New York Yankee 2009 Season Outlook: Bullpen
LONG RELIEVER: Four pitchers seemed to be in the running for the long man, five, depending on how the Yankees view Phil Coke. The two returners from last season, Al Aceves and Dan Giese and the veteran minor-league deals, Jason Johnson and Brett Tomko.
Al Aceves impressed with some solid late-season starts in 2008, but has been sporadic in his performance this spring. A Mexican League veteran, has an underwhelming fastball that he compliments with good command and above-average offspeed stuff.
Dan Giese, like Aceves also performed well last year and has struggled to find a groove this spring. A strike-thrower, Giese doesn’t present great stuff but can be effective when he’s controlling all his pitches. He is susceptible to the big fly but is probably the favorite for the long man.
Jason Johnson got a late start in spring training and is probably the longest shot to make the team, but he finally got into a game and tossed a scoreless frame. He mixes a slider and a changeup in with his fastball, but doesn’t have the stuff to consistently challenge hitters. Like Giese, he allows too many homers.
Brett Tomko has been the most impressive of the long reliever competition and may end up overtaking Aceves or Giese before April 6. He induces ground balls and has four pitches that can be useful, however, once he loses his command, he’s done.
MIDDLE RELIEVERS: There’s a whole gaggle of guys that could work here, and the Yankees seem to be taking the approach if you throw enough stuff against the wall, some of it’s bound to stick.
Jon Albaladejo was acquired from the Nationals in 2007 and opened 2008 with the Yankees before going down with an injury. He’s pitched well this spring and has probably almost locked a spot for himself on the Major League roster. He keeps the ball down and commands his fastball well. He didn’t stick as a starter because he lacked good secondary pitches, but should be a capable middle relief guy.
Phil Coke has also probably pitched his way into the big league bullpen and has the ability to go multiple innings or to simply be a LOOGY. His power stuff is especially effective against lefties, although he is capable of shutting down righties too.
Edwar Ramirez also is coming back from an elbow issue, and can either be flat out dominant or extremely hittable, based on his changeup. He allows too many homers and is susceptible to the big inning. Doesn’t do a great job at limiting damage.
David Robertson came on strong last year, rocketing through the Yankees’ system with gaudy strikeout numbers. He’s almost strictly a one-inning guy and has high walk numbers to go along with his strikeout ones. Like Ramirez, can find innings getting away from him.
Jose Veras has shown an ability to handle late-inning situations and may find himself in some 8th innings down the road. He can be used frequently and has some durability. Like many other Yankee bullpen arms, issues too many walks to be projected as an elite reliever.
SETUP RELIEVERS: Damaso Marte and Brian Bruney have established themselves as the two men the Yankees will go to to bridge the middle relief to Mariano Rivera. One left and one right, Girardi will be able to mix his options based on matchups.
Damaso Matre came back from the WBC with pectoral soreness, and will be checked out medically in the next few days. But if he’s healthy, he’s a lefty shuts down lefties with his fastball-slider combo, although righties have hit him a little. If the pec thing turns out to be minor, he’ll be a main cog in New York’s fluid bullpen.
Brian Bruney is another flamethrower that has really cleaned up his act and behavior in the past few years. He struggles with his command at times, but if he gets ahead in the count, he has the ability to blow hitters away with his electric fastball. He also mixes in a slider with mixed results. He’s had some injury issues.
CLOSER: For at least the next two seasons, there’s no question for the Yankees in the ninth inning. It’s Mariano Rivera, just as it has been since 1997. Rivera is recovering from an offseason shoulder scope, but sets his own spring schedule and is on track to be ready for the season opener.
Mariano Rivera has been the best closer in the history of baseball because of the impeccable control of his cut fastball. Opposing batters go to the plate against Rivera knowing what pitch is coming, where it’s coming, what it’s going to do and how fast it’s going to do it and still can’t hit it. He had his best season last year at age 38, posting career bests in WHIP (0.665) and ERA+ (317). He walked only 6 batters the entire year and had a ridiculous 12.83:1 strikeout to walk ratio.
If I had to take a shot at the Opening Day (less than 23 days) bullpen, I’d go with Mariano Rivera, Brian Bruney, Damaso Marte, Jose Veras, Phil Coke, Jon Albaladejo, Dan Giese. I don’t see the Yankees carrying 13 pitchers, even to open the season because until Jorge Posada proves he can catch four or five times a week, the Yankees may need to carry three catchers, plus the fifth outfielder. After those seven guys, there are plenty of arms behind them should anyone falter or get injured.
Edwar Ramirez, Steven Jackson, Anthony Claggett, David Robertson, J.B. Cox, Brett Tomko, Mark Melancon all will probably open in Triple-AAA, with Aceves in the Scranton rotation. Kei Igawa (who hasn’t allowed a run this spring) will also return to Triple-A to fill a rotation spot. Who knows? Maybe he even contributes something to the big league squad this year, in any sort of capacity.