Sure, the Seattle Mariners broke the bank when they signed away All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano from the Yankees for 10 years and $240 million dollars. The Yankees used that money to fill some glaring weaknesses in the outfield, behind the plate, and in their starting rotation. But…for the sum of $938,000, this amount seemed too extreme for the Mariners to spend on a right-handed relief pitcher with two Tommy John surgeries on his resume. That is how current fill-in closer and hopeful primary set-up man Shawn Kelley became available to the Yankees. All it cost them was outfielder Abraham Almonte, who is currently batting .238 and starting for the Mariners. I think the Yankees would take this deal every time.
Kelley proved to be a huge part of last season’s Yankees’ bullpen, striking out 71 hitters in only 53 innings, and making his impression on the team brass. Coming into the 2014 season, the Yankees avoided spending big dollars in the free agent market on both a closer and set-up man because of their confidence in Kelley and David Robertson. Since Robertson is on the disabled list, Kelley has converted all three of his save opportunities, and is learning to pitch in high-leverage situations, which will help him build confidence as he returns to the 8th inning set-up role when Robertson comes off the DL. Things haven’t been all smooth sailing for Kelley however, as he came into a tie game last week against the Baltimore Orioles, overused his slider, and got roughed up, giving up two earned runs and getting tagged with his first loss of the season.
He has bounced back nicely from his initial rough outing, recording six straight outs against the Red Sox over the weekend, once again proving to be a valuable piece in Joe Girardi‘s ever-developing bullpen for 2014. Against Boston, Kelley focused on using his best pitch–the fastball to dominate the innings he’s thrown: “That’s how I finish guys,’’ Kelley said of his slider. “But if I don’t force them to respect my fastball, it’s not as effective.”
The fact that he’s throwing his slider at all amazes those who know him, because of the strain and stress the pitch puts on the elbow, let alone to someone who has undergone Tommy John twice. “So now I tell myself to go out there and don’t think about the elbow. If it goes again, then it was meant to be.”
As the old saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Shawn Kelley became too expensive for a Mariners’ team that had little to no direction, but the Yankees knew exactly what they were getting, and are more than happy to be signing his paycheck. If all continues to work out, the Yankees could once again have one of the most dominant back-end bullpens with Robertson, Kelley, Dellin Betances, Matt Thornton, Adam Warren, and David Phelps-primarily all power arms.