The New York Yankees open their spring training camp for pitchers and catchers later this week, but as the Bombers assemble in Tampa, one of the biggest question marks remaining for general Brian Cashman and company is who exactly is going to fill out the bullpen? One of the trademark strengths of the team for the better part of the past two decades, now is in it’s most unstable condition since the pre-Mariano Rivera era in the Bronx. While the Yankees passed on several well-established closers to replace Rivera such as Joe Nathan, Grant Balfour and Fernando Rodney, it appears the team is going to move forward with David Robertson as the next closer.
With Robertson’s apparent promotion to the closer’s role, it leaves an unanswered question with the 8th inning. The departures of Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain leave more questions. The Yankees signed left-hander Matt Thornton to replace Logan, and the early thought is that Shawn Kelley could slide into the 8th inning set up role. Along with those two, Preston Claiborne, Adam Warren, Cesar Cabral, Dellin Betances, David Hearndon, and the loser of the 5th starter competition are all vying for slots in Joe Girardi‘s bullpen. If the Yankees are smart, with camp just days away, they will take out fliers on some experienced bullpen arms who could fortify the end of the game for the team, and provide some much needed competition. Let’s take a look at some guys who could be brought in on minor league deals to compete, and perhaps win roles in the 2014 Yankees bullpen.
Ryan Madson-age 33: Madson has missed each of the past two seasons with arm injuries for both the Cincinnati Reds and Anaheim Angels. During his last full season in the bigs, he served as the closer for the Philadelphia Phillies, recording 32 saves and posting a 2.37 ERA in 60 games. Madson also has a career 2.31 ERA in 9 postseason series and would provide low-cost competition for Robertson. He recently worked out for 15 teams on February 7th, and reports coming back say he touched 93 mph on the radar gun with his fastball. Madson should be a viable option for the Yankees, and if he gets hurt or doesn’t perform well in spring training, cut him loose and move on to the next candidate.
Kevin Gregg-age 36: Gregg has flown under the radar for most of his career, never having ever been considered “the guy” for any one franchise as their closer. He has previous AL East experience with the Orioles and Blue Jays, and had a nice bounce back season for a sorry Chicago Cubs team. In 62 innings pitched, he recorded 33 saves, while his ERA was a tad had at 3.48. He allowed only 6 long balls in 2013. Gregg is another guy the Yankees could take a flier out on, who has served in many bullpen roles, and could provide cheap insurance if Robertson falters in his new role.
Oliver Perez-age 32: Perez has reinvented himself into a lefty specialist after struggling for several seasons as a starter with both the Mets and Pirates. Over the past two seasons, Perez has had a combined ERA of 2.93. In 82 2/3 innings over the past two years in Seattle, he has allowed only 7 home runs. The Matt Thornton signing seemed like a desperate move, and if Perez were to come into camp, and show the Yankees brass the continued ability to retire lefties, he could supplant Cabral and even move ahead of Thornton as Joe Girardi’s go-to lefty out of the bullpen.
Andrew Bailey-age 29: The former Oakland Athletic and Boston Red Sox reliever has encountered the same problems over the past two seasons: the inability to stay healthy. In a trade that saw Boston give up Josh Reddick, Bailey was brought in to replace Jonathan Papelbon, and instead has found himself on the outside looking in. During his first three seasons on the west coast, Bailey recorded 75 saves and notched an ERA of 2.18. There haven’t been many takers on Bailey this offseason, so he is primed for a low-cost, minor league offer from someone like the Yankees who are looking to stabilize the back end of their bullpen. If Bailey can somehow find a way to remain healthy, he and Robertson could make a potent 1-2 punch at the end of ballgames.
Joel Hanrahan-age 32: Hanrahan came into his own as a closer relatively late in his career, never having saved double-digit games in a season until he was 29. He recorded 76 saves over two years for the Pittsburgh Pirates when the Red Sox acquired him to replace the previous entry on this list as the closer. Much like Bailey, Hanrahan went down with an arm injury, and was lost for the season. 2013 could be viewed as an aberration for the former closer, and because baseball is a “What have you done for me lately?” business, his previous work as a closer only suggests what he might be. Again, like Bailey, he is not far removed from successful seasons as a closer and a minor league invite could prove to be a stealth offseason move for Cashman and the Yankees. He has set up before, and to open the closer competition completely up, could prove to be beneficial.
There is no reason to believe that any of the aforementioned relievers wouldn’t be willing to accept a minor league invite with a chance to not only make the big league roster, but to possibly win the closer’s job for the Yankees, aside from Perez obviously. The Yankees continue to have big questions in their bullpen, and a mix and match of at least two if not three of these arms could put New York in a much better position heading into the regular season than they currently are facing heading into spring training.