It seems all but certain that the Yankees will take Dave Robertson off the disabled list tomorrow. It will be an elite addition to a bullpen that’s already one of the best in baseball, and by slotting Robertson into the mix with Rafael Soriano, Cory Wade and Boone Logan, the Yankees will once again have a deep and dependable late-inning situation, even without Mariano Rivera.
That was the plan all along. The Yankees went into spring training with enough late-inning depth that they’ve been able to withstand injuries to Rivera, Robertson and Joba Chamberlain. Counting Clay Rapada in that late-inning equation, the Yankees are able to either assign relief roles or mix-and-match, depending on who’s available each day. Joe Girardi has done a nice job managing his bullpen either way.
But Girardi’s next bullpen decision doesn’t involve mixing and matching. It involves picking and choosing. Who goes now that Robertson is ready to return?
Clearly Soriano, Wade and Logan are safe, which leaves — technically – four options, some more likely than others…
Designate Clay Rapada
I’m including this one simply to cover all the options. In theory, putting Robertson back in a setup role means Logan could go back to being the Yankees situational lefty, but it’s hard to imagine such a move. Rapada’s been good in this role, and he’s even handled right-handers pretty well. Even though he’s limited, Rapada actually gives the Yankees some flexibility because he frees Logan to be used as more than a left-on-left specialist. Hard to imagine Rapada being dumped, but I guess it’s technically a possibility.
Option Cody Eppley
A few weeks ago, this one might have been the easy choice. It’s Eppley who’s bounced back and forth through most of the season, and he’s pretty much a right-handed version of Rapada, used in a limited role to get right-handers to hit the ball on the ground. At different times, Eppley has been the last man in the bullpen, but he hasn’t been used that way lately. Girardi has been trusting him in key situations — last night, for example – and seems to have developed a real trust in his ability to handle right-handers at this level. He’s been more valuable, and been used in more important situations, than anyone could have imagined when the Yankees plucked him off the waiver wire.
Release Freddy Garcia
Eppley’s the guy who’s come and gone this year, but in reality, Garcia’s become the last man in the bullpen. Since beind dumped out of the rotation, Garcia has taken on the mopup/long-relief job and is rarely used. Some of that is because David Phelps can do the same thing, and some of that is because the rotation has gotten so much better that a long man hasn’t been particularly necessary. Despite all the bitterness toward Garcia, he’s actually pitched very well since moving to the pen. As a reliever, Garcia’s pitched 11 innings with a 1.64 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and a .238 opponents batting average. Phelps’ numbers as a reliever: 25 innings with a 3.24 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and .242 opponents batting average.
Re-convert David Phelps
Hard to imagine suggesting such a thing a month ago, but this might be the most likely scenario at this point. Phelps has been a great discovery for the Yankees, and back when the rotation was struggling, Phelps was key with his long relief and spot start assignments. But he’s hardly pitching these days, and the Yankees late-inning depth means he hasn’t gotten many chances in setup situations. Because Eppley is playing a specific role, Garcia can handle the long relief job and some of the young Triple-A starters have struggled, would it make sense to option Phelps back to Triple-A to get stretched out in case the Yankees need another starter at some point? It might not be fair — Phelps has clearly earned a spot in the big leagues — but it might make sense.
Associated Press photo