Is The New York Yankees Bullpen Key To Their 2016 Hopes?

: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports /

In 2015, the New York Yankees Bullpen was the strength and could be even stronger in 2016. Will it be the key to their 2016 playoff hopes?

They were close to perfect a year ago, actually, finishing with a record of 66-3 when leading after six innings, 73-2 when after seven innings, and 81-0 when leading after eight innings.  Those numbers were largely because of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and recently-departed Justin Wilson.

Although Wilson was traded to the Detroit Tigers, he was replaced with Aroldis Chapman, putting the back-end of the Yankees bullpen in a better place than they were in 2015.  The addition of Chapman has led to many labeling the Yankees trio of relievers the best ever assembled, although they have yet to play in a meaningful game together.

Yankees manager, Joe Girardi, already seems to have a plan in line, but even he knows, plans hardly work in sports, stating:

"“You like to go into a game with a plan, but 90 percent of the time, the plan doesn’t work.”"

For the Yankees that plan would surely be to get Betances, Miller, and Chapman the ball as much as possible with a lead, but unfortunately for Girardi, as great as the Yankees will be at the end of games, they will have many question marks throughout the first six innings.  The Yankees offense outproduced even the most optimistic projections in 2015, but repeating their success will be difficult with an aging roster.  Even if the Yankees are able to put runs on the board at the same pace as they did in 2015, can they stay healthy?

As the offense is highly reliant on aging stars, the risk of injury is clearly higher.  Unfortunately for the organization, and fans, the health issues don’t end with the aging lineup as each member of the starting rotation comes with question marks of their own.  Quite frankly, there is not much room for error if the Yankees plan to get the ball to their late-inning three-headed monster as often as possible.

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Even with two huge question marks looming, the biggest piece of the puzzle is likely the bridge between the rotation and the late-inning relievers.  At this point it is unknown who will even join Betances, Miller, and Chapman, assuming he isn’t suspended, in the bullpen on Opening Day in the Bronx.  That bridge could be pivotal in keeping both the starters, and the dominant trio healthy throughout the long season.

While it is likely that Chasen Shreve will be one of the bullpen pieces, and Ivan Nova, barring a trade, will serve as the long-man, the Yankees need one of their young right-handed relievers to step up to ease Betances’ workload.

The decision to back out of a deal with Tommy Hunter was likely the right move, considering the concerns regarding his health, although I see no reason why the Yankees could not have matched the deal Hunter signed with the Cleveland Indians.

Adding an established right-handed reliever could have been huge in easing Betances’ workload.  There aren’t many relief pitchers available at this stage, although a guy like Joe Nathan could be worth a shot if he shows he can get healthy.  I’m a big fan of low-risk, high-reward moves, and if Nathan is healthy, and can get back to being the pitcher he was in 2013, he could be exactly that.

While the Yankees are a team built with many question marks, I am optimistic that they can compete for the division in 2016.  Although it seems as the late-inning trio is key to the Yankees 2016 hopes, ultimately, how the rest of the bullpen is constructed, and operates, is far more important.  Many people assume once the starters are taken out of the game that it is game over for the opposition, but often forget that bullpens are larger than three pitchers.

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What do you think Yankees fans?  Can the Yankees bullpen, outside of the dominant trio, step up and bridge the gap from the starters?  Let us know in the comments below.