This winter, the Yankees put the finishing touches on a deep and potentially overpowering bullpen. They signed the market’s best closer, and moved him into the eighth inning. They signed the market’s most durable lefty, and put him alongside Boone Logan. They moved incumbent setup men Joba Chamberlain and Dave Robertson into the sixth and seventh innings. If all goes to plan, six bullpen spots are accounted for, but a seventh remains up for grabs.
Robertson, Chamberlain and Logan don’t have to be limited to one inning apiece, but they’re much closer to one-inning relievers than three-innings relievers. The Yankees need a long man, and they no longer have Dustin Moseley, Alfredo Aceves or Chad Gaudin to consider for the job. Instead they’ll choose from a long list of candidates including two Rule 5 picks, two potential starters, and a long line of prospects trying to make an impression.
The easy choice
It’s hard to overlook his 2009 struggles, but the truth is, Sergio Mitre pitched pretty well last season. He had a 1.09 WHIP, a 3.33 ERA, and his ground ball rate was better than 50 percent. He doesn’t strikeout a lot of guys, but Mitre was good in this long relief role last season. The easy thing would be to put him back in that spot, assuming the Yankees don’t need him in the rotation.
Three of the alternatives have nowhere else to go in the Yankees organization. Rule 5 picks Robert Fish and Daniel Turpen must be offered back to their original teams — and passed through waivers — before they can be assigned to the minor leagues. Romulo Sanchez is out of options and would have to be traded or designated for assignment if he misses the cut. Turpen and Fish have each been more than one-inning relievers in the minor leagues, and Sanchez spent half of last season in the Triple-A rotation, so it’s not out of the question that one of those three could be a multiple-inning option. Sanchez — a hard-thrower with a better-than-you-might-expect changeup — might be especially interesting in that role.
It’s unclear what the Yankees expect out of Mark Prior, but it’s obviously an intriguing thought that the former prospect starter might impress in camp and be stretched out as a long man. The Yankees, though, have already ruled out the idea of Prior being a starter. Does that limitation extend to multiple innings out of the bullpen?
Of course, it seems like we’ve spent the entire winter hearing about the Yankees young pitching depth. Could a young arm like Hector Noesi or D.J. Mitchell make an impression in camp and sneak away with a big league bullpen job? Also, the assumption seems to be that Ivan Nova will win a rotation job — and I tend to think that’s true — but if he doesn’t win that contest, his consolation prize might be a long relief job in the big league bullpen.
A separate but related issue
Last year, the Yankees broke camp with Mitre, Aceves and Chan Ho Park available for multiple innings out of the bullpen. At one point or another, Gaudin, Nova, Sanchez and Moseley were also available for long relief. Point is, one multi-inning reliever almost certainly won’t be enough to get through the season and it might not be enough to get through April. The Yankees might need to get at least one or two of those late-inning arms stretched out at least a little bit. The time might come when one of them absolutely has to pitch two or more innings just to get through a game.
Associated Press photo of Mitre, picture of Sanchez taken by my buddy Jason Farmer at the Scranton Times-Tribune