Seems that the big question mark for next season is whether we land Cliff Lee or not. But to me, going rather unnoticed is the question mark that will be our bullpen. If Joba starts and Aceves & Marte are still injured doesn’t that leave just Robertson, Logan and Mo (assuming he returns)? That leaves 4 spots open. Of course we have internal options like Nova, Mitre, Albaladejo & Romulo Sanchez but do you see us looking elsewhere to fill out the final roster spots? There are a lot of good free agent options this winter.
Although the team hasn’t confirmed anything yet, it’s all but certain that Al Aceves (back) and Damaso Marte (shoulder) will have surgery at some point this offseason. We have no idea what that’ll do for their availability next season, but you have to assume they’ll contribute nothing and treat whatever they do give you as a bonus. Kerry Wood is as good as gone after the season, there’s no way they’ll pick up his $11M option and he’ll probably bolt for a closer’s job elsewhere. Remember, saves = money in this game, no matter how you feel about the stat. It’s also unlikely that the Yanks will offer him a multi-year deal to set up Mariano Rivera, Wood’s just too much of a health risk.
Internally, Robertson and Logan are locks behind Mo. I’m not of the belief that Joba will even be considered for a starting job next year, never mind actually get a crack at one. I’ve given up hope on that front. Let’s assume he’ll be back in the bullpen next year as well. Chad Gaudin and Dustin Moseley are goners, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Sergio Mitre returns at all. He’s cheap enough ($850,000 this year) and arbitration eligible for the final time this offseason. Plus Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman seem to like him. So that’s five spots accounted for in the seven man bullpen.
Jon Albaladejo will be out of options next season (Logan too, but he’s not on the bubble), so he’ll have to either break camp with the team out of Spring Training or hit the waiver wire if they don’t trade him before then. He killed it in Triple-A this summer but the team never seemed to have interest in giving him an extended shot in the bigs, and you can’t really blame then for that. Romulo Sanchez could be another option, but his command isn’t good enough for any kind of high (or even medium) leverage work. Hector Noesi and David Phelps reached Triple-A as starters this year and could be given a shot in relief at some point. Then there’s Ivan Nova, who’s probably a lock for a long relief role if he doesn’t start the year as the fifth starter.
The free agent market is stacked with quality relievers as you said, with the most interesting (and reasonable) names beyond Wood and Rafael Soriano being Jason Frasor (Type-A), Scott Downs (A), Matt Guerrier (A), Frank Francisco (A), Grant Balfour (A), Joaquin Benoit (B), Jon Rauch (B), Chad Qualls (B), Jesse Crain (B), and Dan Wheeler (nothing). Cashman has shown little interest in signing relievers to multi-year deals since the Kyle Farnsworth and Steve Karsay debacles, and who could blame him? Bullpen guys are so volatile that you just can’t trust them to live up to the contract. Look at Marte; sure he helped them win the World Series, but aside from the playoffs last year that contract has been a disaster. There’s a big benefit to having flexibility and plenty of options in the bullpen, which is how they Yanks have done it for the last three years.
That said, there’s nothing wrong with adding relievers on cheap one year deals, similar to Chan Ho Park this season. If it works, great, if not then they cut the guy loose with no long-term obligation. I’d rule out the Type-A’s right off the bat simply because it’s not worth giving up a high draft pick for unpredictable relievers, regardless of what their track record looks like. Maybe if the Yanks go on a somewhat unexpected free agent binge and would only be giving up like, a third or fourth rounder, then maybe a Type-A becomes a more realistic option. Otherwise forget it.
Of the guys listed above, Benoit makes the most sense because he performed at an elite level in the AL East this season a year after major shoulder surgery, though I suspect the Rays will retain him on a two year deal or something to replace Soriano. Qualls was terrible in 2010 despite good peripherals, so maybe he’s an option on a late offseason CHoP-type flier. Crain and Rauch are solid options at the right price. Forget Wheeler, he’s a homerun factory before taking account Yankee Stadium.
There’s also the option of trading for a reliever(s), but I wouldn’t expect anything big. Something more along the lines of the Logan deal, a guy with good stuff and no spot in his current team’s bullpen as a throw-in to a bigger deal. As for targets … I dunno, your guess is as good as mine. Who has relievers to spare? Pretty much no one these days. If you’d have asked me this question last year, I never would have come up with Logan. That’s just the nature of the bullpen business.
So wrapping it all up, we’re looking at Mo, D-Rob, Logan, Joba and three relievers to be named later. Mitre and Nova/Albie are likely to get two of those spots, and a suspect a CHoPian free agent signing gets that last one with Romulo, Noesi, Phelps and others in Triple-A as backup plans. The important thing to remember is that the bullpen that starts the year is never the one that finishes it. They’ll start 2011 with one set of players and make changes as needed throughout the summer, like they always do.