 be cheap.
Article idea: Why Hal is dead-wrong to target 2017 to get under luxury tax. Much wiser to target 2018 when Yanks will have shed as much as $112-120 million (if Tanaka opts out). Targeting 2017 will torpedo Yank chances next two years and gate/TV revenue will drop dramatically. But by spending ahead this year, Yanks can field decent team next two years, then get under $189 (or whatever it is then)>

Leave a comment

Use your Baseball Prospectus username