Tomorrow, some of the Yankees most interesting Rule 5 decisions will center on the bullpen. Brandon Pinder, Mark Montgomery and Danny Burawa are among the eligible prospects, and all three have at some point shown fairly significant big league potential. None of the three has truly established himself in the upper levels, though, and there’s a chance the Yankees could — A: Sneak all three through the Rule 5 draft; or B: Not miss any one of them even if they’re selected in the Rule 5. Adding any one of them would be a move to add bullpen depth, not necessarily to add an immediate bullpen arm.
Just how much bullpen depth do the Yankees have right now? Here’s what is essentially in place (or at least, what we can reasonably expect the Yankees to have in place):
PROJECTED 2015 RELIEVERS
Trades can change things. Injuries can change things. Plans falling through because of performance or some other unforeseen circumstance can change things. But right now, I think it’s reasonable to think these six pitchers will be in the Yankees bullpen next season. The seventh spot could go any number of directions, but these six seem like solid bets.
Dellin Betances – Obviously.
Justin Wilson – Clearly.
Shawn Kelley – Still affordable in his final arbitration year.
Adam Warren – Always some chance of moving back to the rotation, but staying in the bullpen seems more likely right now.
David Phelps – Doesn’t it seem the Yankees are forever happy to pencil Phelps into the bullpen, realizing he could move into the rotation if forced into a change of plans? If we’re listing likely relievers, Phelps belongs.
Unknown new guy – Have to allow for this. The Yankees are almost certainly going to add a reliever at some point — either Dave Robertson or a replacement — so looking ahead, this bullpen spot will be occupied. Obviously plans can change, but determining depth without acknowledging a nearly inevitable addition seems goofy.
ALREADY ON THE 40-MAN ROSTER
These are the guys who could most easily and immediately fill a bullpen opening depending on performance and depending on how the Yankees want to use each of these guys. Some could be immediate relievers. Some could be starters. Some could be cut loose to open roster spots.
Esmil Rogers/David Huff – Lumped together because there’s a solid chance neither one will be on the roster past the non-tender deadline. If either one is on the roster, he would likely become the favorite for that seventh bullpen job.
Preston Claiborne – Seemed like a DFA candidate out of spring training, but helped out occasionally while shuttling to and from Triple-A.
Jose Ramirez – Expected to be healthy for spring training. Could legitimately make a run at a big league opening either out of spring training or early in the year.
Chase Whitley – A spot starter or long reliever, Whitley went unselected in last year’s Rule 5 draft, but he landed a 40-man spot during the season.
Bryan Mitchell – Yankees would probably prefer to keep him as rotation depth, but we’ve certainly seen other starters pitch well and force the Yankees to find a spot for them in the bullpen. This is basically how Phelps and Warren arrived.
Jose De Paula/Manny Banuelos – Lumped together because both seem most likely to open the season in the Triple-A rotation, and even if one of them ends up in the big league bullpen, what are the chances that both end up there at the same time? Really slim. Shane Greene – Surely he’s a starter, right? Listing him only in the name of being thorough. If certain pieces fall into place, the Yankees could certainly consider shifting Greene’s big sinker into the bullpen.
NOT ON THE 40-MAN (AND NOT RULE 5 ELIGIBLE)
These guys will be around regardless of who’s protected or lost because of the Rule 5. The Yankes legitimately have some immediate bullpen depth that’s still not Rule 5 eligible.
Jacob Lindgren – Last year’s top draft pick. If he’s as good as advertised, he’s far more than a lefty specialist. In a perfect world, he could be what Andrew Miller was last year.
Nick Rumbelow – Probably the top right-handed relief prospect in the organization right now. Lots of strikeouts on the way from Low-A to Triple-A last year.
Tyler Webb – Another upper-level lefty. Like Rumbelow, Webb was drafted in 2013 and has already risen to Triple-A.
Nick Goody – Missed most of 2013 but got healthy this year. Finished the year in Double-A. Another college reliever the Yankees like.
James Pazos – Another college lefty who’s already moved into the upper levels of the minor league system. Very good Double-A numbers this year.
Unknown non-roster invitee — Worth remembering and considering the fact the Yankees will surely bring some relievers into camp on minor league and non-roster contracts (finalized after the Rule 5 draft). We’ve seen guys like this either make the team out of camp (Clay Rapada) or become options mid-season (Matt Daley).
Given the options in place, how many relievers do the Yankees really need to protect this winter? Pinder, Montgomery and Burawa each bring something to the table, but even if all three remain in the organization next season, they could all fall behind guys like Ramirez and Rumbelow for call-up opportunities. Is there room or need to protect all three? Is it worth thinking about a lefty like Fred Lewis when he’s coming off a down season and there are other lefties in the system?
Associated Press photos