The Yankees will find out for certain in a few days, but right now it seems likely that they’ll be without Joba Chamberlain for the rest of this season and part of next season.
“It’s a big blow,” Brian Cashman said. “Obviously, it’s a tough thing. We’ll look from within first. We made some moves yesterday, and we’ll continue to evaluate the options we have in-house and shuffle the deck.”
The Yankees greatest spring training strength has become a glaring weakness. There are essentially two proven relievers in the Yankees bullpen. The rest of the relievers carry questions either because of inexperience, inconsistency or both.
“It’s my job to figure that out and make sure Joe has weapons to match up with late in games,” Cashman said. “Whether that comes from promotions or acquisitions remains to be seen, but that’s my responsibility.”
Often using one name to represent a group of pitchers, here’s a list of options for the Yankees bullpen moving forward.
The Yankees could stick with what they have. They could slide Dave Robertson into the eighth inning and trust that Ayala can fill a late-inning role. He’s been solid so far this season in a bigger-than-expected role, and he has late inning experience as a setup man and occasional closer a few years ago.
“I think those guys have done a great job,” Cashman said. “But we need more, so it’ll be an opportunity for some other people to step up, and I will have to continue to look obviously first from within and from the outside at the same time.”
Beyond Robertson and Ayala, the current Yankees bullpen consists of a closer, a left-hander and three rookie long relievers. Hard to imagine that setup lasting very long.
Cashman confirmed yesterday that Whelan would be a consideration, and the numbers make it easy to see why. Long touted as a pitcher with good stuff but lousy control, Whelan has been able to command the baseball this season. As the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre closer, he has 30 strikeouts and only six walks through 27 innings. He’s been very effective against lefties.
But Whelan’s not the only minor league reliever who could fit in a big league role. George Kontos has also been terrific, and would give the Yankees another guy who can pitch more than one inning when necessary.
The Yankees also just promoted hard-throwing 28-year-old Tim Norton from Double-A to Triple-A. He’s always been one of those if-he-could-only-stay-healthy kind of prospects, and this year he’s been healthy and dominant. He struck out two in his one and only Triple-A inning, and he had 44 strikeouts with only 12 hits in 29 innings with Double-A Trenton.
Promoting from within doesn’t have to mean a minor league reliever. The Yankees could try to find another Chamberlain-type minor league starter who’s stuff might play up out of the bullpen. Cashman said the Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos will not be considered (Brackman has been ineffective, Betances and Banuelos aren’t ready).
Warren or David Phelps, though, might fit the profile. Both are usually in the low-90s with their fastballs — Warren probably a little higher than Phelps, though I haven’t seen them this season — but that velocity might jump in short stints. They’re both coming off good starts, including a complete game for Warren last night.
D.J. Mitchell has also been very good in the Triple-A rotation, but he’s more of a sinkerballer and doesn’t necessarily fit the typical late-inning profile. Doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work, just means he’s not the type of pitcher who jumps to mind. That’s kind of true for Hector Noesi as well, but again, you never know.
“It’s too early to even say how he’s progressing,” Cashman said. “He was shut down, and hopefully he’s going to start tossing in a week, and we’ll go from there. I think it’s way too early to even assess where he’s at.”
Pedro Feliciano is throwing, but he doesn’t seem especially close either. It goes without saying that Damaso Marte isn’t close. The Yankees have valuable relievers on the disabled list, and those options might help down the road, but right now they don’t seem to be viable options.
Cashman made it clear that Hughes will be stretched out as a starter. The Yankees aren’t going to move him back into the bullpen just because Chamberlain is on the disabled list. But Hughes’ return could open the door for someone else to step out of the rotation and into the bullpen.
Maybe Ivan Nova could find some added fastball velocity in short stints? Or maybe Bartolo Colon could remain healthy and effective in one-inning, late-inning bursts? It’s still probably a month or so away, but Hughes could give the Yankees bullpen options without being the bullpen solution.
“Let’s hope everybody’s healthy so we have decisions to make,” Cashman said.
Maybe not Wood himself, but someone like him could certainly help the situation. It’s worth remembering that Wood had a 6.30 ERA and was coming off injury when the Yankees traded for him last season. It might require a similar leap of faith to land a late-inning reliever without paying a top-prospect price.
As for Wood himself, he’s playing for a bad Cubs team, but he also seemed to sign there specifically to play in Chicago. More viable options might be guys like Matt Capps, Heath Bell and Francisco Rodriguez. Those three are playing for bad teams and might be traded, but they might cost a lot without being necessary if Soriano comes back and returns to form.
Cashman said that, right now, a good relief trade market has yet to develop.