For the past 15-20 years, the New York Yankees have had teams which haven’t had many weaknesses. One of the most consistent parts Yankees teams during this stretch has been their bullpen. From Mariano Rivera to John Wetteland to Jeff Nelson to David Robertson, the bullpen has been a strength of the franchise for years.
Once a game got to the seventh or eighth inning and the opposing team was behind on the scoreboard, they knew they were in trouble. However, with the way the Yankees’ bullpen is currently constructed, it might not be as solid going into this season.
To be more specific, the Yankees really do not have a reliever who has been a setup man with eighth-inning experience. For the past few seasons, Robertson was the man with that role and was one of the best; but with Rivera retired and Robertson set to replace Mo as the closer, the Yankees do not have a proven guy who can come in and get outs in high-pressure situations. This can present a real problem for them during the upcoming season.
As pitching has become more and more specialized as the game has grown, setup men have proven to be extremely valuable commodities. There has even been a stat created for setup men called holds, which is basically their version of a save. From 2011 to 2013, Robertson collected 94 holds. In fact, Robertson’s 33 holds last year were good for second in the AL. He also posted an 1.91 ERA and 11.99 K/9 during that time.
Those are some big shoes to fill in the eighth inning, and the Yankees currently do not have the guy to fill them. The current candidates to pitch in the eighth inning would be Shawn Kelley, Preston Claiborne and maybe a guy like David Huff or Cesar Cabral, which is highly doubtful.
The Yankees can do a by-committee thing where they alternate which reliever they will send into the eighth based on the batter and situation, but that would most likely not lead to good results. This might be a strategy they have to go to though considering that there are not a whole lot of reliable relievers on the market.
There are still a couple of players of free agents available with eighth- or ninth-inning experience like Grant Balfour, Fernando Rodney, Kevin Gregg and Luis Ayala, but those guys will either cost too much to sign, have baggage to consider or want to be a closer on a team. It will be interesting to see what the Yankees do. They may have to get creative — let’s just see how creative they will have to get.