Yankees Should Look to Solve Bullpen Internally

With Phil Hughes moving back to the rotation, and Joba Chamberlain presumably staying there all season in 2010, the Yankees have a bit of a hole in the bullpen. Last season, Phil Hughes‘ filled the “set-up” role quite well and helped stabilize the back of the Yankee bullpen. Without him, the Yankees seem to be left without what the Mainstream Media calls “The Bridge to Mo.”

There are some options out there on the market that could help the Yankees fill this role. The two most frequently mentioned are former Braves Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano. The Yankees should not, I repeat, should not be interested in signing either one of these guys.

First off, I don’t think that either one of them would be available to the Yankees. Both pitchers have had a good deal of success in the late innings and both of them could very easily get closing jobs elsewhere. It would make little, if any, sense for them to come to New York to set up.

Secondly, both Gonzalez and Soriano are Type-A free agents. This means that the Yankees would have to give up a first round pick if they signed either player. Giving up a first round pick for a relief pitcher, one who wouldn’t even close for that matter, is just foolish. Relief pitchers, no matter how established, are incredibly volatile. What the Yankees should do instead is do what they’ve been doing the last two years. That is mixing in young blood with some established veterans–in this case, Damaso Marte and Mariano Rivera and finding a nice balance there. The bullpen has been a strength for the Yankees in the last two seasons because of this and manager Joe Girardi would be well advised to keep it up.

This strategy is better than the free-agent route because of two big reasons:
1. It’s much less costly than signing a free agent. Young pitchers don’t make millions of dollars and their salaries are under team control.
2. Using young pitchers allows for much more flexibility. Young pitchers have options and can be sent down to the minors and their low salaries allow them to be DFA’d without the team taking much of a hit

Who, then, should fill the void in the eighth inning? The two main candidates should be the aforementioned Marte, who shined in the playoffs and who, when healthy, is one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball. The other is young David Robertson. In ’09, Robertson emerged as a great strikeout pitcher, tallying a K/9 of 13.0, second only to the Dodgers’ Jonathan Broxton. Robertson earned a bigger role in 2009 after spending 2008 and the early part of ’09 in mop-up and low leverage roles. D-Rob, or K-Rob, has a solid two-pitch–a “deceptively fast” 93 MPH fastball and a devastating curveball–that makes him very effective as a reliever. Along with Marte, he should keep opponents in check in the eighth inning.

Other good bullpen options include Phil Coke, the second lefty. However, Girardi should avoid using Coke against right handed batters. Mark Melancon could also take a step forward this year. He could conceivably do what David Robertson did for ’08 and the early part of ’09: be used in low-leverage situations until he proves he can handle himself.

Alfredo Aceves and Chad Gaudin can also provide solid innings out of the bullpen. It is possible that one of them could be “converted”, so to speak, into one inning relievers. Another wild card in this group is Ian Kennedy. I’d say Kennedy has a decent shot to make the team out of Spring Training, and could be a valuable, multi-inning reliever in ’10. Kennedy, like all young starters, has more value in the rotation, but without a spot for him, along with his missed time in 2009, the bullpen would be a great place for IPK to build his arm strength back up.

Bottom line: avoid free-agent relievers and solve any bullpen issues internally; it’s a cheaper and much more flexible option.

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