For the first time in many years, Yankees manager Joe Girardi has more questions than answers this spring when it comes to piecing his bullpen together. The longest mainstay, the legendary Mariano Rivera has ridden off into the sunset of retirement, and others, including Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain and at one point Phil Hughes, have all moves on with other clubs. So where does that leave Girardi moving forward?
For starters, with the Yankees choosing not to bring in an established closer, former Rivera set up man David Robertson will move into the closer’s role to begin the year. How long he hangs onto the job depends solely on Robertson’s ability to handle the pressure of having no safety net behind him. One of the under the radar moves general manager Brian Cashman made was signing Matt Thornton to replace Logan as the lefty specialist. Shawn Kelley, acquired last season from the Seattle Mariners, appears set to take over Robertson’s former role as the primary set up man. Girardi likes Kelley’s ability to strike out hitters, as indicated by Kelley’s 71 Ks and only 23 free passes in 53 1/3 innings last season. His ERA was a bloated 4.39 and that will have to come down if he’s going to remain in that role. Girardi added:
We expect Robby to be our closer, Matt Thornton to be our situational lefthander and after that, it’s kind of pretty open…I think if you were able to draw it up now, I think you would say that because of his (Kelley’s) experience and his ability to strike people out…He had a pretty good year for us last year.
There has been talk of giving former top pitching prospect Manny Banuelos a long look this spring, but many believe he is better suited to beginning the season in the starting rotation at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre, and seeing how he does there before bringing him up, but he will be given serious consideration for the bullpen if he pitches well. Both Matt Daley and Jim Miller, who are non-roster invitees will also be given a chance to lock down bullpen spots as well after having pitched in the Bronx last season. Another former prized prospect who hasn’t lived up to expectations, Dellin Betances, who was converted to a reliever last season has shown both his power arm and his ability to get hitters out at the Triple-A level. He last showing in the big leagues wasn’t as successful, posting a 10.80 ERA in 5 frames of work.
Two relative unknown candidates to keep an eye on are Jose Ramirez, who throws hard and is a favorite of the Yankees brass, and Danny Burawa, who impressed the coaching staff two seasons ago before losing his season due to an oblique muscle tear. Ramirez began his season at Double-A Trenton and pitched well enough to finish the season at Triple-A. Lefty Cesar Cabral should also get a look as a second situational reliever to support Thornton. Girardi summarized his quest to build his bullpen by saying:
You’d like to have a guy that you could say, OK, this is your job. It’s not always that simple.