New York Yankees Position Breakdown: Relief Pitchers
No matter how many times you pinch yourself, you won’t be able to escape the fact that Mariano Rivera is never going to close another game for the New York Yankees ever again. Baseball’s greatest closer has come and gone, and now the Yankees will be looking for a closer for the first time in almost 20 years.
It’s been a long, long time since a Yankees writer had to talk about his concerns with the team’s closer situation, and for the first time in my life, I’m going to take a stab at it.
Even as the league’s oldest player in 2013, Rivera still managed to pitch just like he did back in his prime — unless you consider his entire career as being his “prime years.” He put up 44 saves, and posted an ERA of 2.11. Whoever it is that takes over for him next season is going to have very big shoes to fill, and everyone knows that.
As to who that man might be, everyone suspects that it will be David Robertson, the Yankees 8th inning man for the past few seasons, and the so-called “apprentice” to Mariano.
Though Robertson has had a lot of success pitching out of the bullpen late in games for the Yankees, there are still many questions whether he has what it takes to be the everyday closer next season and beyond. Let’s take a look at the numbers: In his career, Robertson has pitched the 8th inning 207 times, earning an ERA of just 1,92. In 60 appearances in the 9th, his career ERA is 3.88 — yes, a smaller sample-size, but still the numbers don’t lie.
Of course, though, there’s always a chance that the Yankees decide that they might not be able to trust Robertson, and instead elect the route of signing a free-agent closer that has already seen a lot of time on the mound in the final inning of the game, and knows how to get through the inning without all the theatrics, unlike Robertson, who generally makes things a little too interesting in the 9th — and sometimes the 8th.
Some of those other candidates would include Grant Balfour, Kevin Gregg, Joe Nathan, Fernando Rodney, and Koji Uehara. If you really want to know, I’m in favor of the Yankees signing Nathan, just in case.
As far as the rest of the bullpen will shape out, the 8th inning job will probably be decided in spring training, again, unless the Yankees sign one of the relievers listed above, or go after someone else listed.
Preston Claiborne made his major league debut in 2013, and he was great early on, but became very hittable as the season progressed. I don’t see why he won’t be back in the bullpen next season. Shawn Kelley was a strikeout machine, coming through in big situations. He’ll be a free-agent, and it’s likely that the Yankees bring him back for another year. Boone Logan, too, will be a free-agent this winter. He was a big part of the bullpen as the team’s lefty-specialist. He underwent surgery after the season to remove bone spurs in his elbow, so it shouldn’t be a problem moving forward, and they Yankees might end up offering him a one-year deal.
Cesar Cabral and Dellin Betances figure to be battling for roster spots in spring training, as the Yankees have been hoping for both pitchers to perform well in the big leagues, but neither has really got a chance to sign so far in the Bronx, although one, or both, might get a shot next season.
The rest of the bullpen is likely to be rounded out with one or two of the losers from the starting rotation battle that the Yankees are going to have, as they look for a 4th and 5th starter. David Phelps, Vidal Nuno, Michael Pineda and Adam Warren are expected to be the men fighting for the one or two open starting spots.
Then as you might already know, Joba Chamberlain will be a free-agent this offseason, and he’s 99.9 % likely to be joining a new team after enduring another awful season in the Bronx. Joba had a lot of potential, but he just couldn’t figure out how to put things together on a consistent basis.
As you’ve seen over the past week and a half, the Yankees have a lot of holes to fill, and they’ll certainly have a long offseason to fix it after missing the playoffs for the second time since 2008.
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