Maybe it’s because Mariano Rivera makes everyone feel safe in the late innings, or maybe it’s because Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain have proven relievers can come from almost anywhere. Whatever the reason, the Yankees bullpen hasn’t been much of a focus this winter. I don’t even remember the Yankees being closely linked to a reliever in free agent rumors.
The Yankees have traded away four relievers (Brian Bruney, Phil Coke and Mike Dunn) and lost another potential major-league-ready reliever in the Rule 5 draft (Zach Kroenke). They have added one lefty (Boone Logan) and put two Triple-A pitchers (Ivan Nova and Romulo Sanchez) on the 40-man.
This is where the bullpen stands at the start of the new year.
Set in stone. Not going anywhere. Jonathan Albaladejo could show up in spring training throwing 122 mph fastballs for strikes, and Rivera would still be the closer.
Dave Robertson, Damaso Marte, Alfredo Aceves
No one is guaranteed a job like Rivera is guaranteed a job, but these three are probably next in line: Robertson in some sort of late-inning role, Marte as a go-to lefty and Aceves as a long reliever or possibly in some sort of setup-type role.
One or the other
Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes
There are other fifth starter candidates, but these two seem to be the heavy favorites. Whichever doesn’t make the rotation could go to Triple-A, but the bullpen — in my opinion – seems much more likely. It obviously won’t be a small bullpen role either.
Specific roles to play
Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre, Boone Logan, Wilkin De La Rosa
Two long relief/spot starter candidates. Two left-handed specialist candidates. De La Rosa is included here only because he’s on the 40-man, and if he were to somehow make the big league team, it would certainly be as a second lefty. He’s an extreme long shot, though. How many of these make the team probably depends on how the Yankees structure their bullpen.
This year’s Dave Robertson?
Whatever last year’s struggles in New York, I believe Melancon going to be a very good major league pitcher. Remember that Robertson also struggled a bit in his first big league exposure, but as he adjusted, he lived up to his billing. Same could, and I think will, happen to Melancon even if he opens the 2010 season in Triple-A (much like Robertson did in 2009).
Been there. Done that. Still plenty to prove.
Edwar Ramirez, Jonathan Albaladejo, Romulo Sanchez
Ramirez was good in 2008 but never seemed 100 percent healthy after a spring training injury in 2009. Albaladejo made 32 big league appearances last year and allowed an earned run in only eight of them, but six of those were multi-run outings. Sanchez’s 26 games of big league experience came spread across two seasons with the Pirates, but he pitched well enough last year in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to earn a chance to prove himself in spring training.
Upper-level minor league starters
Ivan Nova, Zach McAllister, Kei Igawa, Alan Horne, Chris Garcia, Jason Hirsh
If the Yankees were willing to make Hughes a reliever, they’re willing to make any starter a reliever. Horne and Garcia have great stuff but are coming back from injuries. Nova raised his stock with a strong 2009. McAllister is perhaps the top upper-level starter in the organization. Hirsh has pitched in the big leagues with Houston and Colorado. Igawa is Igawa.
Upper-level minor league relievers
Kevin Whelan, Grant Duff, Eric Wordekemper, Josh Schmidt
None of these four is on the 40-man, and all would be extreme long shots to actually open the season in New York. Whelan and Duff are probably closest to the big leagues, especially Whelan if he can throw strikes. Wordekemper doesn’t have much if any prospect buzz, but his numbers have always been good in the minors. Same for Schmidt, who was terrific last season and now leads the Venezuelan Winter League in strikeouts.