Thursday, March 29, 2012

2012 AB4AR Season Preview: What We Know & What We Don't Know (The Bullpen)

(Best in the world.  Courtesy of The AP)

Infield's done, outfield's done, rotation's done.  Now onto the relief corp.

What We Know- The Bullpen Pecking Order

The merits of having defined roles in the bullpen can be argued, but that's the way Joe operates and those roles for 2012, at least heading into the start of the season, are pretty well set.  Mariano Rivera is the closer and official 9th Inning Guy, and only injury or the end of the world will change that.  Behind him, Dave Robertson will be the setup man and official 8th Inning Guy after his dominant 2011 season and Rafael Soriano will slot into the 7th inning role.  Boone Logan will retain his spot as top lefty ace, although Joe has talked about expanding his role if the Yankees decide to carry a 2nd lefty.  Cory Wade is in place as the Middle Inning Relief Guy and the loser of the 5th starter competition, most likely Freddy Garcia, will be the long man.

What We Don't Know- How Quickly It Will Become Subject to Change

Mo is set in stone, but behind him there is always opportunity for change and that change could come pretty early.  D-Rob certainly earned the right to hold the setup role this season after the way he pitched last year, but he's had very little time on the mound this spring thanks to his foot injury and could get off to shaky start if he's still working the kinks out.  His history of wildness and Soriano's big contract could lead to a swap of spots if Robertson is ineffective.  Cory Wade, who has struggled this spring and likely would have been the first out of a job when Joba or David Aardsma returned in the summer, should also be on notice.  Even Freddy could get forced out of his spot when Andy returns and kicks someone from the rotation into the bullpen.

More after the jump

What We Know- There Will Be High Turnover on the Back End

It's par for the course for most teams to shuffle guys through their bullpens over the course of a season due to injury, ineffectiveness, or trades, and the Yankees are no different.  Andy's return will cause a shakeup and likely lead to somebody being traded away, and the last spot in the 'pen could be a rotating cast of players.  Right now it looks like it's going to come down to Clay Rapada and Cesar Cabral for that spot, but the shelf life of a lefty reliever can be short and a handful of bad outings could lead to their ticket out of town.  With a good group of useful arms in Triple-A, the Yankees shouldn't have to wait too long to pull the trigger on bullpen moves and probably won't if and when the time comes to make a change.

What We Don't Know- Which Young Guy Will Break In by Taking a Spot

Hector Noesi was the lucky duck last year, as injuries forced the Yankees to call him up and use him as a middle relief arm.  He performed well in the role and probably would have earned himself a spot on the team this year based on last year's performance had he not been traded away.  The Yankees have also used the bullpen to work guys like Joba and Phil Hughes into the Majors in years past, so it's not like this is something new for them.  The lower-ceiling starter group of David Phelps, Adam Warren, and D.J. Mitchell are all leading candidates to assume that Noesi role this year if needed, but they aren't the only ones.  George Kontos, Ryan Pope, Tim Norton, and Kevin Whelan could also see action if their skill set better fits the bullpen's needs.  Workload, rotation schedule, and effectiveness will all be determining factors in deciding who gets the promotion, but given recent history it's highly likely that somebody from this crew gets 40-50 innings in the Major League 'pen.

What We Know- The Yankees Are Already Planning for Mo's Retirement

If Mo does decide to retire after this season it will be a big loss.  Any time you subtract the best player at his position from a baseball team, that's a big loss.  But the Yankees won't be dead in the water without him.  They will still have D-Rob, Soriano, and Logan next season, and they were planning on having Joba.  The David Aardsma signing, a one-year deal with a team option for 2013, was clearly a move geared towards the future and geared towards creating bullpen depth for 2013 to cover for the loss of Mo, as was the stockpiling of power relief arms like Mark Montgomery, Branden Pinder, and Phil Wetherall in recent drafts.  The Yankees aren't just sitting and wallowing in their potential loss.  They're giving themselves plenty of options to reload the bullpen and build a group that is collectively just as strong without Mo as this current group could be with him.

What We Don't Know- If He Will Actually Hang Them Up

He hinted at it heavily in his first ST interview, but you just never know with Mo.  Maybe another run to a World Series title will inspire him to keep playing rather than inspire him to go out on top.  There have been talks of Mo's retirement in years past and he's made the decision to come back.  Right now, we can still hold out hope that he'll do it again.

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